As I See It: Terry Murden
At the end of the year thousands of delegates will descend on Glasgow for a major climate change conference hailed by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as an opportunity for Scotland to show the world how it is leading the way in tackling the biggest issue facing us all.
However, a new report on how Scotland is actually dealing with carbon reduction and the challenges it faces in hitting its targets pulls no punches in the list of things to do.
Ian Russell’s Infrastructure Commission for Scotland is yet to publish its full list of recommendations, but its initial findings are a warning against complacency. In a briefing last Friday, he made it clear that there is no time to waste. If we are serious about achieving climate change targets “we have to get on with it”, he says.
Already the Commission suggests some bold, and unpopular decisions will need to be taken: on road-building, on our freedom to travel generally, on how we conduct our business and receive public services.
It will mean focusing investment on new technologies and, crucially, in ensuring there is a more holistic approach to everything from how we access medical services to how we travel to work and build everything from homes and bridges to power plants and shopping centres.
Yet already there is evidence that we are heading in the wrong direction. Fewer of us travel by bus, more by air. We buy bigger, not smaller cars. Business efficiency is compromised by under-supply of full fibre broadband and data facilities and by deep water facilities which means too many of our goods need to be exported via ports in England.
The list of what needs to done is substantial and challenging. It will need a change of mind-set at Holyrood, in company board rooms and by the general public. Consumerism lies at the heart of the problem. Mr Russell’s commission puts an emphasis on “place”. We cannot go on taking more foreign holidays, commuting long distances and buying more “stuff”.
That’s not to say we have not made a start. The public mood has turned against over-use of plastic. The airlines and airports – while celebrating passenger growth – understand they are part of the problem, as does the fashion industry. More of us want the opportunity to cycle to work. Insulation and battery technology is making advances.
Despite these trends consumers feel they need more help. Recycling schemes are confusing and waste management requires improvement.
It is clear from the Commission’s report that government needs to galvanise its efforts and ensure there is coordinated action. It is no good approving new housing schemes that solve a demand for homes, but add to traffic congestion. We cannot expect sales of electric vehicles to rise or more wind farms to be built if subsidies are cut.
There is no point encouraging people to swap their cars for bicycles if quieter roads merely persuades people back into their cars. The intermodal issue requires consideration of why people travel, not simply how they travel. Put simply, we need less commuting. Don’t expect commuters to switch from car to bike. Do something about why they commute. Companies need to be incentivised to employ their workers closer to their homes. Get them to think about relocating workers; convert empty retail units into co-working tech hubs.
The Commission’s report will inform government and corporate policy. It means balancing growth with a sustainable planet. Let’t hope ministers and businesses respond – and quickly.