A turning point on road to net zero - Sarah Baillie

Scotland is considered by many to be a world leader in tackling climate change, with far-reaching targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2045.

Sarah Baillie is a Partner and Co-Head of the Renewable and Low Carbon Sector at Addleshaw Goddard LLP.
Sarah Baillie is a Partner and Co-Head of the Renewable and Low Carbon Sector at Addleshaw Goddard LLP.

However, despite these targets being statutory obligations, they've been missed for the past three years. It has also taken 30 years to reduce territorial emissions by 50 per cent – they must reduce by another 50 per cent again but in only 25 per cent of the time if interim targets are to be met.

Scotland now meets its electricity needs from renewables but a far tougher task is how to decarbonise the rest of the economy – and quickly. Transport is Scotland’s largest sectoral emitter with worrying forecasts suggesting we are heading for a 40% increase in vehicular travel by 2037.

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Among the seismic change in behaviour, spatial planning, strategies and policies required across all sectors, the Scottish Government has acknowledged that decarbonising transport and in particular reducing car dependence is critical. The historic policy, plan and investment landscape for spatial planning and transport planning is complex with different decision making mechanisms, which the Scottish Government is also trying to better align.

Transport is Scotland’s largest sectoral emitter of greenhouse gases.
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The planning system has always been a critical enabler of decarbonising connectivity. However, linking infrastructure with planned development has remained one of its most significant challenges. Therefore, a key element of planning reform centres around the need to implement an infrastructure first approach.

The Scottish Government is currently consulting on the draft National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) - Scotland's long-term spatial plan, setting out where development and infrastructure is needed to support sustainable growth. Net zero and the just transition are its obvious key drivers – indicating we are ahead of other planning jurisdictions in the UK, perhaps globally, in moving to effect those changes.

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Infrastructure is essential to the delivery of NPF4's many objectives. It embeds the National Transport Strategy 2 (NTS2) Sustainable Travel Hierarchy into decision making on future development patterns and its green thread will heavily influence the consenting prospects of new infrastructure projects, making new road building challenging. Its "Infrastructure First" policy also puts infrastructure considerations at the heart of place making decisions for the first time. For development planning, this includes being heavily informed by an infrastructure evidence base and aligning with infrastructure plans and policies including Strategic Transport Projects Review 2 (STPR2) which was also published for consultation last Friday.

STPR2 provides an overview of transport investment recommendations that are required to deliver NTS2 priorities and objectives. Improving Active Travel Infrastructure; Influencing Travel Choices and Behaviours; Enhancing Access to Affordable Public Transport; Decarbonising Transport; Increasing Safety and Resilience on the Strategic Transport Network; and Strengthen Strategic Connections are its key themes together with 45 recommendations - some more specific than others.

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There is clear crossover between STPR2 and NPF4. However, there are no specific priorities in STPR2 whereas NPF4 identifies significant developments which support the spatial strategy's delivery – including some STPR2 recommendations such as Glasgow Metro and Edinburgh & South East Scotland Mass Transit.

It's impossible to predict how all these promised policies will deliver in practice but we do have a highly ambitious eight years of decarbonisation ahead. Concerns will be that STPR2 recommendations still require further development, providing more detailed business cases to inform the investment decision making process.

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Both draft policy documents make it clear that delivery will rely on working with public and private partners to take forward. This echoes research we published at the end of last year 'The Road to Net Zero – On Track?' where a shift towards a more collaborative cross-sector approach was greatly assisting towards reaching stretching carbon-zero targets.

If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. No one sets out planning to fail but sometimes too many priorities or not enough time results in failing to plan which can make the difference between a tremendous victory and a tragic loss.

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It is now important that the Scottish Government continues to respond to the new Glasgow Climate Pact to show how serious it is about delivering net zero, including how quickly it can turn consultations, policy and strategies into implementation and emission reduction. After all, no legally binding targets, policy or strategy will deliver net zero alone.

Sarah Baillie is a Partner and Co-Head of the Renewable and Low Carbon Sector at Addleshaw Goddard LLP.

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