Engineering a Zero Carbon Future?

  • 15 Sep 2017
  • General News, Act for Our Future, Blog

By Gina Hanrahan, Head of Policy at WWF Scotland

Both are fantastic feats of Scottish engineering but which do you think is lower carbon – the new Queensferry Crossing or the re-opened Borders Railway?

It has to be the railway, taking all those cars off the road, rather than a new road bridge encouraging more traffic, right? Well, wrong. Kind of wrong that is. Wrong if you’re the Scottish Government deciding how to spend hundreds of millions pounds worth of taxpayers’ money. That’s pretty counter-intuitive!

At the moment there’s a weird legal loophole that means when Ministers and officials are trying to figure out what gives the lowest carbon bang for your buck they currently only count the concrete and steel used to build new infrastructure rather than looking at all the long-term consequences of putting in place that infrastructure. But of course if we looked at the full picture rather than just the building materials, we’d get a very different carbon calculation.

That’s why we want to close this loophole and make sure the Scottish Government shows us the money when it comes to meeting our climate change targets. When it’s deciding how to spend its budget – our money – we need to know that it’s strategically investing in our zero carbon future. We can’t afford to be short changed.

So what needs to change to bring our budgetary decisions in line with our climate change targets and invest for #OorFuture?

Show us the money

First, they need to show us the money. We need greater transparency about spending decisions in their budget and their emissions impact. Instead of a short-term assessment of things like building materials, we need to see accurate, transparent and comprehensive information about the carbon consequences of spending decisions over the full lifetime of those decisions.

Link the budget and the Climate Change Plan

Secondly, we want the new Climate Change Bill to legally require the Scottish Government to link its budget to its Climate Change Plan, which outlines the next steps on the road to a zero carbon future. As things stand, the Government doesn’t have to say how much it’s spending or planning to spend (if anything!) on specific initiatives to help achieve this plan. That means when Cabinet sits down to plan its budget, it’s not obliged to think about the Climate Change Plan. Instead of the Plan sitting on a shelf gathering dust, our proposal would mean that climate change would have to be more of a priority during the budget process and we’ll have more confidence that the Government is investing the money needed to deliver on its own plans.

A new low-carbon watchdog

Finally, we want a new, independent low-carbon infrastructure commission to be set up to advise the Scottish Government on the major projects we need for the future. If Scotland is to stop contributing towards climate change by 2050 at the latest, then we’re going to have to modernise or replace some of Scotland’s existing infrastructure.

That means insulating homes in every community in Scotland so they are warm and energy efficient. It means more large scale heating networks, more walking and cycling paths, new public transport infrastructure and investment in charging points for the massive shift to electric vehicles.

The low-carbon infrastructure commission’s main job would be to advise the Government on what sort of new infrastructure projects are needed but it would also have an important watchdog role to keep an eye on how Ministers are spending our money to make sure they’re investing in our low-carbon future.

There are so many benefits to investing wisely in carbon cutting policies and projects, from cleaner air, to better health and quality of life, to warmer, cosier homes, to new skilled jobs and economic prosperity. It should be a no brainer but it isn’t yet. With your help, it could be.