In September 2019, the requirement for a citizens’ assembly on climate change to be held in Scotland was included in the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019. Building on the work of the Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland, Scotland’s Climate Assembly was the second national citizens’ assembly to take place in Scotland, and the first to focus specifically on the climate emergency.
The Assembly operated independently of the Scottish Government, organised by a core secretariat and design and facilitation team, with input from a Stewarding Group and Evidence Group. Meeting against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the process was held entirely online. It comprised a group of over 100 people, selected to be broadly representative of the Scottish adult population. This group of people met online over seven weekends from November 2020 to March 2021, hearing expert evidence, discussing and deliberating on how to answer the question:
How should Scotland change to tackle the climate emergency in an effective and fair way?
In March 2021, the Assembly published an Interim Report which included a Statement of Ambition from Assembly members and outlined 16 overarching goals. Their Full Report (Recommendations for Action) was published on 23rd June 2021 and included 81 recommendations for the Scottish Government to consider in response to the Assembly question.
In accordance with section 32A(9) of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 (“the Act”) (as inserted by the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019), the Scottish Government had six months to respond to the Full Report. Each goal and recommendation received strong support from Assembly members, agreed by an overwhelming consensus of Assembly members.
“As a nation we have the opportunity to be pioneers, by taking immediate action to empower our next generations to lead sustainable lives by setting up the framework now.” - Statement of Ambition, Scotland’s Climate Assembly
In October 2021, the Assembly launched a Civic Charter, a note of support signed by more than 100 organisations and individuals, ranging from academic institutions, private and third sector organisations. In agreement with the Assembly, the Charter calls for immediate action from government, industry, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), civil society organisations (CSOs), and communities across Scotland. It describes the Assembly recommendations as innovative and ambitious, noting they are also realistic and achievable if they are matched by political will.
In a world-first approach, Scotland’s Climate Assembly also involved children from across Scotland in a unique partnership with Children’s Parliament. This inclusion of children has been a significant realisation of children’s right to participate in decision making processes, and reflects our commitment to taking children seriously in Scotland, and to respect, protect and fulfil their rights.
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and this year of COP26 in Glasgow, it could not be a more pertinent time to hear from the people of Scotland.
The Assembly’s recommendations give the Scottish Government a unique perspective on what people in Scotland want and the changes they would like to see.
This response from the Scottish Government sets out the existing and proposed actions that government will take in order to address each of the Assembly’s recommendations. It makes clear the importance of implementation when it comes to climate action, and outlines some of the next steps for Scotland as we tackle the climate emergency. We are committed to promoting children’s rights and to continuing to hear from and engage with children and young people. The co-design process for our Just Transition Plans will demonstrate our enduring commitment to this principle.
We are listening to the people of Scotland so we can ensure that, in the future, Scotland is doing politics differently.
Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport, Michael Matheson MSP
“Scotland’s Climate Assembly has been an invaluable opportunity to directly involve citizens in our transition to net zero. The Assembly sets a powerful message for Scotland's future climate change policy and I am proud that the recommendations align so closely with our ambitions. We have also rightly been challenged by Assembly members to go further and faster, and we will continue to consider these recommendations as we develop our approach in Scotland. Meeting members from the Assembly and Children's Parliament was a highlight of my time at COP26, and I am grateful to them all for their hard work and commitment.”
Overview of the Scottish Government Response
This document is structured to mirror the Assembly’s Full Report – Recommendations for Action. Each section details the government response to the 16 goals and the 81 recommendations that underpin them. For ease we have numbered the goals and recommendations, and they are addressed in the same order they appear in the Assembly report.
We have welcomed the challenge put to us by Assembly members, the challenge to do more and to think more deeply about how we tackle the climate emergency.
As the Assembly members called for actions that leave no one behind, we will ensure the principles underpinning a just transition are embedded throughout our response. Our commitment to co-design sectoral and regional Just Transition Plans will also look to build on the participative process exemplified by the Assembly.
In responding to the recommendations, we must also recognise the scale of the climate emergency and how essential it is for the implementation of any actions to be right. The Scottish Government does not currently have the powers required to act in all of the areas recommended by Assembly members, with many areas reserved to the UK Government. Where possible, we will work with the UK Government to achieve action, or suggest alternative options that we feel meet the aim of the recommendation.
Photo: Members of Scotland’s Climate Assembly and Children’s Parliament present their reports to Scottish Parliament party leaders.
About Scotland’s Climate Assembly
Scotland’s Climate Assembly was established following the enactment of the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019. It operated independently of government and was organised by a core secretariat, and design and facilitation team. As was required by the Act, the Assembly featured two Conveners who were independent of both Parliament and Ministers. Roseanna Cunningham, then Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform appointed Ruth Harvey and Josh Littlejohn to fulfil these roles.
A Scottish Government report was published in September 2020, which outlined the arrangements for the Assembly. The Assembly process was also guided by a Stewarding Group consisting of 22 individuals who were independent of both the Scottish Government and the secretariat.
The Stewarding Group consisted of representatives with a broad range of interests and included academics, cross-party MSPs, youth and sectoral representatives, including energy, housing, farming and businesses. An Evidence Group of nine leading academics oversaw the development of the Assembly’s evidence base, ensuring it was balanced, accurate and comprehensive.
Initially scheduled to meet over six weekends, Assembly members voted in favour of an additional weekend to hear more evidence and deliberate further. In total, Assembly members heard from over 100 speakers who presented a range of perspectives and ideas on how to tackle the climate emergency.
For more information on Scotland’s Climate Assembly, visit their website: www.climateassembly.scot
Photo: Assembly members and children from Children’s Parliament meet Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport, Michael Matheson MSP at COP26 in Glasgow.
About Children’s Parliament
Established in 1996, the Children’s Parliament is Scotland’s centre of excellence for children’s participation and engagement. It takes a children's human rights-based, creative approach to engaging children up to 14 years of age from diverse backgrounds across Scotland.
Its mission is to inspire greater awareness and understanding of the power of children’s human rights and to support implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) across Scotland. As the minimum age of Assembly members was 16, the Children’s Parliament was invited to support the participation of younger children across Scotland in a parallel process to the Assembly. From October 2020 to March 2021, while the Assembly was in progress, over 100 children aged seven to 14 from across Scotland underwent a similar learning journey.
They engaged with expert evidence, discussed what they had learnt, communicated directly with Assembly members, and – led by a core group of 12 'investigators' – developed a set of 42 Calls to Action for tackling the climate emergency.
These Calls to Action were integrated with the Assembly’s recommendations throughout their report and this approach has been mirrored by the Scottish Government as part of this response.
With the children's participation in Scotland's Climate Assembly recognised as the first time children have directly been involved in a climate assembly, there has been much interest in the approach taken and the children's contribution. This work has led to the development of Climate Changemakers, a programme to support children's meaningful participation in climate action. To find out more about the Children's Parliament work with Scotland's Climate Assembly and Climate Changemakers, see https://climatechangemakers.childrensparliament.org.uk/.
Photo © Chris Watt Photography