On 10 June, to no great surprise but considerable disappointment, we learned that the Scottish Government had missed its third climate change target in a row. Emissions had actually risen rather than fallen between 2011 and 2012, in large part due to our poorly insulated housing stock and a reliance on gas heating. Behind the number crunching and greenhouse gas accounting, a missed target is not only a measure of Scotland’s climate change impact but also a measure of missed opportunities. Opportunities that if seized could cut air pollution and the 1000s of associated premature deaths it causes every year, could cut fuel bills and the stress of living in fuel poverty and create new, skilled jobs in new industries. Tackling climate change is a moral responsibility but it is also the means to a fairer, healthier Scotland that we must take every opportunity to secure.
Back in March after the 2014 progress report by the Government’s statutory advisers, the UK Committee on Climate Change I blogged that now was not the time to take the foot off the accelerator on Scotland’s low carbon journey, and that we must follow the Committee’s advice of increasing our effort across homes, transport, heating and land use. The package of measures announced by the Climate Minister alongside the missed target was a clear recognition that more can and must be done to seize these opportunities and turn emissions targets into a low carbon Scotland.
The Government’s package was welcome for its effort to ensure that no sector of the Scottish economy is left behind in the low carbon transition. As well as a Cabinet Sub-Committee on Climate Change, which will make climate change the responsibility of all relevant ministers, not just one, it included more funding for fuel-poor rural homes and greener travel, efforts to manage fertiliser use on farms and regulation of district heating, which will provide a spur to what is still a nascent industry in Scotland.
However, this package must only be seen as a start of greater efforts to assert policy control over Scotland’s emissions. Our legislation rightly demands tighter targets as we move towards 2020 and so we need to see a parallel step change across all sectors of the Scottish economy if they are to be met and the benefits realised.
The Climate Minister spoke to this challenge when he renewed the Scottish Government’s ‘resolve to meet future targets and ensure Scotland remains a world leader in this field’. This will mean that by the end of October, and according to the Climate Act, the Minister will need to provide a full report on the missed target, why it was missed and what further steps are to be introduced to compensate for the excess emissions. This is the opportunity to build on the cross-party support for additional policy effort that was echoed by all the opposition parties on the 10 June. The cross-party consensus that launched the Act is vital for the essential work of implementation and I hope all parties will take the opportunity to come forward with policy suggestions that will not only allow us to meet future targets but secure the transformative benefits of a low carbon Scotland.
As we move forward together on Scotland’s low carbon journey, we must think critically and act strategically. Are we ensuring that our plans are joined up, so that we’re not undermining with one hand what we’ve been fighting hard to secure with the other? Are we looking at great examples of win-win green projects in other countries? Are we building the low carbon infrastructure we so badly need or are we trapping ourselves in a high carbon pathway? And crucially, are we investing wisely – financially, socially and environmentally – for the future? It is incumbent on all of us – Government, opposition, NGOs and industry – to make sure that we do just that.