Celebrating progress for the environment in the past 5 years
As a campaigner I am always after more. As soon as we win something, we want the next thing, and in the face of an existential threat as big as climate change, no response from government is ever really going to be good enough.
But on the eve of the election, it is worth pausing to remember that the last five years have seen some remarkable progress, with credit due to many individual MSPs who have listened and acted to get better decisions and better legislation.
On climate, who can forget 25,000 people marching through Edinburgh in September 2019 to rally outside Parliament, resulting in a big, last minute tightening of the targets in the new Climate Act?
The last five years also saw 60,000 people say no to fracking and nearly 40 protest groups campaigning across the country, leading to Parliament voting to ban fracking, then an official moratorium on fracking and eventually a policy ban, despite a legal challenge from INEOS.
On air pollution, a Low Emission Zone is up and running in Glasgow and there is a commitment to at least three more. More broadly on transport a commitment to phase out sales of petrol and diesel cars and vans was made, and then strengthened by advancing the deadline to 2030. This was joined by an impressive and challenging commitment to reduce car-km driven by 20% by the same date.
And a new Transport Act gave powers to councils to set up workplace charging schemes and run bus companies. Friends of the Earth walked out of an official steering group on air pollution because it was talking a lot but doing nothing, two years later we helped write the new air pollution strategy.
On the transition out of fossil fuels we have a very long way to go, but the political parties now talk the language of Just Transition, with MSPs agreeing to duties on it in law and the government’s Just Transition Commission that has just reported on its two years of work.
In local politics we have been working away for years to try to shift the over £1bn of council pension money that is in fossil fuels, and Glasgow City Council have just voted to set course to rid the biggest of Scotland’s eleven funds of fossil fuel investment.
Covid scuppered plans for a Circular Economy Bill but a Deposit Return Scheme for drinks’ bottles and cans is being created and the government has realised it can ban things, starting with plastic straws, microbeads and cotton bud sticks, and with more to come.
Covid has also helped us create new things though, including the Just and Green Recovery Alliance, which brings together groups from across civil society to press for a better Scotland as we come out of the pandemic, their agenda reflected in the discussions in parliament.
Trying to get big solutions to urgent problems out of a parliamentary system can be very slow and frustrating. Of course there is a huge amount more that needs to be done in the next five years, but let’s remember to celebrate the big changes that have happened over the last five.
A version of this article appeared on Sunday 18 April 2021. Dr Richard Dixon is Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland.