Opinion: Making every decision count for a Net Zero future


As the draft Scottish Budget progresses through parliament, Dr Sam Gardner, a member of the Climate Emergency Response Group, makes the case for a ‘Net Zero Test’ to inform policy and investment decisions. With carbon assessment tools readily available and already being widely adopted by businesses and governments, there is no reason to delay.

Are we investing in the right things that will bring us closer to a net zero Scotland? Or do we risk spending on projects and policies that send us in the wrong direction – spending on buildings and transport infrastructure that will have to be retrofitted at a high cost in the future?  Or perhaps we don’t even know, because the carbon impact of these spending decisions has not been calculated.

This is why the Climate Emergency Response Group has been calling for a Scottish Government mandatory ‘Net Zero Test’ or carbon assessment process for both policy and investment decisions.  We are not alone in seeing the value of such a process; it has been highlighted by the UK CCC, the Institute for Government, Fraser of Allander Institute, Audit Scotland, CBI, and the TUC amongst others. With this information, ministers would know the carbon impact of a given project or programme of work and could ensure value for money by focusing resources on actions that support net zero and avoid or mitigate any risks or costs of delay. The assessment would take place in stages – starting with a screening process at the concept stage which would also flag adaptation and just transition risks and opportunities.

The commitments between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament set out in the Joint Budget Review report seeks to address this need and improve the scrutiny of the Scottish Budget as it relates to climate change.  Indeed, one of three key commitments made by the Scottish Government is the development of a government-wide Net Zero Assessment to establish a dedicated carbon assessment process during early policy development stages. It is critical that this commitment is delivered on in full to secure the maximum benefit.

CERG believes the right holistic approach to adopting a carbon test or assessment would help:

  • Decisionmakers understand the impact of spending decisions on Scotland’s emissions
  • Focus expenditure on actions which align with meeting climate targets
  • Ensure value for money by avoiding and mitigating the risks and costs of delay
  • Realise cost savings and wider benefits through low carbon projects
  • Provide evidence for building pipelines for low carbon investment opportunities


CERG recently organised a briefing for MSPs on this topic – with a presentation by Lewis Barlow, Technical Director at WSP and author of the carbon assessment guidance for City Region and Growth Deals. Key points on the need for a Net Zero Test were set out:

  • This is an efficient and economic way to reach net zero;
  • Standardised carbon assessment tools are already available;
  • The public sector is demanding leadership and guidance;
  • There are examples from other parts of the UK and internationally that demonstrate the adoption of net zero assessment tools, we should keep pace with these examples of leadership;
  • There is an urgent need for a consistent, government-wide approach developed and rolled out in 2024;

CERG will work with stakeholders to argue for the urgent development and adoption of a consistent, government wide approach which is rolled out in 2024 with the following priorities for application:

  • Apply to the forthcoming Capital Spending Review and Infrastructure Investment Plan
  • Make PAS 2080 mandatory for procurement relating to buildings and infrastructure
  • Put in place governance procedures (gatekeeping, capacity building)
  • Apply to other immediate opportunities: Green Freeports, NPF4, statutory guidance on Public Bodies Climate Change Duties

You can read CERG’s full proposal here. Get in touch to find out more or if you want to work with us to make Scotland a leader in this space.

CERG is a collection of like-minded climate leaders spanning Scotland’s private, public and third sectors, using its experience to inform and influence the Scottish Government’s response to the climate emergency.

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