When the Scottish Parliament made the decision to set tough targets on slashing carbon emissions, it came with an acknowledgment that it was going to take a lot of hard work to meet them.
The aim to cut CO2 by 42 per cent by 2020 – then going even further to reduce emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 – has set huge challenges right across the country.
In government the SNP has continued to bang the green drum as a means of both helping to save the planet and providing a source of new revenue. And while the aims have received plaudits from environmentalists – like ex-US Vice President Al Gore – there are also constant warnings that to hit the targets will need a great deal of behaviour change right across Scotland.
So, it was perhaps a surprise, then that one of the main driving forces behind making the country greener has come – and is still coming – not from the politicians, or even the environmental groups, but from within the business world itself.
In 2009, just months after the Climate Change (Scotland) Act was passed, the first meeting of a group of business, transport, public sector and NGO heads was held at the Falkirk Wheel to talk about how they felt the issue of dramatically cutting emissions should be handled.
The creation of the 2020 Climate Group coincided with the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen and at the time First Minister Alex Salmond proclaimed: “There should be no doubt that climate change is the greatest environmental threat we face, so we must act now, and act together, to tackle it” and said “not only does our climate change legislation have the most ambitious targets in the world, it includes a clear strategy to implement them.”
It was headed up by Ian Marchant, chief executive of Scottish and Southern Energy, (SSE) and he has sat on every one of the meetings of the group since that December in Falkirk and is attempting to guide it to become a major infl uence on various aspects such as transport, waste, fi nance and the built environment.
Marchant, whose SSE is investing heavily in green energy and technology of the future – including a current bid to set up a carbon capture and storage scheme at Peterhead power station with Shell. He is a former chairman of the United Kingdom Business Council for Sustainable Energy and is a member of Ofgem’s Environmental Advisory Group, the Coal Forum and of the Energy Research Partnership.
The initial 24-strong group announced by Alex Salmond, featured representatives from many spheres, who all had diff erent reasons for taking an interest in cutting climate change.
From the utility and energy companies were Richard Ackroyd, chief executive of Scottish Water, Nick Horler, chief executive of Scottish Power – whose place has now been taken by the company’s energy and environment director Gordon McGregor and Gordon Grant, general manager of INEOS Grangemouth refinery.
The public sector, which will ultimately end up having to directly introduce many of the actions aimed at cutting climate change, was represented by Fife Council and the Scottish Government – although no politicians. Since the first meetings, other high-ranking officials have joined such as Sue Bruce, chief executive of Edinburgh City Council – who will be speaking at a Holyrood conference on Delivering on 2020 on 26 June at Our Dynamic Earth.
Transport, which has an important role to play in the battle to cut emissions, also had its representatives on the panel, with both Stagecoach and FirstGroup represented.
Bankers too, were at the table – Lady Susan Rice, managing director of Lloyds Banking Group Scotland; and business, with chief executives Lesley Ballantyne of John Lewis and Brendan Dick of BT Scotland.
The impact that climate change has on people, both as employees and as citizens, was not forgotten with the appointment of people like Grahame Smith, general secretary of the trade union organisation, the STUC, and Mike Robinson of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland.
Move forward to 2012 and this month, Environment Minister Stewart Stevenson has been at another major conference where climate change is central stage – this time at the Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brazil – and the Scottish Government continues to give significant time to its policies on green issues.
The Government is working towards a target of producing the equivalent of 100 per cent of electricity from renewable sources and the huge development in renewable companies in Scotland. Alex Salmond even told an audience in the US that the green energy industry could have the same transforming effect as Silicon Valley has in the US.
Back home, members of the 2020 group told Holyrood that good progress has been made as it nears its third anniversary, but they say there is still more work to do – and a lot of perseverance will be needed to reach the ultimate goals.
Brendan Dick, director of BT Scotland, said: “The challenges posed by climate change can seem very daunting and so a collective approach helps to keep minds concentrated. The group is good at thinking about the big issues, where change could make a dramatic difference. It has the ability to put forward radical ideas to stimulate debate on some of the toughest environmental issues facing Scotland. Some of the answers are going to be hard and unpopular, but they must be considered openly.”
In 2012 there has been a step change in the 2020 group’s activities, with a more specific set of goals – ‘12 for 2012’ – and its leaders said that future activities will become even more sharply focused over the next eight years.
Looking back to 2009, Marchant said: “A number of people, myself included, pushed, persuaded and cajoled the Government to take the 42 per cent target.
“On the floor of the Scottish Parliament, Stewart Stevenson, in accepting that, said: “I hope those who pushed for this will help”.The 2020 group’s genesis was that challenge from the floor of the house and the conversations about putting together the people who matter in a room.
“It is deliberately inclusive, you don’t have to sign up to a pledge or a membership code, there is no joining fee. We made it easy for people to join and they stay out of choice. There is no compulsion – they stay because they find it useful.
“People generally are in the room for one or two reasons. Either their organisation gets it, or – more likely – they get it and they want to share what is happening, hear what is happening in other organisations around Scotland and work out how they can collaborate for future benefit.”
