I congratulate the sponsors of today’s debate on securing time to discuss this important issue.
I start in a similar vein to Peter Kyle by declaring, or admitting, my love of cars, driving and motorsport—not just Formula 1 but all kinds of motorsport. Perhaps worst of all, I own a 2.2 litre diesel car but, not just for the purposes of this debate, I am looking to change it as soon as possible.
Earlier this year, Scotland’s First Minister declared that
“there is a climate emergency. And Scotland will live up to our responsibility to tackle it.”
That means real and practical action across our whole society in how we go about our daily lives, and it means a positive role for Government in building up the infrastructure and support available to us all as we transition to a low-carbon economy. In Scotland we are creating the infrastructure that the future requires.
The UK Government’s words are warm, but their actions get nowhere near to matching them. As we have heard, Scotland aims to phase out fossil fuel-based vehicles by 2032, eight years ahead of this Government’s current plans. The average distance to the nearest charging point in Scotland is fully one third less than the UK figure, despite our much smaller population density, and we lead the world in our commitment to carbon neutrality by 2045, five years ahead of the UK Government’s commitments. Our commitment is clear, and our transition to a low-carbon society is well under way.
The Scottish Government have invested in one of the most comprehensive and widespread charging networks in Europe, with nearly 1,000 publicly available charging points. That is a great start but, obviously, there is much more to do. Another 1,500 charging points are in the pipeline through Scottish Government funding, and work on the first ever electric trunk road is well under way. The plans for the electric A9 are not only ambitious but are a transformational game changer and will turbo-boost the capacity and coverage of electric vehicles across a huge swathe of Scotland, including in communities where going electric simply has not been feasible or practical until now.
To put it in context, the A9 is Scotland’s longest road and stretches 273 miles from beginning to end. It serves as Scotland’s spinal road, linking the central belt to the highlands, passing through one of Europe’s fastest-growing and, in my view, best cities, Inverness. It also connects some of the most sparsely populated areas of Scotland.
Vehicles will be able to come off the Orkney ferry—an apt starting point given Orkney’s world-leading marine energy research programme—and be charged while overlooking John o’ Groats, before travelling the length of Scotland from Tain to Tomatin, from Dingwall to Dunkeld, and from Pitlochry to Perth using renewable, clean energy over every mile. Such practical action is needed across these islands to play a part in tackling the climate emergency we all face.
It is also instructive to look at what our neighbours in Norway have done. This year will see electric vehicles make up a majority of new car registrations in Norway, a world first, after years of already leading the way on electric car take-up. Electric car sales in Norway, with a population not dissimilar to Scotland’s, already outstrip those in the UK, with a population 11 times the size, and are forecast to grow further.
Norway is an energy-rich, progressive, independent country with the sovereign power to take the kind of radical action needed to promote low-carbon transport. The lessons for Scotland could not be clearer. In contrast, the UK Government’s track record on low-carbon transition has been nothing short of abysmal. The scrapping of plans for carbon capture and storage at Peterhead shows the lack of good faith on offer. The Tories’ 2015 manifesto was clear in pledging £1 billion for carbon capture and storage, which they ditched six months later. Perhaps if the plant had been due to be built in a Democratic Unionist party constituency, we might have seen a tad more support from the Government.
The report of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee could not be clearer about the importance of CCS, saying that
“the UK could not credibly adopt a ‘net zero emissions’ target in line with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5° C aspiration.”
The report demands that the UK Government
“move away from vague and ambiguous targets and give a clear policy direction to ensure the UK seizes the industrial and decarbonisation benefits of carbon capture usage and storage”.
If the UK Government do not want to seize those benefits, instead preferring to fall further behind the rest of the world, they should not drag Scotland down with them. Time after time, we have seen this Government, who have the power to drive real change, do very little to use that power. The Scottish Government, in contrast, are forced to weave their way through the Scotland Acts to show real ambition by setting targets and then meeting them.
We have seen the solar feed-in tariff scrapped, casting asunder an industry beginning to make real inroads and achieve critical mass. We have seen total underinvestment in our electricity grid, resulting in our power infrastructure creaking as more and more renewables come on stream. Much worse, we have seen the continued farce of clean, renewable energy from Scotland, particularly the north and the highlands, being penalised with exorbitant transmission charges, while gas and coal-fired power stations in the south of England carry on regardless. The decarbonisation of transport and the roll-out of electric vehicles now, alas, seems to be facing similar gridlock. This Government are stuck in first gear, meandering in the slow lane and being overtaken by the rest of the world, including the EU countries on which they want to turn their back.
I very much agree with the hon. Member for Hove and others in calling on the UK Government to recognise the leadership that the Scottish Government have shown over the years on electric vehicles and decarbonisation overall, and to ensure that we have the powers to work, as Norway has, towards a carbon-free transport network in preparation for joining Norway as a modern, progressive, independent European state.