2045 is too late for Scotland to be ending our contribution to climate change. We need far more ambitious targets; if we wait 24 more years we will already have seen warming of a level that will destroy whole island countries, make swathes of the planet uninhabitable, and lead to a crisis of unprecedented levels. This will make the last couple of years look like nothing.
The SNP and Scottish Government both keep saying their aim is for Scotland to become a net-zero nation by 2045. Aside from this being far too late, there are also important differences between ‘net zero’ and ‘real zero’.
As in economics, net zero refers to how much carbon has entered the atmosphere after factoring in carbon mitigation techniques and natural carbon sinks such as old-growth forests and peat bogs. To reach net zero, an entity can still be producing carbon emissions as long as it is mitigating these emissions by doing things like planting trees.Real zero, on the other hand, is when all carbon emissions are halted. These are two separate concepts, but in mainstream climate conversations, the phrase ‘net zero’ is often used to imply the end of all emissions even though this is not what it means. Such carbon mitigation techniques are not always as effective as they are commonly thought to be. Despite the claims that Scotland is “world-leading” on climate change, commitments of this nature are still wholly inadequate, and the claim of being world-leading does not consider many small nations which are responsible for far less carbon emissions per capita than Scotland in the first place.
We also talk of nature-based solutions. The phrase “nature-based solutions” has come under a lot of criticism as it has multiple meanings, some of which are better than others. Investing in the natural environment is a necessary measure to protect our existing biodiversity at a time when it is threatened by a multitude of factors, from climate change itself to extractive capitalism that sees everything as a resource to be exploited. Biodiversity is important, and can be considered alongside concerns around improving human-inhabited places. Both matter when creating a better country.
Peat bog restoration is important for creating carbon sinks, and while I am of the opinion that we need real zero, not solely net zero, this is still vital for the future. Woodland restoration is also important, but it is necessary to plant biodiverse forests rather than monocultural tree crops to create sustainable woodland that will last a long time and capture carbon. It takes trees centuries to reach maturity; there is only so much that new forests can do compared to older ones.
Green agriculture is crucial for moving forward to a sustainable world, and therefore requiring biodiversity and low carbon targets for funding is necessary. I hope that this will not, however, place the burden unduly on small businesses and family-owned farms.Larger commercial agricultural businesses should be the first to have to meet targets if they expect to get government funding. Supporting new sustainable agriculture businesses is important, but there needs to be support to get off the ground in the first place when things may not immediately be profitable.
There is a reason the slogan ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ is in that order– it is best to do the first, but if you cannot, the second, and finally the third. To this end, we need to transform our economy to make it truly circular. It is important, though, that single-use plastics bans consider the needs of disabled people who rely on them, as not everything can easily be banned without unforeseen consequences. Most inventions do have a use, and these uses need to be considered.
Drink container depositories are an excellent idea and should be expanded, as recycling is never 100% efficient and thus reusing items is a far better option where possible. Many old-fashioned seeming ways of doing things are often actually better for the planet (for example glass washable milk bottles rather than the plastics we usually use nowadays). Litter is also a problem and tackling this should be rightly prioritised as other countries have managed. The fashion industry should also be encouraged to make textiles longer-lasting to reduce the desire to buy new things and throw away the old twice a year.
We also need to decarbonise home heating systems, and this needs to be done in a way that doesn’t put the cost of renovations onto those who can afford it least. Installing electric central heating in a building with existing gas heating is an upfront expense that many who live on a budget cannot afford, so money needs to be made available to help people move to more eco-friendly ways of heating their homes. While Insulate Britain’s tactics and nationalistic rhetoric are unwelcome, they’re right on one thing – insulation is vital to tackle this crisis.
Reducing our reliance on cars, and stopping the use of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 is hugely important. We still need to lower the price of electric vehicles for those who cannot rely on public transport – such as people with certain disabilities and people living in rural areas – but we cannot rely on electric vehicles alone as a solution. We need more investment in public transport infrastructure to increase its reliability and reach. Electric buses and rail nationalisation are good steps forward. Every child being given a bike is also fantastic to encourage active transport – and I hope they also come with free helmets!
With all this in mind, it is vital that we place an emphasis on climate justice in all the policies we make. Climate justice is such an important concept, combining goals for social justice with solving climate change. There are many groups which will be more impacted by climate change than others, including those in the Global South, disabled people, women and those living in poverty. As we are already seeing the effects of climate change in wildfires, storms and melting ice caps,we must do our best to stop this crisis from getting worse.
We as a nation are taking some clear steps forward in the journey to tackle climate change and prevent catastrophic breakdown, but not all of our commitments go far enough. Changes must be made by businesses, governments and the greatest polluters as well as individuals to solve the crisis. We must also ensure that our climate strategies are inclusive of disabled people and those who will be most impacted both by the crisis and by the transition. But if we want to save our planet we need to be radical and make sweeping changes as quickly as possible. 2045 will be too late.