Scottish Government must do more to build a truly green economic recovery – Fabrice Leveque

Scotland’s new Plan for Government contains some welcome measures but also some missed opportunities, writes Fabrice Leveque

Monday, 14th September 2020, 4:45 pm
Forests are vital in the fight against climate change, helping to soak up carbon and supporting diverse and unique wildlife (Picture: Donald MacLeod)

The Scottish Government has now published its plans for the new parliamentary year, telling us how it will invest in the economy to recover from the pandemic. The plan’s cover carries a photo of a young girl looking out at the world from behind a window. It’s an apt summary of life this year, but will the plan deliver the brighter, greener future promised to her by the First Minister this summer?

There is a lot to digest in the plan, so I’ll focus on our priorities at WWF – cutting climate emissions, particularly in energy and agriculture, and restoring Scotland’s nature.

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The biggest green funding promise was a near doubling of the budget to insulate our homes and buildings and fit them with renewable heating. This welcome £1.6 billion investment, to be spent over the next five years, will deliver jobs, lower emissions, cut energy bills and, crucially, cut fuel poverty. We don’t yet know exactly how this new cash will be spent, but the priority should be helping households be more energy efficient and to switch away from polluting fossil fuel boilers.

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Making our buildings greener is a huge infrastructure challenge – it could cost as much as £45 billion in total, equivalent to 30 Queensferry crossings. But it’s also a huge opportunity to boost the Scottish economy, and the commitment to lay out the industrial strategy to deliver those benefits is eagerly awaited. A £100m ‘Green Jobs Fund’ is also welcome and can support growth in this and other green sectors.

It’s good to see the Government highlight land-based activities, like tree planting, habitat restoration and land management. More money for tree planting, and a focus on apprenticeships, skills and training to fill these posts, can deliver for the economy as well as the environment.

Annual tree planting rates are set to increase 20 per cent by 2024, reaching 18,000 hectares per year. Forests and woodlands are vital in the fight against climate change, helping to soak up carbon and supporting diverse and unique wildlife. We estimate that Scotland will need to plant up to 24,000 hectares per year to meet the needs of the climate emergency. These new forests will need to deliver for nature too, and that means planting native trees alongside commercial species, a key detail to be confirmed.

Our travel and work habits have changed significantly as a result of Covid-19, but that’s unlikely to translate into permanent emissions reductions without extra Government intervention. Although annual spend on walking and cycling will remain the same at £100m, that budget is now confirmed for five years, with the long-term clarity helping local authorities to plan.

But if those are the key positives, there were also missed opportunities in the Government’s plans. Action on deer management, animal grazing and invasive species is needed if our tree planting and habitat restoration are to be a success – and extra investment here could create several thousand new rural jobs.

Financial support for Scotland’s farmers to cut their climate emissions is reduced, and we’re still in the dark as to how the new system of payments that will replace EU funding post-Brexit will reward them to deliver public goods like carbon reductions and flood protection. More could be spent on active travel for healthier routes and cleaner air, too.

Overall, there are welcome steps forward that will help create green jobs now and lay important foundations for the future, and some areas to improve to build a truly green recovery. And as the climate and nature emergencies grow ever more urgent, it’s vital that these promises become a reality, and soon.

Fabrice Leveque is WWF Scotland’s head of policy

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