By Jason Anderson, Head of EU Climate and Energy Policy, WWF European Policy Office
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just provided the starkest description yet of the consequences of climate change. The report by Working Group II adds yet more weight and urgency to the task we all face if we are to prevent an uncontrollable acceleration of the impacts we are already seeing today. Top of our list of actions must be to address the 75% of global emissions that come from our energy sector and replace our reliance on fossil fuels with renewables. The challenge ahead of us is significant but the transition is already happening around the world, investment in renewables has long stopped being niche and we can now point to parts of the world where wind, solar and hydro power are shaping the energy mix.
Thankfully there are some forward thinking nations not sitting around waiting for the next IPCC update before choosing to act. One of those is Scotland – the focus of a new short report by my UK colleagues.
Scotland is in the vanguard of the renewables revolution. It has the world’s largest wave and tidal test centre, the second largest onshore wind farm in Europe, and has just consented to the development of the third largest offshore wind farm in the world. Yes it’s wet and windy, and beautiful too of course, but there is more to this story than the weather. In 2012, following commitment from successive governments, the Scottish Government set its self a target of meeting 100% of the country’s electricity demand from renewables. ‘Scotland: A renewable powerhouse’ maps out the building blocks for such ambition and highlight the drivers for change that have seen renewable power out quadruple in a decade.
The report spells out how the journey Scotland is committed to is built on the twin arguments of economic opportunity and moral responsibility. The latter is enshrined in its Climate Change Act that requires a 42% cut below 1990 emissions by 2020. As one renewables industry expert says: “Scotland’s climate change obligation is one of the drivers … that have pushed our [renewable energy] targets in the right direction.” The job-creating potential has meant that successive programmes for government and national economic strategies have given increasing priority to the renewables sector, culminating in a ‘Low-carbon Economic Strategy’ in 2010. This strategy is a fundamental part of the overall national economic strategy, and is explicitly linked to meeting commitments under the Climate Change Act.
Importantly the legislative and economic case for renewables in Scotland has resulted in unambiguous political support from Scottish Ministers over three consecutive governments. This has reduced investment uncertainty and risk in renewables and is one of the most significant factors that has made Scotland such an attractive place for the renewables industry to do business. Alongside cross-party support the WWF report shows that a collaborative approach across government, industry, academia and civil society has been vital in creating the space for the policy drivers behind this industrial scale change.
Key amongst those policy drivers has been the use of renewable energy targets to create policy certainty and alignment across national and local government. As one past Scottish Energy Minister says in the report: “The renewable electricity targets have acted as a positive feedback loop – they’ve raised aspirations, got investors to focus on reality and make things happen…this in turn leads to yet more success.” The use of targets has helped shape planning policy to support government policy; and while by no means pre-empting the proper scrutiny of applications, has encouraged development and addressed key infrastructure bottle necks such as the transmission line upgrades down the spine of Scotland. The whole government approach has meant that areas such as the skills agenda and enterprise have developed low carbon strategies to secure the potential of Scotland’s renewables.
Scotland still has a long way to go, both to replace its remaining thermal power and to urgently implement a meaningful transition away from the extraction of North Sea oil and gas. Still, in 2013 it met almost 47% of electricity needs from renewables and there is plenty more to come. If anyone doubted we can respond to the challenge the IPCC set out the example offered by Scotland and many other countries the world over show we can and must step up for a safer future for people everywhere.
‘Scotland: A renewable powerhouse’ report can be downloaded here (1MB pdf): http://bit.ly/1ivzaLIepopress