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Highland Council 'moving in right direction to meet its climate change targets'

By Gordon Calder

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HIGHLAND Council is "moving in the right direction to meet its climate change targets" and will continue with the vital work in the new year.

That is the pledge made by the local authority, which announced a climate and ecological emergency two years ago in recognition of "the urgent need to reduce our emissions and protect our ecosystems."

Looking back over 2021, the council said the threat of climate change has become more apparent than ever with intense heat waves, flooding and wildfires in different parts of the world.

But it stressed that it has been working to develop and deliver on a number of key projects to ensure "as a region, and a council, we can mitigate and adapt to climate change."

Throughout 2021, The Flow Country in Caithness and Sutherland has been the site of two important projects, which could help to raise the profile of the peatland and bring benefits to local communities and the Highlands.

A team, led by Highland Council project manager, Steven Andrews, is working to secure world heritage site status for The Flow Country. If successful, this will be the first peatland world heritage site anywhere in the world.

Additionally, The Flow Country is part of the Landscapes as Carbon Sinks project which connects pioneering land-based, bio-economy and investment organisations with policy makers and citizens to deliver positive change in Scotland’s land sector.

Councillor Trish Robertson, who chairs the Highland Council’s Climate Change Working Group, said: "We should be rightly proud of the achievements of our climate change and energy team in 2021 and look forward with renewed hope to the future.

Councillor Trish Robertson says local authority should be proud of its achievements but recognises more work has to be done
Councillor Trish Robertson says local authority should be proud of its achievements but recognises more work has to be done

"We do, however, have a long way to go and with this team’s energy and drive I am sure we will continue to make huge strides towards our ambitious net zero goal."

There have been positive developments in renewable energy, with the council’s Salix Recycling Fund – the largest recycling fund in operation in Scotland – helping deploy solar panels across 29 sites in Highland. It has also partially funded the River Ness Hydro, a 93kilowatt hydroelectric scheme which is under construction and when opened in spring 2022 will produce 550,000 kWh of renewable electricity annually and strengthen the river as an attraction. The importance of Highland in the development of green hydrogen also has been recognised.

The Highland Adapts initiative, led by principal project manager, Emma Whitham, is developing a region-based, partnership approach to climate change adaptation to ensure communities are resilient to the effects of climate change.

In October, the Highland Climate Change Conference brought people together from across and beyond the north to discuss the climate and ecological emergency. The two-day event and its associated workshops explored topics relating to energy, land and sea, net zero, and resilient communities. The team also attended and gained valuable learning from the COP26 Conference in Glasgow in November.

Councillor Robertson added: "It is important to say that we, as a council and as a region, are moving in the right direction and the team is looking forward to working more closely with partners, communities, and Highland residents to accelerate action to ensure the region meets its climate change and ecological targets."

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