Time for Change – make your vote count

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The latest in a regular series of opinion columns by members of climate campaign group Time for Change Argyll and Bute

By Freya Aitchison

Council elections are coming up on May 5.

Historically voter turnout is very low in these elections, hovering at around 40 or 50 per cent.

How we vote in council elections can have a big impact on local climate action and emissions reductions.

Local authorities are in charge of births, marriages and deaths, and everything in-between. So what is in-between?

Many of the services that we use every day and likely don’t even think about are run by the council; our waste and recycling collection, street lights, roads, and public transport.

These services produce significant greenhouse gas emissions which could be reduced through changes implemented by the council.

For example, Argyll and Bute Council is currently in the process of changing the bulbs in all the street lights to energy-saving bulbs, which has saved over 2,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.

Waste and recycling is another big emitter, with waste disposal making up 45 per cent of our local council’s emissions.

The council is also responsible for the upkeep of its buildings. It decides everything from which electricity supplier is used to what’s on the school lunch menu.

These decisions provide opportunities to reduce emissions and waste, and increase efficiency.

In order to curb climate change, we know we must move away from energy systems that are powered by oil and gas.

The council could make big strides by ensuring that all council-owned buildings are well insulated and heated by heat pumps rather than gas boilers.

The same goes for all new buildings in Argyll. The council controls planning permissions for all new developments in the area and could ensure that all planned developments adhere to high environmental standards, moving our housing stock towards zero emissions, both in construction and over its lifespan.

Another area where councils have significant potential for emissions’ reductions is a surprising one: their pension funds.

We all know that addressing the climate crisis and investing in solutions is costly – though not as costly as not addressing it – yet currently there is significantly more investment, both public and private, in the fossil fuel companies that are causing the crisis than there is in solutions such as renewable energy and home insulation.

The Strathclyde Pension Fund – where Argyll and Bute Council, along with many other local authorities in the West of Scotland, invests its pensions – pours hundreds of millions of pounds into the fossil fuel industry every year.

An estimated £836 million is currently invested by the Strathclyde Pension Fund in climate polluting companies.

While Argyll and Bute Council has written to the pension fund committee saying it would like this money to be divested from fossil fuels, the commitments made by the Strathclyde Pension Fund have been vague and inadequate.

This new council could continue to put pressure on it to fully divest from fossil fuels.

Last year Argyll and Bute Council officially declared a climate emergency and pledged to continue the emissions-reducing process set out in its Decarbonisation Plan.

With proactive and well informed councillors, we could see quick and urgent action in all of the areas mentioned, as well as many more which would have a significant impact on Argyll and Bute’s overall emissions.

We have fantastic potential for carbon sequestration and land-based climate solutions in our area, but we must also do our part to reduce our emissions in any way that we can.

It is vital that we turn out to vote for the climate in these elections. Time is running out to make the emissions reductions we need by 2030.

That work has already begun but needs to be continued and accelerated by our incoming councillors.

If you’d like to find out more about Time for Change Argyll and Bute, email timeforchangeargyll@gmail.com or visit the group’s Facebook page.