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There has been a call from Lochaber councillor Denis Rixson and local environmental campaigners for the climate crisis to be taught much more as part of the curriculum in schools.
The comments from Councillor Rixson (Caol and Mallaig) came during a discussion at Friday’s meeting of the full Highland Council on the local authority’s approach to developing a net zero carbon strategy and action plan.
Councillor after councillor stressed the importance of tackling the climate crisis as a matter of urgency and several referenced the important role young people had to play.
The council has now agreed what it has described as an ‘ambitious approach’ to developing a net zero strategy and action plan for the region that will maximise external funding to deliver its climate change targets.
Councillors welcomed feedback on staff and members’ attendance at the recent COP26 climate event in Glasgow.
Members also agreed to endorse COSLA’s call on the Scottish Government to recognise the vital role which local government is playing to tackle climate change and to acknowledge that additional external funding is required in order to fully deliver the council’s climate emergency duties.
Councillors agreed on Friday that the council will establish a Net Zero Strategy Group comprising officers working across council services with governance of projects scrutinised by councillors.
Leader of the council Margaret Davidson commented: ‘Local government is the implementer of this and our role cannot be understated. We need to align what we are doing with national targets and with what is important in Highland.
‘We need a clear action plan and milestones and I really want to see us engaging more with our young people on this as well.’
Councillor Rixson said the Highland landscape had suffered from desertification. ”What desertification means is to make a desert and to an extent we have over the last 200 years. It sounds incongruous because the Highlands are anything but dry, but it does worry me,’ he added.
He went on to echo the remarks from Councillor Davidson about the critical role young people had to play in any solutions to the climate crisis.
‘As an ex-school teacher I absolutely seize on that. I think she’s absolutely right, they have a thirst for this.’
‘Now I hesitate to foist this on the education department, but I think young people will embrace the idea of learning more about climate change in schools and I endorse what Councillor Davidson said in that respect.’
His fellow ward member, Councillor Allan Henderson, warned that when some people raised the issue of how much council measures to help address the climate crisis would cost, there was a far greater cost in doing nothing.
‘ The cost of not doing it will cost us the opportunities that are available for us to take this forward. It [COP26] has highlighted the opportunities that things like hydrogen are going to bring to us,’ he said.
And council convener, Bill Lobban, did not mince words: ‘We should be heading for zero and not net zero. Carbon off-set is just a fudge. It stops us from getting to a zero carbon economy.’
Commenting on the council’s plans, Dr Kate Willis from the Lochaber Greens, said the climate and ecological crises needed to be at the heart of the Scottish curriculum, embedded in every subject, because more than anyone else, the young will bear the brunt of the crisis.
She added: ‘It is essential that the youth of today understand why this is a crisis, what the causes and impacts are, and what the solutions are to tackle it.
‘As a parent with a daughter in year five at Lochaber High, I am very aware that the current curriculum is not educating this generation of secondary students about the climate and ecological crises or equipping them with the skills needed for a sustainable future.’