Here’s how Scottish Government can prove its commitment to tackling climate emergency – Steven Heddle

The Scottish Government has declared a climate emergency and now it must demonstrate its commitment to the issue by giving local authorities the necessary funds, writes Councillor Steven Heddle.
Climate change protesters call for action near West Sands beach in St Andrews, where lines of dunes have been reduced to just one (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)Climate change protesters call for action near West Sands beach in St Andrews, where lines of dunes have been reduced to just one (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
Climate change protesters call for action near West Sands beach in St Andrews, where lines of dunes have been reduced to just one (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)

In April 2019, the First Minister told her party’s conference that she was declaring a “climate emergency” in Scotland. She pledged to “live up to our responsibility” to future generations and announced that the Scottish Government would legislate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2045, five years ahead of the UK as a whole.

As bold and progressive as these targets are, it will require leadership at all levels of government to realise them. Crucially, it will require Scotland’s 32 local authorities to help address climate change.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Councils are the sphere of government closest to our communities. Our unique reach and vast remit of policy areas mean that we have a huge impact across the country.

From the businesses that councils choose to support to the planning applications that are approved; from the types of houses and public buildings we build to our investment in sustainable transport, roads and paths, local action is critical to our success.

Read More
Douglas Millican: Climate change water strategy must stand the test of time

This is an internationally recognised conclusion. The Paris climate accord, where 196 countries agreed to determine, plan, and regularly report on the contribution that they undertake to mitigate global warming, was unreserved in recommending that councils are a core part of the fight against climate change.

“The Conference of the Parties recognises the need to strengthen knowledge, technologies, practices and efforts of local communities and indigenous peoples related to addressing and responding to climate change,” it said.

Disproportionate share of cuts

This is a call to arms for every local politician in the world, that the fight against climate change will be aided locally, with local government at its heart.

This will not be done on the cheap, however. A fight such as this requires the means to be able to do so. Investment in our critical leadership role is required to focus on the transition to a carbon-neutral economy. One that breaks down the barriers our citizens face and creates a new set of opportunities for our workforce.

On Thursday, the Government will announce its budget for the coming year. It will be important that it recognises the “climate emergency”. There is a need for a budget to help combat the global emergency – a fight that will not be won when council core budgets are under threat.

Over a number of years, local government budgets have decreased significantly. Between 2013-14 overall funding has gone down in real terms by seven per cent. In comparison the Scottish Government has had its funding reduced by only two per cent. We are the sphere of government closest to Scotland’s communities, yet we are being passed a disproportionate share of cuts compared to our national counterparts.

More funds from UK

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The services that are at risk when our core budgets are under threat are exactly the kind that are essential in combating climate change.

If we are to encourage our citizens to stop using their vehicles to help reduce emissions, then why would we cut a budget that funds passenger and community transport?

If we want our homes, public buildings and businesses to use less energy, then why would we cut a budget that provides energy efficiency advice and grants?

And if we want to provide our communities with facilities to recycle, then why would we cut a budget for waste services?

The Scottish Government has a chance to address climate change at every level. We need a fair funding commitment for local government that looks across the whole system.

All the signs are that Scotland will see a cash increase from the UK Government, this must be passed on to local government.

Strong local leadership will be required if we are to truly meet these ambitious 2045 targets. The Scottish Government has a chance to invest in councils so we can develop world-class digital infrastructure, enable the transformation of services and reduce the need for travel; so we can enable investment in cleaner, greener public transport and buildings; so we can support businesses across all sectors to achieve zero carbon emissions; and so we can provide and maintain vibrant green spaces across the country.

We cannot afford to look at the local government settlement narrowly. It must be viewed in its entirety to reflect the whole-system approach that is required to tackle and address the biggest challenges facing Scotland and threatening the sustainability of our communities, the communities that councils look after and invest in every day, of every week, of every year.

Councillor Steven Heddle is environment and economy spokesperson for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla)