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Does Scotland have the solutions to stop climate calamity?

New documentary on STV explores the immediate action being taken to protect environment.

We've been told we're in the grip of a 'climate emergency' and when the First Minister stood before her party conference in April she insisted: "Scotland will live up to our responsibility to tackle it."

Immediate action is being taken in Scotland, from how we use fossil fuels to how we grow our food, use our land and what we eat.

Those solutions feature in a new episode of Scotland's Stories to be broadcast on STV on Wednesday night.

Food

The global population is set to grow by two billion before 2050, according to the UN.

That would pose problems of how we will feed those extra mouths, even without a climate emergency.

What can be done to ensure we don't all go hungry as our world's weather changes around us?

A potential problem will be crops as extreme changes in our weather patterns could make them more vulnerable to fail.

We could change the DNA of plants and make them more resilient, but genetically modified crops are currently banned in Scotland.

Professor Derek Stewart from the James Hutton Institute believes it's time for a rethink.

He said: "I see it as an absolute necessity, existing breeding technology will not deliver the lifts in productivity and sustainability to feed the population, you need a game change."

Prof Stewart says these crops could withstand a new climate, be resistant from some diseases and reduce fertiliser use.

But the Scottish Government says the ban protects the country's environment and its agriculture sector. Even if we did grow GM crops, would we have enough available land?

One solution might be to move from the fields to warehouses.

At a vertical farm in Dundee they are growing produce like basil, broccoli and strawberries - all on racks. They control the climate, water use and light and don't use pesticides.

Vertical farming sees food grown on racks.
Vertical farming sees food grown on racks. STV

David Farquhar, of Intelligent Growth Solutions Limited, said: "This tower is about 40 square meters, we can grow the same here as two hectares of land.

"All the things that farmers have to complain about and deal with, like it's too wet to bring my hay in, that all goes away because you're in charge, you control the weather."

David doesn't believe it will replace farming and is sceptical that crops like barley could be grown in these conditions, but it could help reduce emissions.

"Firstly it is about growing food safe to eat, secondly it's about making that economically viable and thirdly it's about getting that environmental footprint right and making it as low as possible," he said.

We've also been told that we are going to need to eat less meat if we're to tackle the climate issues.

More Vegan restaurants and cafes have opened as people look for an alternative to their traditional burger or steak.

In Aberdeen, researchers are looking at what alternative plant proteins we could grow to replace meat in the diet.

A licence is needed to grow Hemp as it's from the cannabis plant family.
A licence is needed to grow Hemp as it's from the cannabis plant family. STV

One of those is Hemp. Currently a licence is needed to grow it because it is from the family of cannabis plant.

However, it contains little or no tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the part of the plant that can get people high.

Dr Wendy Russell from The Rowett Institute is studying its benefits along with other plants like Buckwheat.

She said: "We wouldn't advocate replacing meat entirely, meat is a premium product.

"What we would like to see is people reducing their meat intake and eating more plant-based foods because plant-based products bring other benefits too."

That's a message that Scotland's farmers want to get across too. They believe meat can be part of the balanced diet of the future and they say they take their environmental responsibilities seriously.

"We are producing a natural product from a product that is going to help the climate" says Andrew McCornick, president of the National Farmers Union Scotland.

"We are determined to be a part of the solution, in fact I believe we are a part of the solution but we have to get the credit for what we're doing."

Farming

Farming has been at the centre of the climate debate - the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently said we need to use our land more efficiently.

Almost 80% of the land in Scotland is used for agriculture and the changes that it makes, could impact how we tackle this ongoing climate emergency.

A big problem for the meat industry is emissions from cattle. When they burp - they produce methane, a greenhouse gas.

At a research farm in Midlothian, they measure how much methane is produced by the cows when they eat different foods by putting them in special chambers.

Key to that is what they eat.

Gemma Miller from Scotland's rural college, the SRUC says: "They eat a lot of forage, but the high fibre in the diet actually produces more methane.

"If we increase the concentrate in the diet, so the grains, they are higher in the lipids, they're more easily digestible, they spend less time in the rumen so they produce less gas emissions."

Next year researchers will look at what impact seaweed in the diet might have after promising international studies.

Gemma added: "We have a very long coastline so if we can find species of seaweed that are efficient at reducing methane emissions in Scotland that would be a very big benefit to the industry."

When growing crops to increase nutrients in the soil, farmers regularly use fertilisers.

Key to methane produced by cows is what they eat.
Key to methane produced by cows is what they eat. STV

However, they increase nitrous oxide levels, another greenhouse gas and as an alternative some are turning to a technique called intercropping.

