Shetland Islands Council has formed a dedicated team to coordinate its efforts to tackle climate change and is looking to add a specialist consultant to develop its route maps to net-zero, writes Anthony Harrington.

While disastrous weather incidents are not new, the very recent excessive flooding in Europe and the ongoing wildfires and unprecedented heatwave in North America, have focused minds once again on the dangers posed by the threat of runaway climate change.

The UK is widely recognised as being at the forefront of the drive towards a net-zero carbon policy to counter climate change. According to research from the University of Aberdeen, climate change has caused temperatures around the North Sea to rise by up to 1.5 degrees over the last 40 years.

For its part, the Shetland Islands Council is committed to a vigorous climate change mitigation programme as part of the Scottish government’s goal of being net-zero by 2045. Claire Ferguson, the team leader for the council’s Climate Change Strategy, points out that the council formed a dedicated Climate Change team back in 2020 to focus the Shetland Islands’ climate change response.

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“Our team is a relatively new addition. We were formed in April this year, with me as team leader and with three climate change officers appointed as part of my team, to drive the council’s progression to net zero. We have just closed a tender process that will see us appointing a climate change consultant,” she comments.

The successful applicant will be tasked with helping the council to develop two net-zero route maps. The first will be for the Shetland Islands council’s own buildings estate, the second will be for the whole of Shetland. “The aim is for these route maps to provide a framework to track and measure our emissions over time so that we can monitor our progress towards net-zero,” Ferguson says.

The council’s number one priority within the net zero route map development is to establish a credible baseline for its present emissions status.

“We already have a wealth of data that needs to be pulled together into a coherent framework. Our carbon management team, which was recently renamed as the council’s energy efficiency team, has been working for years on tracking and recording the carbon emissions from council buildings and our vehicle fleet,” Ferguson says.

There is a need now to look at Shetland as a whole, analysed sector by sector.

“We have identified six sectors, namely energy supply; transport; public and residential buildings; business and industry; waste and, finally, land use. As part of the route map development, the data on emissions from each of those sectors will be collated and analysed to provide a baseline picture,” Ferguson comments.

The consultant will need to help the council establish appropriate parameters as well as specifying which measurements are required and from where the data is obtained.

“We have also made it clear that we expect the consultant to provide us with a computational pathway modelling tool. The whole field of climate mitigation is so dynamic and fast-moving, with new innovations and new thinking emerging all the time. We want a modelling tool that we can be trained in and that will be readily updated so that it becomes a live function, rather than something that will quickly become out of date,” she comments.

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The council recently carried out a survey (see story below) to get to grips with how people across Shetland were viewing Climate Change and their concerns.

As Ferguson points out, the council is very aware of the fact that the drive to net-zero will only be achievable if the council can win wide-ranging support from the vast majority of Shetland’s citizens.

“This is all about changing behaviours. It is very much about adaption planning. How will we in Shetland adapt and respond to the need for climate change mitigation measures? There are many community groups in Shetland that are working on a variety of projects, many of which bear in some way on our efforts.

“The route map we are looking for will help to create a real sense of focus on our priority areas where analysis shows that we can make the biggest difference in cutting our emissions,” she comments.

With the council itself being one of the biggest employers on the island, one way to quicken the level of responsiveness in the general public is for the council to encourage employees to expand their own awareness of climate issues.

“We are working with the organisation, Keep Scotland Beautiful, to create a bespoke carbon literacy course for council employees. This will be driven by presentation and discussion groups of no more than 15 staff at a time and will ensure that everyone here has a great grounding in what climate change and our mitigation plans are all about,” she comments.

In addition, the Council’s Climate Change working group has set up a Climate Champion within each department in the Council.

“We will be having regular meetings with each of the Climate Change Champions. This will allow the various departments to see how what they are doing fits with what is happening elsewhere in the council and with our overall mitigation efforts,” Ferguson explains.

Even where particular projects a department is involved in may seem unconnected to the general drive to net-zero, she points out that people need to be aware of what that project means in terms of emissions and the council’s overall carbon footprint.

“We are very keen to embed climate change awareness and carbon reduction into the council’s overall strategies, reporting processes and procurement processes,” she comments.

“We are extremely fortunate here in the Shetland Islands Council in that senior management are 100 percent behind the drive for net-zero. This is why we have been able to move forward swiftly with the business of formulating our path to net-zero.

“We are also very fortunate in that we have a very engaged community here in Shetland who want to be involved in helping to tackle climate change.”

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Community involvement is a key target on islands’ journey towards net-zero

The Shetland Islands Council is hard at work on the complex task of defining its route map towards net zero for both the Council and, more generally, for the Shetland Isles as a whole.

As Claire Ferguson, team leader for the Council’s Climate Change Strategy notes, securing the widest possible involvement from everyone on Shetland is a key priority for the Council.

To help drive this involvement, the Council called for responses from citizens to its ‘Climate Conversation’ survey. The results of the survey have now been made available by the Council in the form of a readily understandable infographic.

“The results have been really useful both in helping us to gauge current public perception on climate change, and to help us see where we need to promote further understanding,” she comments.

Some of the most heartening results to come out of the survey were that 98 percent of respondents said that they were doing something right now to reduce their impact on climate change, while 82 percent agreed that there is a present and real climate emergency.

In addition, the top three reasons given for why we should tackle climate change are global concerns. If the views of the Shetland respondents are reflected nationwide, there should be great traction for tackling climate change.

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The number of those who felt that we urgently need to do all we can to address climate change was down to 68 percent, while at the same time around 45% of those who responded to the survey said that news about climate change always, or usually, made them worried.

“What we took from this last point, in particular, is the need for a considered   approach to our messaging around climate change, so that people feel there are positive and useful things that can be done. It’s important to raise awareness around the facts and forecasts of climate change, and to stress the urgency, but to highlight the positive action.

“Highlighting the positive is a more useful and beneficial method of encouraging action,” she comments.

The results of the online survey also highlighted some key areas where further education and information provision would be very helpful to the Council’s overall objectives of getting to net-zero.

It showed, for example that while 84 percent of respondents felt that they knew what was meant by carbon footprint, only 51 percent of people felt that they could define what was meant by net-zero.

“Around November we are planning a consultation process with the wider Shetland community to expand upon these points.

“It will involve further online information and surveys supported by discussion-based workshops. Information gained will feed into the route map development, allowing us to formulate a route map to net-zero that reflects the priorities of our community.

“Community engagement and participation is key to its success,” Ferguson comments.

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This article is brought to you in association with Shetland Islands Council as part of The Herald’s 100 Days of Hope campaign.