Electric buses call to boost green recovery

byd-adl-enviro200ev-6.jpg Image copyright Alexander Dennis
Image caption Scottish bus builder Alexander Dennis makes electric vehicles

The Scottish government should order a fleet of electric buses for next year's UN climate change conference in Glasgow, a report urges.

The plan came from the Just Transition Commission which was asked by ministers for advice on implementing a green recovery from the covid crisis.

Its report says a £500m spending commitment to enhance the bus network should be rolled out rapidly.

It also calls for a bus scrappage scheme to be developed.

This would take older, more polluting buses off the road and allow newer greener alternatives to replace them.

The advice has been welcomed by the Falkirk-based bus builder Alexander Dennis which has announced it is to cut hundreds of jobs.

Scottish government minsters said the report would be "invaluable" in helping deliver a green recovery.

Glasgow will host COP26 in November next year, an international climate change conference where world leaders will discuss the most important round of talks since the global Paris Agreement was secured in 2015.

The report acknowledged that a public procurement process would be necessary to buy an electric bus fleet for COP26 but it said the government should ensure the domestic supply chain was prioritised when buying the bus fleet.

The report made a series of recommendations to support the public transport sector which it recognised was struggling with the low passenger numbers necessary for covid-related physical distancing.

Image copyright Alexander Dennis
Image caption Electric buses can use renewable energy which would make them much more environmentally friendly

The commission's remit is to examine and mitigate the impact of moving to a net-zero economy by 2045.

Chairman of the commission, Prof Jim Skea, told BBC Scotland: "The 'green recovery' actions are going to be urgent for government anyway and what we're trying to do is identify what set of these actions will actually help with Scotland's long term (climate) goals as well and be fair to different groups of people.

"We've been very concerned that the Covid crisis has made it much more difficult for people who are less advantaged so we were also looking at ways of covering that."

Bus manufacturer Alexander Dennis said on Monday that a quarter of its workforce was now at risk of redundancy.

It has suffered a big drop in orders since the start of lockdown because passenger numbers have fallen.

The report said work needed to be done to rebuild confidence in public transport.

Colin Robertson, from Alexander Dennis, said: "We need action now but we don't just need action in Scotland, we need action all across the UK.

"If there is action sooner rather than later we might be able to save a number of these jobs but inevitably we are going to have to downsize our business to some degree."

Climate change

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The commission is looking at how to move to a net zero economy by 2045

The report makes three other recommendations.

It calls for a large-scale decommissioning programme to be created for the North Sea to support the energy transition.

The programme would focus on plugging and abandonment of oil wells and would provide new jobs for those facing redundancy.

The commission also calls for a doubling of the budget for home insulation and for an increase in tree planting.

The Scottish government's Environment and Climate Change Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, said: "The commission's report is clear - now is the time to reaffirm our commitment to ending Scotland's contribution to climate change.

"The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the way abrupt or unplanned shifts can exacerbate inequalities, and emphasises the need to plan for a just transition to net-zero."

She said she looked forward to exploring the report's recommendations in more detail.

The report's recommendation on buses was welcomed by the Unite union, which urged the Scottish government to act immediately to save jobs at Alexander Dennis in Falkirk.

Pat Rafferty, Unite Scottish Secretary, said: "We also need the UK government to bring forward its £3bn plans to get 4,000 new green buses on the roads to prevent job losses amongst the company's 2,500 strong workforce."

The commission was originally set up to examine ways in which emissions reductions could be achieved without disadvantaging people working in key industries such as farming and oil and gas.

Learn Longannet 'lessons' when cutting carbon emissions

Its first report, earlier this year, said lessons needed to be learned from the closure of the Longannet power station which had a significant impact on the neighbouring village of Kincardine.

Its final report will be presented to ministers in early 2021.