Murray Cooper farms in Aberdeenshire, growing beans and peas alongside traditional crops such as barley to improve the soil.

He said: "I feel it is beneficial to me and the farm, beneficial to the livestock, it's absolutely excellent feed for growing cattle."

But some environmental groups say farming is not going far enough in changing.

Dr Sheila George from WWF Scotland said: "All sectors have a role to play and agriculture is a key sector.

"Other sectors have been responding and reducing emissions over time so agriculture is at risk of being left behind if it doesn't also act."

Many farmers argue they are making a change. David Barron has even converted a tractor from being fuelled by red diesel into hydrogen and he believes it is the future for farming.

"It's only half-way there, this has only made this tractor a hybrid. I would like to see all tractors and all vehicles running purely on hydrogen which could be made on farm as well.

"It would reduce a farmers cost hugely."

Oil

This year environmentalists have had the oil companies in their sights.

They've taken their fight to the streets, to the seas and straight to the oil companies too, demanding North Sea drilling ends now.

Charlie Kronick from Greenpeace said: "The reality is that if we want to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement, if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change, the transition to renewable and low carbon energy is going to have to happen very, very fast.

"It's up to the oil and gas industry as to whether they are part of that or not."

But the industry says that is takes it responsibilities seriously and that society still runs off its product.

"We are going to need oil and gas for decades to come.'' That's the belief of the industry body, Oil and Gas UK's chief executive Deirdre Michie.

"People will still want to fly, they'll still want to drive, they'll still want to use plastics in hospital context for example and we've just got to be really thoughtful in how we address these issues going forward."

And that is the issue; the oil and gas industry is directly responsible for around 3% of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions, but our burning of fossil fuels is a big concern.

Transport creates almost 40% of our emissions.

But more people are turning to lower emission vehicles. There has been an increase of almost 50% in Scotland in the last year alone.

The power buoy uses wave energy to recharge a battery.
The power buoy uses wave energy to recharge a battery. STV

Hydrogen buses have taken to the streets too and there are plans for electric planes in the Scottish Isles.

But it's believed that there is up to 20 billion barrels of oil left in the North Sea and the question is - can we extract that and still hit our climate targets?

"When you look at what the committee for climate change talked about then yes the projections for this industry are in line with in their projections for 2050 and beyond," added Ms Michie.

"I think the fact that they (oil companies) are committed to supporting it and delivering it is quite a big commitment actually.

"It will be a challenge and a stretch, so if we can deliver that, that will be a great thing that we will be doing."

Some oil firms are turning to greener way of powering their products.

Ocean Power Technologies have created a power buoy that uses wave energy to recharge a battery and power subsea equipment.

Its director, Paul Watson, believes many companies are switching to cleaner power.

"All the oil companies and other energy companies are moving away from diesel and they are really trying to get their carbon footprint down," he said.

"You've got people like Shell moving into the wind farm sector and so they are really looking at green energy and actually taking them serious, which they probably didn't five years ago."

But from powering how we travel to the plastics that we use, burning of fossil fuels is ingrained in our society.

A third of all food in the world is thrown out - much of that is binned while still in its plastic wrapping.

But near Oban, a company is making a plastic wrapping alternative made from the scraps of shellfish.

https://stv.tv/news/politics/1440263-twelve-point-plan-to-tackle-climate-emergency-unveiled/ | default

Off-cuts are put through a series of processes to create a biodegradable liquid that covers the wrapping; it means all it can be thrown in the compost.

CuanTec's chief executive, Cait Murray-Green, says it's a "world first, 100% compostable packaging".

"The world is facing a huge problem with plastic pollution," she said "I think something like 30 per cent of that is actually from food packaging.

"We cannot in all consciousness go on like that, we have to change our ways.

"If we as a global population change the way we think about food packaging and require it to be compostable then we will make a huge difference to that plastic pollution problem."

Last week the Scottish Government put tackling climate change at the heart of its programme for government.

Measures to make transport greener, tackling waste and clean up our heating will be introduced - but the First Minister stopped short of calling time on North Sea drilling.

In this climate emergency, tough choices will have to be made by all of us.

But innovations and advances in technology here in Scotland could help change the way we live our lives and even shape the world for the future generations to come.

Scotland's Stories: Climate of Change will be shown tonight on STV at 8pm.

Download: The STV News app is Scotland's favourite and is available for iPhone from the App store and for Android from Google Play. Download it today and continue to enjoy STV News wherever you are.

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