Posts in Policy

Let’s talk about targets: giving parliamentary evidence on Scotland’s draft Climate Change Bill

June 6th, 2019 Posted by Blogs, Policy No Comment yet

In this blog, our Policy volunteer Siri reflects on her experience of giving evidence in Scottish Parliament on the topic of climate change emissions targets – what it was like, how she felt, and the importance of having young people’s voices represented in decision making.

This week, the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee published their report of recommendations for the Climate Change Bill for Scotland. This Bill will update Scotland’s legally binding emissions targets, previously set out in the 2009 Climate Change Act.  It’s been a busy year – since the ECCLR Committee started processing the Bill a year ago in May 2018, the Scottish Government announced they would set a new target of net-zero emissions by 2045 , following the UK Climate Change Committee’s report in May (more on that in a previous blog post here. We are now presented with the results of ECCLR’s scrutiny, which, together with amendments to the draft bill, will be debated in the Scottish Parliament. Votes on amendments are scheduled for 18th and 25th June – keep an eye on those as this is how the new net-zero target will become a part of the Bill.

Before we go any further, I figure it’s probably good to check in about acronyms. The Climate Change Committee, or CCC, is an independent adviser to the UK and Scottish Parliaments and their advice can (and, in some cases, must) be sought when setting targets. ECCLR is the Scottish Parliament’s (cross-party) Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, which is the key team of MSPs who will scrutinise the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill, prior to it being brought in front of the entire Scottish Parliament.

The parliamentary scrutiny process takes place in three stages; the first stage which has just been finished involves consultations with stakeholders through written and verbal evidence, and the analysis of these discussions written up into a report. This is a fascinating process and allows for direct, recorded conversations between experts and representatives and the politicians making decisions on items which are often not their area of expertise. You can watch videos of the Committee’s meetings here.

As a part of this process, 2050 Climate Group sent the ECCLR Committee written evidence and we were then invited to discuss this in person with MSPs, alongside organisations such as WWF, Friends of the Earth, Young Friends of the Earth, and Centre for Climate Justice.

I was honoured to get to represent 2050 Climate Group in front of the committee in November 2018. I was also terrified. Having a conversation and answering on-the-spot questions from MSPs, alongside highly esteemed policy experts, is quite different from giving presentations or speeches. There is only so much preparation you can do.

Luckily, it turns out, the Parliament has recently started a service where you can go visit the building and the parliamentary clerks responsible for the consultations, and discuss how the hearing will go in practice. I was told I was the first person to choose to do this, which is a shame – I’d recommend it to anyone who ends up being invited – because it was very useful to understand the day. We walked through where things would happen; whether there would be space for notes; how to get a turn to speak. What kind of questions would come our way; who the other organisations might be; who would sit where.

I understood that, while we were present to provide a young people’s voice, there would not be specific questions on the impact on young people; instead, we’d need to make sure our voice is heard across a variety of questions on the entire Bill. We had decided that while we wanted our voice heard, we wouldn’t want to speak for the sake of hearing our own voice; only when we had something to contribute. There were many organisations present with specific expertise on targets and policies; we were there both to remind everyone that if we don’t set ambitious targets now, our generation will be sitting on those seats 10 or 20 years from now with much less choice, and to provide creative and positive ideas from young people.

Representing an organisation with a wide-ranging membership and no single policy position was not straightforward. We’d set out a few things we agreed on, based on our consultation with the Young Leaders. We wanted a net-zero target set in the Bill, so companies, organisations, people planning their house renovations and young people planning their careers had a clearer idea of what future would look like. We wanted pragmatic policies across all sectors. We wanted young people at all the tables. And we wanted climate change to be seen as an opportunity to create a better society, not just as a crisis. There were questions about specific percentages and targets that we didn’t have answers to; but we were heard, and it genuinely felt like we were listened to. I had a sense that the politicians really wanted to understand what we thought the Bill should say, and why.

There were a few moments I was especially proud of. In particular, after a comment from an MSP stating “The Scotch Whisky Association said that, if the 2020 target were revised, meeting the new target would not be easily achievable—“not realistic” are the words that it used.”, I felt I needed to clarify what all of us at the table were saying, as this comment was making it sound like we all expect this to be easy and comfortable. But we’re at a point now where no option is easy; some are just more difficult than others, and some provide better outcomes in the future. So I reminded the panel of this: “There will be difficult choices to be made, but they will be easier to make now than at later stages. None of us thinks that the changes will be easy, but they are necessary.”

Since our evidence session in November, the Committee has continued to take evidence from more experts during May. This week, they published their final report on the Bill. It backs the net-zero by 2045 target for Scotland and urges a higher interim target to be set for 2030 to encourage early action over the next decade. It touches on the evidence the MSPs have heard about forestry, agriculture, industry and homes and recommends areas where the Scottish Government could be bolder.

The Bill has now entered Stage 2 of the scrutiny process. This will be a busy few weeks where MSPs bring forward their amendments to the draft Bill. The Government is also expected to make a few tweaks to reflect some of the Committee’s recommendations. What follows will be a series of Committee meetings in June where the ECCLR Committee will vote on the amendments – and this is where party politics comes into play. Parliament wraps up for the summer at the end of June, but the Bill will be back in the spotlight in early Autumn for its third and final stage. Here the Bill will be debated and voted upon by all MSPs (not just ECCLR members) and there will be a chance for last-minute amendments.

The Climate Change Bill has the opportunity to provide a clear and predictable legal framework for urgent and inspired action against the climate crisis. If MSPs take heed of the calls for urgency – which is more likely the more we keep reminding them of this – then a legally binding net-zero target can create space for a managed, just transition to a sustainable society, whilst we still have time (albeit, not much time!). It can also give the people of Scotland opportunities to make long-term choices that support a rapid transition, whether these are in the personal, professional or political spheres – providing space for creativity and use of individual strengths. The 2050 Climate Group will continue to push for opportunities to show today’s politicians young people’s enthusiasm and commitment to action on climate change. Watch this space as we update you on how it all plays out.

Scottish Government drops plans to cut aviation tax – what does this mean for the climate?

May 9th, 2019 Posted by Blogs, Policy No Comment yet
In this blog post, our Policy Team co-chair Alex Luetchford explores the news that the Scottish Government are no longer planning on scrapping Air Departure Tax.

With the Scottish and UK governments (as well as dozens of local authorities) declaring ‘climate emergencies’ over the past few weeks, there have been a string of good news stories regarding climate change recently. However, many environmental activists and groups had warned that merely declaring an emergency was meaningless unless followed up by strong action. It is heartening to see that this is starting to happen. As well as introducing more ambitious emissions targets, this week the Scottish Government announced that is is dropping its plans to scrap Air Departure Tax (ADT), saying that the policy does not fit in with Scotland’s commitment to reach net-zero emissions by 2045..

2050 Climate Group strongly welcomes this decision-reversal; indeed, we argued against the tax cut way back in 2016 when the Government first consulted on the issue. Our position was developed by surveying the young people in our network, as it was found that on average, 38% our our Young Leaders’ carbon emissions came from flying.

We think it is amazing to see the Government’s previous declaration of a climate emergency being translated into positive action so quickly. That being said, more reform of the aviation industry is needed if we are to avoid climate breakdown. Our generation of young people stand to have the most to lose from the impacts of climate change – but we are also best placed to respond to this challenge. That’s why 2050 Climate Group exists to educate, engage, and empower young people to take climate action.

Where did this decision come from?

In 2016, the power to set Air Passenger Duty (now called Air Departure Tax) was devolved to the Scottish Parliament. The SNP then pledged to scrap Air Passenger Duty in their manifesto for the 2016 Holyrood election. This tax is levied against each adult passenger on every flight departing from the UK (exceptions apply if you are just transferring flights in the UK, or travelling from Northern Ireland or the Scottish Highlands). The rate for short-haul flights (less than 2000 miles) is currently £13 for economy class and £26 for all other classes, with a much higher rate for long-haul flights.

The SNP argued that by initially halving the tax, and then eventually getting rid of it all together, Scotland would become a more connected place, with our airports becoming more attractive (i.e. cheaper) places to fly to. The SNP were seeking to improve Scotland’s economic performance, as well as boosting job creation and cultural exchange. On the face of it you can see the appeal – making it cheaper to fly to and from Scotland would increase tourism, and bring with it the associated economic gains.

However, it would obviously incentivise more flights, and thus an increase in fossil fuel consumption. The Government’s own analysis suggested that the policy of scrapping the tax would mean Scotland’s emissions increased by between 87,000 – 101,000 tonnes CO2e. We argued that any potential short term improvements to the economy gained by this policy would be outweighed by the long-term environmental and economic costs of climate change. We also pointed out that this policy was not coherent with the Scottish Government’s rhetoric and targets around climate change. Scrapping air tax whilst boosting active travel spending, for example, would be taking one step forward, two steps back. Their announcement this week seems to recognise this, with Roseanna Cunningham MSP, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, saying that the policy was “incompatible” with their new target of having net-zero emissions by 2045.

