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Highlands and Islands Greens
Highlands and Islands Greens

We Need A Managed Retreat and Scaled-up Action To Stop Climate Change

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016

where's the goal. York floods Dec2015

After widespread floods across the UK there is now a call for a managed retreat from flood prone areas. Climate change is having significant effects faster than most of us thought it would. I for one thought my Green actions were mainly protecting the planet for the next generation, but increasingly I am seeing that we are also acting for ourselves. I was walking along the recently demolished 250 year old Pooley Bridge just this summer. We only narrowly splashed across Skipton Bridge in Yorkshire recently before it was closed. The taxi driver joked that it had become ‘Skipton in Swale’ not ‘Skipton on Swale’. Many people have had to make huge detours in their festive travel but these are only minor besides the devastation to homes, cars and businesses across large areas of the UK.

The managed retreat should include building rail, roads and paths higher up so they are not prone to flooding. It should also surely include abandoning plans to build yet more houses on flood plains such as the proposed houses in Ness-side. The Highland Council plans to spend £43 million plus facilitating this with the West Link road. I know we have spanking new flood defences but these are only designed to withstand 200 year events. Increasingly across the country we are seeing that such events are happening a lot more frequently than every 200 years. And much more needs to be done to slow water-flows and reduce rapid run-off in upland, catchment areas. It is well-known that forests absorb significant volumes of water, even in winter, so widespread forest planting is essential around river heads, as is the creation of small, log dams to hold back upland burns.

We also need to drastically reduce our carbon emissions. Continuing at the current rate will lock us in to even more climate disruptions. Scotland has targets to produce 100 percent equivalent of our power from renewables by 2020, but recent UK Government changes to support make this much harder to achieve and current projections suggest only 87% by that date. Now there is a call from Scottish Renewables for 50% of our total energy including heat and transport to come from renewables by 2030. Is this possible? Well Scotland has 25% of Europe’s renewable potential. We already produced nearly 50% equivalent of Scotland’s power demand in 2014 and will have produced significantly more last year. Obviously some electricity is transmitted to England and further afield at times but that is how electricity supply works. Adding in heat and transport is necessary but also hard.

Some people are frustrated that the last deep coal mine in the UK has been closed before the power station nearby but coal is being phased out as it is too polluting to burn and will need to be kept in the ground if we are to have any hope of keeping a liveable planet. Some jobs have been lost in that pit closure and a lot in the oil industry, however thousands of renewable energy jobs now exist and more are being created all the time, including off shore where skills learnt in the oil industry can be transferred. The current UK government is very short sighted in its attack on both solar and on shore wind subsidies when costs are coming down and the industries were within sight of being able to survive without subsidies. At least the Scottish Government has so far been a bit more ambitious for the planet, but we need more Green MSPs to keep up the ambition.

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Written by Anne Thomas

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