climate change politics technology transport

Scotland wants all electric cars by 2050

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.

robert anderson electric car“By 2050,” according to Transport Scotland‘s vision, “Scotland’s towns, cities and communities will be free from the damaging effects of petrol and diesel fumes.” To achieve this, there is a detailed plan to mainstream electric cars.
Scotland has pedigree here. The world’s first electric car (left) was invented in Scotland in 1837 by a man named Robert Anderson. His invention was crowded out by the combustion engine and cheap petrol, but an all electric road network would bring things full circle in pleasing fashion. But how to go about the transformation? The full roadmap is here, but here are some of the key steps:
  • 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.

Still, I admire the ambition here and I will follow developments with interest. And I hope the British government is watching too.


  1. All the largest Scottish cities had extensive tram systems. Glasgow’s lasted longest, closing in 1962, when a large fleet of modern vehicles, many only 8 years old, went for scrap.

    1. It would be nice to see those return. That’s the kind of bigger solution that’s needed alongside this, reducing the need for cars in the first place.

  2. Can’t see how you csn see this as good. Electric cars do nothing about congestion, nothing to reduce the death toll of pedestrians and cyclists, nothing to reduce the greed for more and more roads, and nothing to encourage physical activity.

    Yes, they reduce local pollution, and maybe carbon emissions. But at the cost, at best, of covering our wild land and inshore waters with turbines.

    Bikes, electric ones if necessary, could avoid many of these problems. So why the preference for electric cars? Mostgof all, why on earth fo people who call themselves environmentalists support this non-solution?

    1. Did you read the last couple of paragraphs? You’re making the same points that I made there. I agree entirely that it’s not a solution on its own.

    2. Geographically Scotland is big, hilly with often very inclement weather, and outside the cities sparsely populated. That makes it very hard to cater for with cycling or public transport outside the Glasgow/Edinburgh belt. So cars, however powered, will be a necessarily large part of the transport mix. Until I get my jet-pack of course.

      1. Necessary yes, but not exclusively. And don’t forget the railways, which go well beyond the Edinburgh to Glasgow belt, although it’s easier to go north or south than across the country, if I remember rightly. Cycling is only ever going to be within towns, same as it is in most places.

        1. Well, I don’t live in a town, am not especially young or athletic, amd can do everything needful by bike, train and bus. Determination and imagination are neefdf, but it can be done.

          1. That sells it to the ordinary public. Give up your car, you just need determination and imagination to get anywhere! You may enjoy the challenge, most people wouldn’t

        2. I didn’t forget the railways, but even in the Victorian heyday they were spare compared to England and many never profitable.

          Given there are fixed costs in both buses and trains (higher with railways) in sparsely populated areas they will always be expensive to provide,

          1. You cannot measure the value of a railway solely on the basis of traffic receipts. Railways enhance and sustain land value but there is usually no means by which the operator can capture this value, which consequently does not show up on balance sheets.

            Thus the railways are deemed unprofitable and get shut down, but there may be a net loss in wealth as a result.

          2. That may or may not be true but doesn’t alter the fact that a) the fixed costs of a railway are high, and b) the population in most of Scotland is so sparse that what ever way you look at it they would need a substantial subsidy.

          3. Returning, from public funds, the external value created by railway operations to the railway is not a subsidy. If it is not done, at least notionally, then there is a net loss in wealth creation.

            Most of the population in Scotland is not spread out sparsely but is concentrated in the two biggest cities and the area in between. A good core network of railways will enable public transport to cater for most of most people’s travel needs in the 5 mile to 100 mile range.

            The amount of traffic using twenty-mile ling single track roads is not going to destroy the planet even if all of it is in gas-guzzling cars. Personally I am sceptical about electric cars. They are heavy, use rare minerals and the energy they run on has to come from somewhere.

          4. What rare minerals do electric cars use? They may use ‘rare earths’ but those aren’t actually rare, just a pain to process which is why only the Chinese bothered till recently.

          5. Bolivia alone has enough Lithium to build batteries for 4.8 billion cars. Not forgetting that we can reuse lithium from old batteries. I don’t think there is much of a shortage.

          6. Where is all this lithium? I don’t suppose there are ingots of the refined metal lying around in the streets of La Paz waiting to be loaded on to, what – Bolivia doesn’t even have 1435 mm gauge railways.

          7. Extracting and refining minerals is pretty standard. Doesn’t make them rare. Given that Chile has lots and Wyoming also looks like it had big deposits the fact that Bolivian railways are meter gauge seem small beer. I’d also say that meter gauge railways can carry a lot of stuff (Mineral companies often build their own lines which would be standard gauged as in Australia).

      2. The overwhelming majority of journeys are under 10 miles, and most people in Scotland, as everywhere else, live in towns and cities. If people confined their car use to journeys which could not be made conveniently on foot or by cycle or public transport, this residual car use would not be much of an issue regardless of how the cars were powered.

    3. Of course the greenest solution would be cycling. But to be fair there are legitimate reasons why people would not always want to cycle (in the rain for example, or just when tired) – I can’t see cycling becoming our main transport solution any time soon. Public transport powered by renewable electricity I think is the best solution. But electric cars (if coupled with green power) are a big step in the right direction. I think the main thing is that it may not be possible to generate enough renewable energy to power all our cars as well as other energy needs. I think that will mean private car use dwindles in the long run, or at least becomes an uncommon luxury. But in the short term cutting carbon emissions is in my opinion the priority, and Scotland is doing that so that’s worth celebrating.

    4. There will always be more and more people more opting for driving. There are more and more wanting to cycle now. But driving is always be growing and used transport method overall. This is targeting pollution and at least. Because driving will and can never be changed. I would love to see trams as transport overall. Really more interested in getting from one point to another. So even walking is my favourite transport method. I don’t drive. I like cycling but not on roads. So rely on my feet or transports. But if I went for a car when I move out to the country I would prefer have an electric over a petrol car any day. It would be necessary then to have a car and I think having the option of electric is great. I also heard many claim to want electric but just can’t afford them. So imagine all who drive now drive electric due to charging they probably won’t drive it as much as petrol and appreciate the car more 😉 that’s my thoughts anyway

      1. Car dependence happens to a large extent because things are in the wrong place to start with. Once that has happened, people cannot get to them on foot, and it is impracticable to serve them by public transport.

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