A (woolly) mammoth task? The Climate Change Bill before Stage 3

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What’s in the Climate Bill?

On 25 September 2019, the Scottish Parliament will consider the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) Scotland Bill at Stage 3.

If passed, the Bill will, according to the Scottish Government, put in place “the most stringent statutory targets in the world and our contribution to climate change will end, definitively, within a generation”.

In line with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, and subsequent advice from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), amendments lodged at Stage 2 set a target date of 2045 for reaching net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, as well as interim targets for reductions of 70% by 2030 and 90% by 2040.

In the context of the Bill, “net-zero” means that the amount of GHGs emitted by sources (agriculture, transport, heating etc) and removed by sinks (e.g. afforestation and peatland restoration) in Scotland across one year is equal to or less than zero. The SPICe Blog on Net-zero and the climate emergency explains further.

Whilst, as reported by the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee at Stage 1, “comparisons between countries can be difficult as their approaches and how greenhouse gas emissions are accounted for differs from country to country”, the net-zero by 2045 target is certainly stringent. The Committee also found that net-zero will not be achieved without unprecedented action “across all parts of Government, across the public and private sectors and by individuals, to deliver the transformational change that is required”.

How did the Bill change at Stage 2?

Aside from the unanimously agreed headline and interim targets, the Bill has now also been amended to improve the transparency of the targets and functioning of the Act, including:

  • Certain criteria must be considered when setting GHG emissions reduction targets. These have been added to, to include “international carbon reporting practice” and “the likely impact of the target on public health”.
  • “Not exceeding the fair and safe Scottish emissions budget” is the first of these target setting criteria, and this has been clarified as “contributing appropriately to holding the increase in global average temperature to well below 2℃ […], and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5℃”.
  • Several duties on the Scottish Government to seek and follow the most up-to-date advice from the CCC, and if not to justify why.
  • Where emissions reduction targets are not met, Ministers must lay a report, as soon as reasonably practicable, setting out proposals and policies to compensate for excess emissions.
  • Requiring future Climate Change Plans to address certain sectors and issues, and to set out impacts, costs and benefits.
  • Before laying a Climate Change Plan, a period of 120 days (of which no fewer than 60 must be days on which the Parliament is not dissolved or in recess) is allowed for scrutiny of the draft Plan.
  • “Just Transition Principles” must now be considered by Ministers when preparing Climate Change Plans, and plans must explain how they take account of these. This means that reducing net Scottish emissions should be done in a way which:
    • supports environmentally and socially sustainable jobs
    • supports low-carbon investment and infrastructure
    • develops and maintains social consensus through engagement with relevant bodies, communities and individuals
    • creates decent, fair and high-value work in a way which does not negatively affect the current workforce and overall economy.
  • The Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Plan must include an objective in relation to Scotland’s contribution to international climate change adaptation in line with international best practice.

Commitments made at Stage 2

Certain amendments were also withdrawn, or not moved, at Stage 2, following commitments from the Cabinet Secretary.

In relation to climate justice, Claudia Beamish tabled amendments that added just transition principles to the target setting criteria. The Cabinet Secretary had concerns with how the amendment “would operate in practice, and particularly how a set of principles would interact with other elements of the framework in the amended act”. It was agreed that collaborative work would take place “to explore how all the key elements and intentions of the proposed set of principles can be embedded in the act’s framework in a way that is fully functional”.

Claudia Beamish also sought to add international development to the list of target setting criteria, and to require Climate Change Plans to refer to developing countries’ emissions reduction efforts in relation to compensating for excess domestic emissions. She also sought to include a commitment to supporting developing countries through the transfer of “expertise and technology”. Further amendments related to the ability of other countries to achieve global commitments on climate change and to achieve sustainable development. The Cabinet Secretary was “sympathetic” to these amendments and made “firm commitment to work with her to bring back her proposals at stage 3 in a form that respects her intentions in full but is better technically aligned to the wider framework”.

Amendments from Mark Ruskell and Claudia Beamish sought to require Climate Change Plans to assess how they will affect matters relating to a just transition, and Climate Change Plan Monitoring Reports to assess progress towards a just transition. The Cabinet Secretary undertook to work with the members to bring back amendments with the same intention at Stage 3.

Mark Ruskell and Claudia Beamish proposed a suite of amendments to introduce a target for low-carbon infrastructure investment; improve reporting on emissions from public bodies; improve the depth and detail of information presented in the carbon assessment of the budget; and improve the scrutiny of infrastructure investment plans, bills and secondary legislation. The Cabinet Secretary “whole-heartedly” agreed “that the links between infrastructure decisions and greenhouse gas emissions need to be carefully analysed and understood”, and agreed that further work would take place, including a review of “current processes and outputs around budget information as it relates to climate change”.

Further discussions were also agreed to in relation to amendments from Maurice Golden, Liam McArthur, and Angus MacDonald.

Where do we go from here?

The First Minister has placed tackling the climate emergency at the heart of the Programme for Government, and the forthcoming debate is likely to focus on this as well as shedding light on discussions that have taken place since Stage 2.

Getting to Stage 3 has, at times, felt like a mammoth task. The Bill was introduced in May 2018 – finally, 16 months later the whole Parliament will scrutinise and further change the amended version.

Whilst the legislative task is subsiding, the risk of extinction has not. As recommended by the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, the Government has committed to producing an updated Climate Change Plan within six months of Royal Assent. In a letter to the Committee, the Cabinet Secretary has proposed that scrutiny of this is completed within 30 days, as opposed to the 120 days in the Bill.

If agreed to, this shortened timetable is likely to put significant pressure on Committees and stakeholders where work programmes for the year are already packed.

Whilst Scotland’s current contribution to climate change is minimal on an aggregated global scale, its historic contribution through industrial innovation and globalisation is significant.

The Government has undertaken to be a global leader in making a just transition to a low carbon economy, and next year’s UN Climate Summit in Glasgow is the ideal place to showcase this. Of course, whether current and future commitments are adequate to definitively end Scotland’s contribution to climate change within a generation remains to be seen.

Alasdair Reid, Senior Researcher; Energy, Climate Change and Land Reform

Featured Image: Life restoration of fauna during the Pleistocene epoch in northern Spain, by Mauricio Antón, 2004. Licensed under CC BY 2.5.