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Denis Rixson, a Lochaber councillor, and local environmental campaigners have called for climate crisis education to be included in the school curriculum.
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 how important it was to address the climate crisis as an urgent matter. Many also referred to the important role that young people had.
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.
On Friday, councillors agreed to create a Net Zero Strategy Group that will include officers working across the council and governing projects scrutinized by councillors.
Leader of the council Margaret Davidson commented: ‘Local government is the implementer of this and our role cannot be understated. We must align what we do with national targets as well as what is important to 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 claimed that the Highland landscape was suffering 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 then echoed the comments made by Councillor Davidson about how important it was for young people to be involved in solving 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 there was a much greater cost to doing nothing than asking for council measures to address the climate crisis.
‘ The cost of not doing it will cost us the opportunities that are available for us to take this forward. It is. [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 a joke. 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.’