Opposition parties attack Salmond’s commitment to green agenda

Ed Jacobs looks at accusations Alex Salmond’s SNP government is backing down from efforts to be environmentally friendly.


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Just days after Scottish first minister Alex Salmond used his New Year message to urge world leaders to make 2012 a year of “climate justice”, his government’s commitment to the climate change agenda is being questioned on two fronts.

According to the Scotsman, a parliamentary answer from finance secretary John Swinney has revealed that of the 208 cars within the official government fleet, only 26 are hybrid vehicles with a further three that are electric. In light of the first minister’s calls, Scottish Lib Dem transport spokesperson Jim Hume has attacked the SNP administration for failing to practice what they preach.

He argued:

“The SNP love to say that they are world leaders on climate change, making the most of every opportunity to talk the talk on the environment. However these answers reveal that the SNP are not taking enough action in government to back up their warm words.

“With only 14 per cent of their fleet either hybrid or electric, they are not setting the example that we would hope for from a government that has set significant climate change targets.”

It comes as The Herald has today highlighted what it dubs the Scottish government “dumping” plans to cut traffic on Scotland’s roads.

Upon taking office in 2007, SNP Ministers inherited a policy established by the last Labour/Lib Dem coalition at Holyrood of an aspirational target to stabilise road traffic at 2001 levels by 2021. However, an analysis of the Scottish government’s capital spending plans now appears to show that ministers are now factoring in an increase in journeys by car by anything up to 20 per cent.

Published last month, the plan (pdf) concludes (pages 43-44):

“Making better use of our networks is critical to addressing the climate change targets we face.

“The best evidence suggests that the demand for travel will increase by 2020; linked to the underlying growth of the Scottish economy of around two per cent per annum. This is likely to result in a 15-20 per cent growth in vehicle kilometres by 2020.

“There is little evidence of a sustained downturn in the demand to travel, with the result that pressure on networks in urban centres will increase, with congestion at peak periods.”

The plan continues by outlining that 19 major road scheme projects have now been completed, including the development of the M74 south of Glasgow and the upgrading to motorway standard of the A80 before announcing plans for further development of the Scottish road network.

With Scotland legally committed to reducing carbon emissions by 42 per cent by 2020, the environmental campaign group, WWF has outlined its concerns about the government’s ability to meet the target given the apparent u-turn on car usage.

Outlining the organisation’s concerns, Dan Barlow, head of policy at the charity, is quoted in The Herald as saying:

“It is very disappointing that the SNP government seems to have abandoned a previous government commitment to stabilise traffic levels and instead is planning for traffic growth of up to 20 per cent.

“Increasing the number of cars on Scotland’s roads will jeopardise our ability to meet the 2020 climate emissions target and only add to our air pollution problem.”

It comes following the first minister’s clear call for world leaders to do more to secure climate justice. Ahead of a summit in June to be held in Rio de Janeiro on sustainable development Alex Salmond declared:

“It is vitally important that, as the world moves towards economic recovery in 2012, we place climate justice at the very heart of the decisions we make on energy policy and economic and social development in the coming months.

“I believe we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enshrine this important principle – that economic development should be linked to human rights – in global energy policy, ensuring that countries and communities least able to cope with the extreme weather events climate change brings are not further disadvantaged.”

“In the run up to the UN Rio+20 conference in Brazil in June and beyond, I am calling for climate justice to be made central to decisions taken by major countries on energy and development.

“It is also my sincere hope, given the fact one of the themes of this year’s conference is the green economy linked to sustainable development, that climate justice forms an important part of Scotland’s contribution to Rio+20.”

Calling for a “serious, credible and urgent” plan to properly tackle climate change, Labour’s shadow environment minister Claire Baker responded:

“We have set really tough climate change laws in Scotland, but we need a credible plan to meet the targets. Transport and housing are predicted to be the biggest polluters in coming years so we have to make changes.

“We need a serious, credible, and urgent plan to implement our climate change laws in a way that is fair and economically sustainable.”

See also:

The SNP one-ups Osborne on infrastructure investment – Ed Jacobs, December 5th 2011

Scotland needs to get its transport infrastructure in order – Ken Macintosh MSP, October 27th 2011

Is a ‘green populism’ possible, and can Labour help foster it? – Guy Shrubsole, September 26th 2011

Bold consensus needed for a better future for Europe’s fisheries – William Bain MP, July 16th 2011

Vote 2011: SNP outline vision “for a better Scotland” – Alex Salmond, April 24th 2011

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