Creative Carbon Scotland’s Guide to Climate Policy

16th June 2021

Creative Carbon Scotland's Guide to Climate Policy

Creative Carbon Scotland's Guide to Climate Policy

Dealing with our climate emergency requires policies designed to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases, to adapt our places to the impacts of climate change, and to enable us to lead more sustainable lives. In this guide, we explore the policies and supporting initiatives relevant to Scotland's cultural sector.

Understanding international and national policies can help strengthen and inform your climate action. There are also lots of technical terms common to climate policy, so we’ve aimed to explain these throughout this resource, and provide examples of what they mean in practice!

This resource covers the following themes:

  • A background to climate change
  • International, UK and Scottish policy on climate change
  • The meaning of ‘net zero’, ‘Green New Deal’ and ‘green recovery’
  • How we can achieve climate change targets

What is climate change?

Increased emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from human activity have increased the Earth’s average temperature. A higher temperature results in feedback effects that disturb the planet’s equilibrium – for example, melting ice caps and glaciers reduce the surface area of light-coloured ice that reflects some of the Sun’s heat back into space, adding to the temperature rise.

Since the Industrial Revolution, humanity has produced more greenhouse gases than the planet can re-absorb, causing ever-increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. Because there is already so much carbon in the atmosphere, we must stop emitting greenhouse gases (or find ways to absorb the same amount that we emit) in order to prevent climate change worsening further. This short video illustrates the point clearly with the useful bathtub analogy.

As well as the impacts on nature, animals and biodiversity, climate change is already having damaging impacts on human health, global food production and water availability, contributing to displacement and migration, and posing threats to human rights and the global economy. Scientists project that these impacts will become more severe as the planet keeps heating.

The impact on us here in Scotland can be seen in both our natural environment and our society, including buildings and property, health, agriculture and forestry, transport, water resources and energy demand. The Adaptation Scotland website is a good source for information on climate impacts.

What is being done about it at the policy level?

This guide provides a ‘starter for 10’ on climate policy, from international level, through the UK and Scotland to local authorities, and explains how the cultural sector can engage with it and contribute to the policy aims.

International climate policy and COP

Climate policy is created at an international level through a United Nations framework, informed by the authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In 1994 the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was ratified. Since then, the ‘Parties’ that signed the convention have met annually at a or ‘Conference of the Parties’  or ‘COP’, creating a series of international agreements including the Paris Agreement, unanimously adopted in 2015. The Paris Agreement commits its 196 signatory states to:

  • Keep global temperature increase “well below” 2oC and try to limit it to 1.5oC
  • Prepare and submit by 2020 enhanced or upgraded long-term decarbonisation plans (referred to as NDCs – nationally determined contributions)
  • Spend $100 billion a year in climate finance to help poorer countries by 2020, with a commitment to further finance in the future.

In 2018, the IPCC produced a special report on global warming of 1.5°C, which stated that if we want to keep the global temperature increase below 1.5 oC, we only have until 2030 to take significant action (and must reduce emissions by at least 45% by that year). This report added to the significant upsurge in concern about climate change seen in 2018, which year also saw the formation of Extinction Rebellion and the first school strike by Greta Thunberg. All of this prompted governments around the world, including Scotland’s and the UK’s, to start making declarations of a climate emergency – although these were not necessarily supported by correspondingly strong carbon reduction policies.

COP26 will be the 26th UN COP summit, taking place in Glasgow 1-12 November 2021, and hosted by the UK. COP26 is considered significant as it will be the first COP to take place after the landmark Paris Agreement’s measures took effect, and the first opportunity since then for nations to come together to review commitments and strengthen ambition.

UK government climate policy

In the United Kingdom, our Party to the UNFCCC is the UK, rather than each devolved nation. In 2020 the UK communicated its strengthened NDC to the Paris Agreement: to “reduce economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions by at least 68% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels”.

In April 2021 the UK government went further, agreeing to legislate a target of 78% emissions reductions by 2035, on the advice of the Climate Change Committee (CCC), the independent scientific body that advises the UK government on climate change. The government also accepted the CCC’s recommendation of a carbon budget (a maximum amount of carbon that can be produced) for 2033-2037. This carbon budget is significant as it will be the first to include international aviation and shipping. However, the UK is already set to overshoot its earlier carbon budgets for 2023-2033, casting doubt on its ability to meet successive carbon budgets and targets.

