Malcolm talks about the role of road transport in producing carbon emissions
Debate on carbon emissions Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab):
I wish the minister all the best for his time in Durban. I know that he has a strong personal commitment to the agenda, and I hope that as part of the UK delegation he will help to push other countries towards the legally binding international cut in carbon emissions that we so desperately need. I hope that the UK delegation will also support developing countries to adapt to climate change to deal with the problems that Sarah Boyack so powerfully described at the beginning of her speech.

I am sure that the minister will tell others of our landmark climate change legislation, and we can all be justifiably proud of the act that we passed two years ago. However, the key to the act has always been in the implementation, and it is right that Sarah Boyack and others have shifted the focus of the debate towards the action that is being taken now, as that should be our primary concern.

At the beginning of his speech, the minister talked about our unique competitive advantage in the low-carbon economy. We can all be grateful for that and the great opportunities that we have in areas such as wind and tidal power. I commend the Government’s enthusiasm for renewable energy and I always support the Government in what it is doing on that.

I was particularly pleased a couple of weeks ago when at question time the First Minister referred to a memorandum of understanding between Scottish Enterprise and local partners to develop Leith docks as a hub for renewable energy. Leith docks would be an ideal location for developing the turbines that are necessary for offshore wind.

I say in passing that the Scottish Government should be clear that the large-scale biomass plant that Forth Ports wants to go along with the offshore wind facility is negative from a climate change point of view. I hope that the Government can make that clear. Even if a small amount of heat from the development could be used, its consequences for climate change would be negative, not just because of the mass transportation of timber but because of the increase in emissions from large-scale biomass plants for many decades.

If Scotland is strong in renewables, transport policy is at the opposite end of the spectrum. I have long regarded transport as the Achilles’ heel of our climate change activity. In its budget submission to the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee, Transform Scotland was slightly less polite than I have been, saying that transport is “the basket case of climate policy”. There certainly seems to be a contradiction between the rhetoric of the RPP and the budgetary choices that have been made in the transport budget.

Transport is the second largest emissions sector, accounting for just over a quarter of our emissions, and yet recent trends continue upwards. Stop Climate Chaos Scotland tells us that the 2012-13 budget provides not more than 6 per cent of the funding measures required by the RPP. Although I accept what the minister said about the role of the private sector, I do not believe that it can fill such a large gap.

Two thirds of the transport emissions come from road transport, and yet the Government continues to be obsessed with road building. Marco Biagi referred to the road budget. I should tell him that the rising PFI charges are linked not just to roads that have already been commissioned but to the new roads that the Scottish Government is planning.

I had an interesting exchange during an Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee meeting with Alex Neil, who was trying to argue that building the M74 was helpful for our climate change objectives. People can take whatever view they like about the pros and cons of that project from an economic point of view, but it is a bit absurd to see a road that generates more traffic as helping our climate change objectives.

Kevin Stewart:
Will Malcolm Chisholm give way on that point?

Malcolm Chisholm:
I am afraid that I will be short of time. I will give way if I have time, but I need to deal with the transport budget in more detail.

Active travel was highlighted not only by a report from one of the Parliament’s committees in 2009 but by the SNP’s manifesto, which promised “to increase the proportion of transport spending that goes on low-carbon” and active travel. However, as Sarah Boyack reminded us, the sustainable and active travel budget line is down 45 per cent in next year’s budget.

Sustrans has told the Parliament that it will get nothing next year, although one of the five transport milestones in the RPP is that at least 10 per cent of all journeys should be made by bicycle. That will be impossible with the funding cuts.

The freight facilities grant has also been abolished, although the RPP emphasises the modal shift of freight.

Although there is a ring-fenced cycling, walking and safer streets budget for local authorities, which stands at £7.5 million for this year, there is no guarantee that it will be continued till next year. I urge the Scottish Government to ensure that it is continued.

I never like to ask the Government to spend large sums of money without saying where they should come from. The transport lines that I have mentioned are not large and, with small shifts of resources within the transport budget, it would be easy to ensure that the sustainable and active travel budget was maintained.

Marco Biagi made great play of the future transport fund, saying that it was £50 million. I accept that some of my former colleagues sometimes rolled up three years’ budgets into one, but the fact is that the future transport fund budget for next year is £3.25 million. That certainly does not cover the enormous gap in next year’s transport budget that Sarah Boyack and others described.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith):

Mr Chisholm, come to a conclusion, please.

Malcolm Chisholm:
The conclusion is obvious: make small shifts in the transport budget and make sure that it contributes to combating climate change.
November 24th 2011