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Scotland moves up a gear to tackle climate change


It has seemed like relentless bad news over the past month as the world struggles to cope with the very real impacts of a changing climate. Lives and livelihoods have been destroyed by flooding in South Asia; Hurricane Harvey battered America’s petrochemical heartland in Texas; and Hurricane Irma destroyed 90% of Barbuda’s buildings, caused devastation across the Caribbean and left parts of Florida resembling scenes from Hollywood disaster movies.

Increasingly, science points to climate change as a key driver of the severity and frequency of extreme weather events. Cutting carbon urgently is essential if we’re going to limit the impacts as much as possible. That’s why it was really welcome to see some positive news on tackling climate emissions in the recent Programme for Government, where Scotland’s First Minister made a series of progressive, ambitious and green commitments.

Nicola Sturgeon’s assertion that Scotland has “a moral obligation to tackle climate change” set the tone for what has rightly been dubbed the greenest Programme for Government ever in Scotland.  Climate change action doesn’t just feature as a nice to have, tacked on at the end in the little read ‘environment’ section of the document. It is core to the vision of the future economy.The biggest headline grabber was the surprise announcement that the Scottish Government will phase out new petrol and diesel cars and vans in just fifteen years, eight years ahead of the UK Government. This is a hugely welcome piece of news and it was fantastic to see the First Minister heed the calls of thousands of people across Scotland for change in this sector. Just eight months ago, the Scottish Government was aiming for 40% of new car sales to be electric. Now, it’s effectively 100%. Change is possible and sometimes comes suddenly, in spite of many vested interests, once there is strong political will.

Electric vehicle on charge © Paul Wilkinson2014Electric vehicle on charge © Paul Wilkinson2014

With transport now Scotland’s single biggest contributor to climate change, and up to 3,000 premature deaths a year related to air pollution in our choked streets, the time was right for decisive policy moves to accelerate the shift to sustainable transport choices for all. This bold decision will help us to lead new technologies and come up with clever solutions to challenges that can be extended to other nations, such as electric car charging points for people who live in tenements. Our transport expert, James Beard, answers all your questions on EVs.

Backed by commitments to double the budget for walking and cycling to 10% of the roads budget, a £60m boost for low carbon innovation with a focus on electric vehicles and the grid, and new low emissions zones in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee by 2020, clean transport policy is clearly shifting up a gear in Scotland.

Likewise, news of a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles is an important step forward in tackling the mountain of waste they generate, while the mooted introduction of a charge on disposable coffee cups following on from the success of the plastic bag levy will also help to make our caffeine hits more environmentally friendly.  The Programme for Government also promised a Just Transition Commission to manage the shift away from oil and gas to renewables and set out other commitments on marine, including a potential new deep sea national park and new support for tackling marine plastics.

The one notable absence was a lack of detail on how the Scottish Government is going to implement its now two year old commitment to prioritise energy efficiency as a huge new national infrastructure project, but we’re hopeful that a real step change will happen in this sector soon, saving us money, cutting carbon and improving poor health as a result of cold homes.

Man laying loft insulation ©iStockMan laying loft insulation ©iStock

With Scotland having made amazing strides on renewable electricity in recent years and with bold and transformational commitments on transport, properly tackling emissions from our built environment would be the final piece of the low carbon jigsaw puzzle.

We’ll be working hard to make sure these commitments are implemented as effectively, affordably and fairly as possible over the coming months and years. It would be great to see some of these bold commitments put into legislation and the forthcoming Climate Change Bill is an amazing opportunity for Scotland to continue its leadership on climate change. Add your voice to push for a strong Climate Change Bill and show you care about ‘oor future’.

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