Yesterday it was announced that the Scottish government has reached their carbon emission reduction targets six years early. The original targets were set to be achieved in 2020 however the emissions figures released for the year 2014 were lower than those 2020 targets. Through state intervention in the economy, both in the form of investment or regulation, constructive change can take place. This story is positive a positive one but, whilst this achievement shouldn’t be minimised, some other facts need to be considered.
Before moving on to the caveats of this story I want to quickly touch upon the scale of what Scotland has achieved. The baseline for measurements was the 1990 levels of carbon emissions and Scotland’s 2020 target was a reduction of 42%. The figures released that outline emissions from 2014 show that there has been a reduction of 45.8% of greenhouse gas emissions. The other target is a reduction of 80% by the year 2050. SNP Climate Change Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said that the Scottish government will now set a “new and more testing 2020 target”. However it is worth pointing out that, although government policy can play a massive role in reducing carbon emissions, this was largely not the case in this instance.
It is crucial that the Scottish government plays a more active role in reducing carbon emissions because if winters remain warmer than they should be that is a bad sign not a good one. I have spoken in the past about the need for massive government investment in the economy in order to combat climate change but the Scottish government now has the chance to act. The Scottish government now has the ability to increase income tax along with many other fiscal powers that have been devolved from Westminster. By fully utilising these powers the Scottish government could easily raise revenue to invest in insulation for houses, solar panels for businesses, electricity saving products for public services etc. More can be done.
Further, a campaign group called Stop Climate Change Scotland congratulated the Scottish government on exceeding the target but also added:
“Apart from the electricity and waste sectors, it’s hard to see a bold fingerprint of Scottish government policy driving the transition to a zero carbon economy. This target has been met because of the loss of heavy industry, warmer winter weather, our changing share of European emissions credits and some government policies”.
But there is a wider point that needs to be made about the UK’s attempts to combat climate change. The UK government should look to Scotland to see what can be done to reduce carbon emissions, however the discourse often put out by this Tory government is how green policies are burdensome to businesses and should be abolished. Rather than entertain the idea of getting rid of all these climate policies, the UK government should interfere in the energy market more in order to actually reduce emissions rather than rely on the market’s invisible hand.
The news in Scotland should be commended but there is still much work to be done. Scotland needs to stand tall and assert itself as the first zero carbon economy in Europe as a shining light for other progressively minded nations across the continent. The Scottish government under the SNP has been good in reducing environmental damage but they should have gone further, and a truly radical government would have gone much further. The UK more widely needs to pick up the pace. The UK is one of the largest polluters in the world and England is the most economically prosperous and densely populated part of the UK. Local councils and central government needs to bring down England’s emissions because failure to do so will result in the UK missing its reductions targets. Bold action is necessary but the discourse is about repealing anti-climate change regulations. This needs to change.