A CRITICAL ASSESSMENT OF GLASGOW CITY COUNCIL’S PLANS TO TACKLE THE CLIMATE EMERGENCY, PRODUCED FOR THE SANE COLLECTIVE BY BEN WRAY
In this Solidarity Against Neoliberal Extremism (SANE) briefing sheet, we make a critical assessment of the plans of the local authority and other governmental bodies to rapidly reduce Glasgow’s carbon emissions so that the city is ‘net-zero’ by 2030. We also look at the extent to which those plans stick to the principle of a fair and just ecological transition whereby poverty and inequality are also reduced. Finally, we lay out some alternative policy approaches that could be taken to more effectively reduce emissions while tackling poverty and inequality.
- Glasgow City Council’s target to be “net-zero carbon” by 2030 is based on the use of carbon sequestering and carbon offsetting approaches which have been widely criticised for providing a licence to continue emitting carbon to 2030 and beyond. The council should set an ambitious zero-carbon target.
- Glasgow surpassed its target of a 30% carbon emissions reduction by 2020 early, in 2015, largely due to the widespread adoption of renewable energy generation in Scotland. However, this has been described as “the low hanging fruit” of emissions reduction; the next 70% will be significantly more disruptive and expensive economically, and thus requires more radical thinking politically.
- In 2018 (the last year of recorded data) emissions in Glasgow fell by just 0.13%, and if that rate were to persist emissions would only fall by a further 1.56% by 2030. There is therefore a significant challenge to speed up the rate of emissions reduction. For Glasgow to be zero-carbon by 2030, an annual carbon emissions reduction of 216 ktCO2 per year is required, which is the equivalent of cancelling 127,059 return flights from Glasgow to New York.
- Emissions from the transport sector have only marginally reduced from 2006–18, while emissions from industry & commerce (the largest sector for emissions in Glasgow) actually rose in 2018. Emissions from the domestic sector have fallen significantly since 2006, but fell only marginally in 2018. This highlights the major challenge of decarbonising these three sectors, each of which require major public works programmes and significant regulatory changes to deliver rapid carbon emissions reductions.
- The council’s implementation plan to tackle the climate emergency is full of reviews, feasibility studies and pilots, or proposals to “encourage”, “enable” or “lead by example”. There is very little by way of hard commitments to initiate the scale of action and regulatory changes which is required. The most ambitious policy recommendations of the Climate Emergency Working Group, which informed the Implementation Plan, were either watered down or left out entirely.
- To illustrate the scale of the challenge and the need for radical thinking about how to meet it, to insulate all 428,000 homes in Glasgow which do not currently have a ‘C’ standard for energy efficiency would require 130 retrofits every day between 1 January 2022 and 31 December 2030. This would require establishing a large, permanent workforce to do this work systematically, something that is not feasible using market mechanisms alone, and instead needs a public-sector led, planned approach.
- The council’s ‘Greenprint for Investment’ business prospectus is an offer to corporations to profit from key aspects of Glasgow’s climate action, whether that be through private financing of public infrastructure or full private ownership of key aspects of the decarbonisation programme, such as the ‘Glasgow District Heating Network’ and ‘the Home Energy Retrofit Programme’. Not only are these for-profit approaches set to embed inequality into the green transition, they are also likely to be incapable of delivering the rapid emissions which Glasgow needs to meet its 2030 target.
- The “Glasgow’s Green Deal” delivery plan for climate action is light on organisational and financial detail, but it is clear that a private finance-led approach is being pursued, with the government subsidising private sector activity and even stepping in to manage “market failure”. Thus, the council’s “Green Deal” has very little to do with the spirit of the Green New Deal from which it took its name. The Green New Deal is based on the idea of delivering decarbonisation through a massive public works programme, backed by public finance and delivered by the public sector.
- A public-sector led approach to decarbonisation will be more cost effective due to the cheaper cost of public borrowing than private finance and will allow for delivery on a universal, rather than market-based, basis. This will ensure that, for example, all homes in Glasgow are made energy efficient, not just those who can afford to make those changes via market mechanisms. This approach would also ensure the zero-carbon transition is delivered in a way which makes the city more equal and socially just, with those businesses and high income individuals who can afford to pay more towards the significant financial costs of the transition, doing so.
- Alternative policies include a strict ‘retrofit first’ requirement for construction and regulations requiring the use of zero or low carbon building materials; a massive public works programme to replace gas boilers with district heating systems in urban areas; and publicly-owned, fully-integrated, free public transport, combined with a tough system of financial penalties to discourage the use of cars, especially high emissions cars like SUVs.
- A new approach to public finance would be needed for the up-front costs of such a programme, which could come from the UK level through greater public borrowing, or through monetary policy levers such as ‘People’s QE’. Alternatively or in coordination with this, the Scottish Government could overhaul local tax and income tax so that significant funds are raised from those who can afford to pay.