Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) said it welcomed the climate strikes set to take place across the world today but warned that the cost of moving to net zero emissions should not "fall heaviest on the poorest in society".
The organisation said that new smart, renewable energy technologies, which aim to cut carbon emissions, should be rolled out to the most vulnerable people first, given that more than half a million households in Scotland currently live in fuel poverty.
CAS Strategic Lead for Fair Markets, Dr Jamie Stewart said: “The climate emergency is now firmly in the agenda. We are seeing commitments from politicians to tackle the crisis and pledges from major companies to cut their emissions as part of corporate social responsibility.
“That’s welcome progress, but it’s essential now that policy makers take steps to ensure that cutting emissions to meet ‘Net Zero’ targets doesn’t increase inequality in our society."
He added: "In the energy sector, public and private investment in domestic energy efficiency and renewable technology should be rolled out in a way that benefit the most vulnerable first, especially with half a million households in Scotland living in fuel poverty.
“There also needs to be honesty about who foots the bill for developing infrastructure which will let us meet climate targets. We can’t expect people who are already just about managing to support things like electric vehicle charging networks if it means paying more on their bills.
“So while we are at the exciting cusp of words being turned into action – that action must be well thought through, fair and provide support and protection to those already struggling in today’s society.”
Dr Stewart's comments reflect the findings of a report published earlier this year by think tank Localis and SP Energy Networks. It warned that while "smart energy has huge implications for helping people out of fuel poverty" the benefits would only be felt if there was a "considered roll-out of the physical infrastructure needed to deliver the smart grid."
The report warned there was a risk that "areas which are already deprived being left behind more affluent places" adding "those in higher income areas could have a higher concentration of residents willing to invest in smart technologies. This in turn could lower bills in areas of high income – while having little impact on energy bills in neighbouring lower income areas.
"In other words, the higher the income of an area, the greater the chances of reinvestment in energy infrastructure" which could "deepen existing socioeconomic differences."