THE winter of 2010-11 was memorable for the long weeks of record-breaking cold weather.
It now features in another unwelcome statistic. Turning up the heating to keep warm means Scotland's greenhouse gas emissions increased by 1.9% in 2010.
While the longer-term trend shows CO2 emissions in Scotland have fallen by around a quarter since 1990, making it still theoretically possible to achieve the target of a reduction of 42% on 1990 levels by 2020, other factors in addition to extreme weather must call that into question.
The pluses include a general shift from coal towards gas, boosted by Ayrshire Power's withdrawal of plans for a coal-fired power station at Hunterston, although whether the gas-fired station at Peterhead will be successful in becoming the UK's first carbon capture and storage site is uncertain.
However, the downward trend since the Scottish Government's 2009 Climate Change Act owes much to the drop in energy use due to the recession. Pollution from transport is likely to increase, according to Transport Scotland, which forecasts traffic levels will rise as a result of road improvement programmes. As yet there is little evidence of this being offset by a switch to electric and hybrid vehicles.
Climate change is a long-term trend but the evidence of changing weather patterns is clear enough. There is no quick fix but reducing energy consumption, especially of fossil fuels, makes sense because it has benefits in addition to reducing CO2 emissions.
Energy efficiency should be a priority for the Scottish Government's consultation on a draft sustainable housing strategy. Along with new building standards, ensuring existing homes are properly insulated will not only save energy but reduce costs, a vital consideration for the growing number of people at risk of fuel poverty as prices continue to rise, with most households facing an additional £15 a year over the next decade for improvements to the grid announced this week.
The Scottish Government has rightly been praised for its boldness in setting the bar for legally-enforceable emissions reduction, 8% higher than the UK target and more than double the EU's 20%. Scotland is on course to meet the targets for increasing the proportion of energy the country requires from renewable sources but that is only one aspect of the task of reducing carbon emissions.
Now that the SNP has signalled an about-turn on its opposition to an independent Scotland joining Nato despite the defence organisation's ultimate reliance on a nuclear deterrent, its intransigence on nuclear generation must become more problematic given the difficulties of ensuring security of supply when fluctuating wind forms a growing proportion of the energy from renewables.
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