RESEARCHERS have warned that the Scottish Government must adopt a more devolved strategy to achieve its key carbon reduction targets by handing more resources and powers to city regions.

The warning from experts at Edinburgh University comes as Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse told MSPs that the UK Government needs to do more to help unlock renewable opportunities from power grid charges or Scottish householders could face higher electricity bills.

The Scottish Government has set the target of cutting 1990 levels of emissions by 75% by 2030, as part of progress towards achieving net zero by 2045, five years ahead of the UK Government’s commitment.

In a new paper investigating whether lessons learned from the pandemic could be applied to climate emergency strategies, the researchers said that with national goals having been set, ministers should give regional authorities clear responsibilities and the necessary resources to make the changes.

Both Edinburgh and Glasgow have committed to become carbon net zero by 2030.

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During the Covid-19 pandemic, the experts said a “weakness” identified was a “failure to exploit existing local and regional health and social care institutions and infrastructure”.

The researchers said that despite assurances from the UK Government, “the distribution of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) from a central hub failed to keep up with constantly changing local requirements”.

Applying that to the issue of climate change, they stated: “There is a need to devolve powers and responsibilities, such as those for carbon budgets, to city regions, and to supply the resources necessary to manage the necessary changes.”

The paper was published in the Scottish Geographical Journal in the run-up to the UN Cop26 summit in Glasgow in November – with this event having been put back a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the wake of the virus, it added: “Next steps for economic recovery need to ensure that local and regional governments are empowered to implement their plans for net zero emissions, refined to fit their particular circumstances.

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“City regions are where most people live and thus where any changes in people’s behaviour make the biggest difference.”

One of the paper’s authors, Professor David Sugden, of Edinburgh University’s School of GeoSciences, said: “We have the prospect of a win-win solution simply by improving the way we govern ourselves. Cities, in particular – with their high density of population – offer opportunities to make effective reductions in emissions without inconveniencing people.”

Another of the authors, Professor Jan Webb, of Edinburgh University's School of Social and Political Science, added: “We need city regions to be mandated to work cooperatively with the Scottish Government on clean heating and transport – the two areas where change is slowest.”

Speaking at Holyrood’s Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee, Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse told MSPs that “Scotland has a very strong wind regime”, calling on ministers in Westminster to “reflect that in the transmission charging regime” and create a fairer method.

The call comes after concerns that the current grid charging system “penalises” Scottish projects.

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Currently, Scotland is planning or has installed around 740 MW of energy from offshore wind farms.

But the Scottish Government hopes to scale up the infrastructure to between 8GW and 11GW by 2030.

SSE previously welcomed the ambition from SNP ministers, but warned charging rates by Ofgem add £3 per MWh as a Scottish “premium” as the power has to travel further to other parts of the UK meaning developers may think twice before agreeing to invest in Scottish projects.

Mr Wheelhouse told MPS that the current charging structure could act as “a disincentive to invest” in Scotland and could hamper the ambitions to scale up the country’s wind power capacity.

HeraldScotland: Energy Minister Paul WheelhouseEnergy Minister Paul Wheelhouse

He added: “There is a premium, unfortunately, charged to developers as they connect – particularly in the north of Scotland. This is, of course, a reserved area and we do respect that, but we have been pressing for many years for a fairer system which works with rather than against Scotland’s huge renewable potential.”

Mr Wheelhouse stressed that “we have some of the most efficient wind energy sites anywhere in the world” but warned that the grid charges for Scottish renewable projects “remain volatile and unpredictable”.

He added: “The consequences of this are perhaps a disincentive to invest in renewable generation. The need could not be greater at this moment in time to seek that investment.

“There are clear concerns that the investment risks that are inherent in such a system could result in higher costs for consumers as well.”