A COALITION of experts has drawn up a blueprint for Scotland’s green economic recovery from Covid-19 and ambition to become a zero carbon country.

They are calling for £150 billion of capital investment and urging ministers to scrap spending commitments to increase road capacity, while planting more trees and adapting agriculture and tourism industries to kickstart a sustainable jobs revolution. 

The Climate Emergency Response Group (CERG) stressed the financial uncertainties as Scotland emerges from the Covid-19 crisis mean it is “more important than ever to invest smarter”, with a need for “blending public and private finance”.

But Scotland’s Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop has warned that the UK Government must “come forward with that new capital stimulus”, with the Scottish Government standing “ready, willing and able” to transform its economy. 

It came as analysis by the Scottish Parliament found roads and car parking take up more than one-third of space in two of Scotland’s biggest cities.

Scotland’s Futures Forum – Holyrood’s think-tank – used three case studies in Glasgow and Dundee to find how much space is dedicated to private vehicles in comparison to other forms of transport. It found that roads, car parks and on-street parking account for between 34.5 per cent and 41% of space in the cities.

Green spaces, public transport and cycling infrastructure are “extremely lacking” and “appear to be of relatively low priority”, the analysis said. In Glasgow, more space is dedicated to outdoor smoking than bike parking.

The think-tank’s report – Stealing Our Cities: land-use analysis – made a number of recommendations, including a revision of bus timetables and converting single-level car parks with low usage into green spaces and small business spaces.

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Meanwhile, the CERG outlined a host of priorities for the Scottish Government in order to rebuild a green economy and help fulfil its pledge to become carbon net zero by 2045 – stressing that “Scotland’s response to Covid-19 is a massive opportunity to catapult and prioritise a just transition to a net zero economy”.

The Scottish National Investment Bank should be harnessed to fund the retrofitting of old buildings across Scotland with carbon neutral heating systems, the experts said.

The Scottish Government has been told that “investment in resilient digital technology including 5G and fibre broadband should be prioritised over strengthening the roads network”, while plans for Low Emission Zones should be ramped up for Scotland to have “zero emission cities by 2030”. 

Communities should set up “20-minute neighbourhoods” in cities and towns, where all facilities and services “are within a 20-minute walk and have easier to make journeys by cycle”, the document adds.

Daisy Narayanan, director of urbanism at Sustrans, said: “As the economy re-opens, it’s vital we don’t see a business as usual return in car use, and the associated emissions and poor air quality that would go with that.”

“Ideas like the community health and wellbeing fund, zero emission zones and 20-minute neighborhoods will ensure that the temporary gains in walking and cycling enjoyed by many during the lockdown are made permanent.”

The CERG has indicated Scottish Government funding towards tree planting should increase to about £70 million a year – while there is a need to invest in the “training and employment of more farm advisors” to help the industry adapt to a carbon-free economy.

Ministers have also been urged to help start a “local food revolution” that will “not only increase employment, it will also increase the value added to primary products and protect the high food standards and reputation of Scottish food and drink”.

The CERG said the Government should show its commitment to the 2045 carbon neutral pledge by setting an expectation to phase out “high carbon fossil fuel boilers” from 2025, as well as outline a timescale for all gas boilers to be binned.

The document stresses rural communities will be hit hardest by the Covid-19 crisis and will need more attention to ensure they can benefit from a green economic recovery.

It adds: “Some parts of the country likely to remain hardest-hit for the longest 
are in rural areas, especially where tourism supports a significant part of the local economy. 

“This creates a clear need for additional direct job creation effort by government, to protect incomes for households in these areas, keeping families and individuals in these areas, whilst ideally increasing the breadth of skills they hold.”

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Sarah-Jane Laing, chief executive of Scottish Land and Estates, said: “The rural economy has been hit hard by the Covid-19 lockdown.  “Providing support for forestry, new skills and new agricultural practices can help deliver crucial new jobs in rural communities that will also deliver a resilient and greener future for the whole of Scotland.”

The Government should “by 2025 have invested £500m” from both public and private cash to deliver “30 new projects powered by low carbon heat”, allowing public funding to” taper off as it is replaced with private funds”, the report indicates.

But the dossier warns “a successful green recovery package will require significant public resources” – as well as a huge contribution from the private sector.  

It adds: “Given current fiscal constraints, it is clear the Scottish Government and public bodies will have to reprioritise and step back from certain policy initiatives which are not aligned with an inclusive net-zero future.

“Accelerating Scotland’s journey to a climate neutral economy requires additional resource investment, around £2bn to £5bn per year between now and 2050.  

“Regardless of the current economic downturn, there is a need for increased public capital investment in the net-zero transition and the crisis gives double cause for additional investment to be accelerated at this time.”

But First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has warned the “lack of greater fiscal flexibility for the Scottish Government will inhibit our ability to respond to this economic legacy of the pandemic in a number of ways”.

She added: “There’s also a regulatory inhibitor here and some of the recent decisions that Ofgem have taken hold that back too.

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“We want the UK Government not just to think about more fiscal flexibility but how we make sure the regulatory framework doesn’t get in the way of harnessing the private sector investment that is there to help us with this.”

Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop believes a string of Scottish companies, which are “really powerful in terms of their ambition” need support to harness the “billions in investment that will be needed” for a green transition.

She added: “If we are can really retrofit mass parts of our housing estate to include different types of low carbon energy provision, if we are really going to be serious about hydrogen and making sure that we have a hydrogen future for Scotland and if we’re serious about carbon capture storage, we need the UK to come forward with that new capital stimulus.

“We’ve had a recycled capital stimulus announced by the Prime Minister – what we’re really looking for is that real drive in terms of that billions of pounds.”