Sarah Boyack: New policies needed to tackle efficiency

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What do the Paris Climate Talks mean for Edinburgh?

Last week’s Paris Climate Talks had an emotional backdrop nobody could have predicted. The mass demonstrations that climate campaigners had planned were not allowed, but that did not stop environmental organisations from across the globe congregating in Paris to lobby for a meaningful agreement. It certainly didn’t stop the six activists who cycled from Edinburgh to Paris to make their voices heard.

Over 190 countries agreed that science had to be respected and that climate emissions must be cut to avoid the world warming by 2 degrees centigrade. The deal isn’t perfect and there is still room for improvement on support for developing countries. World leaders have agreed to meet again in three years to report on progress and renew action to deliver low carbon economies in the early years.

That’s the challenge in Scotland where although we’ve seen progress in developing renewables, not one of our first four annual climate targets have been met.

When I addressed the 5000 strong Stop Climate Chaos demonstration last month in Edinburgh I called for action.

Major changes are needed in how we heat and power our homes. Some 35 per cent of Scottish households are living in fuel poverty. We need a Warm Homes Act to sit alongside increased investment through a national energy infrastructure project would make the transformation needed in every community.

Community co-operative energy schemes produce energy locally and pay dividends to local communities. Two community schemes are up and running in Edinburgh. The Harlaw Hydro is generating electricity, and the Edinburgh Solar Co-op will erect large solar panels on public buildings to generate electricity which over time will yield investment in local schools and environmental projects. Our housing associations are leading the way on innovation with Castle Rock Edinvar now piloting the use of solar panels and sun amp batteries to generate and store electricity providing hot water for tenants.

Across Scotland nearly 3500 die early deaths because of air pollution and we have air quality hotspots in Edinburgh. Again we need innovation and investment to lower our transport emissions.

Edinburgh’s universities are important as the drivers of new renewables and low carbon infrastructure technologies which need the support of the city’s and financial services support to develop into thriving businesses. If our businesses and public sector organisations can exploit these technologies, they will demonstrate leadership and benefit from these valuable investment decisions.

Our trade unions can also make a significant contribution to develop the strategies needed to boost workers’ skills and opportunities. We need to enable workers to transition swiftly into employment in the low carbon economy. This “Just Transition” could be with the same employer or it could mean transferrable and new skills which open up new opportunities.

Environmental justice demands that we make sure that the path to a low carbon economy is a fair one. That’s why tackling energy efficiency and creating new jobs must be our top priority in the short term.

Sarah Boyack is a Scottish Labour MSP for Lothian