Talking point: Brave decisions

Written by on 8 April 2013

Scotland has been lauded far and wide for its far-reaching ambitions to get to grips with climate change. Four years ago, the Scottish Parliament set itself tough and legally-binding targets on carbon emissions — more stringent than the UK’s own Climate Change Act set just a year before.

It has led the debate on the need for a culture change becoming mainstream and reached a broad agreement that in many sectors, serious action needs to be taken to tackle the harmful greenhouse gases that are produced; and it is one of the main drivers behind the Government’s aim to encourage huge investment in renewable forms of energy to eventually replace our reliance on fossil fuels.

The ambition is to have reduced emissions by 42 per cent in just seven years’ time — ahead of a further reduction to 80 per cent by 2050. But this ambition itself has become the stumbling block, because there comes a time when it has to be matched by achievement. So where are we?

One of the coldest winters on record meant that the first annual climate change target under the act, for 2010, was missed, but environmental campaigners have pointed out that the annual targets cannot hang by a single thread of hope for milder Scottish winters and longer summers, something demonstrated by the decidedly un-spring like weather all across the UK this year.

And the latest debate over the conflict between ambition and achievement was shown in the Scottish Government’s blueprint for addressing carbon emissions between now and 2027 — the draft second Report on Proposals and Policies (RPP2). It attempts to put meat on the bones of how the huge task can be achieved, however, it surprised many environmental campaigners because of its lack of precise detail and policies not fully explained.

While the Scottish Government can argue that the report has been subjected to a far higher level of scrutiny than usual — with four separate parliamentary committee inquiries into it, the subsequent debate has shown evidence of a divergence, in many MSPs’ eyes, as to how well the job has been carried out thus far. For example, the committee reports highlighted areas where RPP2 could be “beefed up” but there was a concern that the document relied on the European Union raising its CO2 reduction target from 20 per cent to 30 per cent, and without that, all policies and proposals in the document would have to be met if there was to be a chance of hitting the 42 per cent goal.

Some SNP backbenchers were keen to highlight the progress already made, such as Richard Lyle, who told the Parliament: “The challenge is increasing, but we are over halfway to achieving our target.” Others, such as Marco Biagi and Mike Mackenzie, criticised the committees for making “unreasonable demands” and asking them to “peer into a crystal ball and see 14 year hence”, while Lib Dem Jim Hume warned that Scotland risked being “the country with the most ambitious world-leading targets we do not meet”.

Undoubtedly, more debate will follow, but the warnings are already there, and no amount of spin, argument or views will cover it up if the final ambitious targets are not met.

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