Written by Mike Robinson, Chief Executive
Ten years ago today, Scotland passed the most stringent climate legislation in the world. It genuinely was world leading, and came on the back of the largest civil society campaign Scotland had ever seen.
The Climate Change (Scotland) Act is much more than simply a 42% target. It contains restrictions on the use of Carbon credits, inclusion of aviation and shipping emissions, commitments on sustainable land use, public engagement, energy efficiency, renewable heat, warm buildings, micro generation and waste prevention. It also established duties on all public bodies, and the requirement to reflect the carbon impact of national budget decisions. It even contained a charge for plastic carrier bags.
The civil society campaign began back in 2006. The scientific evidence for climate change had been growing almost daily, but there didn’t seem to be any sort of society-wide co-ordinated response. The issue just seemed too big and diffuse. So in 2006 I helped establish Stop Climate Chaos Scotland (SCCS) – the largest coalition ever formed in this country. I very purposefully tried to recruit as diverse a group of willing members as possible and by 2009 we had over 50 member bodies, including the most of the leading environment and humanitarian charities, the Churches, and several unions, health and community groups, who in total represented over 2 million supporters in Scotland.
Over the first 3 years we co-ordinated 21,000 responses to the government consultation and broke a number of records for public and MSP engagement. We helped set up a cross party group on climate change, brought together three of Scotland’s main religious leaders for a joint press conference, and won cross party support, which is why the commitment remains so robust today. It was a massive concerted effort from the whole of civil society. The headline ask was an acknowledgement of the need to act urgently, enshrined in a 42% cut in emissions by 2020, although at the time, this was widely viewed as unachievable.
Despite this gargantuan effort however, with only weeks to go before the final parliamentary vote, the Scottish Government were still only prepared to offer a 34% cut by 2020, and many amendments were still being contested daily.
Encouragingly many of our key asks were also reflected in industry comment. SSE boss Ian Marchant, for instance, persuaded by the Church commitments, handed the then Environment Minister a copy of the “Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” – because of course the answer to the ultimate question is 42.
With co-ordinated pressure from media, civil society, academics and industry, SCCS presented a compelling case for action. Eventually, on the Monday night before the debate the government finally swung behind the 42%, and the bill was unanimously passed.
The Minister for Finance and Infrastructure, John Swinney MSP reflected after the Stage 3 debate: “Many of the non-governmental organisations… have worked together under the Stop Climate Chaos banner to send to Parliament and the people of this country a coherent and co-ordinated message that we should consider and, frankly, be inspired by.”
There have been many positives since the passing of the Act which SCCS has helped campaigned around, and from which we have all benefited. These include an increase of public spending on active travel, commitments on energy, peatland, electric vehicles, even air departure tax (ADT). Perhaps most significantly it also led to the establishment of the Scottish Climate Justice Fund in 2012, another world first. There’s also been thousands of green jobs, more of our electricity coming from clean renewables, instead of dirty fossil fuels, and swathes of people lifted out of fuel poverty thanks to better energy efficiency measures.
Up until the late 1970’s climate change was the accidental consequence of being unsustainable. But in 1979 scientists were getting worried – atmospheric CO2 was at a record high in human experience (337ppm) and 50ppm higher than any ‘natural’ level. By choosing not to act, climate change has since become a conscious choice. Emissions have grown – CO2 is now over 410ppm, growing more than 70ppm in the past 40 years, and accelerating.
So here we are ten years later, in the midst of a stated climate emergency. That’s why the new Climate Change Bill making its way through the Scottish Parliament right now needs to choose a different path and dramatically increase the urgency for action. We no longer have the luxury of time as several scientific reports have made shockingly clear in recent months.
And as the young activists taking part in school strikes remind us, although Scotland has exceeded its 42% target (in production emissions at least) – it is not enough. We all need to do more, to understand what is needed, and we all need to play our part in delivering solutions. It is well and truly down to our generation to tackle this issue once and for all. And quickly.