Budgeting for the future

Written by on 24 September 2012 in Feature

Some tough political decisions may have to be made if the Scottish Government wants to deliver on climate-change targets

It is difficult to believe that an economic recession could possibly have any benefits – even unseen ones.
The current financial climate, with people cutting back spending and travel, coupled with milder weather – in theory, anyway – should mean Scotland passes its next target to cut CO2 emissions.
But what happens after that? The drive to reduce emissions is now enshrined in law, after the 2009 Climate Change Act and yearly reductions must add up to an overall reduction of 42 per cent by 2020.
The first of these targets was missed and blamed on two harsh winters as people heated their homes for longer. Now environmental campaigners have told Holyrood they hope the new Report on Policies and Proposals (RPP), which is due out later this year, will show the Government getting back on track.
However, they said bold and radical decisions needed to be included, if climate-change targets are to be met well into the 2020s.
The first RPP, published in 2011, contained both defined policies aimed at reducing emissions and proposals which, if implemented, would also contribute to meeting targets. It set out a master plan, ranging from smart meters and energy efficiency in homes to zero-waste policies and increasing tree-planting rates. But for some, this master plan didn’t go far enough and a step change is needed in the approach to the highest emission-producing sectors – housing and transport.
For homes in Scotland, many measures are already in the pipeline. Proposals already exist to ensure that homes built after 2013 will be ‘zero carbon’ and schemes have been introduced by both the Scottish and UK Governments to improve insulation in older homes to stop them losing heat.
According to the Scottish Government, 62 per cent of homes in Scotland already have a good energy efficiency rating, and more than 750,000 households have been offered advice through insulation schemes since 2009.
A National Retrofit Programme announced earlier this year aims to cut carbon emissions even further.
Dr Richard Dixon, director of WWF Scotland, praised measures like the Universal Home Insulation Scheme, which targets whole neighbourhoods to improve their energy efficiency. “That’s a great scheme, it’s really effective, but it only happens in small areas of Scotland,” he said.
“The challenge on housing is that we know exactly what to do, we just need to do it at a scale five or ten times bigger than we are currently doing things. We need to do five or ten times more insulation work on people’s homes every year than we currently do.” Tougher rules may also be needed, with calls for enforcement of retrofitting in housing – particularly private housing.
Stop Climate Change Chaos Scotland wants a minimum standard on private homes of an E rating by 2015, rising to C by 2020. This would mean a person could not sell their home unless they have carried out the work to improve its energy efficiency – although they would be encouraged to apply for available grants to see this done.
Andy Kerr, director of the Edinburgh Centre of Carbon Innovation, agreed that “really radical changes” were needed to make reductions of 3 per cent a year from 2020.
“One of the issues we have got with RPP2 is that there aren’t that many silver bullets out there.
“Most of the things are in that first document. But we need more of them, on a bigger scale and better.” If there is a feeling that things are at least moving in the right direction on housing, it is not shared on the other major emissions producer – transport.
Dixon said: “If you look at a graph of Scotland’s emissions, almost all of them are going down. But transport is going up.
“Manufacturers are under pressure from European legislation to make cars more and more efficient, so the reason it is going up is because we are not tackling traffic growth.” Even the emergence of electric cars is not going to solve problems per se, as Dixon says the rate of expansion of general traffic is too rapid. This means more measures are needed that are aimed at getting people to walk, cycle or take public transport.
Government transport policies have been criticised by environmental groups who feel there is still too much focus on new road projects, such as dualling the A9, the new Forth Road Bridge and the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route, but insufficient action to promote more active forms of travel and thus reduce car use.
Since 2007, a Scottish Government spokeswoman said £83m has been invested by the Government in active travel, £8m in low carbon vehicles, £9.2m in green buses and over £9m in freight facilities. Another £27m will be invested in active travel over the next three years and there is also a £50m Future Transport Fund to support low carbon vehicles and moving freight off the roads.
However, Tom Ballantine, chairman of Stop Climate Change Chaos Scotland, said: “Since 1999 the cost of motoring has dropped 7 per cent, while the cost of rail has gone up 14 per cent and buses by 22 per cent. When you want people to change their behaviour, you have to make the good behaviour cheaper – you don’t put money into the choices you don’t want people to take.” His organisation, which will march on the Scottish Parliament on 25 October to demand more action on climate change, wants to see more consideration given to congestion charges, workplace parking levies and parking management.
Ballantine added: “If you are serious about changing behaviour, you have to be serious about making the option you want easier and cheaper.” Even more radical proposals are suggested. In 2007 the SSP, in its election manifesto, called for free bus travel for all. The idea was not progressed by the incoming SNP Government.
But Dixon says ideas like this should be looked at.
“It would cost in the region of £2bn a year to make buses free. But if you’re a car driver and suddenly all the buses are free and you can make a journey reasonably easily by bus, why would you drive?
“Suddenly you completely change the way we think about transport. A lot of people would get out of cars and onto buses. You would have far less cars coming up the street. It’s that kind of radical thing that government isn’t looking at that we really do need to start looking at.” The first RPP included proposals for encouraging economical driving and tougher enforcement of speed limits, and some groups hope that these will become firmer policies in the next document.
Dixon added: “The Spanish, during fairly high fuel prices, introduced lower speed limits on most of their network because they were helping people save fuel. That’s very difficult political territory.

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