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Scotland Has Put The Public At The Heart of Its Plans For Climate Change - And Just Look At The Results

20/09/2016 10:20

In 2009 the Scottish Parliament unanimously passed the most ambitious climate change legislation anywhere in the world, and it is delivering on its promise. The government has just reported that in 2014 Scotland reduced emissions by 16%, meaning emissions in 2014 were almost 46% lower than 1990 levels. As a result Scotland has exceeded its targets for 2020 six years early.

This is not to say that Scotland has cracked it. The government recognises significant challenges lie ahead, and that it has been helped in its emission reductions by warmer winters. But what is unique about Scotland is the government's willingness to face up to these challenges and not rest on its laurels. The government is pursuing a range of innovative and exciting initiatives to give Scotland a fighting chance of both meeting its climate change targets and coping with the extreme weather already hitting the country.

One example of the government's commitment to building public engagement with climate change is its Climate Challenge Fund. Since its introduction in 2008 the Climate Challenge Fund has distributed £75.7 million of government grants to 588 communities across Scotland, helping them run community-led projects that reduce local carbon emissions, improve their local areas and help them adapt to the impacts of climate change. And we are in the middle of the Scottish Government's Climate Week, a national campaign to raise awareness and inspire action on climate change in Scotland.

Breaking new ground with the public

What is particularly interesting and novel about initiatives such as these is that they are centred on bottom-up approaches that recognise the importance of making climate change a social reality. This is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in the Scottish Government's collaboration with Climate Outreach and ClimateXChange to begin a national conversation about climate change with ordinary members of the public in Scotland. This pioneering project, which I led with support from my colleagues at Climate Outreach, is the first of its kind in the UK and possibly anywhere in the world. It is a concept which represents a profound step change in strategies for building public engagement with climate change, and its ambition matches that of the targets Scotland has set for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The need to find a way to get people in Scotland talking about climate change was in part a response to reports that many community group organisers and other influential voices did not feel confident starting a conversation about climate change. As a result, community groups dealing with issues such as improving energy efficiency never brought up the topic of climate change. So there was a need for ideas on how to make a climate change conversation engaging, something that people would want to be a part of.

A series of six workshops run with ordinary members of the Scottish public in the first part of 2016 led to the development of a practical 'How to' guide for holding climate conversations, which is being launched today. And out of that initial research have emerged findings with profound implications for anyone wanting to talk about climate change in our rapidly warming world.

Lesson 1 - There is very little scepticism among the public about the fact that the climate is changing. Everyone who participated in these workshops accepted the reality of climate change.

Lesson 2 - Ordinary members of the public know enough about climate change to talk about what they want done about it. Though many participants expressed doubts about their knowledge of the subject, when it came down to it they had plenty to say about what changes they want to see happen.

Lesson 3 - You don't need to be a climate expert to have a conversation about climate change. People were able to talk about the challenges climate change poses for Scotland without needing a primer in the science of climate change.

Lesson 4 - People really enjoyed taking part in the conversations. They said they never had the chance to talk about these issues in their day to day life, and valued having their opinions listened to.

The take home message for politicians is clear - if you bring members of the public together in an informal setting to talk about climate change, if you approach the topic starting from where people already are in terms of their values, their hopes and their concerns, if you step back and let participants talk to each other, and if you avoid turning the discussion into a lecture about the science of climate change, people will become engaged, will participate and will enjoy having the chance to talk about this topic. Scotland has shown it can work. Now it is time for the rest of the UK and the world to follow their lead.

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