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Can Scotland deliver on its green budget?

There is no doubt that from a climate change perspective, the headlines contained in the Scottish budget make encouraging reading.

A total low carbon capital investment of around £1.8 billion certainly has a ring to it, as does the £220 million fresh seed money for the SNIB to drive the net-zero transition and the new and expanded schemes to decarbonise heat, transport and agriculture. There’s also an important commitment to the Circular Economy Bill, which is a welcome step.

The £120 million Heat Transition Deal is particularly welcome, given how far heat lags behind electricity in the decarbonisation journey. While £120 million is not likely to be anywhere close to what is necessary – and many would argue that policies around gas in the heating mix need to change to complement any such direct financial investment – the reality is that funding is needed if we are to see renewable heat have the impact it must if we’re to achieve the targets set by the government. Much will depend on how that funding is deployed and the design of any support scheme will be critical. One only has to look at the Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme (RHI) to see how flawed design in financial support schemes can fail to inspire deployment at targeted levels.

And that, I suppose, is the wider theme. The headlines are what they are, but as ever, we are encouraged to be tantalised by big numbers when everything hangs just as much (if not more) on how those numbers break down and how they will actually be utilised to make an impact.

We are told that the Scottish government wants to ‘deliver, via the Energy Investment Fund, flexible investment and debt funding for low carbon energy projects’. How much will this be? In the year to 31 March 2020, it has only been £20 million. It also wants to ‘continue to invest in offshore and onshore wind, hydro, wave and tidal’ – but how and by when?

Separately, whether or not you agree with the funds allocated, or that there is or isn’t sufficient detail provided around deployment, many of the commitments seem to be ones which need to be completed in order to work out how that deployment is best effected. The Climate Change Plan needs updating to show how Holyrood intends to ‘meet the new, more ambitious targets set in the Climate Change (Emissions Reductions Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019’. A net-zero transition strategy also needs to be developed as part of the Green New Deal to “mobilise billions of investment”, and the National Transport Strategy delivery plan needs to be published. The list continues.

With the COP26 in Glasgow just around the corner, Scotland will want to make a splash not only with its climate change policies, but also with detail on how it’s going to implement them. I, like many others I’m sure, have my fingers crossed that it can deliver.

First published in the March 2020 issue of New Power Report which is available to read online here.

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