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Scotland the brave or the foolhardy?

ImageA 42 per cent reduction in emissions over a decade is an unprecedented challenge for Scotland. A change in funding arrangements is a necessity to hit the target

Edinburgh leads the way to Copenhagen. Or, to put in another way, the Scottish Parliament has unanimously set its people the most ambitious target in the world to reduce the levels of greenhouse gases. Which should prove a positive inspiration for all those Heads of Government convening next month to combat climate change.

The headline Scottish figure is to deliver a 42% reduction in emissions over the next decade. As everyone accepts, it is enormously ambitious.

Because buildings are responsible for approaching half of all energy use, revolutionising their energy performance will be of paramount importance Delivering this will require improving the energy efficiency of practically every Scottish building, by the greatest magnitude ever attempted anywhere, across the shortest period.

Business-as-usual is not an option

Business-as-usual, even incremental change, is simply not just “not an option”; it is history. But altering the building stock will throw up some really encouraging policy benefits – way beyond the primarily ecological ones that prompted the Climate Change Scotland Act.

At the end of last month I was invited to the iconic Scottish Parliament building, to help launch a report called “Warm Homes, Green Jobs”. The reason was that the report in question (funded by EAGA Scotland) had been drawn up by colleagues of mine, both present and past.

Speaking at the launch were senior representatives of the four political parties. All were glowing in their praise, as was Energy Minister Jim Mather. He said: “Energy efficiency is a key part of our economic recovery programme, and cutting household emissions will be crucial to meet our Climate Change Act targets.

“We already know there is a massive economic opportunity in meeting that challenge and this report shows the benefits for Scotland in moving quickly to a low carbon economy. This is useful research which provides an important contribution to the consultation on our Energy Efficiency Action Plan for Scotland.”

The reasons for this enthusiasm can be simply explained. My colleagues had examined the impact such activity would have upon employment levels. They concluded that the additional value to the Scottish economy of this work would be in excess of £4bn over 10 years.

Moreover, this means that some 10,200 jobs would be created (or at minimum safeguarded) over the decade. This would provide employment for around 7,300 people, specifically installing energy saving measures in buildings. Glazing, solar water heating, boiler upgrades, heat pump installation, insulation: the potential numbers identified from each, the gross value of the sector, and the total installation cost, is set out in detail.

Overall this is equivalent to adding nearly 30% to the value of each £1 invested, and 7.5 person years of employment per £1 million invested – a genuinely low “cost per productive job”.

And most of this work will be local, people working in or near their own communities to deliver the energy saving improvements.

Creation of jobs and SMEs

Naturally these benefits would not occur smoothly. Apart from some insulation, glazing and perhaps boiler upgrades, there is a considerable gap between current installation rates of measures, and the legal ambitions for 2020.

But on top of these gains, there are the anticipated jobs for those involved in management, marketing, advice, monitoring and consultancy roles: these may well be found within the traditional energy suppliers, as well as in start –up SMEs.

The problem is that this expansion simply will not happen under existing market stimuli, and funding, arrangements. Scottish Government spending on sustainable energy through schemes such as the Energy Assistance package and the Home Insulation Scheme must rise sharply, and must do so now if the 42% reductions in greenhouses gases are to be achieved.

One of the key speakers at the launch event, Iain Smith MSP, convenor of the economy committee, has placed a motion before his fellow parliamentarians. It welcomes our publications, for all the industrial and employment reasons set out. But then warns that “these benefits will not be realised unless investment in sustainable energy rises sharply.

Only this way, the Parliamentary motion concludes, can it be ensured that “Scotland does not miss out on the benefits that achieving a 42% cut in climate change pollution from our homes can deliver”.

They might want to phrase it slightly differently. But that in essence is precisely the challenge facing every minister in every country, as they make their way home for Christmas from the Copenhagen Summit.

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