Scotland's Climate Assembly has shown how we can lead the world in tackling this emergency – Ruth Harvey and Josh Littlejohn
The report of Scotland’s Climate Assembly will be formally handed over to all party leaders at Holyrood this afternoon.
The assembly’s recommendations show ordinary people leading Scotland’s response the climate emergency through proposals that are innovative and ambitious. They are also realistic and achievable – provided they are matched by political will from our parliament and government. It gives Scotland a mandate from its people to provide genuine global leadership on climate.
Our report establishes 81 recommendations from ordinary citizens to achieve 16 key goals, all of which won an overwhelming consensus. The recommendations address a wide range of issues including domestic heating, environmental impact in public procurement, land use and agriculture, taxation, transport, including air travel, and the economy.
The assembly brings together a “mini-Scotland” with over 100 members broadly representative of the country in terms of age, gender, household income, ethnicity, geography, rurality, disability, and attitudes towards climate change. It operates independently of government, and took evidence from over 100 expert speakers.
All 81 recommendations carry equal weight and the assembly expects a detailed and committed response from government as to how they will best be implemented. The assembly met online throughout the pandemic, at a time of unprecedented crisis and rapid government action to meet the challenges of Covid-19. People in Scotland have seen that with enough conviction and a real sense of urgency, big changes can happen fast, to quickly shape a new normal.
Some of the recommendations are particularly eye-catching, and should inspire imaginative and far-reaching action.
For example, the assembly calls for the creation of a National Nature Service aimed at creating jobs in rewilding and environmental protection, enhanced training and opportunities in green jobs, a programme of public education on climate issues, and a single “oyster card” for Scotland that would help integrate the country’s transport system.
Another recommendation is to retrofit all existing homes by 2030, with all new buildings to be required to meet highly energy-efficient Passivhaus standards.
At a moment when the challenges of bringing down Scotland’s carbon emissions are obvious, the assembly’s recommendations are a goldmine for policy-makers.
In their historic “Statement of Ambition”, assembly members address the whole of Scottish society, including government, businesses, communities and individuals.
“As a nation we have the opportunity to be pioneers, by taking immediate action to empower our next generations to lead sustainable lives by setting up the framework now,” they write. “As a society we will need to change and adapt to meet the challenges, and recognise that there will be costs. But failure to act now will mean greater expense, and more difficult changes in the future, in order to avoid catastrophic costs to the planet.”
The involvement of children in the assembly was a world first – 100 children from across Scotland shared their thoughts and recommendations with the assembly. These are included in our report published today. The cross-generational dialogue this generated was a memorable and moving part of our assembly.
Different generations tend to come at the climate emergency from different perspectives. For older folk, this crisis may once have felt like something of a distant prospect. But as 10-year-old Maya, a climate investigator with the Children’s Parliament from Fort William, tells us: “I’ve never known a time when the climate emergency didn’t threaten my future. I can’t see a world without it. It’s something me and my friends are growing up with.”
The climate emergency cuts across every aspect of our lives and touches every structure of our society. The Climate Assembly’s report makes clear that this can’t just be a matter of individual lifestyle choices. There are no easy solutions, but we have options available to us. Of course, some of these require a level of technical knowledge to assess adequately.
Scotland’s Climate Assembly shows that ordinary members of the public are fast and serious learners about the climate crisis and what can be done about it. Our members have shown the capacity for citizens to provide leadership in setting a national policy agenda, by taking the best evidence on board and combining it with what they know from the experience of their own varied lives.
As conveners closely observing the Climate Assembly throughout what was a demanding process for everyone involved, we were struck time and again by the courage and dedication of members. It takes courage to speak out when you’re dealing with something as complex and daunting as climate justice. Assembly members brought tremendous commitment, engagement and humour to their work.
We saw robust and compassionate discussion, and the way the assembly’s meetings were organised and facilitated meant members could speak their truth clearly and powerfully, even if that meant disagreeing with others.
Even as contrasting opinions and fundamental differences became apparent, we saw assembly members building compassion for and with one another. That turned out to be the basis for a powerful and inspiring consensus on a way forward for Scotland to tackle the climate emergency.
This is the second national-level citizens’ assembly to be held in Scotland and there are proposals for further such assemblies to be held on an annual basis. The remarkable work of Climate Assembly members shows Scotland’s citizens are up for it, and will rise to the challenge when called upon.
Putting citizens at the heart of our decision-making process in this way can do much to counter the problems of polarisation and cynicism that have afflicted democratic societies in recent years. But to fulfil this promise, the whole country will need to see that when citizens’ assemblies like ours agree recommendations, these are taken up and acted on as policies that concretely improve the everyday lives of people in Scotland.
The stakes could not be higher. Scotland’s Climate Assembly has made it plain: “If we fail to act now, we will fail our current and future generations, in Scotland and across the world.”
Ruth Harvey and Josh Littlejohn are the co-conveners of Scotland’s Climate Assembly
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