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2 Scottish Cities Compete to Be First in UK to Go Totally Carbon Neutral

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It’s the hometown of Frankie Boyle, Primal Scream, the Doctor (well, one of them), and Groundskeeper Willie from The Simpsons.

Glasgow’s cultural exports may very well be a renewable resource in itself. But the city hopes to be less Deacon Blue and more a beacon of green — with a bold plan to reinvent itself for a sustainable future to tackle climate change.

Glasgow wants to become the first city in the UK to be truly carbon neutral, aiming to hit zero emissions “well before" the national target of 2045 that Scotland set on Tuesday. 

It’s after Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Nicola Sturgeon declared a climate emergency on April 28 (before Britain did).

Scotland as a whole already provides a quarter of Britain’s renewable energy because of its vast array of wind farms. However Glasgow — Britain’s third largest city —  wants to do more, and achieve a historic landmark to ensure that just as much greenhouse gas gets absorbed as emitted.

But it’s got some serious competition from an equally ambitious neighbour.

If Glasgow is a powerhouse of music and film, then Edinburgh must be known as the literary and political nucleus of Scotland. For every Belle and Sebastian from Glasgow, Edinburgh has a J.K. Rowling. For every Gerard Butler, there’s a Tony Blair — not forgetting its parliamentary home in Holyrood.

But now there’s a “race to zero” between the two cities — as Edinburgh has pledged to get to zero-emissions by 2030.

"For Scotland to get to net carbon zero by 2045 the cities have to get there first,” said Scottish Power chief executive Keith Anderson on BBC's Good Morning Scotland. “Edinburgh has announced plans to be more ambitious and we are working very closely with Glasgow council, so let's have some competition.

"A 'race to zero' is a good thing,” he added. “It is a healthy thing and will create a better environment, cleaner air, so let's go on and start the race."

So what’s the difference between their plans — and what are they really hoping to achieve?

Let’s start with Glasgow. It plans to hit net-zero in three key ways: a mass electric car charging scheme; the consumption of greener energy; and more investment in the renewable energy grid, according to Reuters.

The city council are working together with Scottish Power — the firm that runs its energy grid and own the country’s largest onshore wind farm  — to make the dream a reality. The BBC reports that both will invest in schemes like electric buses, in an attempt to make green energy both environmentally and economically lucrative.

"From the research by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to the appeals from our classrooms, our streets and civic squares, we know that emissions reduction is the issue of our times," said Susan Aitken, head of Glasgow City Council. "We simply have to act now."

Related Stories May 2, 2019 The UK Just Became the First Country in the World to Declare a 'Climate Emergency'

Edinburgh are trying something a bit different — with the 2030 target one of the most ambitious in the world.

It wants to focus on generating renewable power locally; reduce waste with a "energy recovery facility"; and discourage vehicles from entering the city centre in favour of pedestrians, cyclists, and public transport.

"We are quite clear the 2030 target should be the target for this organisation and this city, but with a hard limit of 2037,” council leader Adam McVey told the BBC.

"I think it's important that this organisation responds to the challenges we all recognise they are incredibly serious,” he added. “I think it's important that we as a city take our responsibility seriously."

But activists are insisting that it’s not enough.

You’ll recognise the name Extinction Rebellion, the movement that brought London to a standstill in April and convinced the UK to become the first country in the world to declare a climate emergency.

It was backed by 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, a whole host of famous people, and thousands of campaigners who have been willing to get arrested to draw political capital into the issue of climate change.

Read More: Britain Just Went a Full Week Without Coal Power for the First Time in Over 100 Years

After Sturgeon declared a climate emergency with a plan to achieve zero-emissions by 2040, the Scottish arm of the group was far from happy.

“An emergency requires an emergency response and this doesn't even come close,” it said.

On Thursday, the group assembled outside the offices of Glasgow City Council as they waited for the results of a debate that would lead the council to declare an emergency too.