Issue 13

CARBON, ENERGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT: WE NEED TO MOVE ON FROM TALKING ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE TO ACTING ON CLIMATE CHANGE.

By Sarah Boyack, MSP for the Lothians and a former government minister

We need to move on from talking about climate change to acting on climate change.

Scotland's 2009 Climate Change Act was ground breaking when it was passed.

Our quality of life and our future economic success depends on governments taking seriously the need to reduce our carbon emissions if we are to address the climate change that is already coming down the tracks towards us. We need to do more to reduce our carbon and greenhouse emissions. We need a coherent energy strategy that enables a transition to renewables for heat and power and a stronger political focus on energy efficiency.

Climate change has moved from a fringe issue in the 20th century to the central challenge of the 21st century. In the Paris climate talks in December a deal was done with the ground breaking agreement that science had to be respected and that countries have to reduce their emissions to avoid the world warming by 2°C. But even that agreement means dangerous climate change for countries already experiencing sea level rise and droughts. Finance and support for developing countries is still an issue where we need action because those countries which haven't caused climate change simply don't have the investment capacity to make the change needed, without financial support from the developed world.

For the UK recent storms have demonstrated the destructive effect in human terms of the disruptive, unpredictable weather patterns that we are likely to experience. The economic costs of flooding will hit the viability of many small businesses and impact on our transport and agriculture sectors.

Scotland's 2009 Climate Change Act was ground breaking when it was passed. As a result of the pressure from the broad based Stop Climate Chaos Campaign and pressure from Labour members, we ended up with a 42% carbon reduction target by 2020, annual targets, a requirement for Public duty reporting, the requirement to involve and consult employers and trade unions on adaptation policies and a public engagement strategy.

The Act also required an annual report on policies and proposals to be presented to the Parliament, a land use strategy, an energy efficiency plan, and council tax and business rate reductions where energy efficiency measures had been installed. We also required higher standards for new buildings to reduce energy consumption, increased use of renewables in new buildings and permitted development rights for existing domestic and business renewables.

However the reality has been far less positive. The Scottish Government has missed the first four years of the legal annual targets set in the Act. Although there has been significant progress on renewables, carbon reductions in other areas have been much slower. There has been modest progress on the waste management, but transport, housing, agriculture and land use stand out as areas where we need to make radical change.

Although climate change action, whether to reduce carbon emissions, or promote adaptation policy is meant to be central to the work of the Scottish Government it's clear that there is still a long way to go to deliver on the ambition in the 2009 Climate Change Act. Last year the Low Carbon Infrastructure Task Force reported in The Case for Low Carbon Infrastructure which found that 50% of new infrastructure in the pipeline is not low carbon.

The next Scottish Parliament needs to act on climate change - not just talk about it.

We need a more coherent plan of action from the Scottish Government. The public sector is crucial in terms of investment and procurement. It can set standards and use public sector investment to incentivise and lead where there is market failure. We need a transition plan that links climate justice to jobs, training and regeneration. An early priority has to be a properly funded national infrastructure project for energy efficiency. That would address the inefficiency of our existing housing stock and end the fuel poverty that scars the lives of 1/3 of our households. I believe we need a Warm Homes Bill to provide the regulatory and planning framework to ensure that new and existing developments are linked to renewable energy efficient power and heating sources.

The scale of change we need to deliver over the next 15 to 20 years is comparable with the shift from manual typewriters to tablets. In transport the shift from carbon fuels means electric cars, trains and buses and much greater investment in active travel. That will mean new infrastructure, new vehicle fleets but also much smarter use of technology for journey planning and ticketing.

In our land use decisions we need to be thinking about how we protect our natural environment and our landscapes to support our lives; how we promote food production and consumption in Scotland that favours local supply chains and puts our agriculture sector in a path to lower climate emissions.

We need to make sure that we get the maximum economic and health benefits from these changes. That means more joined up thinking and government policy when it comes to investment. In recent weeks the human costs of flooding, and the health impacts of poor air quality and fuel poverty have been in our newspapers. An intelligent policy approach would see the interconnections linking action on climate emissions to promote healthier lives and tackle social and economic inequality at the same time.

The hard slog to get there means every budget decision, every building, every infrastructure project needs to result from that thought process. We're not there yet, but we need to get there fast. The upcoming Scottish Parliament elections are the chance to put those challenges centre stage. The Scottish Parliament will have new powers and taxes options to use. It's a big disappointment that the SNP's first new tax proposal is to half, then abolish, Air Passenger Duty - a proposal that will see emissions rise and benefit well-off air travellers.

Sustainable development requires us to think about economic, social and environmental justice as challenges to be addressed together. It also requires us to take responsibility for the impact of our actions now on future generations. The next Scottish Parliament needs to act on climate change - not just talk about it.

Sarah Boyack
Is MSP for the Lothians and a former government minister.

By Sarah Boyack, MSP for the Lothians and a former government minister

Issue 13

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