School of Social and Political Science

Experts highlight need for devolved climate plan



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The Scottish Government must work more effectively with regional and local authorities if it is to meet its climate change targets, research suggests.

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Lessons learned from the UK’s response to Covid-19 highlight the need to think nationally and act locally on greenhouse gas reduction, experts say.

Image: DWalker44 via Getty Images

The researchers, including the School of Social and Political Science’s Professor Jan Webb, say distribution of PPE and Test, Track and Trace has failed because of a mismatch between national and regional activities.

They fear a similar approach to emission reduction targets could hamper progress – particularly in cities where the biggest gains could be made.

The team says the Covid response would have been more effective had it been organised and financed through regional authorities – such as local councils and health boards – at the outset.

Devolved approach

A more devolved approach is needed for the Scottish Government to reach its goal of net-zero emissions by 2045 – and its 2030 target to achieve a 75 per cent reduction from 1990s levels of emissions.

Having set national goals, the Scottish Government should give regional authorities clear responsibilities and the necessary resources, the study says. That way, mistakes made during the pandemic could be avoided.

The need for greater devolved power was the key conclusion of climate scientists involved in a Royal Society of Edinburgh inquiry titled Facing up to climate change in 2011. Scientists say this is equally true 10 years on.

Conflicting responsibilities

The main barrier to progress identified in 2011, highlighted again in the new study, was the difficulty of taking action suited to specific places.

Policies on transport, housing and infrastructure planning were, and still are, beset with conflicting responsibilities and powers – some national, some regional and some local. These tensions make it difficult for any single authority to plan an integrated response and cut emissions effectively, the researchers say.

The new study compares current attitudes to climate change with those in 2011. It found that people’s views have become less sceptical and more concerned with pressing for urgent action – particularly among young people.

Decreased emissions

Researchers say the scale of the switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy in 10 years is impressive and they welcome businesses adopting a more eco-friendly approach.

“We need city regions to be mandated to work cooperatively with the Scottish Government on clean heating and transport – the two areas where change is slowest.” Professor Jan Webb, School of Social and Political Science.

“We have the prospect of a win-win solution simply by improving the way we govern ourselves. Cities, in particular – with their high density of population – offer opportunities to make effective reductions in emissions without inconveniencing people.” Professor David Sugden, School of GeoSciences.

The research is published in a climate-focused edition of the Scottish Geographical Journal as part of the run up to the United Nations Cop-26 Climate Change meeting in Glasgow scheduled for this autumn.