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Islay: Community Climate Action Plan

Publication: The Ileach

Find the main points of the Action Plan from the Scottish Government's "Carbon Neutral Islands" project, aiming to provide a tool to ensure the long-term sustainability of the island, its people, and its ecosystems into the future.

Carbon Neutral | Image by The Ileach | Licensed for use on Scottish Beacon | All rights reserved

In a recent report from Neil Gow published in the Ileach concerning the Carbon Neutral Islay project, he stated that copies of their ‘Community Climate Action Plan’ would be available to members of the public.

With permission, the Ileach has summarised the content of that document. However, those with a specific interest in the project would be advised to view the full published document.

The Carbon Neutral Islands (CNI) project is a Scottish Government Programme that aims to demonstrate the climate-resilience and low carbon potential of islands. The Community Climate Action Plan (CCAP) is a record of existing knowledge and data,  prioritising key actions towards achieving a carbon-neutral and sustainable future.

Priorities currently identified include improvements to Islay’s electricity grid capacity and the possibility of local generation, improvements to Islay’s public transport system, improved use and management of waste, by-products, and recycling, and further research into land use carbon flows.

Following the formation of a steering group featuring representatives from many walks of island life, the Action Plan hopes to provide a tool to ensure the long-term sustainability of the island, its people, and its ecosystems into the future.

Recognising the importance of the Climate Emergency, the results of which are already being experienced across the planet, the project will look at actions that manage and reduce its effects and comparable actions that will reduce the emissions that contribute to climate change.

The report estimates that Islay has a greater proportion of households in fuel poverty compared to national and regional averages.  It is estimated that up to 900 households do not have an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), and 75% of the remainder are below band C.

These rate insulation, heating system, lighting, ventilation, renewable energy, and the age and construction of the property.

Climate projections for the island advise of current changes with recent rainfall in excess of the historical average. The expectation is that winters on Islay will become wetter, with drier summers. Temperatures are already on the rise, as are the surrounding sea levels, and it is expected that storms/gales will become increasingly more intense.

According to the report, developing an understanding of these climate projections and the challenges faced will become central to the island’s ability to adapt and become more resilient to climate change.

So how will this happen?

The plan has identified five areas of investigation: Energy, Transport, Waste & by-products, Land and Sea and Community Participation and Education.

Energy: The island’s contribution to greenhouse gases is estimated to be in excess of 63 kilotonnes of CO2e. This arises predominantly from fuel use by the island distilleries and other industries, as well as home heating by fuel oil and solid fuel.

Islay’s annual energy usage is estimated to be 240 Gigawatts, 80% of which is fossil-fuel based and 15% from the national grid. There are also a few sources of energy production on the island, but Islay’s grid-managed situation places restrictions on future expansions.

Decarbonising will almost certainly increase electricity demand; therefore, improvements to the grid are deemed to be essential, particularly if it proves possible to access energy from Scottish Power Renewables’ Machair Wind Project.

Transport is reckoned to consist of 21.5 kilotonnes of CO2e, the biggest share of which is the ferries. The plan explains that, under the current methodology, only the emissions of departing ferries are considered, similarly for aircraft.

Road transport equates to almost half of the total emissions for the sector, with few island-based electric vehicles or charging points. The possibilities of hydrogen use (see recent issue on Bruichladdich’s partnership with Protium), point to the possibilities of local hydrogen fuel production.

Limitations to the frequency and reach of local public transport mean that private vehicles are regarded as a necessity for many. By far the biggest barrier to reducing transport emissions is a lack of a frequent and reliable public transport network.

Active travel via e-bike hire and Islay Access Group’s growing path network, offer opportunities for expansion. Feeding back to the desire for a more comprehensive island public transport system, improvements in that direction could encourage greater numbers of summer visitors to arrive without their own private vehicles.

The operation and construction of the island’s distilleries have made Islay one of the busiest for freight movements, which almost certainly has an effect on the island’s carbon footprint.

Waste currently creates around nine kilotonnes of the island’s greenhouse gas emissions. Local research has estimated that there is still a high percentage of waste entering landfills which could be recycled, and more than half is biodegradable.

However, disposal of household waste is at the behest of the council and subject to national government policy. As such, future actions and priorities will need to be mindful of policy changes that may affect Islay’s waste management.

Emissions and by-products from the whisky distilling process are also under close examination.

Land and Sea: In comparison to the other five islands involved in the Carbon Neutral Islands Project, Islay comprises a greater area than all of them combined. This means that emissions from land could be highly significant, but more research is needed.

Islay has extensive areas of peatland, which can be a large source of emissions if in poor condition. However, a number of recent peatland restoration initiatives have taken place to prevent degradation.

The island is estimated to have 6,200 hectares of forest and woodlands, contributing to a sink for emissions and there is community support for more tree planting where appropriate.

As an agricultural community, livestock and farming practices undoubtedly contribute to the island’s carbon footprint, predominantly through methane and nitrous oxide, both reckoned to have a greater effect on global warming than CO2.

The report states that an initial desk-based assessment was carried out of carbon flows within the surrounding marine environment by an external consultant. As a relatively new field of study, no reliable estimates can apparently be made at this stage. However, there is carbon sequestration potential in healthy marine habitats into which further research is required.

The penultimate section of the Action Plan considers the necessary participation of the local community and the need for education on related matters. To facilitate these, the Carbon Neutral Islands Steering Group intends to engage with the wider community, including direct engagement with locals, businesses, and young people, encouraging responses to community surveys, and participating in key social events in the island’s calendar.

While many aspects of the project will be beyond the direct influence of community members, it is seen as important to encourage and provide appropriate information to understand the options available.

Understandably, one of the next major steps is taking the necessary actions before developing a suitable investment strategy. Accordingly, collaboration and partnerships will be an important part of future processes.

As a result, the steering group will now be required to map out a timeline over which future steps will take place.