There's still time for Scotland to deliver the zero carbon future we need to have

On 3 April, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon met with the Governor of California '“ the world's sixth largest economy '“ to sign an agreement that strengthens clean energy ties and mutual resolve to deliver strong climate action in line with the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement.

Man laying loft insulation to make the home more energy efficient
Man laying loft insulation to make the home more energy efficient

It was good to be reminded that, in spite of the recent roll back of US federal action to cut carbon, the clean energy transition is inevitable and unstoppable. Cities, states, companies and communities around the world are increasingly embracing clean energy solutions and the benefits they bring to citizens, such as warmer homes, cleaner air and high quality jobs.

The Scottish Government is itself preparing to push forward with stronger efforts to build a thriving zero-carbon economy with a new Climate Change Bill in the pipeline, designed to implement the Paris Agreement.

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This will involve setting more ambitious long-term goals to limit temperature change to 1.5oC to protect the world’s most vulnerable people, places and species. To make good on collective Paris commitments, the new Bill must aim for Scotland to no longer contribute to global climate change by 2050 at the latest, balancing any remaining emissions from agriculture and food production with removing carbon from the atmosphere by, for instance, tree planting or new technologies. This would be particularly symbolic in the heartland of the industrial revolution.

But setting new goals, however stretching, is never an end in itself. It’s the action to deliver on them that really counts.

And that’s where Scotland has been falling short. Certainly, amazing progress has been made to expand our renewable electricity sector, where records continue to be set, but we’re still lagging behind on renewable heat and particularly on clean transport.

As the Scottish Government’s statutory climate advisors, the Committee on Climate Change, recently emphasised, stronger action and new carbon cutting policies are needed just to hit existing legal climate targets, let alone more stringent ones foreseen in the new legislation.

The Scottish Government’s recent draft Climate Change Plan should have been the opportunity to set out a clear pathway for slashing emissions and building a thriving green economy, but four cross-party Committees of the Scottish Parliament recently found the Plan fell remarkably short on new policy action and lacked credibility in key areas. There is still time to put this right in the final plan but the forthcoming legislation provides a chance to enshrine some of the most critical policy changes we need to see to ensure that we deliver on Paris and that no sector is left behind to miss out on the economic, social and environmental benefits of strong climate action. Alongside setting a clear trajectory to reach net zero, the Bill needs to ensure that the Scottish Budget is ‘climate proofed’ – that policies like energy efficiency receive enough funding and that we’re not locking ourselves into projects that will increase our emissions in the long-run. It also needs to put in place tools to ensure that our homes are made warm and cosy, insulated to an Energy Performance rating of C over the next decade, which will create thousands of jobs across Scotland, reduce fuel poverty and save the NHS tens of millions every year.

Equally, the Bill needs to act on cleaner transport for all by 2030 so that people in Scotland can reap the air quality and other benefits of phasing out fossil fuel vehicles that Norway is already beginning to enjoy as it aims for 100 per cent of new car sales to be electric by 2025. And finally, the Bill needs to ensure we help farmers to reduce their emissions and their costs through careful budgeting of their fertiliser use. The first Scottish Climate Change Act was passed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament in 2009 and fighting climate change is one area where there continues to be a huge amount of consensus across party lines.

The Scottish Government should now bring forward a new Climate Bill that gives MSPs from across the Parliament the opportunity to set out their ideas for win-win policies and genuinely world-leading targets. These will drive Scotland more quickly towards reaping the huge health, social, and economic benefits of the zero-carbon future that the Paris Agreement requires.

Gina Hanrahan, Senior Climate and Energy Policy Officer, WWF Scotland