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Council / Climate change report gets first airing in front of councillors

Wir hame is on fire: Climate strike rally in Lerwick in September 2019. Photo: Peter Johnson/Shetland News

CLIMATE change was discussed in the council chamber on Tuesday as Shetland Islands Council’s (SIC) inaugural programme on the topic went in front of members for the first time.

The SIC’s environment and transport committee endorsed the objectives set out in the programme’s strategic outline document before the report received an airing at the policy and resources committee later in the afternoon.

It will go in front of the full council on Wednesday, where a petition from Climate Action Shetland will also be presented.

There was general support for the overarching themes from councillors on the environment and transport committee as the SIC sets out how it can do its bit to tackle climate change.

The report, by infrastructure director John Smith, outlines the direction of travel for the council when it comes environmental impact, and it calls for development of a climate change programme board.

It says the consequences of climate change locally “will be highly significant across a wide spectrum of the Shetland environment, economy and society.”

The report says the council should take a more proactive approach to the issue.

Smith told the environment and transport committee that the SIC has a “leadership role” to play in Shetland – particularly in how it can work with other partners on the issue.

He pointed to the isles having a “heavy engagement” in the oil and gas industry, as well as having a “significant dependency” on energy due to Shetland’s island location.

“The transition out of energy dependency is going to be difficult as the geography does not change,” Smith said.

However, he said there is an “inevitability” that Shetland’s energy map will change, with Lerwick Power Station due to close by 2025.

Whether this will be replaced by an interconnector and wind energy remains to be seen, he said.

Smith also said every part of council business will need to be scrutinised more closely when it comes to its environmental impact.

There was a wide discussion from councillors after Smith’s introduction, with Robbie McGregor pondering if there could be potential to use food waste – such as a fish waste – in the future for alternative uses through anaerobic digestion, although aquaculture expert Davie Sandison said it was complex situation.

Sandison added that he felt Shetland’s network of electric vehicle charging points should be expanded, particularly on the mainland.

“We need to get that infrastructure under development immediately,” he said.

Stephen Leask, meanwhile, expressed concern over the prospect of fines being issued if councils do not meet national targets.

The Scottish Government wants to see the country go ‘net zero’ by 2045.

McGregor, who is an SNP councillor, said that he sided with Leask’s view.

“I’m not a big fan of the targets with penalties at all,” he said.

North Isles member Alec Priest suggested that growing more trees in Shetland could be a simple way to offset carbon demand.

“It’s quite an easy way to get our carbon footprint reduced,” he said.

Smith also pointed to the efforts made in peatland restoration – particularly through Shetland Amenity Trust – which can provide a positive carbon result.

The recommendations were also passed at policy and resources later on Tuesday, with South Mainland councillor Allison Duncan calling for costs associated with climate change measures to be met by the Scottish Government.

Duncan acknowledged the fact of climate change and the irony that fire-ravaged Australia was one of the biggest coal exporters, particularly to China and India.

He added: “We have to judge every case on its merits and if the Scottish Government does pursue this [climate change targets] we have to move quickly with this climate change and let them come up with the money as far as I am concerned.”