Elizabeth Leighton: Taking the green route to recovery
The Scottish Government must apply the same focus in driving a vibrant green recovery as it is doing to address the coronavirus pandemic, says Elizabeth Leighton.
Last week the Scottish Government published its Programme for Government, with the First Minister saying, “this is a time to be ambitious and to use the disruption of COVID to rethink how we do things.” Several of the commitments show the government is ‘re-thinking’ the fossil-fuel driven economy and taking the green route to recovery for the good of people and planet.
What we need now is action - and with urgency. We need new programmes underway this autumn and existing programmes expanded immediately – led with the same focus and imagination we are applying to addressing the pandemic.
We highlight three flagship policies which chime with the Climate Emergency Response Group’s (CERG) recommendations from our report on the green recovery. These could – with strong leadership – set us firmly on the path to a green recovery.
First is the commitment to green jobs – a Green Jobs Fund of £100m is announced to invest in the jobs and climate skills of the future – local food production and distribution, renewables, charging infrastructure, heat pumps, and remanufactured furniture. The details are light, but the intent to prioritise enterprise support and investment in green businesses is promising. We also welcome the plan for expanding youth employment and green apprenticeship opportunities in nature and land-based jobs – a real example of public sector leadership which should be expanded to the third and private sector.
The commitment to reach zero emissions from heating buildings by 2040 is welcome and backed with a significant increase in funding. This will give industry confidence to invest in technologies that can be deployed now, and the commitment to explore an industrial strategy to secure the economic benefits is welcome. We agree this will require a doubling year on year of renewable heat, as well as storage technologies – alongside energy efficiency measures – which will create thousands of high quality, well paid jobs. And it must be done in a way that those living in fuel poverty come first in enjoying the benefits of the energy transition.
The plan for city and town centre transformations, based on the ’20 minute neighbourhood’ points to a healthier, more climate-friendly way of living and a welcome shift from business as usual. Many of us have come to appreciate our local shops and green spaces during the lock-down and are eager to build resilient communities where all our needs can be met within a 20 minute walk. There are significant multi-year funding commitments to make this possible and we argue more will be necessary including funding for local authorities to engage and plan with communities. It’s good that Low Emission Zones are on again, though we would like to see the Government signal a switch to zero emission public transport by supporting a leasing model that will enable large scale zero emission bus purchasing.
As we’ve learned with COVID-19, an emergency requires an emergency response. This Programme for Government gives us some new policies, and we have some good policies in place already. Delivery needs to start today so jobs can be saved and created tomorrow. Energy efficiency and fuel poverty programmes should be expanded immediately. Many walking, cycling and bus priority measures are ready to go and engaging communities on 20 minute neighbourhoods can begin now. And there’s much, much more to be done. The Scottish Government must press on and drive a vibrant green recovery, securing green jobs and helping to avert the global climate crisis.
The Climate Emergency Response Group is a collection of like-minded leaders spanning Scotland’s private, public and third sectors. The group’s report, Eight policy packages for Scotland’s Green Recovery contains a set of practical solutions which can be implemented now to recover from the COVID-19 crisis and move Scotland towards a net-zero economy.
- Elizabeth Leighton is the secretariat of the Climate Emergency Response Group