Opinion: Climate target reset must mark the moment of policy delivery. The next 12 months are critical. This is no time to take the foot off the pedal.


Stefanie O’Gorman, a member of the Climate Emergency Response Group (CERG), reflects on why a lack of policy delivery has led to the Scottish Government proposing to scrap their world-leading 2030 climate target and how today’s collapse of the Bute House Agreement must not be used as an excuse for further delay.


There can be no doubt that last week’s announcement to scrap the 2030 emissions reduction target by the Scottish Government represents a substantial set back in Scotland’s climate ambition and reputation.  Today’s exiting of the Scottish Green Party from government further risks progress on climate action.

Even though the 2030 target was always very ambitious, the Scottish Government’s ambition was widely commended. But ambition is nothing without action. While the First Minister today reiterated his commitment to tackling the climate crisis, we have been repeatedly warned that the Scottish Government was seriously off track in reducing Scotland’s emissions – evidenced by years of missed annual climate targets and critical assessment reports by the Climate Change Committee (CCC), not to mention the analysis undertaken by the Climate Emergency Response Group of which I am a member. This finally cumulated in March’s scathing progress report from the CCC, which, for the first time, concluded that the legally binding 2030 climate target was now out of reach and raised very serious concerns about the lack of delivery.  The report concluded ‘In many cases, the Scottish Government has repeatedly failed to stick to timelines for delivering key strategies and policies’.

So, let’s ask ourselves why the Scottish Government have found themselves in this position?  While some issues lie beyond their immediate control, fundamentally it is about a long-term lack of focus on delivery.  The policy landscape has evolved too slowly and in many cases within silos, insufficient funding has been put into resourcing delivery and the full potential of private sector investment has not been captured.

The lack of a clear plan to significantly accelerate delivery is CERG’s greatest concern. The policy package presented by the Scottish Government last week included many existing commitments and an emphasis on proposals, principles, or pilots, with insufficient evidence to show how it will lead to a significant acceleration of emissions reduction. Without this assurance of delivery, and the numbers to match, we can’t be confident this package marks the course correction we must see if we are to realise the benefits of a fair transition to net zero.

The evidence suggests that Scotland’s progress on climate action is frustrated by a combination of delay in policy development, slow decision-making and a lack of policy implementation. There are multiple examples where delays have created uncertainty and a policy vacuum.  This has led to action and investment being held back, and really concerningly it has created space for misinformation and scaremongering. For example, the target to reduce car kilometres by 20% by 2030 was first announced in 2020, and yet, four years later we still have no delivery routemap. It’s also taken 3 years for the framework Heat in Buildings Bill to appear following the Strategy being published, and there remains considerable uncertainty for farmers and land managers about the shape of the agriculture transition to come.

The current political crisis will – at the very least – lead to ministerial and portfolio changes. This must not be reason for further delays and upheaval or to be used as an excuse for not accelerating action.

Instead, the current crisis must be used to focus minds on getting some fundamentals in place to allow the Scottish Government to ‘step up to delivery’ – i.e. to improve and accelerate decision-making, prioritise resources and take action to overcome bottlenecks and barriers.

One area of good news is that there are hints of action to strengthen ‘climate governance’ within last week’s announcements, particularly relating to a full roll out of a Net Zero Assessment across all significant expenditure decisions, a commitment to a Climate Delivery Framework between local and national government, efforts to urgently tackle workforce skills gaps and strengthening of the remit of the government’s Global Climate Emergency Programme Board. None of these measures are headline grabbing stuff but with the right attention, could start to unlock some of the blockages we’ve identified.

The Net Zero Assessment, which CERG proposed, could be a game-changer for next year’s Budget and Programme for Government and key capital investment plans such as the Infrastructure Investment Plan. Application of carbon assessment tools across significant policies, projects and procurement decisions would provide the Global Climate Emergency Programme Board the evidence base for robust advice across Divisions, the Executive Team and the Scottish Parliament. Not only would this strengthen policymaking, it could also lead to cost-savings and the opportunity for resource reallocation.

The Climate Delivery Framework, also a CERG identified priority, should improve problem-solving and collaboration between national and local government to ramp up delivery. The framework could help clarify roles and responsibilities, coordinate and align delivery approaches and pathways, help prioritise and coordinate limited budgets; and enable collective working to address key barriers to delivery. But its application must be agile and flexible, allowing creative problem solving and solutions all focused on unlocking delivery of priority net zero programmes (heat, transport) through place-based approaches.

Concluding thoughts.

There are a lot of good policies and ideas within the Scottish Government that still need to be delivered – with huge potential of creating green jobs, economic growth, warmer homes and nicer places to live. Collectively we have a responsibility to make sure that recent announcements do not lead to a weakening of action, a delay in making key decisions or a loss of the political consensus around climate action.

This must be a moment of reset and must not be the moment of de-prioritisation. And the next 12 months are crucial.  The Scottish Government must be honest about how we got here and flip to a real emergency style response to tackle capacity gaps and delivery blockages – we could come out of this stronger and better prepared.

CERG’s reflections on the policy package:

Three positive signals:

  • It’s good to see transport and agriculture receiving some much-needed attention, although in many cases we will have to wait several months for details.
  • A new/enhanced citizen’s assembly process to enhance efforts at public engagement is very welcome and must be used as a starting point for society-wide dialogue about the transition.
  • Commitment to improve decision-making to ensure climate commitments can be delivered but these will only be a success if these initiatives actually influence policy and budget decisions and unlock delivery.

Three red flags:

  • There is a lack of a costed, quantified policy package that clearly demonstrates a step up of action.
  • No new solutions to speed up the planning and consenting processes for energy infrastructure. This a real risk to investment and delivery and one which stakeholders across industry have been asking to be addressed consistently.
  • Many proposals were pre-existing commitments and there was an insufficient focus on interventions to drive definitive action – such as the delivery of investor ready large-scale heat network projects.
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