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Climate / Council slow in responding to climate change

The Luggis Knowes wind turbine outside Lerwick. Photo: Shetland News

RADICAL changes around how we live and use our resources need to be implemented now to mitigate against the impact of climate change and meet ambitious government targets for reducing our carbon footprint.

That was the warning in an information bulletin to councillors highlighting how Shetland Islands Council (SIC) is failing to meet its current energy saving targets, while new emission-curbing legislation is set to have a larger impact on Shetland than elsewhere.

As councillors grapple whether or not to follow Orkney Islands Council’s example and declare a climate emergency, many islanders are preparing to participate in the global climate strike this Friday.

The report by a senior council official questions how the SIC will ever be able to meet the 2045 Scottish Government zero carbon emission target if it can’t meet existing targets.

Currently, the SIC is committed to reducing its overall energy use – electricity, oil, gas, district heating, etc – by 42 percent in 2020/21, compared to a 2007/8 baseline.

However, executive manager for estate operations, Carl Symons, revealed in a series of reports discussed during council seminars this summer how council departments struggle to meet this target.

In 2018/19 the SIC managed to reduce its energy consumption by just 20 per cent (down from 120,000,000 kilowatt/hours in 2007/08 to around 96,000,000 kw/h in 2018/19).

At current energy use levels the SIC is expected to reduce its energy consumption by about 24 per cent at 2020/21 – way short of the 42 per cent required.

This graph shows the growing gap between the national target for energy consumption (green) and the actual energy consumption (red). Source: SIC

On the positive, the SIC’s carbon dioxide emissions have reduced by 32 per cent from around 38,000 tonnes annually in 2007/08 to 25,000 tonnes, mainly due to the fact that cleaner and/or alternative fuels are being used.

By far the largest contributor to the SIC’s carbon footprint are the inter-island ferries and port operations in general, accounting to around half of all the energy (mainly gas oil) used. The sale of two of the Sullom Voe tugs, meanwhile, generated the largest energy saving.

Symons wrote: “Our achievable rate of reduction has slowed. Actually meeting the target would require significant and radical changes to how we currently use energy.

“Given our inability to meet the existing target, if we are to meet these revised targets [the 2045 Scottish Government and 2050 UK Government zero carbon emission targets] radical changes to how we live and use our resources needs to be implemented now.”

The council’s team leader for carbon management, Mary Lisk, added: “The council has not to date placed any significant emphasis on climate change and there is currently no structure within the council that formally deals with all aspects of this complex matter.”

The SIC’s contribution to Shetland’s overall carbon footprint is estimated to be just 15 per cent, with industry, domestic and transport contributing to carbon dioxide emissions at a far larger rate.

A recently published CO2 emission ranking confirmed that Shetland has – unsurprisingly – one of the highest CO2 emission levels per person in Scotland.

Lisk said carbon dioxide emissions in Shetland were 76 per cent higher than the national average.

As such, any legislations being rushed through parliament to urgently reduce emissions will “have a more direct effect on Shetland than elsewhere”.

Councillor Stephen Leask said he felt the council should “similarly to Orkney” declare a climate emergency as this would set a signal “particularly to the young people” and hopefully focus minds and “show responsibility”.

“Some people Shetland are just a small area and there are larger polluters such as China and America, but at the end of the day we have to start as individuals – everybody has a responsibility for the world we live in,” he said.

“We are at a stage where there is a global emergency with regards to climate change; you just see it everywhere.”

He added that ways of making energy savings to the council’s ferry services included pressing for fixed links being built between the some of the islands as well as investing into ferries that run on hydrogen and not fossil fuels.

Council leader Steven Coutts said the SIC acknowledged “its wider leadership role,” on the issue and needed to ensure that the voice of the community is heard.

“Any council declaration would need to be accompanied by tangible actions. We need to build on our existing plans. We must be clear what steps we as a community will take and we must ensure there is space and opportunity for meaningful discussions.

“This is bigger than the council. It is positive to see the wider community engagement around the climate. The science points to need for urgent action on a global scale. Shetland must play its fair role.”