It’s getting to that time when we look back and wonder where the year went and what has been achieved over the past 12 months. The international news agenda was dominated by the lethal incompetent in the White House by turns threatening everyone, destroying social and environmental protections and undermining institutions. In these islands, the perpetual omnishambles of Brexit swallows up the energy of politicians, civil servants and media column inches.

It would be easy to look at these unfolding catastrophes and conclude that 2017 was a disastrous year. But closer to home we’ve had a fantastic year making real progress in protecting Scotland’s environment. Our biggest single achievement was winning a ban on fracking in October after six years of campaigning alongside community groups from across Scotland. This decision will protect people and our land, water and air from this dirty industry as well as boost the global fight against fracking. With the last major fracking firm recently pulling out of Poland, England is now the last place in Europe where the frackers are welcomed by Government.

No to fracking

60,000 people responded to the public consultation on fracking this Spring, in what is thought to be the strongest single message ever returned to a government consultation. Another measure of the success of the long-running campaign was that when the Scottish Government’s proposal to ban fracking went to Parliament, Labour, Greens and Lib Democrats all worked to strengthen it. A Conservative MSP even defied the party whip to back the ban. This campaign had built a genuine consensus across Scottish society and politics that the country should remain frack-free.

Whilst fracking was a looming threat on the horizon, air pollution is damaging the health of our most vulnerable citizens in cities and towns right now. That’s why we were pleased to see the Government finally begin to make promises that will get to grips with the problem.

Programme for Government

The Programme for Government in September included a number of major leaps forward for air quality. The headline-grabbing announcement was their plan to phase out the need for fossil fuelled vehicles by 2032. This puts them 8 years ahead of the UK Government target and is more impressive as Holyrood doesn’t hold the powers required to vary taxes on vehicles that could speed up such a change. We’ll keep the pressure on the Scottish Government to put creative measures on the table to move away from fossil-fuelled vehicles and to reduce the overall number of cars on the roads – not simply swap them all for electric ones.

LEZs will ensure that the dirtiest petrol and diesel vehicles are kept out of the most polluted places. Photo courtesy of Lauren McGlynn

The announcement by the First Minister that they will create Low Emission Zones in all our big cities will make a real difference, drastically reducing the 2,500 annual death toll from air pollution, and improving the health of children growing up in polluted areas. The battle in the coming months and years will be to ensure these Zones are ambitious in their design, apply to the right vehicles and are supported by measures to make public transport, walking and cycling the smarter choice for everyone. Doubling the budget for cycling and walking will also help people make better, healthier choices, as well helping improve the places we live in.

Zero Carbon economy

The intention to create a Just Transition Commission and a Scottish National Investment Bank received less fanfare than many other measures in the PFG but may prove to be major developments in the path to becoming a zero emissions nation.

The Just Transition Commission, which we had been calling for with partners in the trade unions, will advise the Government on how to move to ‘a more resource efficient and sustainable economic model in a fair way’. This is really important because it signifies an implicit acknowledgement that the oil industry has a limited future shelf life, but critically, it also recognises that this transition must be planned and fair.

The Scottish National Investment Bank could provide the public investment required to fund a just transition to a low-carbon, healthy and fair economy. The Bank also needs to be powerful, shaping our economy instead of simply plugging the gaps left by private companies. It could create new green industries, spur greater investment in green public infrastructure, and invest in the interests of those currently left behind by our current unjust economic system.

Raising our ambition for 2018

All these measures, if designed and delivered with ambition, could cut our climate emissions significantly. However, if we want to live up to the Paris Agreement as the First Minister has pledged, we must also raise our national climate targets. Nicola Sturgeon has responded to the pressure exerted by Stop Climate Chaos Scotland and others by saying her Government would be “coming to an early decision on when we will aim to reach net zero emissions.” The battle in 2018 will be over what that date will be. Doing our fair share under the Paris deal would mean we reduce emissions to zero by 2040, along with a 77% cut by 2030. We’ll need your help to push the Scottish Government to be a climate leader and join Sweden and Catalonia in committing to a zero emissions future.

Climate Emergency demonstration at Scottish Gov’t building, Edinburgh. (c) Colin Hattersley

As well as these major achievements, we also gathered together over 100 environmental activists for our inspiring Summer Weekender event, took activists to the UN climate talks in Bonn, enabled tens of thousands of people to take action online, supported the growth of Young Friends of the Earth Scotland, and saw our first cohort of Campaign Organisers graduate and built a new website! Phew – what a year it has been!

Thank you so much to our members and donors for supporting our work throughout the year. This financial backing enables us to campaign, research and influence and we wouldn’t be able to do it without you. If you would like to donate to support us in 2018 please click below.