Published date

March 2011

Facing Up to Climate Change

“Scotland, with its rich renewable resources, world class research base, experience in the oil and gas industry and leading financial institutions, has much to gain from the move to a low-carbon society. We’re on the verge of a new form of industrial revolution and Scotland could benefit from novel economic opportunities, increased energy security and better use of resources to build stronger, more sustainable communities” – Professor David Sugden, Chair of the RSE’s Inquiry.

Facing up to Climate Change: breaking the barriers to a low-carbon Scotland identifies the obstacles that are stopping us from taking steps towards a low-carbon society. It recognises that there is a wealth of activity at EU, UK and Scottish level, including in local authorities, communities, households and civil society, but that there is an acute need for coherence and integration between these levels.

The Inquiry Report, launched on 1 March 2011, sets out 10 Primary Recommendations aimed at helping policy makers to design policy in such a way that it overcomes the barriers. It calls for government and organisations to embed low-carbon policies across all functions and for closer engagement between people, civil society, market and state.

This Report is the result of an extensive consultation process across Scotland during which evidence was taken from over 110 public, private and third sector organisations, as well as from around 40 individuals, a number of public meetings around Scotland, involving some 400 people, and a national Schools’ Competition. It has been formulated by a Committee chaired by Professor Sugden, an internationally renowned climate scientist based at Edinburgh University, with members whose expertise covers the natural and social sciences, business, policy and education.

The Report considers the issues of climate change, sustainability and opportunities for creating a more sustainable, fairer world. It looks at the science of climate change and its implications at both a global and Scottish scale and outlines the economic, social and environmental contexts that will shape Scotland’s move to a low-carbon future. The Report then focuses on the findings of the Inquiry and the implications for Scotland, looking first to public bodies (local authorities, education, water), then to key economic sectors (finance, energy, other industry, heating, transport and land use).

Finally the Report looks at the pervasive challenges arising from multi-level governance and how they may be addressed. It is this analysis that forms the basis of our ten Primary Recommendations, and sets out also 30 Supplementary Recommendations aimed at policy makers in the specific sectors outlined above.

The full inquiry can be accessed here: Facing Up to Climate Change


1. To engage in deliberative dialogue with individuals, industries and public authorities to help develop and respond to proposed Government climate change policies;

2. To identify barriers to change and to recommend measures for current and future policies in these areas and the timescales on which action might need to be developed.


The Committee invited written responses from Government bodies, companies and individuals on what they were doing in response to climate change and what barriers to change they were facing.

Facing Up to Climate Change – Written evidence

Climate is changing and the trends in statistics on flooding, precipitation and temperature in Scotland over the last 40 years have already required changes in our approach to risk and uncertainty. Legislation has now been set in place, notably the UK Climate Change Act with a statutory target for the UK to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050, and the Climate Change (Scotland) Act with a reduction target of 42% in Scotland by 2020. At European Union level, Member States have agreed to increase the share of renewable energy to 20% by 2020 and the Scottish Government has set itself a target of 50% of Scotland’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020. In order to reduce emissions, the Scottish Government’s Climate Change Delivery Plan includes targets of:

A largely de-carbonised heat sector by 2050 with significant progress by 2030 through a combination of reduced demand and energy efficiency, together with a massive increase in the use of renewable or low carbon heating
Almost complete decarbonisation of road transport by 2050 with significant progress by 2030 through wholesale adoption of electric cars and vans, and significant decarbonisation of rail by 2050
A comprehensive approach to ensure that carbon (including the cost of carbon) is fully factored into strategic and local decisions about rural land use

However, the gap between the necessary policies and where we are now, is large. Certainly the capacity of a government to implement changes, particularly where great uncertainty or long timescales are involved, depends fundamentally on public engagement and effective institutional structures. In order to inform the work of the Inquiry, the Committee would welcome views on some of the following issues where people/organisations have experience or expertise:


Do you perceive the changing weather patterns in Scotland and globally as affecting you and/or your organisation?
What are the impacts of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act on you and/or your organisation?
What do you plan to do in response to these factors over the next 5 – 10 years?
What are the main barriers to change for you and/or your organisation?
If you own or run a business, what are the barriers preventing you from exploiting the opportunities in the move to a low-carbon economy and society?
How could your transport emissions be cut by 30% by 2020, and what are the barriers to achieving this?
How will you improve the energy efficiency of your building?


Do you perceive the changing weather patterns in Scotland and globally as affecting you and/or your organisation?
What are the impacts of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act on the goals and activities of your organisation in terms of investment and exposure to risk?
What do you plan to do in response to these factors over the next 5 – 10 years?
How integrated is your response with other organisations in similar or related fields?
What are the main barriers to change for you and/or your organisation?
What are the relative merits for your organisation of a carbon tax; emissions trading; energy regulations for performance standards; or incentive schemes?

Energy generation

What do you see as the issues with public acceptance of increasing investments in renewable energy and its associated infrastructure?
How do you see 1 in 10 buildings being heated by renewable heat technologies by 2020?
What are the institutional, organisational and financial barriers to meeting the 50% target of renewable energy by 2020?
Is there sufficient action to exploit the potential of microrenewables?
What are the obstacles to cutting energy use?

Land use

How can we use our land most efficiently for energy, agriculture, and forestry to reduce carbon emissions and increase carbon storage, while providing food security, public amenity, and wildlife habitats?
What do you see as the major barriers to changing rural land-use activities in this way?


What is your view on how we can adapt our building/housing stock to cope with a greater incidence of extreme weather events?
How should Government ensure that business/domestic energy efficiency measures are met?
What are the current obstacles in the current planning and building regulations to implementing the measures envisaged in the Climate Change Act?


How could your organisation’s transport emissions be cut by 30% by 2020, and what are the barriers to achieving this?


Professor David Sugden FRSE (Chair)
Emeritus Professor of geography, School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh

Professor Alan Werritty FRSE (Deputy Chair).
Emeritus Professor of Physical Geography, School of the Environment, and UNESCO Centre for Water Law, Policy and Science, University of Dundee

Mrs Erica Caldwell FRSGS.
Hon. President of the Scottish Association of Geography Teachers; Senior Examiner, SQA; Former Faculty Head, Carnoustie High School

Professor Colin Campbell.
Science Leader, Soils Group, The Macaulay Institute, Visiting Professor Department of Soil and Environment, Swedish Agricultural Sciences University (SLU).

Dr Andrew Dlugolecki.
Former Director of General Insurance Development at Aviva; Member of the UK Adaptation Sub-Committee on Climate Change

Professor Nick Hanley.
Professor of Environmental Economics, University of Stirling

Dr Andrew Kerr.
Director of the Edinburgh Centre on Climate Change

Professor Janette Webb.
Professor of Sociology of Organisations, Institute of Governance,School in Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh