Scotland takes brave approach to climate change
Thursday, January 26, 2017
In the U.S., the HVACR industry waits with bated breath to see what new President Donald Trump is going to do with regard to climate change policy — and what sort of restrictions he will put on the EPA.
Meanwhile, across the Pond in the U.K., the Scottish government has shown a heartening amount of ambition for carbon-cutting with its own draft climate change plan. In fact, the Scottish plan is so ambitious that it has thrown the spotlight on the U.K. Westminster government's own carbon-cutting plans.
In HVAC terms, the headline goals from the Scottish plan will make inspiring reading for those of you currently facing the prospect of an increase in coal generation. The Scots plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 66 percent in the next 15 years with a fully decarbonized electricity sector and to produce 80 percent of domestic heat by low-carbon heat technologies. When we consider that in 2015, only 2 percent of homes were heated by low-carbon methods, the scale of that latter ambition is clear.
But that's not the biggest target. No, the plan also contains proposals to have all its domestic properties "highly energy efficient and near zero carbon" by 2050. Again, this is a massive ambition, given that for 2015 the number of near-zero-carbon homes was described as "negligible."
What lies behind such climate bravery? Well, Scotland has already done pretty well on its overall emissions reduction, having already hit its 2020 climate change target with a 42 percent reduction so far. Thus, it doesn't seem so much of a stress to achieve the 66 percent target in the next 15 years.
The government said it is prepared for wide-ranging changes in transport, logistics, buildings, heating, power, agriculture and land management to achieve this.
Roseanna Cunningham, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, introduced the plan and made it pretty clear how the country — whose government devolved from the U.K. in 1998 — sees itself in global climate terms.
"Our proposals for further deep cuts in emissions represent a new level of ambition which will help maintain Scotland's reputation as a climate leader within the international community," Cunningham said. "But it will be the judgment of our children, grandchildren and, indeed, future generations which matters most. In the years ahead, I want our young people to be able to look back and take pride in what we have achieved."
The move provides an interesting counterargument to Trump's apparent motivation for backing away from U.S. climate commitments: to save American jobs. Scotland believes the low-carbon future offers its population a massive jobs boost.
"The transition to a low-carbon economy offers important opportunities for Scotland, thanks to our highly skilled workforce, the strength of our research institutions and, of course, our natural resources," Cunningham said.
"Our Scottish Energy Efficiency Programme, for example, will support thousands of jobs across Scotland, creating a substantial Scottish market and supply chain for energy efficiency and renewable heat services and technologies and related expertise which is transferable to international markets. Millions of pounds should be saved in fuel bills, money which could be recycled into local economies."
Of course, what many observers around the world will ask is: How will the Scots actually achieve this carbon reduction? For zero-carbon energy, the strategy relies on three key elements:
- investment in a full suite of renewable generation measures, including onshore wind and the relatively young technology of biogas from waste
- acceleration of the development of carbon capture and storage
- a huge investment in energy efficiency, which will encompass policy, infrastructure, education and good old-fashioned cash incentives
This is embodied by the proposed Scottish Energy Efficiency Programme (memorably abbreviated as SEEP), which will coordinate a range of energy, building improvement and heating policies, funded by £500 million of Scottish government money over the next five years.
To give some idea of this level of investment, Scotland has a population of just over 5 million, so it would be equivalent to the U.S. spending more than $300 billion on energy efficiency.
Among the ambitions of SEEP is to learn the lessons of the failed U.K.-wide home energy efficiency scheme the Green Deal, which was withdrawn by the U.K. government in 2015, and was widely criticized for wasting public money.
In terms of the carbon reduction in heating, Scotland is focusing attention on three key technologies:
Insulation: Increasing the rollout of insulation measures to Scottish homes via the U.K.-wide Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme, which makes utility companies promote energy efficiency measures, based on their share of the electricity and gas market.
Renewable heating: A continuation of funding of the U.K.'s Renewable Heat Incentive, which provides users of renewable heating, both domestic and commercial, a payment per kWh heat generated.
District heating: Perhaps the most disruptive in technology terms, a significant expansion of district heating networks.
The plan also envisages working with the U.K. government on its current consultations over future decarbonization of the electricity and gas grids.
Given that the Scottish plan has shone a rather large low-carbon spotlight on the folks down in Westminster, the news has been seized upon as setting a benchmark for England to aspire to. The U.K. Green Building Council praised both the ambition and what it called "a clear and practical plan" for achieving the targets.
"Crucially, Scotland's draft plan provides targets and milestones for individual sectors, which allows businesses to understand where action is most needed," John Alker, Campaign and Policy Director, said.
In urging the U.K. government to follow the example, the GBC offered a veiled threat: "Without a comprehensive plan, there is a genuine danger that the U.K. will fall short of its carbon targets, and that Scotland will leave the rest of the U.K. behind when it comes to the green economy."
In a week when global scientists have announced they are moving the so-called Doomsday Clock closer to midnight largely because of concerns over Trump's approach to climate change, such ambition as Scotland is showing clearly deserves attention.
The draft climate change plan can be viewed at: www.gov.scot/isbn/9781786527431
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