Thursday, 17 December 2009

Getting our ducks in a row

Pictured with fellow CC Committee Member Cathy Peattie, visiting with Politisk Chef (Chief Political Officer) Lise Bjorn Pedersen of the Danish Cyclists Forum viewing the modern attractive bikes on sale in Copenhagen

This week I was privileged to attend the Copenhagen Conference as a Climate Change Committee Member from the Scottish Parliament. Be it noted that my colleague Shirley Anne Somerville was slotted in but had to call off. The huge task for this planet is to measure how we in Scotland can contribute to the international debate and also make progress in this country to achieve the goals that we set ourselves in the world leading Climate Change Act passed in June.

As I said in Parliament last week, the phrase "getting our ducks in a row" comes to mind. In the 1980s, Dr Salter was developing wave power. Had he been given the go-ahead, wave and tidal power might have been developed at a much earlier stage. The science has been talked about for several decades but is only now being developed. London-based Government agencies scuppered Salter’s ducks so it is important that we get our ducks in a row now.

We have a fantastic opportunity. As Jim Mather, the Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism said in welcoming the Wood Mackenzie study backing renewable energy development: "We enjoy a vast array of potentially cheap renewable energy sources and harnessing that potential will create thousands of long-term jobs while reducing emissions." I wholeheartedly agree.

Where powers over the development of those energy sources lie is a crucial issue that can act as a drag on development. Remember that we are working at a competitive disadvantage in relation to energy distribution in rules made in the Thatcher period and which is unfit for purpose. The Office of Gas and Electricity Markets OfGEM proposals with which we have had to deal are costing us millions a year more to produce power here compared to south-east England. This makes it difficult to help Scotland, let alone Britain, to reduce its emissions as quickly as we might do. We need to change those conditions. Sustainability is at last being built into UK law. I hope that that will change the form of regulation in our favour.

The body that the London Parliament hardly ever seems to hold to account is the Crown Estate, the tax collectors of the seas who make a lot of money for the London Treasury. Meanwhile they are taking far too long to put in place the licences that will help us to develop tidal and wave power and offshore wind farms in areas such as the Pentland and Moray Firths. The processes are complex—the Crown Estate has to see that licensees can deliver. However, the fact is that the Crown Estate is not within the control of the Scottish Parliament, we need to get that control.

I am full of praise for the work of the North Scotland Industries group. Its chief executive, Ian Couper, told its annual general meeting this week:

"By 2013, I want the North of Scotland and the Islands to be recognised as the renewable energy centre for Scotland and the UK ... This is where the majority of activity will be happening for the UK and we need to blow our trumpet a bit more, to make more people aware of our strengths in this sector."

We should not only blow our trumpet but make the case that we must have the powers over the development of the sector that will aid the process. It is up to members of the Scottish Parliament to confront some of the issues that are holding back development. It is for that reason that I mentioned UK bodies that are guilty.

Additionally, an issue raised in the energy section of The Press and Journal last week criticises the failure of some of our well-known high street banks to put up money for the energy development. Some banks like HSBC are investing, but we must ensure that banks that are based in Scotland such as RBS and HBOS and which take deposits from Scotland are seen to be using that money for developments in offshore renewables. After all, renewables pose far less risk than the way in which the banks gambled our money in the past. It is important that that focus is kept on the banks.

Despite the mixture of powers currently shared between London and Edinburgh, the EU's policy for renewables development— a possible 30% reduction in GHG by 2020—provides us with a lot of opportunities. It is up to Scots to ensure that North Sea grids are eventually laid at a later stage after the overland grid is upgraded and carry the precious endless clean electricity to our markets.

Imagine a city of half a million people saving 90,000 tonnes of CO2 every year due to cycling instead of car and bus journeys. That's what Copenhagen achieves through a staggering 37% of journeys to school and work being done in the saddle.

I've learned so much of practical benefit to us back home at the Climate Change Summit, or more precisely on the fringes and through arranged meetings in the city. So why can't we do such ground breaking health promoting travel here? No reason why not. The Holyrood Committee enquiry into cycling and walking has to be practical for our climate. So its a sobering thought that 80% of normal cycle journeys continue in winters in Denmark. They just clear the snow from cycle lanes before they do the roads.

Much more from me and the Copenhagen experience next time. Merry Christmas when it comes.

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