In 2019 the CCC produced a landmark report titled ‘Net Zero: The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming’. Its policy suggestions, if fully implemented, would align with the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global temperature rise to “well below 2oC”. However, the Stop Climate Chaos Scotland coalition and numerous other environmental and civil society groups call for stronger climate policy, arguing that the difference between 1.5oC and 2oC is a “matter of life or death” for millions of people, and that any rise over 1.5oC is incompatible with the concept of climate justice.

The CCC net zero report calculated that England and Northern Ireland should aim to reach net zero emissions by 2050, with different targets for Scotland and Wales due to their different natural resources. The net zero target date recommended for Scotland, which has been adopted by the Scottish Government, is 2045.

What does net zero mean?

‘Net zero’ refers to achieving an overall balance between emissions produced and emissions taken out of the atmosphere. Emissions can be removed, or ‘sequestered’, from the atmosphere through a variety of methods that fall into two main categories: nature or engineering.

Natural means of carbon sequestration include planting trees (afforestation) and restoring peat bogs, as both trees and peat bogs absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. The Natural Climate Solutions initiative calls for the protection and restoration of ecosystems, alongside carbon reduction measures.

Engineering methods of removing carbon from the atmosphere include carbon capture and storage (with or without bioenergy), direct air capture and other ‘negative emissions technologies’. Many of these technologies are still speculative and expensive and have not been implemented at scale, and research is still emerging, through networks such as the Carbon Removal Centre.

Both the UK and Scottish governments’ climate strategies include carbon sequestration to reach their net zero targets. However, the same logic does not apply to individual economic sectors, businesses and individuals, as any carbon sequestration that they contribute to through ‘offsetting’ schemes would need to go above and beyond the sequestration already factored into government plans; in other words the offsetting would need to be ‘additional’, which is unlikely to be the case. The CCC net zero report states clearly that, “Most sectors will need to reduce emissions close to zero without offsetting”.

Scottish government climate policy

Our government has stated its commitment to ending Scotland’s contribution to climate change and has introduced a series of legislative and policy initiatives intended to stimulate and support all parts of society to eliminate emissions and adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change. Scottish legislation and policy is aligned with international frameworks such as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement. The Scottish Government’s aim is to achieve a “Net Zero nation” by 2045 and it has adopted key pieces of legislation and implementation plans to help reach this goal. Below are links to some of the key documents:

What are Scotland’s climate change targets?

The Scottish Government target is to reduce emissions of all greenhouse gases to net zero by 2045 at the latest, with interim targets for reductions of at least 75% by 2030 and 90% by 2040. Progress is measured against 1990 levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and we have so far reduced our emissions by over 50%. As stated above, these targets are based on what the CCC advises can currently be achieved, and are regularly reviewed in accordance with CCC advice. The Scottish Government has pledged that it will not use international offsetting schemes to achieve its targets, although it will utilise domestic carbon sequestration measures.

What is Scotland’s Climate Change Plan?

The Climate Change Plan is a legal, statutory duty on our government and sets out its policies and proposals for how Scotland can deliver its emissions reductions targets. The plan is regularly updated and the current version, for the period 2018–2032, includes:

  • roles of local authorities and the wider public sector (and the planning system), communities and individuals
  • impacts of national climate change policies along with the behaviour changes required to reach our decarbonisation goals
  • impacts on the economy of threats and opportunities arising from climate change
  • sectoral indicators in terms of electricity, buildings, transport, industry, waste, land use and agriculture
  • international co-operation

Local authority climate policy

The Climate Change (Scotland) Act places responsibilities on Scotland’s local authorities and their public sector partners, many of whom have their own climate strategies and carbon reduction plans. Climate reporting submitted under the Public Bodies Climate Change Duties Act can be found on the Sustainable Scotland Network site. Some local authorities have set their own, more ambitious net zero targets; Edinburgh and Glasgow have both committed to be net zero cities by 2030. This may have implications on organisations that are funded by these councils. For example, organisations funded through City of Edinburgh Council’s Culture Service are required to have a carbon management plan in place to demonstrate their contribution and commitment to the city’s wider climate goals.

Who is responsible for action to achieve our climate change targets?

