Drones delivering parcels, shared boilers and collecting rainwater to flush toilets – these could become part of daily life in the next 25 years.
It is not a futuristic vision dreamt up by a child, but what environmental experts say may be necessary to meet national carbon reduction targets.
New legislation created by the Scottish Government commits to Scotland being “net-zero” by 2045, meaning any carbon dioxide emissions will be balanced out by helping reduce carbon elsewhere, for example by helping fund renewable energy projects.
As Fife Council approves its climate action plan, Catherine Payne, one of the authority’s environmental strategy officers, explains what changes we could see in the coming decades.
She said: “There are two issues to take into account – mitigation (cutting) carbon emissions to stop adding fuel to the fire and adaption to the effects of climate change that are inevitable because of previous emissions.
“Even if we cut all greenhouse gas emissions tomorrow, significant climate change is on its way.
“There are time lags in the atmospheric system meaning that greenhouse gases take one to 30 years from being released to warming the climate.
“So the climate impacts that we are seeing today come from emissions released as far back as the 1990s. Despite lots of talk about cutting emissions – since 1990 emissions have increased 60% globally.
“People never want to admit that we haven’t done enough but the fact is we haven’t.
“I think life is going to look very different because that is the only way we will achieve the national targets and prevent the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.”
Car will no longer be king. More people will be walking, cycling and using public transport. Those who do rely on private vehicles will switch towards more environmentally friendly alternatives as petrol and diesel cars are phased out.
Catherine said: “I think it will seem nonsensical by then to take two tonnes of metal around everywhere you go.
“In Fife, we already have more electric car charging points than petrol stations but we understand there is still a lot to do. As more of these cars come in we will need to provide more charging points.
“There is also potential for dry ports for freight deliveries so all of the orders from one company can be delivered to one place, then more eco-friendly modes of transport can be used to keep the lorries off the road.
“Suggestions so far have included ebikes, cargo bikes, smaller vans and even drones delivering parcels. I don’t know how beneficial drones would be in terms of health and safety impacts but it is being looked at.”
Pressure will be on house builders to make their developments fit for the future. While proper insulation, energy efficient bulbs and airtight windows and doors are important, moving to bigger solutions like district heating schemes is likely.
Already in Scotland, grants are already being offered to businesses and social housing landlords to provide district schemes.
As well as environmental benefits, it would reduce the householders’ costs for repairs and replacements.
Catherine said: “There need to be massive changes in the home, I think that will be the biggest challenge.
“We will need to fit equipment and take measures to make homes more environmentally friendly.
“We have around 160,000 homes in Fife so as a society we need to retrofit homes to become more resilient and to cut their carbon emissions at a rate of 7,000 to 10,000 homes each year to get it done in time.
“By 2032 we won’t be allowed to connect new houses to the gas network and eventually the network will be re-purposed and there are massive challenges around this.
“Rather than having every house have their own boiler we could move to a district heating system.”
As well as environmental benefits, it would reduce costs for repairs and replacements and Catherine also pointed out with climate change causing temperatures to rise, some properties may also need to be fitted with a system to provide cooler air during heatwaves.
“In the next few decades we are going to have more extreme weather more regularly and warmer temperatures.
“People think that is a good thing but it can be very dangerous for vulnerable and older people who can die from heat stress.”
With the hot weather will come droughts and Catherine said householders will have to play their part to save water.
She said: “The onus is on householders because at the moment we waste 40% of the water that comes into the home.
“We can collect rainwater and reuse it for things like flushing the toilet.
“It would involve retrofitting and changes to existing plumbing but there are well established systems for doing this in other parts of the world who think we’re crazy for flushing our toilets with drinking water. Overall the benefits would make it worthwhile.
It would need some kind storage and replumbing but only a small amount and overall the benefits would make it worthwhile.
“Homes would have a mains back up so everything still works as normal during dry spells.”
Although there is no immediate risk of St Andrews and coastal Angus disappearing under water, there is work being done to address rising sea levels, which may include losing farmland.
“Sea levels are going to continue to rise and we can’t stop that because the damage is done, there will be changes we can’t stop.
“Sea levels will continue to rise for centuries after we stop using fossil fuels.
““What we can do now is cut carbon emissions to minimise global warming and work out how best to protect coastal communities from rising seas and storm surge.
We would need to wall the whole of Fife off from the sea to protect it and unfortunately that’s not practical.
“A lot of our settlements and infrastructure is on the coast so that has to be the priority to protect.
“We may have to make decisions about agricultural land and decide it’s not actually economically viable to protect it from flooding and allow it to be lost.
“If we don’t act now parts of Fife will be underwater in future, but so will Edinburgh and London.
“It’s easy to feel scared by the future. It’s important to remember that acting on climate change need not be a sacrifice, by responding in a carefully planned way we can help Fifers to have better homes, stronger communities, cheaper energy, greater wellbeing and improved health. Climate change will make the future different but if we act now, we can actually make life better for everyone.”
Fife Council declared a climate emergency in September and committed to cutting carbon emissions by 75% by 2030.
High profile anti-climate change protests have been held in St Andrews, as part of a global movement.