I’ve had a number of people tell me how different it is being a campaigner or lobbyist in Scotland, with a smaller and much more responsive parliament to work with. My brother discovered this when he was working with the Scottish Wildlife Trust and was asked to invite the environment minister to a conference. So he phoned him, had a chat, and five minutes later added him to the list of attendees. It’s all a lot more direct and uncomplicated. But there’s another side to Scottish politics that’s encouraging – on the environment, they’re just a lot more ambitious.
While the national government tries to quietly wriggle out of any serious climate action, the Scottish government has its own Climate Change Act and cross-party support for it. Westminster failed to set 2030 targets for the energy market this year, but Scotland agreed theirs independently and are far more ambitious – 100% renewable energy by 2020. Scotland also has a Climate Justice Fund which funds adaptation projects in developing countries. The pledge I wanted to mention today was the plan announced this year to eliminate petrol and diesel cars by 2050.
- First, lead by example: charge points will be fitted at all government buildings, and government vehicles will be replaced with electric as they are retired. Dundee City Council, for example, has 39 electric cars in its pool already.
- Create the infrastructure for electric cars. Rapid charge points will be installed along Scotland’s main travel routes, at minimum intervals of 50 miles, and encourage a market for recharging. Those buying a plug-in car or hybrid are being offered a free charging point, at the government’s expense. Businesses can also apply for funding to fit charge points for employees. Ensure new developments plan for electric car use going forward.
- Make electric cars more desirable than petrol cars. Opportunities here include priority or free parking, lower tolls, or exemption from charging zones. Support new business models around electric cars, such as leasing. Low emission zones in cities create a financial incentive for businesses to improve their fleets.
- Educate people about the benefits to electric cars, and raise awareness of the incentives. Review and troubleshoot.
- Legislate out the most polluting vehicles. By 2040 all vehicles sold will need to be zero emissions at the tailpipe.
Of course, none of this would be green without the pledge to decarbonise the electricity supply too. But Scotland has huge renewable energy potential and already leads the rest of Britain in wind and hydro power. The main downside is that this still assumes that car travel is inevitable, when actually I think reducing the need to travel at all is more sustainable still, as well as safer and better for communities. The problems with car culture don’t begin and end with fossil fuels – see the obesity crisis, the decline of town centres, traffic, and the fact that the more cars there are on your street, the less likely you are to know your neighbours by name.
Scotland’s vision includes plans for electric buses and a whole programme for encouraging car clubs and shared plug-in vehicles. That’s good, but I hope there are plans for walkable cities, urban transit systems and support for cycling too – a vision for life beyond the private car as our main form of transport.