Scotland’s Climate Change Plan: failings with the last process and what needs to happen next 

  • 07 Mar 2024
  • Blog

Blog by Lloyd Austin, Policy Advisor to Stop Climate Chaos Scotland

My last blog sought to explain what the CCP is, why it is important, the timetable for its review/publication, how SCCS has been contributing to its development, and how we will judge its content. In this contribution, I will seek to provide an update; in particular, referring to an important recent development and draw attention to SCCS’ latest briefing which focuses on the next steps.

Environmental Standards Scotland inquiry and recommendations

In April 2023, SCCS made a representation to Environmental Standards Scotland (ESS) on the effectiveness of the previous CCP. This sought to subject the previous CCP/CCPu, and the procedures for its development and adoption, to scrutiny, with a view to securing recommendations that might improve the next CCP. On 28th February 2024, ESS published its initial findings and recommendations. In their summary report, ESS concludes “there is clear evidence that the CCPu failed to meet the requirements of Section 35(5) of the 2009 Act to quantify the emission reductions associated with all individual proposals and policies. ESS expects the next Climate Change Plan to address this failure.

“In addition, the next Climate Change Plan must:

  • set out clear timelines for individual proposals and policies
  • establish clear ownership and responsibility for individual proposals and policies
  • incorporate all the new reporting requirements introduced in the 2019 Act
  • address unresolved recommendations from previous parliamentary committee and CCC scrutiny of the CCPu
  • allow sufficient time for scrutiny of the draft and incorporate feedback before finalisation”.

These conclusions and recommendations are extremely welcome. SCCS believes that the Scottish Government should follow them in preparing the next CCP.

An immediate SCCS response to the publication of this report indicated that:

“We therefore warmly welcome the watchdog’s six positive recommendations for the next Climate Change Plan – a critical document that must now set out fair and fast new actions to get climate action in Scotland fully on track. 

“The Scottish Government must quickly adopt and adhere to these recommendations, and in particular, ensure that the next Climate Change Plan clearly quantifies how their policies will contribute to emission reductions and ensure Scotland’s rightly ambitious climate targets are met.

“The recommendation that sufficient time is allowed for scrutiny of the draft Plan is also vital, so the final Plan properly takes into account recommendations from stakeholders.

“It’s clear that these were some of the critical failures to comply with legal requirements in the production of the last Plan, which is the blueprint for delivering Scotland’s emission cuts.

“Such failings led to a weaker, less effective Plan, likely contributing to failures to meet annual climate targets and, unless addressed, will mean future targets are in jeopardy.

“Only through ambitious action can Scotland reassert its global climate leadership and deliver a transition to a fairer, low carbon society.”

ESS is an independent body set up to ensure the effectiveness of environmental law and prevent enforcement gaps arising from the UK leaving the European Union. They were established, in part, to fulfil some monitoring and enforcement functions previously carried out by the European Commission. As such, their report and recommendations should be considered significant – they are an official scrutiny body, reporting to the Scottish Parliament. These recommendations will be considered by the Parliament when they scrutinise the draft CCP – and Parliament will wish to see them followed. Further, should the recommendations not be followed, this could be considered as prima facie evidence of non-compliance and lead to further enforcement action against the Scottish Government.

Next steps: timetable

Since the delay referred to in the previous blog was announced, the Scottish Government has continued to state that it pledged to produce the next CCP by the “statutory deadline”. In various statements (including this letter), it is indicated that “the deadline for laying a final Plan in Parliament covering the period 2025 to 2040 is 23 March 2025”.

This means that “the legal deadline for laying a draft of our Plan is not until the latter part of 2024”. Indeed, to allow 120 days of Parliamentary scrutiny prior to laying the final plan, the draft plan may not appear until November 2024. However, if it is this late, it would mean that there was no time between the end of the 120 days and the laying of the final plan. This would lead, once again, to a situation where there was no assessment of any recommendations made and revision to the draft plan before a final version is laid.

I say “once again” as this was what happened to the CCPu in 2021. In that case, the period between the end of Parliamentary scrutiny and the laying of the final CCPu was curtailed by the imminent dissolution of Parliament for the 2021 elections. As a result, the (then) CabSec indicated in the letter of 23 March 2021, no revisions were possible in the time available. This lack of time to properly review the recommendations from scrutiny and make appropriate revisions was highlighted as flaw of the last process by ESS – and It is notable that in ESS’s recommendations (see above) on procedure for the next CCP, they specifically recommend that sufficient time be allowed to “incorporate feedback [from scrutiny] before finalisation”.

Given the importance of the new plan, SCCS believes that such a situation should be avoided, this time, and that the final plan should incorporate the Government’s response to the scrutiny/public engagement process. Accordingly, SCCS believes that The Scottish Government should, as soon as possible, confirm and clarify the timetable for CCP publication. This must include details of planned scrutiny and public engagement, as well as a timescale for the consideration of representations and, as appropriate, revision of the plan.

Next steps: UK Government’s reserved policies

The CCP is a plan to reduce emissions from Scotland – and these emissions are influenced by government policies determined and implemented by both the UK and Scottish Governments. Thus, it has to incorporate the devolved policies on e.g. public transport and agriculture, but also set out the reserved policies on e.g. oil and gas or corporate taxation that also influence emissions’ levels. Recent changes to, and ongoing uncertainty (in an election year!) of UK Government policies was cited by the Cabinet Secretary as the key driver behind the decision to delay the CCP publication process.

However, there does appear to be a lack of clarity of the proportion of emissions reductions attributable to Scottish/devolved policies and to UK/reserved policies. On the one hand, the Scottish Government has indicated that this is a significant issue, justifying the delay; however, on the other hand, the Chief Executive of the Committee on Climate Change, Chris Stark, has criticised the delay and claimed the actions of the UK Government should not be so disruptive stating “this is very disappointing … Not sure why the PM’s September speech on Net Zero would require delay by the Scottish Government.

To SCCS, it remains clear that there is considerable scope for more ambitious action in devolved areas (see the gap between actions in the current CCP/CCPu and those in SCCS’s Climate manifesto). SCCS is clear that both the UK and Scottish Governments can, and should, be more ambitious – and that both governments (and/or the CCC) should be more transparent as to what each of their policies mean for emissions, and how they interact.

Thus, SCCS considers that The UK and Scottish Governments (and/or the Climate Change Committee) should publish their assessments of the contributions (actual and predicted) of reserved and devolved policies to emissions reductions.

Secondly, there also appears to be uncertainty over the nature of the UK Government policies (and proposals) that can be included in the draft CCP. On the one hand, it is obvious that approved/current UK Government policies should and will be included. However, there is doubt about the policies that are proposed (by the current opposition and potential next UK Government) or proposals that the Scottish Government might wish to put forward for adoption by the UK Government. The latter approach was adopted by the Scottish Government in its draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan – and could be adopted in the next CCP. 

As the new plan will cover a 15 year period, and the nature of the UK Government and its policies in the years beyond the next (and subsequent two general elections) is inherently unpredictable, this issue needs to be resolved.

More details on the CCP and SCCS’ recommendations for the next steps can be seen in our briefing entitled “Scotland’s new 2025-2040 Climate Change Plan: A background briefing from Stop Climate Chaos Scotland” published on 7th March 2024.