Decisions taken by local governments play a big part in tackling climate change, protecting and enhancing nature, and ensuring a fair transition to a low carbon future. Due to their policy and delivery responsibilities local government has a vital role in contributing to Scotland reaching its targets to reduce emissions by 75% by 2030 and to reach net zero emissions by 2045.
Stop Climate Chaos Scotland members working on active travel, circular economy and food explain below how councils can take action on them to reduce emissions.
Transport is the biggest source of climate damaging emissions in Scotland with a 29% share. Road transport accounts for nearly two-thirds of these emissions.
When the next set of emission statistics come out in June, I fully expect transport to take the top spot again with little change since 1990.
It’s a depressing situation that where other sectors have taken strides to cut emissions transport remains stubbornly polluting, and that’s because very little has been done to decarbonise transport until now. At the current rate it will take more than 300 years to decarbonise transport – and we can’t wait that long.
During COP26 in Glasgow there was much talk of electric vehicles as the future of travel, but the experts are clear that we can’t get to net zero without reducing car use (electric and fossil fuel powered). Understandably people find it hard to change their travel habits especially when there’s an expensive car sitting in the driveway. That’s why it’s now incumbent on national and local government to put in place measures to make driving a less attractive option – especially in towns and cities – and put in place alternative means of transport.
The Scottish Government recently consulted on its Route Map for a 20% reduction in car journeys kilometres by 2030. The plan included many policies but not enough of the measures which make people think twice about jumping in the car.
Local government has responsibility for many of the measures which will need to be implemented to meet the car journey reduction target and decarbonise transport including, the vast majority of Scotland’s roads, bus services (as owners or regulators), active travel infrastructure and development planning. All of these, and more, must play their part.
The local elections on 5 May are therefore hugely important for tackling climate change. We need to elect councillors who will be bold and put strong measures in place to reduce travel by car, give a boost to the alternatives and design our neighbourhoods for people rather than the car.
Cycling typifies the need for change in transport policy and delivery in Scotland. Cycling is the original zero carbon transport technology and was invented in Scotland in 1839 but rates of cycling in Scotland are very low. As Scotland embarks on a low carbon revolution there’s no need to reinvent the wheel, but there is a need to reinvent our roads and our neighbourhoods.
People want to cycle, and they want safe road space to cycle on. A YouGov survey recently commissioned by Cycling UK in Scotland found that 61% of people in Scotland support redesigning the streets to make them safer for pedestrians and cyclists. A different survey last year showed that 62% feel that their local roads are too busy to be safe for cycling – the biggest reason given for not cycling.
Cycling UK’s new report ‘Getting there with cycling’ makes a strong case for building high quality safe cycle infrastructure and is backed up with a wealth of evidence. It explains that people want it created, they want to use it and data shows that when it is built people will use it, benefitting their health, the environment, local economies and society.
Building cycling infrastructure is a ‘no-brainer’ for people and the climate. Councils mustn’t let a few vocal opponents stop them building the cycling infrastructure or plan the 20-minute neighbourhoods which will enable people to leave the car at home and take more short local journeys by bike or on foot. Cycling UK’s local election manifesto includes 10 actions councils must take to deliver local cycling revolutions. You can ask your candidates to support cycling with our election e-action.
82% of Scotland’s carbon footprint comes from the products we buy. If we are going to reach our climate goals, we must change how we consume things.
Recycling reduces carbon emissions because less of the world’s resources are extracted to make new products. It’s an important start but we must also transform the way we use materials in our whole economy if we are going to make a sustainable future. In a circular economy, materials are properly valued and repair, reuse and recycling are the new normal. Even more resources would be saved and the potential carbon savings are huge.
Scotland has the lowest recycling rates in the UK because of a rapid rise in incineration of waste. Councils should prioritise improvements in recycling services over long term contracts to incinerate waste. More than half of the waste incinerated in Scotland could have been recycled but once something is burnt, those resources are lost forever. So, more recycling bins and better services for households should be a priority for councils.
It is often said that a circular economy is a local economy and there is much that can be done at a local level to encourage this. Examples of more sustainable consumer practices – repair shops, plastic free shopping such as refilleries and tool libraries are becoming more common across Scotland. They demonstrate the amazing potential of such enterprises to shape communities and encourage sustainable practices. Greater availability of sustainable consumer practices should be promoted and supported by local government.
We know that agriculture in Scotland contributes around 25% of our greenhouse gas emissions and that local authorities in Scotland spend in excess of £150m per annum on public food & drink for our public establishments such as schools, prisons, hospitals and care homes. These two facts together provide an enormous opportunity to hasten our progress towards net zero carbon.
Whilst we often realise the benefits of reducing food miles – certainly we need to grow more of what we eat and eat more of what we grow in Scotland - we also need to ensure our food is grown and produced in harmony with nature using organic and agroecological methods. Serving organic dairy and vegetables, sustainable fish and locally raised grass-fed meat in our public kitchens is one way the councils can make an big contribution to reducing emissions. It would also support our local economies and nourish those who need it most. The other important factor is food waste - minimising it at all points in the system, ensuring accessible food waste collection and local composting schemes are all parts of the solution that the councils could put in place.
As part of a whole raft of new food polices that Scottish Government is currently consulting on, the Good Food Nation Bill is a piece of legislation that, if done well, will reshape how we do food in Scotland. The Bill includes new duties on local authorities to produce food plans - joining the dots between this and the climate plans will be essential. You can make your voice heard as part of the Good Food Nation Day of Action on 26th April.
There are lots of events happening across Scotland to give you the chance to speak to candidates about what action they would take on climate change if they were elected on 5th May – find out more here.