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COP26 Blog from SSN Chair, John Wincott

29 October 2021

Blog from SSN Chair, John Wincott

As we rapidly approach CoP26, with all of the hopes and aspirations that brings, I want to just reflect for a moment on the role that SSN has played since 2002 when we were first formed. As far as I know, SSN is still unique in the world in the way in which we bring together all of the different public bodies in an environment of cooperation, sharing best practice and support. With over 600 members across Scotland, we are strongly placed to help to drive forward the Scottish climate change agenda. With the recent re-assessment of the national target for Scotland of Net Zero emissions by 2045, the challenge has become more urgent, and harder to achieve, than ever and so the collaboration between different public sector bodies, and the wider community, are vital if we are to achieve this target.

We must view climate change as a whole system challenge

Since public bodies began reporting our emissions in 2015/16 our total greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced by 28% by 2019/20. While this figure is impressive, it still leaves much to do, not least because some of this reduction has been as a result of the reduction in the carbon intensity of the electricity grid. Hence the focus by SSN now on the step change in action necessary for the public sector to continue to lead the way in climate change action. However, it is important to view climate change as a whole system challenge not just carbon so that we don't cause unintended negative consequences by our actions on carbon. For example, nature is also under threat from climate change and it is vital that we do not exacerbate the problems faced by nature by acting on carbon in isolation. Similarly, the impacts of extreme weather are becoming more obvious in Scotland with flash flooding, overheating of buildings, and unusually prolonged weather patterns, all of which challenge climate change action, and the natural environment in Scotland. All of these challenges can, and should, be looked at holistically, so that nature based action can result in carbon sequestration, nature regeneration, and adaptation to extreme weather. By working together, looking at the solutions on an area based collaborative approach, all of these benefits can be realised.

Targets alone are not enough

One thing that CoP has shown us is the difference between setting targets and delivering the results necessary to achieve those targets. The celebrations around the Paris Agreement from CoP21 have not yet led to the results in practice needed to deliver the reduction in emissions necessary to keep 'the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels'. In fact, currently predictions show that the progress to date is likely to result in global warming close to 3°C above pre-industrial levels. Scotland has also set very ambitious targets of net zero by 2045, 90% reduction by 2040, and 75% reduction by 2030 all of which requires action on an unprecedented scale if we are to succeed. Of course, Scotland only makes a small contribution to global greenhouse gas levels, but the actions we take can be an example for the world. If we cannot achieve these goals given all of the natural advantages that we have in Scotland, then other nations will struggle even more. And this is why success in Scotland is so important, and why the role of SSN in providing leadership, and a safe space for sharing and learning, is vital.

Sharing best practice and support

Other nations might also benefit from an 'SSN' of their own to bring together different public bodies, agencies, and interested parties to provide leadership in their actions. SSN stands ready to assist any nation that wants to explore our way of working and the approach that we use to drive forward best practice and leadership, and this is one message that we will be taking to CoP26 - if we can help, we will. Climate change is a global challenge and we all need to start thinking about it in that way - sharing experience, expertise, knowledge and technology in a spirit of collaboration.

“We must being everyone with us on the transition to a low carbon economy”

The final point I would like to make is on social justice - we have to bring everyone with us on the transition to a low carbon economy. There are sectors of the community, both nationally in Scotland, and internationally, that are readily able to adapt to the necessary changes. But there are those for whom this will be a severe challenge and it is vital that the actions we take must be inclusive and provide a just transition for the whole of Scotland, and indeed, the whole world. This is perhaps the greatest challenge and one of which SSN is acutely aware.

The world is watching Glasgow this year, looking for commitments to action that will give us all hope for the future. Scotland has shown leadership in ambition and set challenging targets to match that ambition. The action now required is to deliver against those targets, and SSN is acutely aware of the challenges inherent in these actions and we aim to continue to help to drive forward the public sector response to these challenges.

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