A Low Carbon Scotland?

I attended a thought-provoking meeting of Scotland’s Futures Forum the other day. The topic for discussion by the policymakers, scientists and businessmen in attendance was the potential to transition to a low carbon Scotland.

The scene setting proposition was that a low carbon future would require much greater resource efficiency in both the generation and use of energy which in turn would require the adoption of new technologies and practices. It was thought that households might generate energy for their own use and for sale to others and that community cooporation would become the norm. While some of these new technologies would require substantial investment others could be quite “low tech”. New leadership skills would be required and the imagination to see the implications of climate change not just in our own country but also the impact of changes elsewhere. Energy security would become a priority but the politics of water might prove even more important.

The working groups were first asked to consider how far we were from realising an aspiration of a low carbon Scotland and indeed to what extent was there such a shared aspiration. It was an energising debate but many of the themes that arose were far from comforting. Scotland has set ambitious targets and while it is well recognised that there is a strong skills base here and natural advantages of water, coast and winds-a combination rarely available elsewhere – most delegates were deeply concerned about the future. It was felt that looking at low carbon alone was insufficient and that rather the target should be a resource efficient Scotland. Many people considered that government plans were not well known and that change was insufficiently well incentivised. Even where people wanted to make lifestyle changes it was not always easy to access information or support. Notwithstanding the strong science base it was felt that there was a considerable technological lack and that good practice and community opportunities were insufficiently well advertised. Little had been done legally to encourage change for example further regulation could create more pressure from low carbon homes, while the lack of agreed standards could lead to resources being wasted in the development of competing technologies were ultimately only one could be used.

The second debate looked at the timing for any required action. It was generally understood that the world was currently using more oil than it was finding and that while wave and offshore energy production was particularly attractive as the power source was more predictable than competing sources such as sun and wind the technology was not yet available. It was generally agreed that investment had to be made now-but in which technologies? Expensive investment in infrastructure could take many years to show a return which in difficult financial times can be an unattractive commitment for politicians.

The meeting concluded by asking participants to address their own spheres of influence-what can we do now? There are clearly no easy answers but inactivity cannot be tolerated. Probably the most effective action would be to encourage further dissemination of good practice and of opportunities for scientific collaboration with investment divided between smaller projects with more immediate impact and the larger infrastructure schemes.

All in all probably not the cheeriest way of spending an afternoon but I was amused at the end when very few of us seemed to be heading to the bus stop while many others dug in their bags for their car keys!

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