Shetland Times Column 5th November 2021

As the saying goes “lang lippened, come at last”. Postponed from last year due to the pandemic, the 26th Conference of the Parties, or COP26, is finally underway. World leaders gather in Glasgow.

The opening speech from Sir David Attenborough reminds us of the destruction and destabilisation of the planet, and that the people who are hardest hit by it are those who have done the least to cause the problem.

The Marshall Islands’ climate envoy warned her islands could all but disappear in 50 years’ time due to climate change. The Pacific islands, population 60,000, sits just two metres above sea level so it doesn’t take much imagination to see how vulnerable they are to rising temperatures and seas.

The voices of young people have been critical in demanding action rather than “blah, blah, blah”, and as the event progresses we hear big announcements, like pledges to end deforestation by 2030.

Greta Thunberg has said that Scotland is not a climate world leader. Little wonder there is condemnation when the focus of the SNP/Green government is on independence.

There’s still no sign of when the delayed Fuel Poverty Strategy will be published, particularly important as we head into winter, at a time when it seems weekly there are energy companies going to the wall. This, after years of being told to switch companies to get the best deals.

Switching to electric vehicles (EVs) is expensive. The high cost should reduce over time, and hopefully quicker now that it has been mandated that there should be no new petrol and diesel cars for sale after 2030.  But the supporting infrastructure lags behind.

A constituent told me they drove their EV from Shetland to the south of England and discovered the charging network throughout the country was found wanting. Re-charging EVs needs to be as simple and accessible as filling up a tank of fuel.

We often talk about learning from our Nordic neighbours when it comes to investment in infrastructure like digital connectivity and fixed links, but perhaps we should look more closely at the work that has gone on with our neighbours to the south over the last 20 years.

Orkney has developed a range of diverse renewable energy solutions. Domestic turbines are all around with one in 12 households generating electricity from renewable sources.

And the Orcadians switch to EVs is just as impressive, with around 300 EVs on the road.  Compare that to the DVLA figure earlier this year of only 54 EVs in Shetland.

There is one area where Shetland, or rather Bressay, is at the forefront in its contribution to the climate emergency. The creation of the Bressay Community Woodland on common grazings will include areas planted with native tree and plant species. Other areas will be left to re-wild naturally, allowing long-term biodiversity changes, and there will be educational opportunities for nurturing those with an interest in nature. We have much to learn from each other whether locally or globally.

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