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Greens call for Audit Scotland to Probe Highland Council over net zero targets

By Scott Maclennan

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Councillor Chris Ballance (inset) says 'I hope Audit Scotland will keep the council’s feet to the fire (literally) on this one.'
Councillor Chris Ballance (inset) says 'I hope Audit Scotland will keep the council’s feet to the fire (literally) on this one.'

Greens councillor calls for Audit Scotland to probe Highland Council’s progress to net zero amid growing concern that bodies like the local authority are not doing enough to fight climate change.

Earlier this week the Scottish Government was told by chief executive of the Climate Change Committee Chris Stark it would miss its 2030 target to cut emissions by 75 per cent.

Mr Stark said: "That is a failure of the Scottish government to bring to the Scottish people, and the Scottish Parliament, a climate change plan that is fit for purpose,” adding: "This is the first time, anywhere in the UK, that we've said there's a target that can't be met.”

Now the leader of the Greens group Councillor Chris Ballance has called for Audit Scotland to check the council’s efforts after it extended its net zero deadline by 20 years last October – with good reason.

In 2019, the local authority declared a climate and ecological emergency and said they would aim to achieve net zero emissions by 2025 – a target that was considered more than just ambitious.

Yet the council’s strategy – including a “Route Map to Net Zero by 2045” with “key interim targets to reduce emissions by at least 75 per cent by 2030 – is identical to the one the government has just been told it will fail to meet.

Even then the targets set out by the council only apply to council operations, not emissions within the Highland Council area and the decision to shift the net-zero target from 2025 to 2045 represents a significant delay.

Addressing Audit Scotland at the audit committee, Cllr Ballance asked: “Looking at the wider scope of the legal requirements on the council, does Audit Scotland have any plans to scrutinise the Council’s progress towards its statutory requirements to reach Net Zero?”

Claire Gardiner, Audit Scotland’s Director of Audit of Highland Council responded: “This is an area of work we are carrying out across Scotland. It is very likely that there will be more audits in this area in the following years.”

Speaking afterwards, Cllr Ballance said “I welcome Audit Scotland’s commitment to scrutinise Highland Council’s progress towards Net Zero. Several years ago the council declared a climate emergency and set a target for a carbon neutral Highlands by 2025 – but did nothing and made almost no progress and this target has been simply abandoned.

“Now we have a legal duty to reach net zero, it is imperative that real action is now taken and real progress made and I hope Audit Scotland will keep the council’s feet to the fire (literally) on this one.”

Anne Thomas, the party’s candidate for Caithness Sutherland and Easter Ross said: "We are seeing that climate change is more and more evident with extreme weather disrupting farming and transport and destroying homes, wildlife and infrastructure.

“We were trying to avoid average global temperatures hitting 1.5 degrees above the average temperature before we started to burn a lot of fossil fuels, but we already got to that last year and the global temperature rise shows no signs of slackening, so we need to know our Council is doing all it can".

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