No Easy Option

Sarah Beattie-Smith calls for more ambition ahead of the new Scottish Climate Change Bill (consultation here).

The last few weeks have been significant ones for the world’s changing climate. Thousands were killed or displaced in flooding in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria; Hurricane Harvey battered America’s petrochemical heartland in Texas; and Hurricane Irma destroyed 90% of Barbuda’s buildings with similar devastation across the Caribbean.

Increasingly, the science points to climate change as a key driver of the severity and frequency of such 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 so encouraging to see some bold and ambitious commitments from the First Minister in last week’s Programme for Government. 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.

The announcement that the Scottish Government will phase out new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2032 is a hugely welcome piece of news, particularly for organisations like WWF Scotland who have campaigned for this kind of transformative action for years.

Similarly, news of a deposit return scheme; a commitment to having Low Emission Zones in four cities and air pollution hot spots; and the introduction of a Just Transition Commission to manage the shift away from oil and gas to renewables are just some of the significant steps forward.

By putting climate change and the move towards a low carbon economy front and centre of the Programme for Government, the First Minister has sent a clear signal to Scotland and the world that our wee nation is serious about climate change. What is needed now is the legislation and the policy action to turn those commitments into reality.

That is sometimes easier said than done. For example we’re still awaiting the details of how the Scottish Government will deliver on their commitment – made over two years ago – to make energy efficiency a National Infrastructure Priority. But I’m hopeful and confident that real change is not just possible, but that it’s coming.

Take that major announcement on fossil fuel cars. Just nine months ago in the Draft Climate Change Plan, the Scottish Government set out their commitments for what they would do on climate change over the next 15 years. That plan promised that just 40% of new car sales would be electric by 2032. That target came out of modelling based on an assumption that, without the Government having to do very much at all, the market would get us to 40%.

Yet last week, that target became 100%. What’s clear from the Programme for Government is that there has been a substantial shift in attitude at the highest levels of Government. In her speech, the First Minister said “to succeed, Scotland must lead change, not trail in its wake.”

Of course Scotland has a strong track record of leading change. Back in 2009, the SNP-led Scottish Government passed world-leading legislation, setting targets for a reduction in emissions of 42% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. At the time, those targets were seen as hugely ambitious – unachievable even. Since then, we’ve cut emissions by 41%, putting us on track to reach the 2020 target.

Yet much has changed since 2009 and as the science develops and the effects of climate change become more evident, it’s clear that we need to be even more ambitious than we set out to be eight years ago.

The 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement was a game changer, requiring much more ambitious emissions reductions, particularly from industrialised nations like Scotland.

The Scottish Government has committed to implementing the Paris Agreement in a new Climate Change Bill, due to be debated in Parliament in the New Year. Yet in its proposed form, the Bill barely stretches the level of ambition set in 2009 and the same target is proposed for 2030 as we already have today

The 2050 emissions reduction target is also lacking the ambition that the First Minister alluded to in the Programme for Government. The consultation on the Climate Change Bill (open until September 22nd) suggests a target of a 90% reduction in emissions against 1990 levels. Meanwhile the science tells us we need to get to 100% by 2050 at the very latest.

As well as unambitious targets, the Bill also looks likely to be limited in its scope. If it goes ahead in its current form, it will lack a single piece of policy action necessary to achieve those targets. Along with Stop Climate Chaos Scotland (SCCS), we think that’s a huge missed opportunity for Scotland to lead global change and set the agenda on climate action for the next thirty years.

We want the Government to use the Climate Change Bill to;

  • Set a target of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 at the latest, and a reduction of 77% by 2030
  • Ensure that future budgets are consistent with our climate targets
  • Commit to actions that cut emissions and deliver a cleaner, healthier, more prosperous Scotland:
    – greener farming: set a nitrogen budget for Scotland by 2020
    – energy efficient homes: ensure that all homes have at least Energy Performance Rating C by 2025
    – cleaner transport: phase out the sale of new fossil fuel cars by 2030.

We’ve (almost) secured the last of those asks with the announcement on fossil fuel cars last week. Now we need to see that commitment in law, alongside stronger targets, meaningful policy action and the cash to make it all happen. It won’t be easy, but as the First Minister said last week, “No one has ever built a better country by always taking the easy option.”

Join the SCCS campaign for a stronger Climate Change Bill here https://act.foe.scot/sccs-climate

Comments (9)

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  1. Crubag says:

    How do you get to zero emissions? What about cows?

  2. Gary F says:

    A central problem with this is that the Scottish Government lacks the ability to stop the sale of fossil fuel cars, and that stopping selling them doesn’t mean that electric cars will automatically overtake their predecessors as the dominant type; this simply won’t be the case. I may be being cynical, but it’s a target that seems incredibly woolly and that should be taken with more than a pinch of salt for the time being, not least because there’s little sign that electric cars are going to become affordable to all any time soon. If the *use* of fossil fuel cars was to be phased out within 13 years or so, you’d surely need electric ones to be affordable for all in the very near future to reach that stage; otherwise, you’re relying on too many variables that aren’t close to being within Holyrood’s control and it is a mostly empty gesture. We should be treating this with the caution it deserves, it’s far too early for platitudes.

