This should have been the climate emergency election. It is our first chance to vote for MSPs and test the parties’ policies since the new Climate Act with its tougher targets, since the Scottish Government declare a Climate Emergency and since protests by 40,000 people in September 2019 called for more action to reduce emissions. It is now a covid-recovery election, but it still needs to be about creating a green, wellbeing economy and generating the green jobs we need to make the just transition out of fossil fuel production.
The politicians we are about to elect will make absolutely vital decisions over the next five years which will deliver that just transition and set us firmly on the path to zero climate emissions, or they will delay the action we need and prolong our fossil fuel addition.
Currently around a quarter of all energy used in Scotland comes from renewables, but this needs to become 100 per cent, with heating and transport all going electric, and fossil fuel extraction being phased out rapidly in this decade. A new Scottish Government needs to finally set an end date for fossil fuel production and create a just transition for workers and communities current dependent in oil production.
Transport is the largest sector of climate emissions and even making every car electric does not solve the problems of congestion, crashes and communities divided by roads. A big step in the right direction would be to make bus travel free for everyone. Combined with changes to the way we plan our urban areas and better measures for cycling and walking, free buses would make a huge difference to the transport choices people make every day. With the recent nationalisation of ScotRail and the long-running success of council-owned Lothian buses, this would also be the chance to recognise public transport as the essential public service that it is and put it back into public ownership.
There are already plans for a publicly-owned renewable energy company but these need to go further to include generating, not just selling, power, helping to drive a rapid growth in renewable energy in Scotland. The new government also needs to make sure that we learn the lessons of the recent past and that the manufacturing jobs associated with this growth in renewables largely stay in Scotland, helping make the just transition out of fossil fuel jobs real.
Climate change needs to be at the heart of the government’s policies as we rebuild Scotland out of the coronavirus pandemic. That means an economic strategy that drives climate emissions rapidly out of the system, an energy strategy that accelerates the development of the whole range of renewables and drives energy efficiency in homes and industry as never before, a transport strategy that breaks our dependence on the car and a resources strategy that makes sure materials are used over and over again.
There is no time to waste, whoever you vote for, make sure they are going to use the next five years to create the zero-carbon Scotland we need.
Dr Richard Dixon is Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland