Fri 27 Oct, 2017

Andy Wightman MSP

Lothian
Local Government, Communities, Housing & Land Reform

Website

We did it.

Following years of hard work and determined campaigning, communities across Scotland have succeeded in persuading the Scottish Government to ban fracking.

This week the Scottish Parliament voted not only to support the Scottish Government’s proposal to extend the moratorium established in 2015 but to incorporate the ban in the National Planning Framework and to commit to using forthcoming powers over licensing to reflect Parliament’s view on the development of unconventional oil and gas.

As my colleague Mark Ruskell, who tabled the Green amendment said during the debate: “Putting the ban into the National Planning Framework will ensure that the democratic will of parliament will remain, even if there is a change of government. It will put the ban on the same footing as the ban on new nuclear power stations, providing direction on a national strategic issue, extending the ban beyond the life of this current parliament.”

Scottish Greens have been opposed to fracking from the start. My colleague, Alison Johnstone first proposed a ban in May 2014 but at the time all other parties disagreed. As she argued this week: “The Greens have always recognised the uncertainties and risks that fracking and other new fossil fuel technologies pose. The Government’s research during the moratorium has strengthened that case, pointing to the lack of evidence needed to assure us that the public health risk is negligible; and the economic case was also found to be weaker than expected. While that evidence gathering was under way, the Greens and others were on the front line, standing shoulder to shoulder with the central Scotland communities that would be most impacted by fracking.”

The SNP, Scottish Labour and the Liberal Democrats are to be commended for having taken stock, re-considered their position and backed a ban this week.

So to all readers of the National who have worked to secure this ban, well done. It is a good example of how the public, politicians and the political process can come together to reach historic decisions about the future of our environment, our energy policy and our communities. The ban is a historic decision and one which should add impetus to Green calls for a target to be set to move Scotland to a zero carbon economy.

At a conference this week Adair Turner, chair of the Just Transition Commission, pointed out that to meet the Paris climate goals of a below 2 degrees celsius rise in global temperatures, global investment needs to be re-directed. If we are to shield ourselves from runaway climate change, we must leave four-fifths of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground.

Although Scotland has no say in what the rest of the world does, it has shown leadership in relation to climate change and the need to transition to a low carbon economy. With the fracking ban in place, now is the time to build the just transition to eliminate the fossil fuel economy.

As part of that we need to re-purpose industry. In our manifesto we called for the Grangemouth refinery to continue as a key asset during the transition away from fossil fuels and for increased investment in the research, development and demonstration of alternative bio-based feedstocks to reduce dependency on petrochemicals. We have the potential to demonstrate a global lead in new technologies.

We need to decarbonise our energy use across all sectors – electricity generation, transport, heating and industrial uses. Achieving this will require action across a range of sectors including investment in warm, energy efficient homes as a national infrastructure priority.

In the coming months, Parliament will debate legislation on new climate change targets, warm homes and planning. In all these areas we have the opportunity to embed the objective of net zero carbon emissions, In planning, we could make it a statutory purpose of planning to contribute to these objectives. This would mean that carbon intensive land use could be rejected. It would mean also that low carbon land uses would receive encouragement and support.

The current Scottish Government has spent a great deal of capital on unsustainable road infrastructure but as Greens agreed at our party conference last weekend, with a new budget to be debated in December, now is the time to make a commitment to target at least 70 per cent of total capital spending on low-carbon infrastructure. We know that this is the level of infrastructure investment required to align with the 2 degrees temperature rise goal. By doing so we’d create thousands in areas such as energy efficient housing, locally owned renewable energy, sustainable transport, and local food systems.

As the chair of the Low Carbon Infrastructure Task Force, Sara Thiam of the Institution of Civil Engineers, said: “We have a duty to build infrastructure that will meet the needs of our grandchildren.”

This article first appeared in The National.

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