Edinburgh is racing against Glasgow to be UK’s first zero-carbon city – Adam McVey

Cllr Adam McVey is the leader of Edinburgh City Council. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Cllr Adam McVey is the leader of Edinburgh City Council. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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Changing our ways to tackle climate change will take determination, and will hit your pocket, but it’s worthwhile, says Adam McVey.

2030 is a date for your diary. It’s when our Capital aims to become a net zero carbon city. It’s a symbol of our ambition as a global leader in tackling climate change but it’s also a stark reminder of the extent of the challenge we face in saving our planet from disaster.

Waverley Bridge would be pedestrianised as part of the council's recently unveiled City Centre Transformation Plan

Waverley Bridge would be pedestrianised as part of the council's recently unveiled City Centre Transformation Plan

It’s not escaped our notice that our friends in Glasgow have joined the race to become the UK’s first new zero carbon city. How fantastic that Scotland’s two biggest cities and two biggest economies are vying for the title of being the quickest to embrace the change required for our environment! While I’m confident Edinburgh will win the race, the scope for us to work together to help both of us meet our goals is enormous. This won’t be a race we’re trying to win at each other’s expense, it is a race that it’s in all our interests to succeed at.

The target is not a council target. It’s a city target. It requires all of us to look at our lives and take action to reduce carbon emissions. It will require all of us to look at how much we recycle, how we travel around the Capital and how we heat our homes and offices. We will all need to be responsible for our own emissions. That said, the council has a significant responsibility to facilitate the change required.

We have already started work on our plans, examining what’s possible and the truth is that (almost) anything’s possible if we have the will to do it. The administration is taking major steps forward towards Edinburgh’s zero carbon future. It sounds obvious, but change will require change. It’s disingenuous to pretend that we can meet our environmental responsibilities without changing the way our city works now. We’ll have to adjust to changes, some quite significant, if we’re to get close to where we need to be. Some actions will be challenging to implement, such as moving to “passive house” standards of building and investing in the transport infrastructure. We will need to help individuals and families make the zero-carbon choice.

Building the change we need will be disruptive and will need to be a funding priority as well as a political one. Building high-quality cycleways isn’t cheap, neither is building extensions to the tram – and these are small beer in comparison to the investment in the city’s heat network required if we’re to move away from gas consumption. It’s no secret that the council isn’t swimming in resources. So to sustain progress we will need to explore new income streams, like the workplace parking levy, and have already introduced changes, such as a small charge for garden waste collection. These choices are not easy, but many councils have followed our action on garden waste (all with higher charges than Edinburgh) and we will need to decide if this kind of policy is worth it to protect other council services and help ensure we have resources to invest in delivering our city’s sustainable future.

As well as funding, innovation is another force we need to harness. The data-driven innovation component of the City Deal can help us apply world-leading intelligence to how best we can achieve reductions in carbon emissions and actions to offset emissions that are unavoidable.

Young people are not shying away from engaging in this debate, nor are they shying away from telling policy-makers how seriously they consider this. There are a host of benefits if we drive this agenda forward. The City Centre Transformation is a great example of where can improve our experience of our city centre while creating a design that helps reduce our overall carbon output. It will take change, it will take collaboration and it will take some pain. We will need to remember that this is all for the survival of ecosystems around the globe that are on the brink of collapse. I hope the whole city comes with us on this ambitious journey. It won’t be easy, but we are the birthplace of the Scottish Enlightenment – we can do anything we set our mind to.

Cllr Adam McVey is the leader of Edinburgh City Council