By Dr Sam Gardner
CHRISTIANA Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), was in Scotland this week. For the last six years Ms Figueres has provided strong leadership to steer the global response to climate change through the annual UNFCCC conferences. Following the Paris climate deal in November her call to all nations to work “hard to ensure we create a reality as transformational as our vision” resonates in Scotland, where we must turn the promise of our Climate Act into a low carbon reality.
Scotland’s Climate Change Act remains an exemplar of the framework required to translate the Paris climate deal into binding commitments from Governments across the world. But, while our legislation is strong there remains much to do to translate its ambition into action.
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Around the world we are seeing nations step forward and take action to prevent dangerous climate change and secure the benefits of a zero carbon economy. In South America, Uruguay meets almost 95 per cent of its electricity from renewables, and is now reaping the benefits of lower consumer costs. China plans to add 35GW of wind and solar in 2016 alone and last year global renewable capacity additions surpassed fossil fuel additions for the first time. The clean energy transition has started. And while Scotland has made great strides in renewable electricity there remains much we can learn from others who have shown leadership on heating, transport and energy efficiency.
For example, in Norway, the introduction of legislation to support district heating has shown a 150 per cent increase in the installed capacity for district heating over the last 10 years. This has helped make it possible for the city of Drammen to create a district heating network that supplies several thousand homes and businesses with clean, affordable heat. This system didn’t rely on Scandinavian engineering but the expertise of Glasgow-based Star Renewables; Norway simply provided the right environment. Scotland must do the same if it wants to attract the same level of investment.
In the Netherlands, a new investment model, known as Energiesprong, is retrofitting entire streets in a matter of days to create net-zero emissions (energy-neutral) homes and regenerating entire neighbourhoods. There is much that we could learn from the scale and ambition of this approach as the Scottish Government turns its commitment to a national energy efficiency programme into a programme of works. If we are to cut the emissions from our housing sector and tackle fuel poverty all homes must be supported to reach at least an Energy Performance Certificate of C by 2025.
The public supports Scotland’s transition to a low carbon economy. A poll published at the beginning of the month found that 70 per cent of the Scottish public wants a renewables-based future; meanwhile more than 2,000 people voted on the types of low carbon infrastructure they wanted to see in communities across Scotland. But if we are to deliver on the promise of our Climate Change Act, grasp the benefits of our abundant renewable resource, make use of our history as engineering innovators, and move to a future where social, environmental and economic benefits are realised, we need to make policy strides now.
We know that a new electricity strategy that puts Scotland on course for almost entirely renewable electricity generation in 2030 could create jobs, empower communities, and support local economic renewal across the country.
A Warm Homes Act would bring clean and affordable warmth to households and businesses, by supporting the growth of district heating and renewable heat, while improving the energy efficiency of our buildings. It would reduce heat demand, cut fuel bills and create jobs in a new district heating industry.
By making the improvement of energy efficiency a long-term national infrastructure project, no one in Scotland would have to live in a hard to heat, draughty home by 2025. Public investment in energy efficiency could create up to 9,000 new jobs around every part of Scotland, and ensure 1.25million homes in Scotland will be made warm, affordable to heat, and lower carbon.
With elections on May 5, all parties should be laying out their plans to grasp the opportunities of a clean energy transition and, as Ms Figueres urges, ensure we “create a reality as transformational as our vision”.
Dr Sam Gardner is head of policy at WWF Scotland