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Warning from experts

Consumers ‘need to change behaviour’ to meet carbon target

M8 road works

The transition to a zero carbon economy will mean an end to major road building

Scotland’s aim to become a zero carbon economy will be “extremely challenging” as fewer people travel by bus, more choose to fly, and sales of bigger CO2-emitting cars continues to rise.

An important new report published today warns that institutions and consumers must change their methods and behaviour if the country hopes to meet its 30 year target to reduce damaging greenhouse gases.

Among the initial conclusions of the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland is a virtual end to major new road building, de-carbonising of thousands of existing properties and a national strategy for managing waste.

It also found a need to tackle increased risks of flooding and drought, and establish deep water ports as quicker and easier alternatives to exporting Scotland’s goods via Liverpool, Southampton and Felixstowe.

Ian Russell, chairman of the commission, told a media briefing ahead of the report’s publication that “existing methodology and ways of thinking about what we invest in needs to change”.

Ian Russell with Transport and Infrastructure Secretary Michael Matheson

He said: “Behavioural change is required. Government needs to help us all make the shift in emphasis.”

The report notes that the number of bus journeys in Scotland over the past five years has fallen by 8%, bus fleet sizes are down by 10% and bus companies employ 2% fewer staff.

This is in spite of a 2% rise in vehicle kilometres travelled. The commission says there has been a “significant” rise in sales of larger cars, in particular sports utility vehicles which emit 25% more CO2 than a medium-sized car. Over the past 10 years SUV sales have risen by threefold from just under 7% of car sales to more than 21%.

Exports say that as the majority of these will be in use for at the next decade, “the cumulative effect of their emissions is going to be felt for some time to come.”

The cumulative effect of their emissions is going to be felt for some time to come

– Infrastructure Commission for Scotland

The commission adds: “Even if a successful transition to ULEVs (electric vehicles) can be achieved, it is reasonable to assume that the associated traffic management and congestion challenges will not only remain but are likely to increase if the growth in the numbers of registered vehicles continues.”

Air travel also continues to rise. Over the past three years the number of passengers passing through Scotland’s four biggest airports has risen.

Mr Russell, a former CEO of ScottishPower, said Scottish and UK governments would need to collaborate on the way transport is taxed. Fuel duties will change and “government should be planning those tax changes now.”

Arguing for more a cross-sector approach to transport, housing, and business development, he said infrastructure “currently arrives in silos. It needs a more strategic view”.

The report notes that this is typified in the construction sector. New house completions rose above 20,000 in 2018 for the first time since 2008, but short of the 25,000 which Homes For Scotland says is required. The commission says a “lack of a common approach across Scotland as to how this supporting infrastructure is delivered has had a major impact on the construction industry’s ability to provide the homes that have been allocated in plans and for which there is a clearly identified need.”

Emphasising that the zero carbon plan does not just apply to new structures, Mr Russell said 80% of existing infrastructure will be around in 30 years time but will need to be decarbonised if the targets are to be met.

“If we are serious about this we have to do that,” he said. Asked if the targets were achievable, he replied: “It is important that we make a start. It’s achievable if we get on with it.”

The commission says that improving Scotland’s digital connectivity would enable better and more efficient delivery of public services, such as health services, at home or in the community.

It says priority should be given to investment in full fibre fixed network infrastructure for the whole of Scotland by 2027, adding that next generation digital services requires data centre capacity close to those using the services.

At present Scotland’s connectivity with the rest of the world is limited with almost all its internet traffic transiting via London. Scotland, it says, is the only known country in Europe which does not have a direct internet connection to more than one of the top five internet nodes (London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Paris and Moscow) for the purposes of national resilience.

“The consequence of Scotland’s data traffic travelling to and from London means an increased delay or latency between data being sent and received,” says the report. “This could make Scotland a less attractive location for certain business applications where resilience and latency are crucial business requirements.”

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