Sarah Beattie-Smith: SNP Government is backsliding on climate change

Wind turbines silhouetted against the sun at Black Law wind farm (Picture: Getty)
Wind turbines silhouetted against the sun at Black Law wind farm (Picture: Getty)
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While Scotland was engulfed by snowy weather in recent weeks, the Scottish Government revealed its latest plan to hold back long-term changes to the climate.

The Climate Change Plan sets out how the Government aims to reduce emissions between now and 2032. The first draft was published over a year ago and was scrutinised by four Parliamentary committees, all of which urgedMinisters to bring forward a final plan which was more credible, ambitious and detailed.

Yet in many ways, this plan is less ambitious than the draft and contains less detail on how policies will actually reduce emissions.

There has been a welcome leap forward on transport, our biggest emitting sector, with the commitment to phase out fossil fuel vehicles and increase funding for cycling and walking, saving an extra 500,000 tonnes of CO2 by 2032, and cleaning up our toxic air. But sadly ambition has been rolled back in almost every sector, from homes to farming and from electricity to waste. In our cold homes, planned emissions reductions of 75 per cent have been scaled back to just 23 per cent and in electricity, the final plan would see three million more tonnes of CO2 emitted in 2032 than the draft. It’s fair to say that in some areas, the draft was overly ambitious, stretching credibility without the detail on how savings would be delivered. Unfortunately, the Government has now gone too far the other way.

But the Climate Change Plan is about more than just the numbers. It is supposed to be our blueprint for the kind of Scotland we want to be. It should be the place where our famed Scottish innovation is put to work, meeting our needs for cleaner air, warmer homes and a safe, healthy environment.

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However, this plan both ignores some low-hanging fruit and sidesteps tougher challenges.

We already know what needs to be done to dramatically cut emissions from Scotland’s buildings, for example. Insulating homes to the highest possible standard is something that successive governments have known is necessary. Yet over a million homes still fall short of the recommended levels of energy efficiency. The Scottish Government could have used this plan to set strong new energy efficiency targets and reaped sizable rewards, from saving the NHS up to £80m a year to creating thousands of jobs. Instead, ambition was rolled back.

In areas like agriculture and low-carbon heat, it can be harder to see where big emissions reductions come from once the easy things are done. The problem is this plan won’t even do the easy things that experts have suggested, like measuring and managing Scotland’s fertiliser use or building new homes with a low-carbon heat source and the highest energy efficiency standards from day one so they don’t have to be expensively retrofitted a decade later.

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There is now a chance for all parties in Parliament to work together and agree common ambitions and actions with the upcoming Climate Bill. It must address the huge untapped potential for new policies that will deliver multiple benefits for the economy, public health and our environment. The urgency of climate change and our global commitments under the Paris Agreement require the Scottish Government to set strong new targets in this Bill, including increased action before 2030 which will put us on a path to eliminate our contribution to climate change by 2050.

Sarah Beattie-Smith is climate and energy policy officer at WWF Scotland