Chapter 12.1 Public sector

Decarbonise the public sector

Major intensification of policy effort on decarbonising the public sector, including a Public Sector Climate Action Acceleration Fund.

UK Govt
Scottish Govt
Local Authorities
Emissions reduction
Behaviour change

The analysis report by the Sustainable Scotland Network of the 2021/22 Public Bodies Climate Change Reports concluded: “Although good progress has been made over the years, greater action is urgently needed across the public sector to bring steeper cuts in emissions at a much faster pace, and to assess and address climate risks through adaptation planning and action.”272

Public services decarbonisation needs massive investment. UNISON commissioned a report on the costs of getting UK public services to net-zero which found it will need over £140 billion of government funding up to 2035.273,274 Without significant and immediate government funding, public services that are still suffering from a decade of austerity will struggle to decarbonise. The sooner we begin, the sooner we make savings and lower costs.

The UK Government must commit sufficient funds to bring forward action. The Scottish Government should, in assessing and providing the funds required, immediately establish large scale public sector climate action accelerator funds for public bodies to deliver on specified targets this decade. These could initially be starter funds to pump prime ideas and trials, with further funding following to support positive ideas and successful trials. Good practice should be shared, with action tied also into apprenticeships and upskilling/training, for example, on installation of heat pumps or maintenance of electric vehicles.

Funding should come from some of the ideas in this report and SCCS’s Financing Climate Justice report275 and similar STUC research.276 Planning to ensure the necessary investment is available will be essential.

An enormous amount of work across all public services is involved in this, with a focus on municipal energy and other public sector renewable energy projects, potentially in partnership with one another, along with energy efficiency across the public sector estate and decarbonising transport.

Workforce engagement is also key. A simple but vital action ministers could take would be to strongly urge public bodies and all employers to voluntarily grant facility time to green/ environment trade union reps, ensuring they have similar rights to health and safety reps, making this part of Fair Work policies and practices and undertakings.

Currently, on buildings, the Heat in Buildings Strategy committed the Scottish Government to consult the Scottish public sector during 2022 “to develop and agree a series of phased targets with increased funding available to support delivery of these targets – starting in 2024, with the most difficult buildings like hospitals being decarbonised by 2038 – for all publicly owned buildings to meet net zero emission heating requirements by 2038.” At least £200m support has been pledged for the Scottish Green Public Sector Estate Decarbonisation Scheme over the course of this parliament.277 A range of work is underway, with targets also, for the public sector fleet, with £8m of funding in 2022/23.278

It is essential that plans for decarbonising the public sector fleet also take account of the needs in areas such as social care where workers, largely employed in the private and voluntary sectors, cannot themselves be expected to bear the costs for electric vehicles etc. There is already a considerable recruitment and retention challenge for these essential services and Just Transition principles must be applied.

Adaptation work must also be prioritised in public services. Audit Scotland highlighted the low priority it has had and the importance of adaptation in its recent report.279 We commend joint STUC, Adaptation Scotland and UNISON Scotland practical resources, including a handbook and workbook, for tackling climate hazards and resilience in the workplace.280

For further information:


Public Bodies Climate Change Reporting Analysis Report 2021/22, Sustainable Scotland Network, 2023, https://


‘This union is a green union’: UNISON commits to decarbonise public services, Unison, 2022, article/2022/06/this-union-is-a-green-union-unison-commits-to-decarbonise-public-services/


Getting to net zero in UK public services: The road to decarbonisation, Unison, 2021,


Financing Climate Justice – fiscal measures for climate action in a time of crisis, p.26, Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, 2022, https://www.


Options for increasing taxes in Scotland to fund investment in public services, STUC, 2022, Demands_Better_Fairer_Taxes_for_a_Fairer_%20Future.pdf


Heat in buildings strategy – achieving net zero emissions in Scotland’s buildings, Scottish Government, 2021, publications/heat-buildings-strategy-achieving-net-zero-emissions-scotlands-buildings/


Government must improve climate set up, Audit Scotland, April 2023, climate-set-up


Climate risks in the workplace: Protecting workers in a changing climate, Adaptation Scotland, 2021, uk/how-adapt/tools-and-resources/climate-risks-workplace-protecting-workers-changing-climate

Version 1.0: September 2023

The contents of this document will be updated on a regular basis.