Op-ed, The Herald, 26 August 2019
An emergency requires an emergency response. Scotland was the first nation in the world to declare that the climate crisis has now reached such a point that it now represents an emergency of planetary scale. That leadership was followed by nations, cities and organisations across the world making similar declarations. Scotland should also now lead in its response to the climate emergency.
The Scottish Government have made welcome commitments to action on climate change, legislating for a pathway to net-zero emissions by 2045, planning to create a Green New Deal for Scotland, and a commitment that next week’s Programme for Government will have climate at its core. The Climate Emergency Response Group of civic and business leaders formed to use our expertise and influence to support the Scottish Government by setting out what we believe are some of the key actions that it urgently needs to take to translate these commitments into concrete policies. The climate emergency requires urgent practical leadership, with new and accelerated policies, initiatives, regulation and investment.
Today our group published our recommendations. These are steps that can immediately be implemented, are equal to the scale of the climate crisis we face and will help make Scotland a better place to live and work.
With most buildings in Scotland still heated by burning fossil fuels, and many of them leaky and inefficient, changing how we heat our homes is a key next step for Scotland’s journey to net-zero climate emissions. A Scottish Heat Pump Sector Deal should be created, accelerating the adoption of electric heating from modern and efficient heat pumps and maximising the opportunities for economic growth in manufacture and installation.
Between now and 2045 we need to retrofit the vast majority of our existing buildings to make them zero-carbon. This means accelerating the Scottish Government’s energy efficiency programme, using regulation and public funding to improve our leaky and draughty buildings. Unbelievably, we are adding to this retrofit task every year, putting up buildings that are not zero-carbon, despite the technology being available and the costs being marginal. From now on, Scottish building standards should ensure that all new homes are zero-carbon, and that buildings undergoing a major refurbishment have their carbon emissions improved. These policies will mean people living warmer, more comfortable lives with lower fuel bills.
Scotland’s land has a vital role to play in our climate emergency response. Regional land use plans can ensure that every part of Scotland’s land is contributing, whether that’s through the recovery and restoration of natural habitats, the replanting of forests, or through efficient and climate friendly productive agriculture. Our farmers need a helping hand with this vital role. Grants, loans and funding for training opportunities should be increased, helping farmers purchase new machinery and equipment that enables them to be more efficient and precise and achieve climate-friendly modernisation of Scottish agriculture. Public guidance on sustainable, climate-friendly and healthy diets should give us all expert advice that helps us reduce our impact on the climate.
Achieving all these changes to our lives requires new investment and we should begin by harnessing what the public sector already spends. Every year the Scottish public sector spends £11 billion, which should be mobilised to develop demand for new climate-friendly products, business and services.
Similarly, the new Scottish National Investment Bank should have the climate emergency in its DNA – its project investments must be consistent with Scotland’s climate goals.
Climate change should be at the heart of Scotland’s economic strategy. A new set of Green City Region Deals can fund the infrastructure that will enable the transformation of our cities, increasing productivity, making them healthier, more attractive and more liveable. Signalling that Scotland’s city centres will be vehicle emission free by 2030 will drive the market for zero-emission vehicles, while also supporting public transport, walking and cycling. A focus on establishing Scotland as a global centre of net-zero industrial expertise will provide our best chance of competing in global industrial markets – and our group has recommended the establishment of a public-interest company that can develop the necessary infrastructure for commercial carbon capture and storage as a first step.
These are our recommendations. They respond to the climate crisis and they are actions that will benefit the economy and people of Scotland. More will be required, but transformative actions like these are needed now. We are already witnessing climate change’s effects around the world and here in Scotland. The International Panel on Climate Change has said we have just 12 years left to get ourselves on a pathway that avoids breaching 1.5 degrees of warming, a disaster for people and nature. That’s now only 2,000 working days, an extreme timescale to massively accelerate action.
But it is achievable, and it can be an opportunity. The time to act is now.
Elizabeth Leighton, Secretariat, Climate Emergency Response Group