    Furthermore, moving from one type of car to another isn’t really much of a solution to the bigger issues. A far more effective step to reducing emissions – along with transport efficiency and costs – in the short and long terms would be to embark on a major overhaul of our sub-standard, over-priced public transport system: from expanding the rail network and regulating buses to a modern ticketing system (it’s really quite pathetic that in 2017 we’re still using paper tickets for the most part, and that the two parts of a rail return can’t be used over a couple of days, for example), Holyrood could be making an immediate impact but has shown little to no interest at all in doing so. The pussy-footing around Abello and the apparent refusal to tear strips off them seems to indicate that the SNP have little interest in making significant improvements to public transport; making big but vague noises about electric cars which we may or may not have 13 years whilst doing nothing at all about train/coach travel here and now speaks volumes.

    Whilst we should appreciate that environmental issues are getting air-time, we shouldn’t just be saying “oh, that’s” good and moving on. Whilst the Scottish Government refuses to ban fracking, insists on reducing APT, remains inactive on public transport and perhaps most importantly, ignores the devastating impact of the agricultural practises that it’s so keen to preserve, it’s green credentials are far from proven.

    1. Pogliaghi says:

      “….Holyrood could be making an immediate impact but has shown little to no interest at all in doing so. The pussy-footing around Abello …”

      Thanks for taking up the mental strain of subjecting green hype-think to necessary cynicism.

      15 years away is of course, three-and-a-half parliamentary terms, or in layman’s terms, so far into the long grass it may as well be on Alpha Centauri.

      A large of part of “green” NGOs like WWF (Sarah Beattie-Smith’s employers)’ stock in trade is to be accomplices in facilitating the obfuscation of environmental realities by politicians, through talking the carefully-promulgated language of such long range targets.

      Why? For access to policymakers; to remain “insiders”; to produce impressive sounding press releases that get the brand in the press and get a few new Direct Debit sign-ups.

      Of course these “targets” are no more than dishonest and misleading promises. But since all capitalist politicians are equally culpable in this game, the SNP can naturally out-virtue signal the Tories by setting their time frames a little sooner. It’s like, “hallelujah!”.

      Here’s what a meaningful transport decarbonization policy would look like: “We’re imposing a drastically steep but progressive taxation on petrol to fund EV infrastructure and other alternatives NOW. It will therefore be more expensive to drive your fossil car instead of drive an EV, walk, cycle or take public transport NOW. We’re implementing a meaningful plan for zero carbon baseload electricity NOW.” (Which would by sheer physical necessity include some new nuclear.)

      So far what the SNP have actually got right is doubling of funding for “active transport” and the putative but concrete attempt at a public sector ScotRail bid. That’s it. No need for the hype-drapery; it is in fact, in spirit, anti-environmental.

      1. Hi Pogliaghi – I admire your urgency if not your cynicism. I admire your demand for action NOW too and I kid of buy your proposed transport decarbonisation policy (to which presumably you’d have to add decarbonisation of housing, energy, food and farming ++ as well?). A holistic energy descent plan would also entail public ownership of energy companies ,as without this there is no incentive for energy companies to reduce output or sell you less of their product.

        Why would a zero carbon base load electricity require nuclear power (uranium being a finite fossil fuel)?

        I’m not sure what the hostility is to Sarah Beattie-Smith given that she is attempting to strengthen the Climate Challenge Bill.

      2. Crubag says:

        There are disconnects between the headlines and the reality. For instance the Energy Performance Certificate approach rewards using gas (a fossil fuel) over electricity (potentially carbon neutral, after manufacturing is subtracted).

        Nearly 80% of Scots use gas for heating, compared to 13% for electricity. Are we proposing a similar switch, in a similar timeframe, to electric vehicles?

        But at the very least, we should be planning new housing based around public transport, rather than private transport. That isn’t happening at the moment.

  3. Mathew says:

    Jaguar/Landrover have just announced that they will only make hybrids and EVs from 2020 so it looks likely that the manufacturers will take the lead rather than national governments.

  4. GC says:

    Sarah, the week this was all announced, the FM opened a motor-only road bridge across the Forth. Scotland has led the way in roadbuilding with a projects not seen on a scale since the Romans. The A96, A9 dualling plus the M8 work is driving a coach and (motorised) horses through any climate change aspirations. On top of this we are lowering air passenger duty (something else Scotland is leading on). We’ve been piss-poor in supporting sustainable transport delivery, with SNP councils opposing the very things that can support achieving our targets, the cycle lanes in Roseburn Edinburgh, Ayr and Bearsway. This government scaled back the Borders railway, reducing it’s effectiveness by creating more single track sections than double track, and has always opposed the tram in Edinburgh. I’d love to say Scotland is leading the way, but the truth is very different.

  5. J Galt says:

    Yes actions not words give the game away.

    £1000s of millions being spent on the A9 while the Highland main line next door essentially rots with little or no real development of it either now or planned.

  6. 19216811 says:

    The fire is now precipitating a full-blown national crisis argues Jonathan Shafi, and instead of fear and racism people are showing strength and solidarity in times .

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