The UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) kicked off yesterday in Glasgow, running through to the 12 November. The purpose of the conference is to bring parties together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. One of the goals of COP26 is to adapt to protect communities and natural habitats; as well as encouraging investment in renewable energy. It is not yet known whether the impact of COP26 will be immediate, or a slow burner.
In a recent Court of Session case (NORTH LOWTHER ENERGY INITIATIVE LIMITED v THE SCOTTISH MINISTERS) the respondents refused an application of the petitioner for consent under section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989 for the development of a wind farm near Sanquhar. The petitioner brought judicial review proceedings in order to challenge the respondent’s decision on the basis that it was unlawful. The respondent’s position was that although the wind farm would provide benefits in relation to helping meet renewable energy targets timeously and that the net economic impact would be substantial and positive, it would give rise to unacceptable significant adverse landscape and visual aspects and adverse impact on the historic setting of Wanlockhead. Therefore, this is an example of the Scottish Ministers taking a discretionary approach to dealing with renewable energy policies. It will be interesting to see whether this is something that will change in light of COP26, and whether having hosted the conference will have an impact on the decisions which the Scottish Ministers and other bodies will make when considering applications regarding renewables.
It may well be the case that issues relating to the environment may become more contentious than they would have been previously following Glasgow’s hosting of COP26. In the aforementioned case, we saw that the Scottish Ministers placed more importance upon the aesthetics of the landscape, as opposed to the potential benefits for the environment. COP26 may well encourage us all to become more conscious of climate change, and therefore our priorities could be at odds with those of decision makers, ultimately leading to matters becoming more contentious than they would have been previously – so we could soon see more cases going through the courts relating to environmental matters.
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