Rishi Sunak’s latest roll back of net zero policy was more a statement of things that he would not do, rather than things he would. It has attracted backlash from the public, world leaders, his own party and perhaps most surprisingly, car manufacturers. It is difficult to make sense of this decision when the climate crisis has become a larger threat than ever. This does, however, present Scotland with an opportunity. The UK is not a viable option – not politically nor economically nor, apparently, as one committed to the future of humanity. Scotland has the chance to do something different. As SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn aptly put it, “Scotland has the energy – we just need the power”.
Climate change is an existential threat to Scotland
Climate change does not, despite what some may say, have a limited impact on Scotland – it presents us with an existential threat here too. Knock on effects of extreme weather on crop yields are happening already – in 2020, wheat yields in the UK dropped by 40% for this reason. Around one fifth of the coastline in Scotland is vulnerable to erosion. Right now, 1,700 people die each year in Scotland for reasons attributable to air pollution. This does not even include the knock-on effects of geopolitical instability which can and will be caused by the breakdown of our current environment. Scotland is just one country but we cannot afford to ignore this issue.
The good news is of course that Scotland has been incredibly lucky in its renewable potential. In 2020, Scotland generated the equivalent of 97.4% of its energy demand from renewable sources. We are well placed for onshore and offshore wind, as well as hydropower in particular, producing 85% of the UK’s renewable hydropower. Currently, the equivalent of 20% of all planned offshore wind capacity in the EU is based in Scotland. We have 90% of the UK’s fresh water resources in our rivers and lochs and our water supply exceeds 100 times the amount it uses. Despite what some critics of independence have attempted to argue, our water quality is significantly better than England’s – 87% of water bodies have a good or excellent rating here compared to only 14% down south. We are in the best position possible to not just survive the transition to net zero but thrive with it.
No one is happy with Sunak's U-turn
We also know that reaching net zero is a goal that both the Scottish and British public support. An Ipsos poll from 2021 found majority support for sustainable policies like introducing frequent flyer taxes, phasing out the sales of coal and gas boilers and creating low traffic neighbourhoods. It is true that support for some of these dropped when people were asked if they would change their own behaviour but it is also clear that the government being seen to take action on this would also help to encourage cooperation. In fact, the majority of people in the UK are much more in favour of phasing out new petrol and diesel cars after 2030 than other European countries, including Germany, whose current government is in coalition with the Greens.
It's not just the public that have turned against Rishi Sunak for this decision though. Car manufacturer Ford has come out strongly against the government, in part because this scale back of commitments also disrupts their plans for electric vehicle manufacturing in the next decade. If the Conservatives, nominally the party of business in the UK cannot keep industry on side, then it is incredibly unclear what their policy direction actually is. Elected MPs for the party can’t seem to agree either: COP26 President Alok Sharma and former Environmental Secretary Zac Goldsmith were among those criticising the U-turn by Sunak. Scottish government ministers have already reported that despite wanting to keep to the 2030 deadline, they will have to adhere to UK policy, as the Internal Markets Act passed in the aftermath of Brexit prevents Scotland from pursuing economic policies that diverge from the rest of the UK.
Who is to say, additionally, that a prospective Labour government, which at this moment in time appears to be close to a certainty, would act to mitigate the damage caused by this reckless decision. Current leadership has so far pledged to maintain Tory policy on pensions, the two-child cap, refugees, immigration and Brexit. Will environmental policy also be added to that pile? It’s not unlikely, given that leader Keir Starmer has seemed more interested in matching the Conservatives than presenting a credible policy alternative.
Scotland has an opportunity - independence
The divergences in economic and social policy between Scotland and the UK are already evident to anyone that is paying attention. First Minister Humza Yousaf’s adoption of the Wellbeing Economic Approach is emblematic of this distinction, abandoning the UK’s pursuit of economic growth regardless of the cost to the environment. The Scottish Government also previously committed to not only reduce emissions by 75% by 2030 but also to reduce heat emissions by 68% during the same time period, potentially the most ambitious target in Europe. The implementation of Low Emission Zones across Scottish cities, as well as investigations into 20-minute neighbourhoods, are also important steps to reducing transport related emissions (and the associated air pollution), while simultaneously improving wellbeing. Scotland has also proved itself as a world leader in the realm of climate diplomacy, hosting the COP26 conference in Glasgow. Notably, then UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson took a private jet to and from the event, due to ‘time constraints’.
Scotland has a unique chance to make a sustainable transition that could benefit both our economy and the environment. Through independence, we can commit to net zero for good, making a just transition that benefits both the people and our lived environment. If Westminster is unable to be trusted to safeguard the global climate and by extension our planet, how on earth can you expect them to be trusted to manage Scotland’s affairs? To echo calls made by climate activists around the world – there is no Planet B. We only have one chance to prevent climate catastrophe. Independence will help us to prevent humanity from throwing that chance away.