Scotland's islands: proposed national plan

The proposed National Islands Plan provides a framework for action in order to meaningfully improve outcomes for island communities. It was replaced by the final National Islands Plan (published 27 December 2019).

Climate Change and Energy

Small low-lying island systems are under threat from climate change and predicted sea- level rise. Climate change is expected to increase instances of flooding and coastal erosion, whilst simultaneously negatively affecting water supply, food production, health, tourism, and accelerating habitat depletion. Additionally, the majority of island economies are highly dependent on outside sources for food, fuel, and even employment, which together increase the economic fragility of many islands. Respondents to the consultation frequently mentioned the need for action on climate change.

However, there are opportunities for island communities to lead the way in showing how to realise our climate change ambitions. For example, European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) is a world-leading centre based on Orkney for testing wave and tidal energy devices. This shows how islands are at the forefront of emerging technologies. The introduction of climate change adaptation and mitigation measures, whether it be increased revenue for island communities through renewable energy projects, or the protection, recovery, restoration or enhancement of natural carbon stores (on land or in the sea), or the introduction of (preferably nature-based) solutions to combat coastal erosion, can have a direct, positive effect on the local economy and environment. Subsequently, if the low carbon energy potential of islands was fully realised and avenues were developed to allow for reinvestment in the community, directed by the community to ensure inclusiveness, the effect on the island economy, facilities and general wellbeing could be transformational.

There are, and will continue to be in future, strong cases to upgrade existing island connections to the mainland or to build new ones so that the electricity generated on the islands can help meet wider Scottish and UK demand, and to allow for profits associated with the generation thus able to connect to be reinvested appropriately on the islands. The Plan presents an opportunity to support continued debate with relevant UK- and Scotland-based partners and stakeholders on how islands throughout Scotland can become hubs of energy innovation and climate change leaders, as is already happening on some islands and on several island communities across Europe.

Surf ‘n’ Turf, Orkney – Community Energy Scotland converts surplus electricity from Orkney’s tidal and onshore wind sources into hydrogen. The hydrogen is stored and transported by road and sea to be used in Orkney when it is needed. Surf ‘n’ Turf is funded by the Scottish Government’s Local Energy Challenge Fund (LECF), which is part of the Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES) delivered by Local Energy Scotland. The project is a good example of how early support for hydrogen initiatives has acted as a catalyst for Orkney to attract and build on their impressive energy project portfolio of activity and innovation.

While renewable energy is promoted and supported, Scotland as a whole and many islands therein, are still key players in the oil and gas energy sector. There are still plenty of opportunities in this sector that islands and island communities should harness. But, in light of Scotland’s wider commitments to tackle climate change, low carbon energy systems such as solar, wind, ground source and air source energy systems should be encouraged. Oil and gas operations need to be made as energy efficient as possible, and aspects of the industry such as decommissioning need to be fostered to secure a just and smooth transition to renewable sources of energy. There was recognition in our consultation of the local benefit being delivered by community renewable schemes, for example on Tiree, Eigg, Gigha and Lewis as well as the community funds arising from private renewable schemes.

Map showing renewables assets on Scotland’s islands[35]

Map showing renewables assets on Scotland’s islands

Against this background, and in order to be truly sustainable, the implementation of the Plan will build on, and align with, where possible, with Scotland’s wider climate change commitments, policies and strategies, as well as with existing energy related schemes. For example, islands will play their part in the Scottish Government’s Climate Change Plan of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, will fully take into account the Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme, and will learn lessons from the operation of the Climate Challenge Fund. From an energy perspective, the implementation of the Plan will consider carefully funding schemes such as the Energy Investment Fund, the Saltire Tidal Energy Challenge Fund and engaging, where possible, with the Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Programme (LCITP).

Strategic Objective 9

To ensure that Scottish islands are at the forefront of contributions to our ambition to end climate change

In order to ensure that Scottish islands are at the forefront of contributing to our ambition to end climate change, the Scottish Government will:

  • Work with island communities to support their climate change aspirations;
  • Work towards creating net zero emission islands and providing global climate change leadership;
  • Put in place resilient adaptation plans on islands that are at greater risk from climate change linking these strongly with development plans for those islands;
  • Continue to work closely with island partners, the network owner and all other key stakeholders to deliver existing proposals for electricity transmission links to mainland Scotland;
  • Work with Resilience Partnerships and energy providers to encourage them to focus on the resilience of islands’ energy supply networks;
  • Work with transport-related stakeholders to have the most energy-efficient and climate-friendly transport services possible across the islands;
  • Continue working to unleash the potential of renewable energy as both a way to mitigate climate change and as a driver of sustainable and inclusive economic growth;
  • Work with communities, crofters, farmers and landowners to expand forests and woodlands on the islands, recognising wider land-use objectives; and
  • Put the themes of meeting emissions targets and adapting to the effects of climate change at the heart of the preparation of National Planning Framework 4.



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