As convener of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, I welcome the opportunity to highlight the committee’s recent report on green recovery and to move the motion on its behalf.
Our inquiry explored the parameters of an effective green recovery from Covid-19 and identified key actions for change, immediate priorities and potential barriers to implementation. We heard from experts and stakeholders, and from people and communities across Scotland who have been adversely impacted by the Covid crisis and who may be more vulnerable to the changes needed to achieve net zero. Their voices were at the heart of our consideration. Many highlighted issues and actions across a broad range of cabinet secretary and committee remits, demonstrating the cross-cutting and integrated nature of a green recovery. I thank everyone who contributed to our inquiry—particularly in the difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves—by providing written evidence, giving evidence remotely as part of committee meetings or engaging in our online outreach work, which took place across the country.
Our report opens with a quote from Christiana Figueres, one of the architects of the 2015 Paris agreement, who said:
“Moments of crisis are always moments of opportunity”.
The Covid-19 pandemic is a global crisis. It has tested the limits of our resilience and, as crises very often do, it has highlighted and, in many cases, exacerbated existing inequalities. It has set a new context for all policy making and will have a fundamental and lasting impact on the ways in which we live, work and travel.
However, as we look to the future and to the processes of recovery, we can see that the crisis has also given us a chance to build a more sustainable, inclusive and equitable society—a chance to address inequalities, empower communities and drive action across Scotland to tackle the health crisis and the crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. A green recovery should do exactly that. It should build a more resilient, just and healthy society and environment. It should take a systems-wide, integrated approach, and it must transcend sectoral boundaries and Government portfolios. It should also seek to build community cohesion, wellbeing and equality to create a greener, fairer and healthier Scotland now and for future generations.
Scotland has already shown that it can be bold in the face of a crisis. We have seen how a coherent route map, combined with strong leadership and urgent action at scale, can effect the necessary change in our policies and behaviours.
We must be equally bold in dealing with the climate and biodiversity crises and the challenge of ensuring a just transition as part of a truly green recovery.
Key to that approach is strong leadership and the creation of an effective route map for a green recovery, with clear timelines, clear responsibilities for delivery across all parts of the public sector, clear delivery plans for each sector to signpost the way and regular reporting of progress to Parliament and to the people of Scotland.
We need an increased commitment to—and financial resourcing of—actions to deliver an integrated, holistic green recovery, and we need to apply tests to all new and existing policies to ensure that policies and funding are aligned with that recovery. The coming year provides an opportunity to improve public policy alignment, as many policies have been, or are currently, under review.
We also need to tackle the implementation gap whereby solutions have already been identified but not applied. Ways out of the current situation are already in existence. We need to capture and lock in positive behaviours and to build resilience through valuing nature more.
Underpinning that is the need for us to focus on people, innovation, skills and jobs. An overwhelming number of expert witnesses in our evidence sessions pointed to the fundamental importance of skills development. We have called on the Scottish Government to carry out a skills audit and to produce a skills action plan to support the delivery of a green recovery. We have asked that the plan be focused on those who are unemployed, underemployed or at risk of unemployment as a result of the economic crisis and the transition to net zero.
We want those people to be offered meaningful upskilling, reskilling and skills diversification opportunities that will pull people across into low-carbon and environmentally and economically sustainable jobs. We must ensure that there are no gaps, in line with the goal of a just transition that leaves no community behind.
We made a few specific recommendations. Among them is the call for the Scottish Government to establish an enterprise fund to provide financial support, including grants and low-cost loans, to support business models that have emerged as a result of innovation during lockdown.
We want the Scottish Government to prioritise and fund the creation of community work hubs attached to childcare facilities and community spaces and to encourage the public sector to offer unused office space to support communities. We want to ensure that transport budgets and fiscal incentives are targeted at reducing demand for travel by car and encourage the use of active and sustainable modes.
We want spend to be front-loaded on housing retrofits and energy efficiency schemes, and we want the skills and training that are needed for that to be treated as a priority. We want to bring forward a natural capital plan for Scotland and establish a natural capital baseline, with monitoring reports to check progress and to align plans for job creation with the need for nature-based solutions and natural capital enhancement. As I say, a lot of the answers are already out there.
Taken together, those recommendations provide a springboard for the swift action needed to deliver a truly green recovery for Scotland—a recovery where no one is left behind.
I welcome the Scottish Government’s very positive response to our report and the fact that it is seeking advice on a green recovery from a range of crucial organisations, including the Climate Change Committee and the just transition commission. I also welcome the fact that the green recovery has been central to the Government’s approach to recovery from the pandemic and I welcome the recognition that the green recovery must be embedded in everything that the Government does. There has been a marked change in approach in the past two years, particularly as we have looked at the climate change bill—now the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019.
I also welcome the commitment to respond to the significant lessons learned from living and working during the pandemic, prioritising quality of life, health, wellbeing and our net zero ambitions.
However, the committee believes that a comprehensive route map is needed to signpost the way. The climate change plan is part of that route map, but it is by no means the only part. Therefore, we would welcome further discussion and a more detailed response to the specific recommendations that we have made in our report.
The committee believes that delivering and scrutinising a green recovery will engage all parts of society and Government, and several parliamentary committees. It cannot be a siloed endeavour at policy level in Government or at parliamentary scrutiny level, as that simply will not work. My committee is already working collaboratively with other parliamentary committees to ensure that the 2021-22 Government budget and the updated climate change plan provide an effective response to the current challenges and set a foundation for a newly energised and inclusive era of action in Scotland.
I started with a Christiana Figueres quote, and I will end with one. She argues:
“If governments put health, nature regeneration and climate action at the core of every decision they make in recovering from this pandemic, we can emerge as a stronger and more resilient society”.
That is exactly what our green recovery report calls for. It calls on us to work collaboratively and innovatively across society to build a more sustainable, inclusive and equitable Scotland. Only by having such ambition today and committing to taking such action now can we build a better Scotland for tomorrow.
That the Parliament notes the conclusions and recommendations contained in the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee’s 12th Report, 2020 (Session 5),
Green Recovery Inquiry
(SP Paper 845).