Good news – but it could be better!

So, keeping ADT in place is good news, as it will avoid some additional greenhouse gas emissions. It is also a sign of intent from the Scottish Government. U-turns can be embarrassing for politicians, so it takes bravery to stand up and admit that a policy isn’t the right way forward. This decision is an example of the government seeming to take its declaration of a climate emergency seriously.

However, there is still plenty more work to do in terms of tackling emissions from transport. The 87,000 – 101,000 tonne CO2e increase in emissions from scrapping ADT would have increased emissions from Scotland’s transport sector by less than 1%. Quite simply, transport is the biggest problem Scotland faces in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The decision not to cut ADT is just a drop in the ocean. Whilst this U-turn is very welcome, we need bigger, bolder solutions.

Total emissions in Scotland have almost halved between 1990 and 2016, but transport has not followed this trend; in the same period, transport emissions only fell by 2.5%. Indeed, emissions from transport have actually been increasing since 2013, and now account for 37% of Scotland’s total emissions (more than any other industry).

Main Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Scotland, 1990 to 2016. Values in MtCO2e

Within the sector, road transport is the main problem, accounting for a whopping 73% of Scotland’s transport emissions in 2015. But let’s park that for now (if you’ll excuse the pun). This blog is about aviation emissions, which are also a big problem. These have increased by 46% since 1990, and they made up 15% of transport emissions in 2015.

Part of the problem is that aviation is already one of the least-taxed industries in the world. There is no tax on aeroplane fuel, and no VAT on airline tickets. As such, removing ADT would have resulted in aviation becoming a largely un-taxed industry. Instead of cutting ADT, the Scottish Government could use the climate emergency as an opportunity to implement higher, more progressive taxes on the aviation industry. Increasing the costs of high-carbon activities, like flying, is an important way of disincentivising people from these activities. One possibility would be a Frequent Flyer Tax, which would increase for each flight you take. Another alternative would be to structure tax incentives so that the airlines are incentivised to fly the most efficient planes, with a full load.

Furthermore, given that the aim of cutting ADT was to improve connectivity, it is notable that over half the gains made from this policy would have been from UK-internal flights. A much better way of increasing Scotland’s connectivity would thus be to look at boosting alternative, lower-carbon methods of transport within the UK. We are small country, geographically speaking, and so improving and investing in coaches and high-speed rail makes much more environmental sense. These forms of transport produce far fewer greenhouse gasses than flying, yet are already taxed more heavily.

Personal choices are shaped by policies

I live in Scotland, but hailing from sunny Sussex, I face a difficult decision every time I want to travel home to see my parents – a decision thousands of others also have to make when choosing how to travel long distance in this country.

On the one hand, I much prefer travelling by train. It is usually very comfortable, there’s no waiting around in security queues, and I get to enjoy the stunning scenery of the East Coast mainline. And of course, getting the train home is much greener – it produces almost 6 times fewer emissions than getting a flight from Edinburgh to Gatwick.

The view from the East Coast Mainline as it goes through Berwickshire

The view from the East Coast Mainline as it goes through Berwickshire (Photo credit: Mat Fascione [cc-by-sa/2.0])

The choice in how I travel is made much more difficult by the costs involved. If I booked a train right now, and even by booking advanced singles, the cost of a return trip is £168. Flying from Edinburgh to Gatwick on the same dates would cost me as little as £70. When I was a student I often had to fly home for Christmas because I simply couldn’t afford the train. Young people typically earn much less, so are under even more financial pressure to fly. Similarly, for organisations concerned by their travel budgets, the decision of whether to fly or train between Scotland and London is an obvious one. The Caledonian Sleeper service has just started running their fancy new carriages – but the cost of tickets has increased significantly. And these financial choices apply to holiday-makers too. The surge in cheap flights to European cities has made Ryanair the EU’s 10th biggest emitter of carbon emissions.

If the Government wants to tackle the problem of aviation-related carbon emissions seriously, it must do more than just U-turn on a tax cut. There are many, many policies that could reduce the climate impact of transport, but we must make long-distance rail travel cheaper than flying. 2050 starts now.

