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Climate / Local people ‘really willing to engage’ on climate change

As the COP26 conference continues in Glasgow, Shetland Islands Council’s climate change strategy team leader says ‘urgent action’ is required

The council's climate strategy team leader Claire Ferguson.

THE COP26 summit in Glasgow this month has created a “sense of urgency” locally as well as globally over the need to tackle the emergency facing the planet’s environment, according to Shetland Islands Council’s climate change officer.

Claire Ferguson, who was appointed to the role this spring, is leading a team in the early stages of creating a “route map” to help the local authority play its part in meeting the Scottish Government’s ambitious target of achieving “net zero” carbon emissions by 2045.

While the science points to a range of catastrophic scenarios unless the global rise in temperature can be limited, Ferguson said it was important to approach what can be a daunting and overwhelming topic with a positive frame of mind.

“There’s a sense of urgency being placed on climate change,” she said. “It feels that through the media coverage the message is really getting out to a wide range of people, with COP26 being billed as a last chance to limit global warming to 1.5C.

“The IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report earlier this year… said this is code red for humanity, and it’s very likely that human activities have been the dominant influence on climate change over the past 50 years.

“Through the media we’re seeing record high numbers of flooding, droughts, wildfire events – there’s a real sense of importance placed on COP26.”

Ferguson said her team had seen the impact of that coverage filtering through since kicking off their “net zero” route map in “the engagement we’re having with people throughout the council”.

More than three per cent of the population participated in the SIC’s recent climate conversation survey, which Ferguson said was “really good and encouraging”.

She did note that some 49 per cent of respondents were “not clear on what the term ‘net zero’ meant”, emphasising the importance of ensuring the terminology used is accessible and easily understood

In essence net zero is when any carbon emissions created are balanced by taking the same amount from atmosphere.

“The feeling I get is that people are really willing to engage and discuss and find out how best they can be involved in doing their bit to address climate change,” Ferguson said.

Some of the changes required to bring emissions down will require lifestyle changes, but some – most notably tackling fuel poverty – will have wider societal benefits and should actually improve many people’s lives.

At present almost a third of Shetland households are defined to be living in fuel poverty, significantly higher than the national average, due to factors including a colder, windier climate, the age of much of the local housing stock and the high cost of fuel.

“We can’t downplay the consequences of climate change,” Ferguson said. “It’s incredibly serious and we’re at a point where urgent action is required. It’s so important to reinforce the message that we still have the means to limit the worst impacts of climate change by collectively taking action.

“There is hope that we can halt and even reverse some of the impacts of climate change. On a positive note, what’s really encouraging is that through addressing climate change there are also co-benefits such as addressing inequalities and improving health and wellbeing, which is a benefit to everyone.”

She points to the SIC’s fuel poverty advisory service review project, run in tandem with Hjaltland Housing, the Citizens Advice Bureau and Home Energy Scotland.

It aims to establish an advice service to “simplify the user journey and so to increase the amount of households undertaking energy efficiency improvement works”.

The local authority’s economic development team is looking to collaborate with HIE to identify how best to “encourage local businesses to adopt lower carbon behaviours”.

It will be essential for the “net zero” route map to tie into the plethora of existing council strategies and policies, ensuring carbon reduction is “embedded into all areas of work”.

During COP26 the council is running a daily social media campaign and a schools competition to design a logo for the climate conversation.

Ferguson added that 45 per cent of survey respondents said the subject made them feel “anxious and nervous”, but the best way for those feelings to dissipate is to tackle the challenge head on: “If we can all act together, all do our bit and collaborate on making the changes that need to be made, there is still time.”