Edinburgh can’t ignore climate extremes

Recent flash floods are a stark reminder of the urgent action we need to take on the climate emergency, says Lorna Slater.

You’re not meant to experience two weeks’ worth of rain in only a matter of hours, but that is what happened when Edinburgh was hit by flash floods. The rainfall may not have lasted long, but it caused a huge amount of damage to homes and businesses across our city.

The response from the emergency services was characteristically swift, but some of the damage will take a long time to repair. Coming so soon after lockdown, this is the last thing that our small businesses need.

Unfortunately Edinburgh is not the only place to have been hit by extreme weather events. People across the US, and my home country of Canada, are recovering from an unprecedented heat wave that sparked wildfires and shut down schools and vital infrastructure.

These sorts of events are becoming more common and, as our climate changes, they will become even more so. That is why we need to ramp up clean energy production and phase out fossil fuels as soon as possible.

It is a global crisis that needs global solutions and coordination, and it is the biggest polluters that must take the biggest steps. But that cannot be an excuse for individual governments or organisations to avoid taking action.

New technology is being developed all the time, yet more can be done to expand the use of known and proven technologies – rail, buses, bikes, home insulation, heat pumps, wind turbines, tidal turbines can all have a vital impact in cutting our carbon emissions. We already have these technologies, but we need to make better use of them.

We also need to invest in climate-proofing our communities. Taking Edinburgh for example, the impact of failing to respond to the climate crisis would be felt across huge chunks of the city, including some of our busiest population centres. It felt all the more personal when I saw a study by Climate Central that showed Leith, where I live, would be particularly badly hit.

Scientists say that we only have nine years left before the climate emergency becomes irreversible. There can be no time for complacency. So, whether it is the Edinburgh City Council, the Scottish Government or the UK government, all of our institutions have a part to play.

The eyes of the world will be on Scotland this November when world leaders gather in Glasgow for the COP 26 climate conference. They need to ensure that they live up to the urgency of the situation and deliver the real and lasting climate action that we need. They need to have humility and offer real solutions, not just more hot air.

The last 15 months have shown how interlinked our lives are, and how much we rely on one another. Unfortunately, we have also seen the catastrophic impact of waiting too long to take action. We cannot do that again.

Before I was elected to Holyrood I was an engineer in renewables. I have seen the massive impact that government support can have, and the transformative things that people in the sector are capable of.

Edinburgh will need to adapt to cope, and further inaction will mean more flash floods. But it doesn’t need to be that way. We have the information and resources to build a fairer, greener and more sustainable world here and now. It just needs the vision and the commitment to do it.