How bad is the Scottish Government’s climate readiness?

by | 15 Mar 2022

An influential new report shows that in getting ready for climate change, Scotland has many more low-quality plans than high-quality plans and much more low-progress delivery than high-progress delivery

The Climate Change Committee has today published another report on Scotland’s performance in relation to climate. So what does it tell us?

First of all, this is not a report about how well Scotland is doing on the path to reducing the nation’s climate impact. That was published last year and was also damning about the rate of progress in Scotland. This report is about something else; since impacts on Scotland of a changing climate are now inevitable, to what extent is Scotland getting ready to deal with them?

So for example, if see levels rise, what protection is being put in place for low-lying coastal communities? If there are going to be more extreme weather events, to what extent is key infrastructure like airports or the telecommunications network being reinforced to protect them from extreme weather? Is farming being prepared for changes in weather patterns?

It is also worth stating that there is no more trusted and authoritative voice on this than the UK’s Climate Change Committee. It is a carefully-diplomatic body which avoids strong language in its reports and makes assumptions which if anything err on the cautious side on what is possible or reasonable. This work must not be discredited as being ‘hostile’ in any way.

That being the case, how does the report view the starting point? That is, to what extent are the plans that have been set out by the Scottish Government sufficient on paper? The report makes generous mention of the apparent positive intentions of the Scottish Government in describing what resilience would look like. But what of the detail?

It starts badly. The CCC looks at all the plans published in all the relevant areas and places them on a quality scale. There are 32 categories and of them only three are assessed as on the higher end of the quality scale – and there are even more categories ranked in the low end of the scale than there are in the middle of the scale.

Stating that clearly; apart from in commercial forestry, general emergency planning and the rail network, none of the plans are even considered of a sufficient quality in and of themselves. There is no match-up between the stated ambition and the quality of the plans for achieving that ambition.

We are neither taking sufficient steps to protect the world from the impacts of how we live our lives nor are we protecting the way we live our lives from the climate emergencies to come

Sadly and worryingly, it only gets worse from there. Because the other way the categories of action are assessed paints an even more damning picture. Here they are put on a scale on ‘progress’, ranked from less progress to more progress. Not a single Scottish Government programme is placed in the ‘more progress’ category. Only one in three even make it into ‘moderate progress’ territory.

And combined this makes for a pretty starting conclusion – in almost almost half of all the things the Scottish Government should be doing to protect Scotland from the impacts of climate change the plans are at the lowest quality level and even from there they have been progressed the least they could be (in these categorisations).

(If you want to visualise this and get a sense of what is in which category there is a simple table on page 17 of the report which sets all of this out in a quick-to-understand way).

If you put all this together and adjust a little for diplomatic language (the report uses ‘stagnate’ or ‘stall’ to mean ‘not really doing anything remotely sufficient), the picture is overwhelming. The Scottish Government is full of rhetoric on climate change adaptation but its plans are nothing like adequate and progress on implementing even these is mostly poor and at best sort-of middling.

Another report out today (from the Scottish Government) reveals that Scotland’s carbon footprint has actually been rising, not falling. That is perhaps unsurprising since the previous CCC report was very critical of the Scottish Government’s progress on its climate change targets which had already been described by the Chief Executive of the CCC as being “on the fringes of credibility”.

Scotland has set targets that gathered headlines but is not acting to meet those targets and is not preparing for the reality of what those targets tell us about Scotland’s future. We are neither taking sufficient steps to protect the world from the impacts of how we live our lives nor are we protecting the way we live our lives from the climate emergencies to come.

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