Susan Davies, our Chief Executive, takes a look forward to the 21st United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21) in Paris starting on Monday, and how SNH is playing its part.
Climate change presents one of the biggest challenges to Scotland’s nature, and with COP21 due to take place in a few days’ time, now is the time to show leadership in addressing climate change. SNH is leading the way in the public sector in changing the way we run our organisation in response to climate change.
We reduced our carbon emissions by 49% between 2000 and 2015 which means that we exceeded our 2020 target five years early. We achieved this in a number of ways including wise investment in over 33 renewable schemes at our offices and National Nature Reserves, reductions in travel emissions, local energy saving initiatives and co-location projects. But we’re not resting on our laurels now and we’ll be looking for further improvements over the next 3 years in order to meet a further 12% reduction target. This success has been driven by setting carbon allocations for different parts of our business and the huge commitment from all our staff to achieve these. We are also contributing to broader mitigation and adaptation approaches to climate change, set out in our Climate Change Action Plan.
Nature is changing as our climate changes. Seasonal life-cycles are already altering with spring blooming earlier and leaves falling later, as we have all been experiencing of late. One of our roles is to advise on how everyone can help nature cope and adapt to these changes and some of examples of these are highlighted in the rest of this blog.
Our National Nature Reserve Staff are already taking action to help nature adapt. At Caerlaverock NNR we have improved the surrounding habitat for natterjack toads so they can have more space in the future as sea levels rise. Then, at Loch Leven NNR we are working to reduce water pollution to benefit both people and nature, which in turn increases resilience to climate changes, such as warmer, drier summers that will see water levels fall. (SNH blog post 9 October 2015)
Nature also helps us cope with climate change as it stores carbon in soils, vegetation and marine systems, preventing it from contributing to global warming. The Peatland ACTION project is actively working to ‘lock-up’ carbon now and in the future by restoring more than 5550 ha of peatland across Scotland since 2013. Healthy peatlands not only help mitigate climate change, but provide many wider benefits for biodiversity, agriculture, water quality, flood alleviation, and are a part of Scotland’s unique landscapes.
Renewable energy and green technologies are vital to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, supporting the transition to a low carbon economy in Scotland. To support this we have developed a suite of renewable energy guidance that encourages proposals with optimal energy generation whilst safeguarding Scotland’s nature and landscapes.
Of course, how we proceed must be underpinned by knowledge and understanding. . We never stop learning, and to make well informed decisions we need to understand how nature is affected by climate change. Many SNH staff work to improve our understanding in partnership with universities and research institutes, as well as through projects such as the National Coastal Change Assessment. This work has provided evidence for Report cards on Climate change impacts on biodiversity (SNH blog post 4 November 2015) and seas which summarise emerging patterns.
With the recent announcements that global mean temperature is set to reach 1oC above pre-industrial levels this year (Met Office) and that atmospheric concentrations of CO2 reached a new record in 2014 (397.7 ppm, World Meteorological Organization), the 2015 Paris Climate Conference could not come sooner. A universal, legally binding agreement to combat climate change is its aim, with the goal of limiting global warming to below 2oC.
I for one will be following the progress of the conference with great interest and SNH will continue to focus on reducing emissions, both corporately and through supporting natural carbon storage, and by continuing to work with individuals and partner organisations to help nature adapt to the changing climate, now and into the future.