Happy New Year! For many of us, each new year brings new commitments, although not always for very long. Perhaps, deep down, we know that once Dry January is done, new year resolutions will be quietly shelved, well before the clocks change in March.
Some commitments, however, are too important to drop. Senior scientists at the United Nations have warned that we have until 2030 to make dramatic changes to avoid catastrophic changes to the earth’s climate and devastation to other animals and plants.
There are no credible politicians who dispute this. Unfortunately, there is still a massive gap between understanding the need for radical action, even to the extent of setting quite ambitious targets, and actually doing what will make a difference.
Before Christmas the latest United Nations climate talks in Madrid ended with the usual fudge: progress in some ways but nothing like enough to tackle the scale of the challenge. Larger countries like Australia argued for wiggle room even while they faced record hot temperatures and rampant bushfires. Now attention moves onto Glasgow and the next big global climate conference this November, with the climate clock ticking even more loudly for another year.
Here in Scotland we are fond of saying that we have world-leading targets. Certainly, a commitment to reduce climate pollution by 75% by 2030 and to zero by 2045 is among the more ambitious on the table. But targets are only meaningful if they are matched by actions. A recent report from the Independent Committee on Climate Change said that Scotland has a gap between words and deeds. Progress in some areas – phasing out coal power in Longannet and Cockenzie to be replaced by renewable energy – has not been matched by action in farming or transport, where business as usual reigns. As a result, Scotland is not on track to meet its target. We need action not words.
In Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, I believe we have a special responsibility to show leadership. Our target to be zero carbon by 2030, shows the right intentions, but are we able to deliver the scale of change needed?
However daunting the task might seem there is good news.
The first good news is that a zero carbon city will actually be a much healthier, happier place to live in. Streets less clogged with traffic; travel by modern buses or trams; neighbourhoods reclaimed as places for people to meet, walk and cycle; petrol and diesel fumes a thing of the past; More of our food coming from local markets and produced locally, with a big spin-off for jobs in the south east of Scotland. Many more trees, soaking up carbon and rainfall in equal measure. Better-protected green spaces. A city that no longer consumes vast quantities of single use plastic from China, but has sustainable local businesses providing the alternatives.
If that sounds like the kind of Edinburgh you want, then the second piece of good news is that change is already starting. From Edinburgh Community Solar Co-operative; leading waste and energy social enterprise Changeworks, community-owned and run Bruntsfield Greengrocer Dig-In; packaging company Vegware; and many more besides. As a city we are blessed with the talent and energy to make a sustainable future a reality.
And there is a third piece of good news: I really believe that there is a will from people across Edinburgh for change and to make those commitments – not just the inspiring young people who confront our local and national politicians, but right across the city in all walks of life.
So the final good news is that there is money when it matters. £1.3 billion has been earmarked, mainly from UK and Scottish Governments for the Edinburgh City Region Deal. That’s a lot of money to keep business as usual afloat.
But business as usual won’t do. 2020 is a year for action, not words.
This blog first appeared in the Edinburgh Evening News