In 2019, the Highland Council declared a climate and ecological emergency in recognition of the overwhelming evidence of the threat that global warming poses. Climate change is not solely an environmental issue and as a local authority we are concerned about its impacts on ecosystems, the Highland economy, extreme weather events, infrastructure and the day to day life of people living here.
Some people might say that we are too small to have an impact, when nations such as China and the USA continue to contribute vast greenhouse gas emissions to our atmosphere, but we reject this notion. We have a moral imperative to future generations to reduce our impact on the environment and not just because we will, and arguably already are, experiencing the consequences of global warming in Highland.
By embracing the unique character of the Highlands, with our carbon-rich soils and extraordinary renewable energy resources, we can be a globally recognised leader in climate change action. We are committed to meeting and exceeding national emission reduction targets and have ambitious plans to showcase our efforts at COP26 later this year.
The Covid-19 pandemic has in many ways changed our perspective on the way we live our lives. This is true for food production, with a huge surge in the number of people in Highland and beyond trying their hand at growing their own food.
We wanted to hear about our local communities’ experiences and therefore rounded off 2020’s Climate Week with an online public discussion entitled “Grow-Your-Own and the Climate Emergency”. We heard two inspirational presentation, the first from Incredible Edible Inverness and the second from Highland Seedling.
This discussion ranged from the delivery systems that provide out-of-season produce all year round to the potential physical and mental health benefits of growing your own food to the use of pesticides and fungicides in our food production.
It is so important that we recognise the unique offering we have here in Highland when it comes to meeting the climate and ecological emergency. Our peatlands may not have the biodiversity of rainforests, but they are remarkable carbon sinks when kept in good condition and bring an impressive range of ecosystem services to their contingent communities.
There is perhaps no country in the world that values its peatlands like we do here in Scotland, and the Highlands is truly the jewel in our crown. The Flow Country is an area of peatland which stretches across Caithness and Sutherland and is currently making its way through the World Heritage Site process in recognition of its status as the best example of blanket bog anywhere in the world.
The Flow Country has also been selected as a test site for the Landscapes as Carbon Sinks project, an initiative bringing together research, policy development, business innovation, carbon financing and land management expertise to
To put the value of peatlands into context when speaking of carbon storage, The Flow Country alone stores more than double the amount of carbon in all of Britain’s woodlands combined.
One of our newest and most exciting projects here at the Council is the introduction of Green Impact, an online sustainability tool which has been specifically designed to support environmentally and socially sustainable practice in the Council. In addition to reducing waste of all kinds, the tool promotes actions which support wellbeing both in the office and at home.
We are delighted to be working closely with The University of Highlands and Islands on this project, with a small group of students joining us as Sustainability Officers whose purpose it is to encourage Council staff engagement with Green Impact and to carry out an end-of-year audit of the tool’s impact on emissions and cost-savings.
Highland Climate Change Conference
Last year we held The Highland Climate Change Conference to highlight some of the most important issues relating to the climate and ecological emergency. The conference was split into four segments: 1) Habitat and Biodiversity; 2) Personal Responsibility; 3) The Bigger Picture; and, 4) The Green Recovery.
The conference was followed immediately by public workshops, with two being held for each of the above segments. We were delighted to welcome so many members of the public to the events of the day and are looking forward to more regular engagement with local communities on climate issues.