Scotland’s independent think tank
Scotland’s independent think tank

Education about energy is crucial to achieving net zero

This article by Alison Payne first appeared in The Times on 13 October 2022

Who knew a public education campaign on energy use could be so controversial? Not only did Liz Truss apparently attempt to halt plans by the UK government for such a campaign, but the Scottish government has been dragging its heels on the issue too.

Last year Holyrood’s local government committee wrote to Scottish ministers highlighting the need for greater public awareness about energy use. MSPs wrote that “people need to have clarity and certainty as soon as possible”. Despite warm words in response, ministers have yet to act. But why does this matter? Why do we need an education campaign?

While Scotland has made great progress in shifting electricity production away from fossil fuels and towards renewables, we use twice as much gas as we do electricity. Heat and transportation are two of the biggest causes of emission and demand in these areas is increasing. Recent polling carried out for the Scottish government found that individuals substantially overestimate the emissions caused by industry, and underestimate their own contribution. This lack of understanding and temptation to blame “others” highlights the need for an education campaign.

After all, if we are to reach net zero, many of us will need to make significant changes to the way we lead our lives — but behavioural change takes time. Improving insulation and using energy more efficiently can make a difference. It can also lead to savings on bills.

The public need to be made aware of the implications of the regulations coming on how we heat our homes. They need to know how and where to get information and advice. And they need to know that while they make changes, the Scottish government is doing what it needs to do to ensure we have the skills and technology required. This is why Reform Scotland’s new report, Powering Ahead: Decarbonising Scotland’s Energy, called for a public education campaign to help push the debate and ensure we are all doing what we can to help Scotland reach net zero in 2045.

Other practical policies included bringing forward the ban on gas boilers for new buildings; banning new gas cookers; replacing road taxes with road pricing; and condensing the Scottish government’s many varied net-zero targets into a coherent timeline with public tracking. The local government committee was right last year when it called for a public awareness campaign as soon as possible. We can’t afford to keep waiting.