Scotland has been a leader in acting on climate change in recent years. Investment and support to reduce carbon emissions in recent years, particularly through renewable energy, has helped kick start Scotland’s journey to a low carbon economy. Now, with two new sets of plans, they’ve committed to go even further.
The third Climate Change Plan and the Scottish Energy Strategy, both published in the past two weeks, have set ambitious new targets: a 66% reduction in emissions by 2032, and 50% of all energy to come from renewables by 2030.
Achieving these targets will be no small feat, especially given that Scotland is yet to make real progress in decarbonising transport, heating or agriculture – sectors which are much harder to tackle than electricity and waste, for example. However, these new targets show that Scotland is not willing to rest on its laurels and is committed to being a leader in action on climate change in the coming years.
What makes Scotland’s commitment to climate action even more impressive is the party-wide consensus which has been achieved in recent years. All five parties – from the Greens on one end of the spectrum to the Conservatives on the other – were signatories of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act back in 2009. Since then, there has been a general agreement in the Scottish Parliament that tackling climate change must be a key priority over the coming years. Whilst there were some disagreements, all five parties have been generally supportive of both the Climate Change Plan and the Energy Strategy.
South of the border, things sadly aren’t quite as promising. Cuts to investment in onshore wind, solar, energy-efficient housing and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) in the past two years signals that climate change may be sliding down the agenda for the UK Government. More recently, plans to sell off the Green Investment Bank have raised serious fears about the future of investment in low carbon initiatives in the UK
In the next month, the UK Government is due to publish its Low Emissions Plan, which will set out plans to continue decarbonising the UK. This will be an important moment for the UK in providing a comprehensive plan for cutting carbon and acting on climate change. To date however, there has been very little openness or discussion about the Plan, or what targets may be set in each sector for carbon reduction.
The Low Emissions Plan will determine the UK’s future plans for acting on climate change. It is vital that we see strong commitments to reduce carbon emissions across the board: energy, transport and heating all have massive room for improvement to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement.
Now that it looks as if we’re fully committed to leaving the EU, the UK is going to be required to, for want of a better phrase, take back control of climate and environmental policy. EU legislation, such as the Renewables Directive, have been instrumental in transitioning our energy system away from fossil fuels towards clean, renewable sources. Now that our government will soon no longer be required to adhere to these rules, the future of UK climate action is arguably more uncertain than ever.
But there may be cause for hope for the Low Emissions Plan.
Let’s not forget that the UK Government have signed the Paris Agreement – a sign that they appreciate the need to act on climate change and the risks that it poses to our planet. Renewables are also making increasing economic sense – solar is now the cheapest form of electricity in the world. Whilst solar can’t power the UK on its own, costs for onshore and offshore wind are also falling every year, and the Government have in the past signalled their commitment to supporting offshore wind projects. The recent announcement of a commitment to phase out coal by 2025 is also a very positive move, one which means that increasing our use of renewables is an inevitability.
The UK Government would do well to look at what the Scottish Government have done with the Climate Change Plan and Energy Strategy and set targets which make the UK a world leader on climate action. In these dark times of uncertainty, setting an example for the rest of the world with the Low Emissions Plan would be a bold and admirable move.