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Wake-up call for Scotland’s Climate Change Act


The wait is over, the results are in and they’re not good. The Scottish government has failed to meet the very first annual target in our “world leading climate legislation”. That title is going to start sounding just a bit hollow if the ambition of the Scottish Climate Change Act is not quickly matched by action.

Windturbines near the North Sea coastRenewable electricity generation is one area where there's progress - but more needs to be done to reduce emissions from transport and homes. © Michel Gunther / WWF-Canon

The fact that this first target has been missed and next year’s target will be that bit harder to hit shouldn’t come as any great surprise.

The obvious consequence of world-leading legislation is world-leading implementation – and, the renewable electricity sector aside, this simply hasn’t happened.

We don’t even have the excuse of not knowing where to start; the Scottish Government’s detailed action plan provides a blow-by-blow account of what steps need to be taken, and yet it’s not being fully implemented.

The Act was born following a loud and sustained public call for action, that Scotland should stand tall and take responsibility for its historical ‘climate debt’. Thousands of people from across Scotland, and indeed the world, urged all political parties to follow the science and play our full part in preventing dangerous climate change.

The unanimous political support for the Act was welcomed as a shared commitment to do just that, but if we are to fulfil this promise and match the public mandate for action, the Scottish government must quickly correct the course we are on. If we carry on as we are it looks like we will hit only one target out of the next 12, leaving us well short of our ambitions for a 42% cut by 2020.

Fortunately it’s not too late to plot a new path to ensure we hit future targets, generate new low-carbon jobs and improve the health and well-being of Scotland in the process.

The Scottish government should publish a new action plan this autumn, and it must heed the advice of the UK Committee on Climate Change and signal a new level of commitment to deliver the Climate Change Act. This plan should be subject to rigorous scrutiny from across the political chamber and civic society. We have all put our name to Scotland’s commitment to tackle climate change and we can’t dismiss the shared responsibility that follows.

Of course, on its own the plan means little, it has to be matched by the budget. And this is where our commitment to implementing our world-leading legislation stands or falls.

Will we see a budget that kickstarts the retrofit of our homes, creates jobs, saves money, improves health and tackles emissions? Will we see a budget that corrects the imbalance in our transport priorities and, instead of committing to support traffic growth of over 15% by 2020, invests in ‘shovel ready’ projects across Scotland to build the cycling and walking network, which would create jobs, improve access, health and tackle a sector whose emissions are higher now than in 1990?

If this were a school report card, this first year might be summed up as: “Must do better… despite being very capable and knowing what must be done, current performance risks wasting our considerable potential… this would be a huge disappointment, as Scotland has shown such promise.”

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