Scotland achieving net-zero carbon economy will require 'difficult choices', new report warns

Difficult choices will need to be made if Scotland is to become a net-zero carbon economy in the next three decades, a new report has warned.

The Infrastructure Commission for Scotland (ICS) has been looking ahead to the next 30 years to see what challenges will need to be addressed.

At the heart of this vision is a desire to have an "inclusive net-zero carbon economy" - but the commission said it did not "underestimate the nature and scale of the challenges" in achieving this.

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The Scottish Government has already set the ambition of reaching net-zero emissions by 2045. Picture: John Devlin/TSPL

The ICS, in its initial report, said: "Whilst the journey to this vision has already started, the urgency and pace of change will need to increase, and the scale of change required will affect almost every aspect of our daily lives.

The ICS, which was established by the Scottish Government to provide independent advice to ministers and develop a 30-year infrastructure strategy, made a string of recommendations.

These including calling for Government-funded projects to be "prioritised against available inclusive net-zero carbon economy outcomes".

The new National Transport Strategy and Strategic Transport Projects Review, both of which are due to be published later this year, should also "fully reflect the need to deliver an inclusive net zero carbon economy", it said.

The ICS also wants the Scottish and UK Governments to work together to establish a new payment regime that would be an alternative to the existing fuel and road taxation system.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Government is urged to provide the necessary "leadership" to ensure a full fibre network is in place by 2027 to enable the rollout of 5G across the whole country.

Ian Russell, chairman of the ICS, said: "While infrastructure investment remains a vital factor in supporting the economy and acting as an enabler to deliver effective public services, future infrastructure decisions should be based on their ability to clearly demonstrate their contribution to an inclusive, net-zero carbon economy.

"We do not underestimate the nature and scale of the challenges facing future infrastructure decisions and recognise difficult decisions will need to be made.

"This will require bold and determined leadership from the Scottish Government.

"However, this is not just a challenge for the public sector.

"Critically it is a call to everyone who plans, builds, invests in, owns, operates, regulates and, as importantly, uses Scotland's infrastructure."

Infrastructure Secretary Michael Matheson said the advice from the ICS would "help shape how we plan to invest in Scotland's infrastructure, recognising the long-term objectives of this Government to deliver an inclusive and net-zero emissions economy".

He added: "The value of investing in infrastructure goes beyond the physical homes, schools and hospitals we see in everyday life.

"If done well, it has the capacity to unlock economic potential, support jobs and enable our businesses and communities to strengthen and grow.

"We will now take the time necessary to carefully consider the report before updating Parliament on how we plan to incorporate the recommendations into Scottish Government policy and the next Infrastructure Investment Plan."

Robin Parker, climate and energy policy manager at environmental charity WWF Scotland said: "This is a landmark report and must lead to a revolution in the big projects the Scottish Government chooses to spend money on.

"The Infrastructure Committee is right to say that driving a just transition to an inclusive climate-neutral economy must be at the core of Scotland's infrastructure investment decisions.

"We're in a climate emergency and by accelerating our response we can create a cleaner, greener and more prosperous Scotland for all."

He added: "In light of this report, next month's Scottish budget must be 'climate emergency proof', shifting investment away from building new roads to putting more money into cutting our reliance on the polluting fossil fuels we use to heat our homes and travel around."

Dave Moxham, STUC deputy general secretary, said the report had "set the right ambitions on inclusive growth and net-zero carbon".

He added it did "not shy away from the enormous challenges presented in areas such as transport and the decarbonisation of the heating system".

Mr Moxham said: "The transformation required will not be delivered by the market or by private sector companies operating short-term, profit maximising, shareholdings satisfying business models.

"We need a publicly owned infrastructure company that will provide strategic leadership and set the standards - including employment standards - that we need to ensure inclusive growth is achieved.

"We also require a strategy to ensure good jobs are created in Scotland across the supply chain."