Fund a public climate information campaign
The Scottish Government must fund a nation-wide, sustained communications campaign, co-created with civil society and communities, to explain to citizens the critical nature of the climate and nature emergencies, what the impacts in Scotland, region by region, are expected to be and by when, the need to act fast, and the co-benefits of action – in short to get the population behind action at the scale and speed required.
This is to help to address the extreme urgency of the climate emergency and builds on the UN Secretary General’s call for all developed economies to aim for net zero by as close as possible to 2040 and his statement that we need to do “everything, everywhere, all at once” to reduce emissions.42
Unless people understand and believe how critical the situation is, what government policies are aiming to achieve and why, how they will be implemented and when, the government will struggle to win public backing for the changes that are required. Better public engagement and general understanding of the problems created by climate change and the solutions needed to address them will help head off any potential public and political backlash.
Government must work with civil society to co-create this campaign, perhaps including a revived Climate Assembly. It must go beyond current government-only communications campaigns43 and messages, and must be accessible and inclusive.
Care should be taken to ensure the campaign is accessible to all. For example, disabled people’s organisations could be funded to lead on communicating the campaign to those often, erroneously considered to be ‘hard to reach.’
The messages must be open and frank and be clear about what we are facing and the likely consequences. The debate should also feature the co-benefits of action on climate change – for jobs and the economy, human health and nature.
It should carefully counter the myths that climate action will lead to economic disaster, when it is inaction which will create this. In doing this, the ‘costs’ (financial, both to individuals and the state, as well as poorer health, damaged nature, global conflict, etc) of inaction should be highlighted, and thus demonstrate that the costs of action are far smaller than the costs of inaction. This was the conclusion of the Stern Review44 on the economics of climate change, which showed that acting today on climate change is much cheaper than waiting to act when the situation is much worse.
This campaign should explain the efficacy and risks attached to some of the proposed big solutions, for example:
- the fact that carbon capture is far from proven technology at the scale required; we do not have the time to wait until it comes on stream whilst continuing our current carbon emissions trajectory in the meantime
- policy must explain that we cannot just rely on carbon capture/negative emissions technologies to remove all the carbon emissions at some point in the future and expect the climate to stabilise back where it was at some point in the benign past. The ‘carbon emissions’ side of the net-zero equation must be as small as possible to reduce reliance on carbon capture/negative emissions technologies
- the differences between green, blue and grey hydrogen, and the sectors where hydrogen could be an appropriate and viable energy source at scale
- human wellbeing benefits from reduced air pollution, for example, and from more active travel etc
- opportunities to tackle poverty and inequality through the transition to a low carbon society
- ensuring that carbon emissions and carbon emission reductions are counted with integrity
For further information:
- A climate information campaign for Scotland, Richard Dixon, August 2023, https://www.rdixon.scot/2023/08/09/a-climate-information-campaign-for-scotland/ & https://www.scotsman.com/news/opinion/columnists/scottish-governments-climate-change-information-campaign-ducks-big-issues-like-flying-its-time-to-spell-out-just-how-much-of-a-crisis-we-are-in-dr-richard-dixon-4247473
Secretary-General Calls on States to Tackle Climate Change ‘Time Bomb’ through New Solidarity Pact, Acceleration Agenda, at Launch of Intergovernmental Panel Report, UN, March 2023, https://press.un.org/en/2023/sgsm21730.doc.htm
For example, Net Zero Nation, https://www.netzeronation.scot
The Economics of Climate Change, Nicholas Stern, 2006, see https://www.lse.ac.uk/granthaminstitute/publication/the-economics-of-climate-change-the-stern-review/