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Climate / SIC ‘ahead of the game’ after approving first change climate strategy

SHETLAND Islands Council (SIC) is said to be “ahead of the game” in Scotland after approving its first climate change strategy and action plan.

At a meeting of the full council on Wednesday, however, elected members stressed the need for government funding to support the SIC towards net zero.

Climate change strategy team leader Claire Ferguson said the purpose of the report was “mitigation and adaptation”.

It sets out a number of key areas, such as energy, buildings, transport and land, and what actions can be taken to reduce emissions.

The strategy was approved at Wednesday’s meeting.

It followed work by the council on net zero route maps, which informed the creation of the strategy.

Through that work ‘land use’ was pinpointed as a key emitter in Shetland, mainly as a result of degraded peatland.

The Scottish Government has placed a legal requirement on local authorities across the country of reaching net zero by 2045.

Climate change is described as the “long-term shift in global climate patterns, including extreme weather events and rising sea levels, linked directly with the warming of the Earth’s atmosphere”.

The council’s climate strategy team leader Claire Ferguson.

In the last century there has been global warming attributed to the release of greenhouse gas emissions, including from carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere.

Research shows Shetland has a relatively high emissions output, particularly through land use, energy industries, transport and agriculture.

One aim in the strategy is for the SIC to fully decarbonise its fleet, including heavy duty vehicles, ferries and planes, by 2045.

Another is to facilitate secure affordable energy for all of Shetland through islands-based generation, and to support an increase of peatland restoration.

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Ferguson said the strategy touches on every service area within the council, and that it was “co-developed”.

There was also a public consultation as part of the process.

“It’s encompassed by the need for just transition,” she said about the strategy.

“Central to delivering the strategy is maximising the social, environmental and economic co-benefits to the council and the community.”

The meeting heard that climate strategies and plans are not currently mandatory in Scotland, but that might change.

The SIC also intends to produce annual updates.

North Isles councillor Robert Thomson said the “elephant in the room” in Shetland could be peatland.

It comes after figures suggested an estimated 80 per cent of Yell’s carbon emissions can be traced back to the land.

But Thomson felt that current science on the topic seemed debatable.

Ferguson told Wednesday’s meeting that there was still quite a bit of investigation required on the work to be done regarding peatland restoration.

Councillor Stephen Leask.

She said a key element was working with others like the Shetland Peatland Partnership and “raising our voice”.

Lerwick North and Bressay councillor Stephen Leask said he felt farmers and crofters get a “raw deal” in climate discussions, given they are considered to be high emitters.

He felt peatland restoration could be the “jewel in the crown” and suggested environmental issues could be factored into higher support payments from the government in the future.

Meanwhile development committee chair Dennis Leask felt there would need to be a “seismic” change in government thinking regarding supporting funding for farmers and crofters for peatland work.

Shetland Central’s Moraig Lyall, who chairs the SIC’s environment and transport committee, stressed that there could be benefits to the community in the move to net zero, such as reduced heating bills and waste.

She noted how energy is a big topic in the strategy, “but we must be careful not to allow it to dominate to the detriment of people’s desire to live and visit here”.

Lyall stressed there needs to be a balance between potential energy developments and the fishing and tourism sectors, and local communities.

The divisive 103-turbine Viking Energy wind farm is due to go live in Shetland’s Central Mainland next year, while there is concern from the fishing industry about the prospect of offshore wind developments.

Regarding the cost of decarbonisation, she added: “I do think that we need to keep saying to the Scottish Government, ‘if this is what you need us to do, you need to find the funding to enable us to do it’.”

Green councillor Alex Armitage said it was key for the strategy to be given due importance.

“We live in an era of climate change and climate breakdown and it’s vitally important for not just the members of our community but for future generations that we take this seriously,” he said.

Convener Andrea Manson also asked Ferguson if the SIC was seen to be leading the way compared to other local authorities when it came to developing climate change strategies.

Ferguson said: “We are ahead of the game with this one.

“I’ve actually been asked by the Scottish Government about potentially doing a case study on this framework we’ve built up.”

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