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Mixed response to Scottish Government climate pledges

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Environmental campaigners have issued a mixed response to the Scottish Government’s commitments to tackle the climate emergency.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon unveiled the Programme for Government this afternoon (Tuesday 3 September), with climate change at the top of the agenda.

Measures which will be introduced include a £3 billion Green Investment Portfolio, a vow to end gas heating within new homes by 2024 and a package of support for transport, including £500m funding for buses, new money for electric vehicles, a commitment to decarbonise the public sector fleet by 2025, and iconic commitments to decarbonise domestic flights by 2040 and rail by 2035.

Gina Hanrahan, head of policy at WWF Scotland, said climate had taken central stage in the announcement.

She said: “This Programme for Government shows real leadership on the climate emergency, with the kind of ambitious and serious actions needed in response to the climate crisis. If carried through, these commitments will slash emissions and deliver benefits to people and the Scottish environment now and for years to come.”

However, Friends of the Earth Scotland director Dr Richard Dixon highlighted continued support for oil extraction in the North Sea and carbon capture schemes as negative aspects of the programme.

He said: “This package includes some very welcome commitments but is not nearly enough to address the desperate climate emergency the world is facing. The obvious contradiction at the heart of this programme is its commitment to some new measures in transport, heating and agriculture while continuing to back the offshore oil and gas industry to keep on drilling and destroying our climate.

“The climate emergency should signal a radical change of direction, especially when it comes to planning the end of oil and gas extraction from the North Sea. Instead we heard of an increased focus on carbon capture and storage and hydrogen, both dangerous distractions, which risk prolonging that industry and taking the focus away from real, sustainable solutions to the climate crisis.

“There are welcome new targets on electrifying our railways, banning gas heating in new buildings and making flights carbon free, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough to reduce polluting car traffic or seriously phase out fossil fuels.”

The Climate Emergency Response Group, which consists of civic and business representatives, welcomed the announcements.

Speaking for the group, Mike Thornton, group director of operations at the Energy Saving Trust, said: “We welcome and are heartened by the broad package of measures in response to the climate emergency which were announced today in the Programme for Government. These are the bold and transformational policies, spanning sectors from transport, agriculture, buildings to procurement, that are needed to show we are serious about addressing the climate emergency. An emergency requires an emergency response.”

The Scottish Greens described the programme as a “cheap imitation” of the Scottish Green New Deal they proposed last week, and said it lacked the ambition, scale and courage required of an emergency response.

Other highlights of the programme for the voluntary sector included a £10 weekly Scottish Child payment to low income families, £4.5 million for third sector organisations to transform homelessness services and £50 million to fund perinatal and infant mental health care.

New legislation to be introduced in the coming year includes a Hate Crime Bill, to update hate crime legislation; an Animal Health and Welfare (Amendment) Bill, which increases maximum penalties for the most serious animal welfare offences; and the Redress (Survivors of In Care Abuse) Bill, to establish a financial redress scheme for survivors of historical child abuse in care.