We are all responsible for achieving these targets, whether in our private lives or at work, through the choices we make about our lifestyles and the way we run our workplaces and activities. The Scottish Government leads on engaging all stakeholders in efforts to reduce emissions collaboratively, whether they be in the public or private sectors, local communities, the third sector or individuals. In 2020-21 they conducted a public consultation on their draft Public Engagement Strategy, which includes information about opportunities for all of society to contribute to becoming a Net Zero Nation.

What initiatives in Scotland have been set up to help work towards the targets?

Many national, regional and local initiatives have been set up across the public, private, third sector and academia to help Scottish people and organisations work towards these targets. For example:

  • The Just Transition Commission advises the government on a net zero economy that is fair to all, applying the principles of
    • planning, investing and implementing a transition to environmentally and socially sustainable jobs, sectors and economies
    • creating opportunities to develop resource-efficient and sustainable economic approaches, which help address inequality and poverty
    • designing and delivering low carbon investment and infrastructure, and make all possible efforts to create decent, fair and high-value work
  • Scotland’s Climate Assembly is a civic sounding board formed to deliberate climate change and its impacts on Scotland and deliver recommendations to the Scottish Parliament. Its members were randomly invited to apply by a postal civic lottery and selection from the resulting applications was determined by applying eight criteria (age, gender, household income, ethnicity, geography, rurality, disability, attitude towards climate change) in order to make the Assembly broadly representative of the wider Scottish population. While the Assembly’s deliberations are private, the briefing materials submitted to it and evidence sessions are publicly accessible and it is possible to apply to observe meetings. The Assembly met for the first time in November 2020 and delivered its recommendations in June 2021.
  • The Climate Challenge Fund is government funding to support community-led organisations across Scotland to tackle climate change through projects aimed at reducing local carbon emissions. Part of the initiative is helping through training, networking and peer-to-peer learning to develop such organisations’ capacity to address climate change.
  • Adaptation Scotland provides advice and support to help Scotland be prepared and resilient to the effects of climate change, helping public sector, businesses and communities to understand what climate change will mean across Scotland, and identifying the best way for them to plan for the impact – taking the opportunities and preparing for the risks.

What is the Green New Deal?

The Green New Deal has been part of the Scottish Government’s annual programme of action since 2018 and is concerned with financial investment in a greener Scotland. It involves rethinking not only what investments the government makes, but also how it makes them with the aim of leveraging the power of public and private sector investment, targeting investment in the right projects and uses these to create and sustain quality jobs. Examples are shaping and developing commercially investable low-carbon markets and breaking down barriers to green investment.

What is the green recovery?

The government recognises that despite the challenges to Scotland’s economy and society posed by the COVID-19 pandemic the climate emergency hasn’t gone away. It proposes addressing both issues together as a green recovery that captures the opportunities of a just transition to net zero, creating green jobs, developing sustainable skills and nurturing wellbeing. The current version of the Climate Change Plan, setting out the government’s pathway to the climate change targets, is the government’s key strategic document for the green recovery from COVID-19. There is also a report from the Just Transition Commission on the just and green recovery.

How can the cultural sector contribute to climate policy and plans?

Several sectoral umbrella bodies and membership organisations submit responses to government consultations on climate change, and there are often opportunities for their members (and sometimes non-members) to contribute their ideas. For example, Culture Counts wrote to the Scottish Government about the Climate Change Adaptation Bill; the Federation of Scottish Theatre responded to the government’s consultation on the same issue, and Creative Carbon Scotland recently responded to the consultation on the Net Zero Nation Public Engagement Strategy.

What else can we do in the cultural sector to help tackle climate change and transform society?

There are two key things we can do as cultural organisations and practitioners. Firstly, we can make sure that we have done everything we can to reduce our own emissions; developing and implementing a carbon management plan and adaptation strategy is a good way to start. Secondly, we can influence others – as exemplars of best practice, through our artistic work and programming, and also by using our unique skills to help think through these complex issues and imagine possible solutions. Culture in particular thrives on connection and collaboration: the more we can bring the climate emergency into our connections within the sector and the work we do, the more impact we can hope to have.

Further information

Green Arts Initiative Steering GroupWe hope this has been a useful introduction to climate policy. If you’d like to share anything with the wider Green Arts community about your own experience, or if you have an idea for how we can improve this resource, please contact us on

This guidance is part of Creative Carbon Scotland’s resources for our Green Arts community: a network of cultural organisations in Scotland committed to reducing their environmental impact. Find out more and join for free on our Green Arts Initiative page.

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