Climate strategy needs urgency of pandemic action

Mon, 09/27/2021 - 10:56

The pandemic has demonstrated that government is able to deliver change at pace. This same sense of emergency now needs to be applied to reducing Edinburgh’s emissions.

Public consultation on the draft city-wide 2030 Climate Strategy has just ended, with many stakeholders showing support for net zero action. It sets the right foundations for future activity, with the City of Edinburgh Council pledging to take a lead on the challenge. This doesn’t mean just addressing their own emissions – which are 3% of the city’s total – but also supporting others across the city to make the change and limit further impacts.

The draft strategy calls on businesses to support net zero and explicitly references our Climate Compact as a key tool that businesses should look to join to reduce their emissions.

It also highlights the numerous co-benefits that taking climate action will deliver: greener spaces, cleaner air, better public transport systems and warmer homes. This powerfully demonstrates that by 2030, Edinburgh could become a climate resilient city with a transformed city centre connected to thriving green, local neighbourhoods, where our historic, natural and built environments are protected and valued for their significant contribution to people’s wellbeing.

However we feel the strategy could go further still. The strategy’s chapter on citizens provides information on some of the ways we can take climate action, but people cannot do this alone. Major systemic changes need to be realised to enable city-wide behaviour change. In the final strategy and delivery plan, the Commission hopes to see more detail on how the many outlined actions will achieve desired outcomes. This will help key players in the city fully identify how to best make their contributions to achieving a net zero Edinburgh.

Citizens will need to be kept at the heart of conversations about how the city will deliver net zero and it’s vital the challenges of change are fully considered and understood by all. This means the strategy and its implementation must be creative in terms of its engagement with citizens, businesses, communities and other key stakeholders in the city.  This will be vital in ensuring that the necessary changes resonate clearly and drive effective action.

The proposed actions and their delivery must be supported by the city’s elected members. Only through strong leadership will climate action in Edinburgh be delivered swiftly and with an appropriate sense of urgency.

With this in mind, we’re proposing that the final strategy and its implementation should realise a ‘net zero test’ for all policy decisions made by the Council. The test should also demonstrate how the fast-track decision making processes applied during covid will be applied to future work – so that core Council aims of ending poverty, improving citizen health and wellbeing and reaching net zero all by 2030 can be met.

Edinburgh’s response to the climate emergency must match the severity of the challenge which lies ahead of us. We have seen that change can be delivered quickly. We want Edinburgh to apply this sense of urgency to creating a clean, fair and thriving city for future generations.

By Dr. Alex Hilliam, Commissioner, Edinburgh Climate Commission

This opinion peice was written for the Edinburgh Evening News