Greener 'equals healthier and wealthier world'

TAKING measures to combat climate change could generate thousands of jobs and slash healthcare costs by up to £2 billion, an environmental charity has claimed.

A new report by Friends of the Earth Scotland said that meeting stringent targets could generate extra jobs in energy efficiency and public transport, improve mental and respiratory disease and reduce fuel poverty.

It added that it believed the Scottish Government's ambitious targets for cutting carbon emissions were still within reach, but warned that more stark measures should be brought in to ensure Scotland meets its 2020 targets.

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The savings would compensate for a large proportion of the 8 billion the Scottish Government claims it will cost to meet climate change requirements over the next ten years in the form of changes to energy and transport use by public service workers, and adaptation of public buildings.

Scotland has some of the most ambitious climate change targets in the world, with plans to cut carbon emissions by 42 per cent over the next decade and generate 80 per cent of electricity by 2020.

Duncan McLaren, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: "More than ever, in a time of budget cuts and economic austerity, Scotland must push ahead with the investment needed to deliver its world-leading climate targets. The health, employment and social dividends will create a better life for all of us."

Called 42% Better, the report identifies, health care savings arising from reduced obesity, improved mental health and reduced respiratory disease, and social inclusion gains from reductions in fuel poverty amongst the many non-environmental benefits of a strong climate policy.

It claimed that improving and insulating the homes of those in fuel poverty in Scotland could avoid an estimated 180,000 cases of anxiety and depression each year, while better emissions levels could cut days lost to work and school as a result of respiratory illnesses by up to 25 per cent. The value of the health benefits alone, it said, could exceed 2bn.

The lobby group collated data taken from UK studies and also statistics showing the economic benefit for countries which have already made improvements in certain areas - and extrapolated the figures for Scotland.

But Friends of the Earth Scotland said there would have to be a significant shift to electric cars, powered from renewable energy sources, if Scotland was to improve emissions enough to meet the 42 per cent target.It also pointed to a need for a shift to more efficient systems and insulation for the heating of homes and businesses, which accounts for around half of Scotland's energy use - and increased cycling and walking, as well as less consumption of meat.

"Scotland's politicians already understand the economic benefits that could come from increased renewable energy," added Mr McLaren. "This research shows there are even bigger bonuses to be found in the less glamorous but equally important areas of insulating buildings, getting people out of cars and onto bikes and buses, and changing diets.

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"The government must also include the funds needed to deliver carbon cuts in its budget, or else show how it will lever in the necessary investment from private or other public sources," said Mr McLaren.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "Emissions figures published in September show that Scotland has reached the halfway point in achieving its 2020 Climate Change Act target of reducing emissions by 42 per cent."

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