Ian McCall: The Infrastructure Commission for Scotland and Climate Emergency

Ben Wray

Contributing to our week of special coverage on the Climate Emergency, Ian McCall, senior development officer at Paths for All, says the Scottish Government’s new Infrastructure Commission should have walking, cycling and sustainable travel at its heart

THE Infrastructure Commission must look very critically at how future infrastructure investment will contribute to achieving reductions in emissions and improving the quality of life of people in Scotland.

The Infrastructure Commission for Scotland has been established by the Scottish Government to advise on a 30-year infrastructure strategy. They recently invited written contributions on Scotland’s future infrastructure priorities to inform their initial evidence gathering and analysis. Further opportunities for engagement are planned in the coming months.

At Paths for All we have been reflecting on what the Commission’s priorities might be in the context of the Committee on Climate Change Net Zero report on the UK’s contribution to stopping global warming and the First Minister announcing a Climate Emergency.

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, recently said: “An emergency needs a systematic response that is appropriate to the scale of the challenge—not a knee-jerk, piecemeal reaction. All cabinet secretaries are looking across the full range of policy areas to identify areas where we can go further, faster.

READ MORE: From rhetoric to reality: How do we make a Scottish Green Deal happen?

“Reviews of our transport and tourism policies, along with our future rural policy, land use strategy, national islands plan, NHS Scotland sustainability strategy and learning for sustainability action plan will all place a strong emphasis on addressing climate change, as will our infrastructure mission.” 

There is much to support in the Infrastructure Commission initial call for evidence. 

Reducing carbon emissions to address climate change is key and the transition to a low carbon economy must be anoverarching objective. Investment should be prioritised to meet current and future climate commitments. The challenge will be how this can be squared with economic growth. 

Perhaps there should be a shift towards delivering improved quality of life and wellbeing and seeking to measure this better rather than focussing on traditional measures such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Also, placemaking is key. Enhancing peoples living conditions should also be an overarching objective. Creating sustainable places for people to live and work in will be important in meeting outcomes relating to health, transport and the environment. Creating walkable places is a key part of this. We have a briefing on walkability here: Creating Walkable Communities in Scotland.

READ MORE: Government in an age of Climate Emergency: Is it time for carbon budgets?

Infrastructure should be about more than big, flagship, developments. It should also mean small scale investment dispersed at a local level across the whole country. This will be particularly important in achieving behaviour change towards more sustainable travel and in creating better places for people. This also has the potential benefit of distributing investment in a more equitable way and in a way that recognises local priorities. 

Overall, walking, cycling and sustainable travel should be at the heart of infrastructure investment in Scotland – reflecting the transport hierarchy adopted in the National Transport Strategy.

This will support national policy priorities which include: 

  • public health – health inequalities, physical activity, mental health and obesity;
  • the environment – air quality and climate change;
  • sustainable economic development – retail footfall, tourism;
  • Planning – the National Planning Framework; 
  • The National Walking Strategy.

That said, there is a very real risk that calls for small scale, local intervention are drowned out by the lobbying power of the IT, transport and construction sectors that make their money off large-scale public-sector investment. 

Our feeling is that the Commission must look very critically at evidence on how all future infrastructure investment will contribute to achieving the necessary reductions in emissions and improving the quality of life of people in Scotland.

Picture courtesy of Bruce Aldridge

CommonSpace Forum 30 May: Climate Emergency: How do we turn words into actions?