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Highland Council recognises need for Green Recovery to meet climate change commitments and build on the positive behaviour changes and emissions reduction during coronavirus pandemic

By Ian Duncan

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Highland Council.
Highland Council.

Highland Council has recognised the pressing need to build on positive behaviour changes and emissions reductions arising from the Covid-19 lockdown to accelerate the region’s shift to a net zero carbon future.

It follows on from the significant changes which have resulted from the response since May 2019 when the council declared a climate and ecological emergency and recommitted to achieving a carbon neutral region by 2025.

This has been highlighted through Highland’s swift response to coronavirus that, when faced with an emergency, everyone has an important role to play.

It will therefore be vital to use many of the lessons learned from the pandemic response to shape how the region tackles the long-term threat posed by climate change and to avoid a return to business as usual.

From a carbon and environmental perspective, the council has seen benefits in the following areas:

Energy consumption – energy accounts for around 70% of the council’s total carbon footprint, and the closure or part closure of many buildings and schools will have reduced consumption of electricity, gas and oil since lockdown;

Travel and transport – the majority of council staff are now working from home, resulting in a significant decrease in emissions from road transport, both from commuting and business travel;

Air quality – the reduction in transport emissions has improved air quality throughout the region;

Spaces for People – the installation of temporary walking, cycling and wheeling routes across Highland through a £750,000 award from the Scottish Government will make it easier and safer for people to travel actively, further reducing transport-related emissions.

For the first two full months of lockdown, in April and May, consumption for the council across all energy commodities was down by seven million kWh, a reduction of 33 per cent compared with the same period in 2019.

In terms of energy costs, again for the first two full months of lockdown costs were down by £768,000, a reduction of a third compared to the same period in 2019.

Councillor Margaret Davidson, the leader of the council, said: “Whilst the Covid-19 emergency came out of the blue, the climate and ecological emergency hasn’t, and as a council we are already taking action and investing in our climate change commitments.

"However, we also recognise the pressing need to take the learnings and positive outcomes from the pandemic, such as reduced travel, working from home and the increasing interest in local food growing and production, and use this to re-shape how we operate as a council going forward.

“The pandemic has given the people of Highland an opportunity to reflect on what’s really important, which is ultimately our health and wellbeing, and it is incumbent on us to ensure that we embed this within a green economic recovery that works to the benefit of both the people of Highland, and the planet.”

Councillor Trish Robertson, the chairwoman of the council’s economy and infrastructure committee, said: “The response from the public, Highland businesses and council staff to the pandemic has been exceptional and shows what can be achieved in an emergency.

"We must now secure and embed positive change across business, communities and individuals to achieve our net zero ambitions.

“Highland is in a unique position to support the just transition to a net zero economy – our land assets and the public goods that Highland delivers provides us with a huge advantage over other areas.

"We will therefore need to secure and redirect investments across the region into low carbon projects which support green jobs and a dynamic economy to ensure that the region is seen as a leader and exemplar in meeting our commitments to climate action.”

Councillor Alasdair Christie, the chairman of the council’s Covid-19 recovery board, said: “As we move forward to the recovery phase we have the ideal opportunity to refresh and focus our commitment to address climate change and put in place measures to go even further in reducing our emissions, whilst also identifying opportunities for energy efficiency and other savings.

"We need to look at making best use of our natural resources, offering opportunities for carbon friendly investment/offsetting, identifying critical projects and leading on more carbon efficient public services.”

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