Car obsessed transport policy has to change

Last week the Scottish Parliament debated the Scottish Government’s draft climate change plan. The plan is supposed to show how each sector of the economy from transport to farming, from buildings to big industry, is going to help reduce Scotland emissions to two-thirds of 1990 levels by 2030. Four committees of MSPs have done a great job interrogating the plan and the debate was based on their findings.

The committees found things to welcome but also called for a lot more work to be done to get the plan into shape. The transport proposals came in for particular criticism. The Transport sector is the largest sector of carbon emissions for Scotland, producing more than a quarter of all emissions in 2014 and has seen no significant reduction in emission since 1990, while overall emissions have fallen by over 45%. Our two coal-fired power stations at Longannet and Cockenzie produced about the same emissions as transport in 1990. They are both closed but cars, lorries and planes are still producing the same – less from each individual vehicle but traffic growth has wiped out any gains from efficiency improvements.

The 2009 Climate Act requires Scotland’s emissions to reduce by at least 3% every year from 2020, but the actions in the new plan would see transport emissions falling at less than half that rate.   Perhaps we should celebrate the idea that transport will actually do something about emissions at last, but when you look at the details you find that the plan is basically to let traffic grow, mostly ignore walking, cycling and public transport, and hope that changes in technology will save us.

A major problem is the starting assumptions about how we’ll get about in the future. Transport Scotland’s traffic model says there will be 27% more miles driven in 2035 than today. When the government published a 2006 transport strategy it predicted that traffic levels would grow by 22% between 2005 and 2015. The actual growth in traffic levels was 6%. An earlier plan had a similarly wild prediction. The fundamental assumptions used to create the transport numbers fed into the climate plan are clearly nonsense.

We know that preventing traffic growing is the best way to avoid spending billions on new roads and bridges. Yet Transport Scotland don’t seem to have had the slightest interest in how to head off demand or encourage walking, cycling or public transport. Helping people to make different transport choices also contributes to improved air quality, more active people and healthier local economies, as well as reduced climate emissions and congestion. When the plan came out in January the tabloids screamed about congestion charge, charges to park at work and 4x4s being banned from urban areas. We should be considering all these things, but sadly they are not in the climate plan. Technically the idea of workplace parking charges does get a passing mention but there is no commitment to it and it wouldn’t even be possible without passing a new law.

The modelling suggests no growth at all in the use of buses – presumably because everybody is expected to have at least 3 cars by 2030. There is a commitment to electrify more of the rail network, but at the rate proposed it would be 2140 before the whole system was converted.

European car standards are supposed to help reduce emissions. Even though they won’t apply soon. And 40% of all new cars sold will be ultra-low emissions by 2032. Yet the government’s own climate advisors said we should aim for 65% by 2030 and Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Norway are all discussing targets of 100% by 2025 or 2030.

On walking and cycling there is nothing significant new and it is pretty obvious that Scotland doesn’t have a hope of delivering the ‘vision’ of 10% of all journeys by bicycle by 2020, when the current rate is more like 2%.

There are things to fix on agriculture, industry and buildings too, but the car-obsessives at Transport Scotland clearly need to try a lot harder, with more measures to support walking, cycling and public transport. And even more electric cars please, but less cars overall, or this plan will have failed.

This blog appeared in Scotland on Sunday on 19th March 2017

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Transport needs to go back to the drawing board on climate change

Today the Scottish Parliament will discuss Scotland’s draft climate plan.  Four committees of MSPs have grilled witnesses, sifted facts and produced hundreds of pages of detailed and insightful analysis of the Scottish Government’s plan to reduce climate emissions by two-thirds by 2030.

Like us the MSPs find things to welcome but also think there is a lot more work to do to get the plan in shape.  No-where is this more true than in the transport section.  The Transport sector is the largest sector of carbon emissions for Scotland, producing 28% of all emissions in 2014 and has seen no significant reduction in emission since 1990, while overall emissions have fallen by over 45%.

The 2009 Climate Act required Scotland’s emissions to reduce by at least 3% every year from 2020, but the actions in the new plan would see transport emissions falling at less than half that rate.   Perhaps we should welcome the idea that transport will actually do something about emissions, instead of the nothing at all it’s been doing for the last two decades.  But when you look at the details you find that the plan is basically to let traffic grow, mostly ignore walking, cycling and public transport, and hope that technology will save us.

The starting point for the future of transport is Transport Scotland traffic model which says there will be 27% more miles driven in 2035 than today (and no increase in the use of buses).  The predictions of increased distances driven are justified in the plan with this interesting statement:  “As historically, so in future we expect economic and population growth to increase the demand for the movement of goods, services and people.”  Transport Scotland’s view of history is clearly rather odd.  When the government published a 2006 transport strategy it predicted that traffic levels would grow by 22% between 2005 and 2015.  The actual growth in traffic levels was 6%.  The fundamental assumptions used to create the transport numbers fed into the climate plan are clearly nonsense.

Transport Scotland don’t seem to have had the slightest interest in how to head off demand or encourage walking, cycling or public transport.  This is despite the findings of a 2009 report which showed that measures like workplace parking levies, speed limit reductions and increased public parking charges are, for instance, four or five times more cost effective at reducing carbon emissions than investment in electric vehicles.  By helping people to make different transport choices these kind of measures contribute to improved air quality, more active citizens and healthier local economies, as well as reduced climate emissions and congestion.

There is a remarkable statement in the plan used to summarily dismiss the potential for more people to use public transport, which perfectly illustrates Transport Scotland’s obsession with driving:  “any behavioural switch from private to public transport is likely to be limited by capacity of the sector to absorb significant new traffic.”  So if people want to drive more, we build them more roads.  If people want to use public transport more – oh, sorry not enough buses or trains.

The biggest reductions in emissions are supposed to come from a tightening of vehicle standards from the European Union.  A Union we are about to leave.  Even where technical fix measures are desirable and necessary the proposals look weak in terms of both delivery and international comparisons.  The Plan envisages that 40% of all new cars sold will be ultra-low emissions by 2032, yet the government’s own climate advisors said we should aim for 65% by 2030.  Meanwhile, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Norway are all discussing or committed to targets of 100% by 2025 or 2030.

On transport the government need to go back to the drawing board, come up some traffic targets that are actually credible, aim higher on electric vehicles, walking and cycling, and stop marginalising buses and trains.

This blog appeared in the National on 16th March 2017.

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Fracking – what’s going on in England ?

As the Scottish Government consults on whether or not to allow fracking to go ahead, a look south of the border gives a taste of what may come to pass if Ministers end up allowing the controversial industry to proceed. Theresa May’s government has chosen to stick with its predecessors ‘all out for shale’ approach, in the face of huge opposition from communities on the frontline.  But, despite a supportive government, the industry is meeting with obstacles and resistance every step of the way, and struggling to get underway.

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St. Andrews are speeding towards being 100% fossil free

St. Andrews, founded in the 15th century, is Scotland’s oldest university. Photo by Dunnock D.

Scotland’s third wealthiest university at St. Andrews in Fife have announced they no longer hold any investments in fossil fuel companies.

The University publishes a list of its investments annually, and for the first time the list includes no oil, gas or coal companies.

The University’s £50 million endowment fund also invests in a number of renewable energy companies.

Charlotte Andrew the Student Union President said: ‘The Students Association is pleased that our University has taken this step to demonstrate its commitment to ethical investment, and more broadly, to promoting the importance of protecting our planet’s environment. We look forward to ensuring this commitment is maintained and continually strengthened in the future.’

Campaign group Fossil Free St. Andrews were celebrating the news during UK Universities’ Go Green Week. They are now focused on getting a formal commitment from the university to permanently divest their fund from fossil fuels. Continue reading

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Challenging money and power: fossil free short films

BP protest at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2015

Want to learn a bit more about fossil fuels, climate change, and the campaign to divest in Scotland?

We’ve pulled together this list of excellent short films you can watch right now: Continue reading

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Let’s be climate leaders in 2017

Many people would rather forget 2016 and its catalogue of mistakes, disasters and deaths. On the environment, we saw US President-Elect Trump start a witch hunt of climate scientists and propose putting climate sceptics and oil executives in charge of environmental protection and foreign policy. At the UN climate conference in Marrakech (pictured) there was little appetite to live up to the ambitions of the conference in Paris a year earlier. Brexit threatens 40 years of environmental gains. The UK government approved the first new nuclear reactors since Thatcher, overruled massive local opposition to approve fracking and went backwards on renewable energy.

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Posted in Air Pollution, Arctic, Biomass, Climate Change, Climate Justice, Coalbed methane, Divest / Reinvest, Fossil Free, Fracking, Low Carbon Power, Nuclear, Oil, Politics & Parliament, Renewables, Shale gas, Transport, Uncategorized, Unconventional gas | Leave a comment

Meet the young Scot who is walking 3,100 miles across Europe

19-year-old Stefan Lee Goodwin is walking a mind-blowing 5,000 km (3,100 miles) from John O’Groats to the shores of Bulgaria’s Black Sea, and he’s raising money for charities, including Friends of the Earth Scotland, along the way!

We caught up with Stefan just as he was passing through Carlisle and he kindly took the time to answer some of our questions. Read our exchange below.

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Splashes of green amongst the gloom: This year’s environmental victories for Scotland

2016-highlights-2

For many of us, 2016 seemed like a particularly tough year. It brought some major environmental setbacks, culminating in the election of a new US president with an extremely regressive environmental agenda. However, this year was not all doom and gloom for the environment. Thanks to our supporters, we were able to make progress towards a greener, safer Scotland and celebrate a number of successes – read on for the highlights. Continue reading

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A third of Scottish Universities divest as Abertay and UWS join the party

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Student campaigning organisation People & Planet published the results of their University League today, confirming that two further Scottish universities have divested entirely from fossil fuels.

University of the West of Scotland and Dundee’s Abertay University have pledged not to invest in any fossil fuels.

According to People & Planet UK, UWS’ commitment follows a year-long student campaign (pictured, above) calling on the University to sell its £1 million investments in fossil fuels. Student campaigners have staged dozens of actions to put pressure on university decision-makers. Continue reading

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Marrakech blog – still waiting for action on climate change

For a while this meeting looked like it might be that rarest of things, a UN climate conference that actually finished on time rather than running into Saturday or even Sunday. But, true to UN form, talks broke down last night, the Moroccan chair produced a compromise proposal at 2:30am and the public session to discuss it slipped from the initially advertised 11am to a new time of 3pm. Then 4pm. Then 5pm. People hung about at 5 but in the end the meeting didn’t get going for another 40 minutes, chaired by a deputy because the Moroccan minister who is the chair of the conference was no doubt off knocking heads together on some key issue of disagreement.

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