It’s that time of year when ministers and civil servants emerge from darkened rooms having prepared the Scottish Government’s programme for the coming Parliamentary year.
As ever, we’ll be looking closely at how the government plans to ramp up its work on tackling climate change. It’s a big year with new targets to be set to 2032, and a new action plan to show how they’re to be met. We hardly need reminding of how big the problem is. Global temperature records continue to be broken, most recently Nasa confirmed that July 2016 was the hottest month since records began in 1880.
So why is an ambitious climate action plan in Scotland so important? Surely there’s not much we can do to slow climate change? The answer is there’s a lot we can do.
Far from being just a way to tackle pollution, the climate action plan’s an opportunity to set out new initiatives on how to provide jobs, improve public health and tackle social injustices.
A priority to achieve these aims must be to bring down emissions from the laggard sectors such as transport and buildings. Reducing congestion through better public transport and encouraging walking and cycling will improve air quality and our own wellbeing. Improving the energy efficiency of our homes will help tackle fuel poverty, reduce the costs to the NHS of cold-related illnesses, and provide new economic activity in communities across the whole country.
Tackling climate change is a priority for all parts of the Scottish Government. This means the new Scottish Budget must live up to past promises of consistency with our climate change ambitions. Significantly increasing funding for energy efficiency, which has already been designated a national infrastructure project, would be a good place to start. Getting to grips with this is more important than ever following the Scottish Government’s admission it will miss its own target to eradicate fuel poverty by this November.
By the end of this year, bold policies should be announced to show how emissions across all sectors of the economy will fall. As we’ve pointed out, new policies are needed in those sectors that are yet to make much of a contribution, such as transport, if we’re to maximise the benefits of going low-carbon. As the Government’s own independent advisors on climate change have made clear, unless all areas emulate the good progress seen in electricity and waste, future climate targets won’t be met.
As well as the anticipated climate action plan, an energy strategy is also due to be launched by the end of 2016. This is a welcome opportunity to set out a vision for the low carbon transformation that must take place over the decades ahead. The strategy is off to a good start, taking a view of the whole system across heat, transport and electricity and by giving as much thought to the ways in which we use energy as finding new ways to produce it. After all, the cheapest, greenest Megawatt of energy is the one we never use in the first place.
This is an opportunity to reset Scotland’s renewable ambitions and we hope to see a new target of sourcing at least 50 per cent of Scotland’s energy from renewables by 2030. A new target will help extend the vision that has driven the renewable electricity success story to the areas of heat and transport, and capture the benefits of new jobs, cleaner air and improved wellbeing.
• Fabrice Leveque is Climate and Energy Policy Officer at WWF Scotland