In a room full of people yesterday something shocking happened. During the final question and answer session of a conference on the Scottish Government’s Climate Change Bill one of the delegates asked the panel whether the initial carbon reduction target for Scotland was realistic. What followed was either incredibly depressing or hugely motivating depending on how you look at it.
The panel member asked the room for a show of hands: who thinks Scotland is in a position to meet its target of a 42% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020?
No hands. Not a single person put up their hand.
How many people are undecided?
How many people think we definitely won’t meet the targets.
A room full of hands.
Now bear in mind this wasn’t a room full of capitalist bankers. These were “green businesses” at an event for Green Business Fife in Dunfermline. From construction companies through to consultants not a single business, having heard a whole range of environmental information during the morning’s event, was convinced that the targets could be met.
On the drive home I began to think about what had happened. Was this our own mini Copenhagen? Were the Chinese involved? Then I felt annoyed with myself. I should have stuck up my hand in support of the targets. I didn’t because I’m not a business in Fife and was there as a partner organisation rather than an active participant – which sounds a bit lame now! Had I possessed the foresight and speed of thought necessary to pick up a mic and speak to the room I might have said this:
I have two points to make about this show of hands:
First point: a decade ago hardly anyone in Scotland recycled their waste. The kerbside collection infrastructure of recyclables simply didn’t exist. Yet in the ten years since then we have seen people throughout the country recycle and compost more and more of their waste each year and, now, almost 40% of our waste avoids landfill. This target was, just like the 42%, put in place by the Scottish Government. How did we achieve it? One: we improved the infrastructure. Two: Waste Aware Scotland worked with all 32 local authorities to communicate messages to households letting them know what could be recycled and how to do it. It became part of people’s normal behaviour to recycle rather than throw things away. There’s still a long way to go before we can call Scotland a zero waste country but we are in a much stronger position than many people thought we could be.
Second point: If you asked businesses in this room to reduce their carbon emissions by 10% in 2010 most would find it pretty easy. If you did a bit of staff training here and a changed a few processes there you could almost certainly reduce your carbon output by 10% this year without much difficulty. Then imagine it’s the end of 2010 and someone comes up to you and asks for another 10% reduction in 2011. Again, this wouldn’t be impossible. You could just expand and improve the training and initiatives already in place for 2010. More training, more tweaking. You could get there.
Now add to this the fact that the Scottish Government is committed to decarbonising the electricity supply to homes and businesses in Scotland through carbon capture & storage; local small-scale combined heat and power plants; energy from waste; micro-renewables feeding back to the grid; expanded hydro, wind, wave and tidal powers. With all this we can safely presume (I believe) that, even without individual change by households and businesses, our energy use will be less carbon intensive as a result of greener energy supplies. Let’s speculate conservatively and say this will reduce the total carbon output of Scotland by 10%.
Add these two together and you have a relatively “bankable” 30% reduction. Is it beyond the wit of man to extend this by a further 12% over the course of 10 years?
I freely admit that some people in the room would have had a few “yes buts” and “no buts” to say in response to this. But I would challenge anyone to give me a really good reason why it can’t be done. Yesterday showed me that the biggest problem we face isn’t an economic crisis: it’s a confidence crisis.