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  • Lara Engel

Unmasking the Realities of ‘Net Zero’

Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq

As COP28 draws to a close, the ‘Net Zero’ buzzword is ubiquitous as ever. Net Zero refers to reaching an equal balance in the amount of greenhouse gases emitted and removed from the atmosphere. However, politicians, political parties and even local authorities leverage this buzzword to advocate their environmental credentials without considering the harmful potential this practice is inflicting on its local community.

Edinburgh pledges to be Net Zero by 2045, but what does this really entail for its local population?

Several ongoing projects in Edinburgh claim to assist in meeting this target; namely the tram extensions and the Low Emission Zone (LEZ) in its city centre. ‘Net Zero’ is plastered all over media campaigns and policy documents. An entire government website, called ‘Net Zero Scotland’, is even dedicated to this buzzword: “Being Net Zero will help transform the way we live for the better”.

It is transforming the way we live - but for the worse. Politicians envision Edinburgh’s future as a car-free city with clean air, ignoring the subtext which should actually read: politicians envision Edinburgh’s future as a place where individuals in the [city-centre] enjoy a car-free city with clean air, whilst residents in the peripheries grapple with traffic congestion and poor air quality*. The LEZ is quite literally zoning out the voices of marginalised communities.

The Edinburgh Association of Community Councils argued that suburban streets, such as St. Johns Road, have the highest level of emissions. Yet they are not even included in the zone. They also flagged the risk of ‘rat running’ in areas outside the zone, which displaces traffic. The crucial purpose of Net Zero initiatives, that is to reduce carbon emissions, is shadowed by politicians prioritising the prosperity of the city-centre. £1 billion and 9 years later, the tram extensions continue to cause havoc. Even with the construction complete, businesses still endure the negative impacts of the project. A reduction in parking bays and falling footfall has resulted in several businesses along Leith Walk remaining closed; shopkeepers felt they had been ‘forgotten and ignored in the revamp of the area’. I am in full support of Edinburgh’s path to Net Zero, but I will only embark on the journey if Edinburgh begins to consider the impact this has on its local community.

This buzzword not only perpetuates empty promises, but it results in injustice. Clanging, hammering, and incessant drilling, woke the residents on Leith Walk for two years. As a student who lived there during the tram constructions, this was my alarm too. At least this early wake up allowed time for us to weave our way round the building site. But for disabled people, waiting at temporary traffic lights and walking lengthy diverted routes was not even possible. The lack of blue-badge parking spaces meant that disabled individuals were no longer able to access amenities along Leith Walk. These injustices demand attention.

If this practice continues, ‘Net Zero’ will become climate jargon that is laden with negative associations. Headlines that read ‘Residents ‘treated with sheer contempt’ over roadworks in their street’ will become synonymous with Edinburgh’s Net Zero strategies. To avoid trivialising and vilifying efforts, buzzwords must instil confidence that they will truly drive a fair transition to a low-carbon city. These initiatives must ensure equitable benefits for all of society. Closing the gap between talk and action demands placing justice at the heart of these Net Zero policies.

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