By Fabrice Leveque

AS lockdown restrictions finally begin to ease, the economic crisis caused by Covid-19 is becoming ever more apparent. It’s crucial that as we fix the economy, we sow the seeds for a green recovery that creates the jobs and skills of the future and puts Scotland on track to tackle the climate and nature crises.

The First Minister talked a good game at the start of the pandemic, repeating her goal to create a “greener, fairer Scotland” and tasking a group of experts to consider how the economic recovery can increase wellbeing, fairness and move us to a net-zero carbon society.

The expert advisors report correctly diagnoses an economic crisis amidst rising inequality and a rapidly degrading environment. But their proposed remedies look a lot like business as usual. Recommendations on climate and environment are sound but sit alone rather than woven throughout the 25-point plan.

Doing so isn’t easy: many low-carbon sectors are small, fragile and dependent on public support to get them into the mainstream. But it’s essential: we know that Scotland isn’t on track to meet its ambitious climate targets. In this time of heightened awareness of race and inequality we should remember that the climate impact of our high carbon economy is already being felt by the world’s poorest.

A green recovery that places carbon reduction and nature restoration at the heart of Scottish Government action makes financial sense. Many studies show how investments like home insulation, electric charging points, promoting cycling and walking, tree planting and habitat restoration provide jobs, address inequality and bring cleaner air and better health.

With Government resources stretched by the health crisis, it’s more important than ever to use scarce cash to build the greener, fairer society that we need. Governments can borrow cheaply – an opportunity to invest in ways that make the economy more productive for everyone.

We should seize opportunities for action now: long-term public support for reforestation would give that industry the confidence it needs whilst creating new outdoor jobs in rural communities. We can increase the supply of jobs to young people with training in climate and conservation skills. Scrapping older, more polluting buses for zero emissions versions will reduce air pollution and help the local supply chain survive the crisis.

Scotland’s energy efficiency schemes lead the UK. Our well managed programmes supplied by local supply chains make thousands of fuel poor households warmer and healthier each year. The UK Government will give up to 400,000 homes in England (about 2% of the total) vouchers to spend on home energy improvements. That’s only a small step in the right direction; Scotland, with a head start, can surely do better.

Before the pandemic hit, public concern about the climate emergency was at an all-time high. More recent polling reveals that the public across the UK want a response to climate change with the same urgency as coronavirus. They get that we need to build our resilience to huge systemic shocks by taking transformational action.

The Scottish Government has so far supported temporary walking and cycling improvements, the oil and gas sector and some green infrastructure projects in its Return to Work Package. We hope that its forthcoming plans accelerate jobs-rich and deliverable low-carbon projects, train the future front-line workers for the climate emergency and ultimately point us in the direction of the low-carbon economy that we urgently need.

Fabrice Leveque is Head of Policy at WWF Scotland