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#2045StartsNow: Scottish Government to set new world-leading climate change target

May 2nd, 2019 Posted by Blogs, Policy No Comment yet
Image credit: Gair Brisbane Photography

In this blog post, our Policy Team volunteer Jamie Wylie provides an update on the Scottish Government’s new climate change target.

In today’s world, the news isn’t often a source of positivity. But today, things feel a lot more hopeful.

Today saw the fantastic announcement that the Scottish Government intends to set a target for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. 2050 Climate Group strongly welcomes this announcement. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s special report highlighted last year, urgent action and ambition is needed if we are to avoid a climate catastrophe.

This comes following new advice from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), an independent body providing guidance to the UK Government and the devolved governments on climate change. After considering new information on climate science, policy and market trends, the CCC has indicated that Scotland could achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. The CCC has also recommended that the UK as a whole can achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, whilst Wales can achieve a 95% reduction by 2050.


Stronger targets, faster action

The Scottish Government had previously committed to becoming “carbon neutral” by 2050, with an aim to set a date for phasing out all fossil fuel use at a later time. Whilst this was a step in the right direction, many felt that this did not go far enough, as this target didn’t cover all greenhouse gas emissions and did not set a clear date for net-zero emissions. In our response to the Government’s Climate Change Bill consultation in 2018, we explained how young people that took part in our consultation survey and workshops wanted to see much stronger targets for reducing emissions.

However, the new target for net-zero emissions by 2045 puts Scotland firmly as a leader on climate change. Only Sweden has set a legally-binding climate change target of this strength to date. This is excellent news for Scotland’s action on climate change. Just a few years ago, not many thought that there would be the political will for such action, or indeed that net-zero by 2045 would even be achievable.


So what does this mean?

Let’s unpack this target in a little more detail. To become “net-zero” by 2045 would mean that some greenhouse gas emissions would continue, but activities like large-scale tree planting and Carbon Capture and Storage technologies (when they’re feasible), would soak up the equivalent of these emissions. The CCC says that tree planting across the UK would have to increase in order to meet these new net-zero targets. The new commitment from the Scottish Government also includes the target of becoming “carbon neutral” by 2040, which would mean most, but not all, greenhouse gas emissions would end by 2040. Nitrogen emissions, from sectors like agriculture, would not be covered in this 2040 target. However, the target does appear to cover emissions from aviation and shipping, something which other countries’ targets often don’t include.


So what happens now?

Whilst the Scottish Government has committed to this new target, it still needs to be passed in the Scottish Parliament to become set in law. It will be included as an amendment to the Climate Change Bill currently being considered by Parliament, and will be voted on by MSPs. However, this should hopefully be a formality and there shouldn’t be any serious opposition. In the last Climate Change Act (in 2009), all political parties came together to back a target of 80% greenhouse gas reduction by 2050. Hopefully we’ll see the same this time with this new, stronger target.


The power of youth

For those of us who work on and study climate change and sustainability, it’s been promising to see these issues receiving more and more attention in the media in recent months. Whether it’s young people going on school strikes, the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg giving brutally honest speeches in front of world leaders, David Attenborough’s new climate change documentary, or Extinction Rebellion protesting on the streets, there’s been a lot of focus on climate change recently.

Whilst some have questioned the value of actions such as young people striking, there’s no denying the power of the message that this sends. Young people have more to lose than anyone from climate change; after all, we will be the ones to feel the force of changes to our planet in the decades to come should we fail to take action now. Let’s not underestimate the influence that young people can have in this situation – Chris Stark, the Chief Executive of the CCC, noted how activities like the recent school strikes have brought climate change to the forefront of the public mind.


2050 starts now

If enacted, these new targets would pave the way for Scotland and the UK to become true leaders on climate change and the transition to a post-carbon society. However, the hard work starts now to build on the good progress made to date in cutting emissions in areas like waste and electricity generation. We need to see a strong plan from the UK and Scottish governments to tackle all sources of emissions and face up to some of the most problematic areas, like transport, land use, agriculture, and heat generation. Roseanna Cunningham MSP, the Climate Change Secretary, is right when she says that “every single one of us now needs to take more action – not just the Scottish Government but also all businesses, schools, communities, individuals and organisations.” And that’s why we are launching our new 3-year strategy this summer to galvanise action. We will continue to engage young leaders from the private, public and third sectors, empowering them to take a lead on climate change, and collaborate to make the change we need. Together, 2050 starts now.