Sometimes life throws up more questions than there are swift and immediate answers to – and the challenge of climate change presents one of the most momentous for Scotland and the vulnerable, blue globe we all inhabit.

The message delivered at Low Carbon Scotland on Tuesday this week was clear: we’ve gauged the seriousness of the situation and are at the edge of the cliff – but jumping off it in panic won’t solve anything. Rather, pursuing an urgent but considered transition through partnership and co-operation between politicians and the public and private sectors can achieve decisive, radical change.

The Low Carbon Scotland conference, entitled Driving the Transition to a Zero-Carbon Economy, was a unique opportunity to hear from those leading and driving the policies and proposals that will influence its future.

HeraldScotland:

The first session of the event, in partnership with The Herald’s Climate for Change campaign, was chaired by Rob Edwards, former Environment Editor of the Sunday Herald and Director of the Investigative Journalism Co-operative, who told the 225 delegates the extent of the challenge had been highlighted that day when Deirdre Michie, chief executive of Oil and Gas UK, warned that the industry must address the “real and present danger” of climate change.

While by 2032, Scotland will have reduced its emissions by 66%, relative to the baseline, while growing the economy and increasing the wellbeing of its people, today’s headline figures remain daunting, said Dr Stuart Sneddon of Ricardo Energy and Environment. In 2012, seven million people died as a result of air pollution exposure, one in eight of all deaths worldwide according to the World Health Organization (WHO), with 3000 premature deaths in Scotland in 2015, mainly attributed to fine particulates and huge economic costs for society.

Low carbon technologies will transform the global economy and the message was that these opportunities must be seized quickly – or we risk being left behind. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said at the annual United Nations climate change conference in Bonn in November 2017 that: “Our ambitions must live up to the scale of the challenge, and our actions must live up to our ambitions”.

HeraldScotland: Transport was a hot issue at Low Carbon Scotland, with a look to the benefits of hydrogen fuelled vehicles.Transport was a hot issue at Low Carbon Scotland, with a look to the benefits of hydrogen fuelled vehicles.

Delivering these aspirations is clearly required, now more than ever. Scotland, said Sue Kearns, Deputy Director, Consumers and Low Carbon Division at the Scottish Government and representing Paul Wheelhouse, the Minster for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, had passed the most ambitious climate change laws of any country in the world and The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) said the country could have net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, five years faster than the UK overall if it acted immediately.

However, the route toward achieving these objectives won’t always be a smooth one. Kathryn Dapre, Head of Energy and Sustainability at NHS National Services Scotland gave a candid assessment of the cost of doing nothing.

She pointed out that fuel poverty cost the health service £80 million a year.

Poor air quality resulted in 2000 deaths per year and cost the NHS £2 billion, as well as procurement costs of £1.7bn on pharmaceuticals. Plus there were the physical and mental health aspects of adverse climate change events to take into account as well.

She also highlighted the challenges of transforming an estate of 4.6 million sq metres with 200 hospitals, but stressed the organisation’s commitment to tackling these through creating sustainability actions through the Our NHS Our People and our Planet strategy.

Sustainability, she said was part of the core business, not an add on and was being achieved by better new build, the installation of LED lighting and the use of biomass for heating that has resulted in the NHS being ahead of the Scottish Government’s targets.

Much of the agenda addressed transport, with surface transport responsible for around a quarter of UK emissions of CO2 and with air pollution a factor in at least 64,000 yearly UK deaths (one in 1,000 people).

Comprehensive analysis has identified harm from pollution that includes dementia, heart and lung disease and fertility problems, said Alan Asbury, Chairman of the Low Carbon Club CIC (Community Interest Company) and director of CLS Energy.

He added that in terms of energy efficiency, the internal combustion engine was just 20% efficient, while fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) which use hydrogen gas as a fuel, stored in a compact and lightweight high pressure tank were 40-60% efficient, with the benefits of clean exhaust water and less range anxiety than currently experienced by owners of EVs.

Dr Stephen Thomson, Head of Air Quality, Transport Scotland highlighted the introduction of Low Emission Zones (LEZs) to promote the use of ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs) with a target to phase out the need for new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2032. Launched on a phased basis, Scotland’s first LEZ, covering Glasgow city centre, started in December 2018 with buses, to be fully implemented by December 2022 when all vehicles entering the zone will need to be fully compliant.

HeraldScotland: Dr Stephen Thomson of Transport Scotland addresses delegates.Dr Stephen Thomson of Transport Scotland addresses delegates.

Exemptions for hearses, wedding cars and other specialist vehicles are under consideration and Dr Thomson invited input from as many stakeholders as possible to inform the decisions that will be taken in the coming months.

Rebecca McLean, Technical Director EIA of Engineering, environment and design consultancy Sweco UK looked to the big picture. While the need for a step change in behaviour had been underlined by several speakers at the event, she stressed the need to bridge the societal gulf.

To care about climate change is a luxury denied those in poverty, for many of whom single use plastic bags are very far down the list of what’s important in everyday life, she said.

She believed that the zero-carbon culture has become too politicised and required forceful decisions to inform a long-term view, rather than being the subject of point scoring by rival parties.

The challenge, she added, isn’t just one of stranded polar bears on melting Arctic ice – the issues surrounding climate change have a greater immediacy. “This affects us all,” she said.

This article appeared in The Herald on the 6th June.

HeraldScotland:

The Herald’s Climate for Change initiative supports efforts being made by the Scottish Government with key organisations and campaign partners. Throughout the year we will provide a forum in The Herald newspaper, online at herald.scotland.com and in Business HQ magazine, covering news and significant developments in this increasingly crucial area.

If you are interested in contributing editorially or interested in becoming a Climate for Change partner, please contact Stephen McTaggart on 0141 302 6137 or email stephen.mctaggart@heraldandtimes.co.uk