Working toward low carbon Scotland

Our heritage of ingenuity and invention stands Scotland in good stead for building the low-carbon world we need, says Sam Gardner
Beatrice Wind Farm in Moray sits alongside the oil field whose energy production will soon have to be replaced by renewable sourcesBeatrice Wind Farm in Moray sits alongside the oil field whose energy production will soon have to be replaced by renewable sources
Beatrice Wind Farm in Moray sits alongside the oil field whose energy production will soon have to be replaced by renewable sources

When I think of the many inventions that make our lives today easier and safer – things we take for granted like the telephone, television, the steam engine and penicillin – they all have one thing in common: they were all the brainchild of Scots. Just as Scots confronted the challenges to help society develop better forms of communication, travel further and faster, fight infections – today we face up to one of our greatest challenges: how to combat climate change. Our history is one of ambition and ingenuity, of development and vision; we must now draw inspiration and confidence from this as we face up to the challenges of the 21st century.

The challenge of tackling climate change is real and pressing. Science tells us that the human influence on our climate is clear and that the warming of the climate system is unequivocal. The atmosphere and oceans have warmed, the amount of snow and ice have diminished, and the sea level has risen. Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have increased since the pre-industrial era and are now at levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. To be effective our response needs to match the challenge; it cannot mimic the decisions of the past but must break new ground and place us on a cleaner, lighter path to development.

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Despite the stark science it’s not too late to rise to the challenge with the right policies and the right infrastructure. Unlike the challenges facing Scotland in the 19th century, we now have many of the tools needed to address climate change and many more are in development. We have the ability to change the “business as normal” model and create the low-carbon enlightenment that must follow the industrial revolution.

The Scottish Climate Change Act, which has among the most ambitious emissions reduction targets in the world, spans a 
40-year time horizon. This timeline gives industry and consumers the foresight needed to invest and plan wisely to create a cleaner, fairer and flourishing low carbon Scotland.

It’s now time to put in place the building blocks for that future. The strategic decisions we make now about our infrastructure will determine how we travel, heat our homes and power our industries in 2050. In fact, they will shape the kinds of industries and jobs we will have in the future.

Fortunately, the Scottish Government understands that in order to meet its targets under the Climate Change Act, it must support low-carbon infrastructure, which it has made a key pillar of its Economic Strategy and Infrastructure Investment Plan. But to be sure that the Scottish Government’s budget is investing for a green future, there needs to be a pipeline of large-scale, “shovel-ready” green infrastructure projects. These could include a major district heating network in Glasgow, dualling and electrifying the Perth-Inverness railway line, or insulating every home across Scotland.

That’s why we’re bringing together a taskforce to help identify the transformational low-carbon projects that will shape our future now. We hope the group will include key figures from the public and private sectors, across the infrastructure lifecycle from construction, finance, the third sector and academia.

The Low Carbon Infrastructure Taskforce will look forward to 2050 and identify great projects fit for investment. These projects will be transformative in scale, catalysing the changes we need to see if we are to secure the low-carbon economy we need. The Taskforce will combine expert opinion with public support as it seeks to identify key infrastructure projects for Scotland.

WWF Scotland believes that building a greener future will not only cut emissions, it will reinvigorate our rich engineering and innovation traditions, following on from the legacy of Telford, McAdam, Bell and Watt. By investing in schemes such as district heating and modernising our housing stock, we can increase employment, raise household incomes and create a stronger economy with the reassurance we are not dependent on fossil fuels or exposed to their unpredictable spikes in price. If we make the right decisions today, Scotland’s low carbon economy of the future will be rooted in an infrastructure that locks in benefits for households, businesses and communities across Scotland.

Dr Sam Gardner is head of policy at WWF Scotland. Contact him via [email protected] or @SamGardner76 for more details on the Low Carbon Infrastructure Task Force.