Climate change: Scottish government still needs to up its game to cut carbon emissions – Tom Ballantine

In November, there was much excitement in and around Glasgow as the UN’s COP26 summit sought to address the climate crisis.

The message from the experts remained consistent: this is an emergency, we need to deliver massive change by 2030 and there will be catastrophic consequences if we don’t act. Now, in Scotland, we return to the long-term challenge, and opportunity, of how we respond to that warning.

Last week, the UK Climate Change Committee (CCC) released a report on Scotland’s progress in reducing emissions. This body provides expert, non-political advice to both the Scottish and UK governments and their report provides an excellent starting point for judging where Scotland is on climate action now, and where we need to go.

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The CCC report had two straightforward and compelling ‘big picture’ messages, and Stop Climate Chaos Scotland – a diverse coalition of over 60 organisations campaigning together on climate change – agrees with them.

Firstly, Scotland has good long-term targets: by 2030, we want to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 75 per cent, and by 2045, emissions should be at net zero. Achieving those targets would be a “strong contribution” to global efforts to keep any temperature rise for the world to 1.5C, the point from which the bleakest outcomes become more and more likely.

Secondly, to reach those targets, Scotland needs better plans and faster action in the short and medium-term. As the CCC report says, for the period up to 2030, we have a “broad set of policies and proposals”, but we need more than that.

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We need a “comprehensive, detailed policy framework” for decarbonisation in Scotland. That would allow us to focus on "implementation and delivery of real-world progress in reducing emissions at the necessary rate”. The framework needs to be set up as soon as possible.

The president of COP26, Conservative MP Alok Sharma, and Nicola Sturgeon speak during an event at the United Nations' COP26 climate change summit (Picture: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)The president of COP26, Conservative MP Alok Sharma, and Nicola Sturgeon speak during an event at the United Nations' COP26 climate change summit (Picture: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
The president of COP26, Conservative MP Alok Sharma, and Nicola Sturgeon speak during an event at the United Nations' COP26 climate change summit (Picture: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

Looking at the CCC’s report in more detail we, like the committee who wrote it, welcome the Scottish government’s prioritisation of faster action on reducing traffic and increasing walking and cycling; the use of public transport; improving energy efficiency; changing the way we heat our buildings; and moving to low-carbon agriculture.

We also note and support the committee’s proposal that the Scottish government can and should go further and faster on restoring peatland, fostering healthier diets and reducing aviation demand.

We are specifically interested in supporting ways to achieve the latter two through positive measures such as ensuring that climate-friendly forms of travel have lower rates of tax. On that front, there is no possible ‘climate emergency’ rationale for making the tax regime on aviation lower than the tax for more climate-friendly forms of travel.

As the CCC report stresses, most of the key policy levers to achieve our climate goals are in the Scottish government’s hands. The Scottish Budget for 2022 to 2023, presented last week, was the first opportunity since COP26 to gauge how far the Scottish government is going to use available financial levers to up its game on action to tackle the climate emergency.

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The budget has addressed climate change as one of its three big priorities, and it included a number of significant positive steps.

A commitment to spend £1.8 billion on buildings and energy efficiency over the course of the parliament is encouraging – although the portion of that in this year’s budget, £336 million, is hardly a strong start.

The budgets for walking and cycling and for electric buses are heading in the right direction. Free bus travel passes for under-22s are also welcome. We will watch future developments on transport with interest, especially to assess how they can deliver the planned 20 per cent reduction in car mileage.

Money pledged through the nature recovery fund is necessary and encouraging, as it will facilitate action to restore peatland and plant woodland. However, progress to reform agriculture policy appears stalled.

There are still a number of challenges and issues that the Scottish government must address. As the CCC report commented, “the focus must now shift to ensuring that rapid emissions reductions are delivered with no further delay”.

This should mean, in particular, real and rapid changes in transport and agriculture, and less reliance on unrealistic negative-emissions technologies that remove and sequester carbon dioxide from the air.

Climate change is impacting the most vulnerable people in the world first and worst. Funding for international climate justice that was announced during COP26 – including reparation for the ‘loss and damage’ that we have caused to poorer countries elsewhere in the world – was backed up with the promised money in the Budget, which is necessary for Scotland to show committed world leadership on climate.

The Scottish government should harness Scotland’s international recognition as the first developed country to commit finance to pay for loss and damage, by developing an effective model for how the money is allocated with international experts, and ensuring that the whole of the Climate Justice Fund is spent in a locally led, transparent and transformative way.

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Furthermore, we hope that the Scottish government will work closely with the UK government and the Under2 Coalition (a global community of state and regional governments) to improve the access and participation of the Global South at COP27, the next UN climate summit, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

Stop Climate Chaos Scotland believes that the climate action priorities for the Scottish government necessitate a reinvigorated Climate Change Plan to be developed next year.

The new plan could better link the government’s work on domestic and international issues, provide a comprehensive policy platform on climate change, as well as recognising the climate impacts of imports and exports.

We will continue to press the Scottish government to take bold action to tackle climate change, with Scotland delivering our fair share of action in response to the Paris Agreement and the Glasgow Climate Pact, and supporting climate justice around the world.

Tom Ballantine is chair of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland

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