Scotland needs to move to the implementation stage if it wants to be a net zero global leader
Scotland and the UK are going to have to implement their ambitious net zero targets with speed if either is to earn the right to call itself a global leader on climate change, the head of the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has said.
Speaking on the final day of Holyrood magazine’s COP26 Fringe Festival, CCC chief executive Chris Stark noted that the goal for all nations is to cut out fossil fuels completely in order to halt climate change. Though he said both the Scottish and UK governments have set themselves up as global leaders by targeting net zero by 2045 and 2050 respectively, the reality is that neither they or any other country in the world is close to breaking their reliance on fossil fuels.
“There are lots of countries around the world doing good things on the climate but I don’t want to sit here and say any of those countries has done enough,” he said.
“There will always be more to do on this, at least in the next few years. The goal is to cut out fossil fuels completely – that’s a massive task, but let’s be clear that is more or less what we need to do globally if we want to tackle this climate change crisis.
“The UK and Scotland have set their ambitions in a good place. It’s great to have those targets, but [now] it’s about implementation of those targets.”
Frank Rijsberman, director general of the Global Green Growth Institute, noted that the protests taking place in Glasgow during COP26 have focused on what activists see as politicians’ empty promises on setting and meeting targets. However, he said that, taking an optimistic view, if all the pledges being made at COP26 are met they will have a significant impact on dealing with the climate crisis.
“We’re on a train that’s hurtling to a ravine,” he said. “The UN has told us [global temperatures] are going to 2.7 degrees [above pre-industrial levels]. Are we really facing the end of civilisation if we don’t act now? We’re not going fast enough.
“But we have to be impressed by those promises that are made and we’ll have to hold leaders’ feet to the fire. If we do implement them we could be heading for 1.8 degrees. It’s still not 1.5 [the limit set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement] but it’s a hell of a lot better than 2.7. The promises made this week could be moving us in the right direction.”
Though much of the debate around the climate emergency focuses on global solutions, Frances Guy, chief executive of Scotland's International Development Alliance, said the question of decarbonising things such as heat highlight just how local the response is going to have to be too.
“Different areas will need to have different solutions and that’s a political question,” she said, adding: “I don’t think we are in that space politically.”
For Annie Shepperd, chief executive of Salix Finance, funding the transition at the local level will be problematic, with local authorities likely to need additional support from central government to help pay for individualised systems. On top of that, she said, governments need to do more to ensure people know what the long-term benefits of short-term costs are going to be.
“We’re working with local government to decarbonise local government – we’re working to take out gas, oil and coal,” she said.
“The paradox for local government in Scotland is that this is very expensive – they have immediate costs in paying for electricity because the cost is higher.
“The conflict is it’s the right thing to do, but they need to find money to pay for electricity. They are being squeezed by government grants, which means the cost is passed onto the consumer – the cost of electricity will increase [and that will exacerbate] fuel poverty.
“Government can’t do it by itself, local government can’t do it by itself and people in homes, unless they are very, very rich, can’t do it by themselves.
“Fuel poverty is hugely discriminatory; the paradoxes we’re dealing with mean there are huge questions that need to be answered and the people of Scotland need to understand and be engaged in the big questions about why this needs to happen and their part in it.
“It won’t be successful if people think they can’t heat their homes and can’t drive their cars.”