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I was the Head of Policy and Public Affairs at UNISON Scotland until my retirement in September 2018. I now work on several policy development projects, so all views are very definitely my own. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Action on climate change

I was giving oral evidence to the Scottish Parliament Local Government and Regeneration Committee this morning on the Draft Report on Proposals and Policies (RPP2) for tackling climate change in Scotland. A more readable summary has been prepared by SPICE.

Recent international reports have highlighted the world’s high carbon emission trajectory and the impact has been evidenced through the record Arctic ice melt in 2012, the hottest decade on record for global temperatures, and a growing body of evidence linking extreme weather events to climate change. In Scotland we have world leading climate change legislation. However, delivery needs to match the rhetoric and these latest proposals and polices fall short of what is required. 

There is an over reliance on proposals over policies, as well as on the EU increasing its climate change target. As the Stop Climate Change Coalition (SCCS) emphasised at the time of the Bill’s passage through Parliament, we need to make a strong start otherwise the task becomes too great and future government’s will argue they are unable to meet the targets. This means we need more action in the form of proposals not vague policies. Unless all proposals described are fully implemented and the EU changes its level of ambition, Scotland will meet just one annual target between now and 2027. 

There is a lack of transparency in order to inform independent assessment of these plans. RPP2 actually provides less information than RPP1.  It no longer distinguishes between UK, EU and Scottish policies as clearly as did previously, nor does it provide estimates of costs for proposals. In the current financial environment that is obviously important as is a full account of the costs and benefits by sector. 

The plans simply don’t provide a credible route to reducing emissions at the rate required, let alone build a low carbon economy. It is hard to identify an increase in policy effort in RPP2.  Certainly the ‘step change’ in effort advised by the UK Climate Change Committee is not apparent. For example, in the transport sector there is an actual reduction in effort and no Scottish Government polices to address the issue. 

Councils are of course facing a very difficult time as they are bearing the brunt of the spending cuts and their workforce is being slashed by a much higher proportion than other public services. Despite this they are key players and many are doing excellent work in specific areas.  However, it is not easy to make an overall assessment of progress across their full remit and their duties under the Scottish Climate Change Act due to lack of consistent data on activities and emissions savings. Again this is something we warned would happen without mandatory annual reporting. 

On the ground I have to say that there is only limited evidence of the culture change required. As we warned the guidance is vague and over reliant on heroic leadership models. Green Workplace initiatives that build support for cultural change from the bottom up are the exception and councils with a good record on this like South Lanarkshire are rare. Procurement was to be an important driver, but the Scottish Government has dropped ‘sustainable’ from its Procurement Bill and that sends out the wrong message.

Planning should play an important part in meeting climate change targets but hard pressed planning officers are juggling to many other competing priorities. Development plans should have an explicit statement to show how they will contribute to the reduction of emissions.

While local authorities want to play their part in reducing emissions their capacity to do so is being undermined by the cuts. There are examples of positive action but there is not enough sharing of good practice and reporting is inconsistent. Top down leadership models hamper the engagement of staff. Today's report by the Sustainable Scotland Network highlights some of these problems and makes sensible, if modest, recommendations for change. 

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