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Consumers need government help to meet climate change targets

by Emma Grant McColm, CAS Energy spokesperson

(This article first appeared in the Sunday Herald on 19 August 2018)


Over the years there have been various efforts to tackle climate change. To date most of them have focussed on cutting carbon emissions in business and industry, so have not impacted people much in their everyday lives - aside from the odd product ban like aerosols. That could be set to change with the Climate Change Bill, which will be going through the Scottish Parliament in the next few months.

The Scottish Government is, commendably, scaling up its emission target to 90% by 2050 (from the 1990 baseline). And this includes ambitious targets in the domestic and transport sectors - meaning that they expect us all to adopt lower carbon lifestyles in our homes and cars.

Are ministers being realistic here though? They say, for example, that the majority of drivers in Scotland should be driving Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (ULEVs) by 2032, yet only 1% of vehicles registered in Scotland today are ULEVs. In addition, ministers want 35% of Scottish homes to have low-carbon heating by 2032. Currently only 2% are estimated to have this.

These figures highlight the scale of the task the Government faces. It’s no good setting ambitious targets without articulating how people will be affected by them, why they should care, and how they will be supported to meet them.

Last year Citizens Advice Scotland commissioned research that sought to understand how these climate change policies are likely to affect Scottish consumers, and how likely people are to buy into them. We published the findings on Friday. 

The good news is that Scots broadly get the problem of climate change; 73% of our respondents said the issue needs to be addressed urgently. However, the bad news is that the same survey showed the majority of people did not associate using less energy in the home or on the road as key to tackling it. So there is clearly a job to be done in persuading people they can and should be part of the solution.

Our report last week prompts the Scottish Government to begin doing that job. We are calling for a large-scale public information campaign to secure popular support for emissions reduction, to make it aspirational for people to actively participate in this – as well as providing practical financial support where appropriate to make this happen. There needs to be a detailed route-map setting out exactly how people will be supported to lead lower carbon lifestyles. 

Our research found that factors such as socio-economic status, rural/urban dwelling, location and housing type all determine what kind of support and engagement people might need. In particular lower-income households may struggle to pay the up-front costs of energy-efficient products. And while there are good schemes in Scotland which help people with one-off ‘structural’ changes like installing more efficient boilers, programmes that encourage more habitual energy-saving behaviour are less well established.

With our wealth of natural resources, Scotland can be a leader in providing low-carbon smart energy. Our climate change targets should be high, and the government is right to aim big. But for their targets to be met, everyone in Scotland needs to cut the amount of energy we use, and this won’t happen just because ministers say so. It needs sustained effort to bring people on board, and keep them there.

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