Alastair Dalton: Not driving drives down emissions

Individual drivers can help tackle the emissions problem. Picture: Michael Gillen
Individual drivers can help tackle the emissions problem. Picture: Michael Gillen
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TACKLING climate change is such a massive challenge that it can seem bewildering to people concerned about its impact, including on their children and future generations. It is one of those “big picture” subjects that can seem divorced from everyday lives.

But the news this week that the Scottish Government has missed its emission targets for the fourth year in a row should prompt a renewed focus that this is very much linked to individual behaviour.

Transport produces one quarter of emissions – the second-biggest source after energy – which are falling “slightly” according to officials. The improvement has come largely from reduced car emissions, such as from more efficient engines, including more diesel vehicles compared to petrol ones.

That cut in carbon dioxide is good news for the environment, but not for human health, because of the harmful gases that diesel engines produce.

That’s where individuals can play a part. Yes, innovations are assisting, such as the engines of newer cars switching themselves off when stationary.

But despite high fuel prices, there appears to be a chronic problem with those motorists who still let their engines idle.

There are blatant examples, such as those highlighted by the Scotland’s Worst Drivers website, like a security firm van left by its driver with engine running on the zig zags of a pedestrian crossing in Edinburgh in April.

The driver of a Royal Mail van delivering to an office park in Glasgow used to routinely leave the engine running and door open as he went into buildings.

In the city centre, bus drivers have sat in their cabs for minutes on end at lay-over stops before starting their route, their engines chugging out diesel fumes into the lungs of passing pedestrians.

Scottish councils have the power to fine drivers, but Glasgow issued none of the £20 penalties in the year to March and said it now focused on acting on complaints rather than routine patrols because there had been a “general improvement”.

Edinburgh said it had never had to issue a ticket because drivers had always switched off when asked.

Some drivers justify keeping their engines on so they can keep warm while parked. But with warmer weather finally arrived, there can be no such excuse.

Also, the Supreme Court ordered in April immediate action to ensure toxic air pollution was kept within European limits, with Glasgow among the problem areas.

Drivers now largely wear seat belts, don’t drink and drive, and could soon be prosecuted for obstructing pavements too. An end to idling engines should be next on the re-education list.

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