Possibly one of the biggest initial achievements of the 2020 group was simply getting all the disparate groups together around the same table and John Sturrock, of Core Solutions Group, an Edinburgh-based mediation firm, who has been at every meeting since December 2009, tells Holyrood: “The journey since December 2009 and where we are today really has been a remarkable one of increasing confidence in this concept of collaboration and cooperation, which was the underlying assumption in which Ian and others were building at the start. Seeing how this has developed has been intriguing.”
But there has now been a shift in focus to make sure the group does not become merely a ‘talking shop’.
The first action was to split into several subgroups which allow the expert panels to focus on particular crunch points where it’s believed climate changes can be cut significantly.
One group looks at the built environment and making homes, and another making buildings energy efficient by 2020. Another is concentrating on waste and is working closely with organisations like Zero Waste Scotland to focus on how to reduce the amount of rubbish being sent to landfill.
A finance group, chaired by Lady Susan Rice of Lloyds Banking Group, has been looking at the barriers faced by institutions that could be investing in the low carbon economy. It also acted as the board for the Scottish Low Carbon Investment Conference.
Other sub-groups are dedicated to transport – which includes targeting driver behaviour and the introduction of new lower emission technology; forestry – which is especially looking at the issue of Scottish peatlands; both public and business engagement, and opportunities and challenges.
Andy Kerr, director of the Edinburgh Centre for Climate Innovation (ECCI), an innovation and skills centre which also supplied interns to the climate group for one of its projects, was brought into the fold last year, as well as others such as Louise Macdonald, head of Young Scot.
Kerr said: “I was asked to present to them just over a year ago and one of the things that they asked me was ‘are we having impact?’
“My view was they needed to be much more specific. There was a danger of it becoming a talking shop where senior people came along had a nice chat and nothing actually happened; they needed to be in people’s faces more, they needed to actually be out there around some contentious issues.
“This view, I think, was shared by a lot of people in the main group who I talked to, so it wasn’t just me saying it, there was a strong sense among the group, not least by Ian Marchant and Susan Rice, that they needed to be much more specific.”
Marchant agrees and said there was some ‘soul searching’ as they approached the second anniversary: “You need to go through the talking-shop phase, because what you’re doing is building up trust and respect around the room,” he says.
“Because you’re trying to say to people you need to collaborate in ways you haven’t done before, to do things you haven’t done before.
“The feeling was that after about 18 months to 20 months we were starting to get ready to put a harder, sharper focus on this.”
In response, the group drew up the ‘12 for 2012’ target, which aimed to look in more detail across all the different focus areas on what they wanted to achieve next. It ranged from very specific actions to more lofty aims.
The actions are separated into three separate areas: Leading by Example, Breaking Down Barriers and a third aimed at targeting specific areas of where concerted action would make a difference.
The 12 targets have included helping community-led action groups to become more involved in the low carbon economy, boosting collaboration between the public and private sector and commissioning reports from ECCI on ‘difficult’ climate change issues, including the effect of speed limits on emissions.
One of the main aims is to make its own 2020 website a key public platform on the most up-to-date practices.
Marchant said he was confident most of the measures would be achieved: “There are one or two that are very specific and measurable,” he said, but added: “There are one or two that are vague. I would think we’re probably on track to get about 70 or 80 per cent at this stage.”
And even on those measures that he now feels, with hindsight, were vague targets, he still said there would be good progress throughout the year, even if the exact goal was not achieved.
One particular action that was too vague was a promise to “work with all partners to ensure CO2 emissions from new buildings reach zero” – perhaps too much to ask to happen in just one year.
But areas where he feels they are making the most progress is on a report due out on transport for businesses and parts which refer to behavioural change.
That is not to say there have not been areas of progress made already. A major survey has already been carried out of group members to look at sustainable workplace transport, taking in about 90 different organisations and looking at sharing best practice. And the opportunities and challenges group has looked at industries of the future, such as petrochemicals, and how they could potentially be affected by a lower carbon world.
Many big multinationals are now seeing the business benefits of proving their green credentials, but what has been achieved in Scotland seems to have gone beyond that.
Andy Kerr said there was often surprise from other countries that in Scotland all the major players are sitting round the same table.
He said: “Too often in many of these other countries you’ve got companies completely at loggerheads with the NGO sector. It’s a really unusual situation to find ourselves in; it’s to the credit of Scottish Government, businesses and NGOs that we’ve got that.
“In Australia and parts of the US and Canada and so on, the public dialogue has been very aggressive, between NGOs demanding huge changes and big businesses trying to maintain a market share and there’s been a very negative framing of the problem, which we haven’t really had within Scotland.”
So just how has this been achieved?
For Marchant it is “partly a size issue”. “Scotland is a large enough place to have organisations that matter,” he says. “But a small enough place that those people tend to know each other, speak to each other and have done business together before.
“If I look at England, it clearly ticks the first box but not the second, it is just too large, you can’t get the people in the room. If you look at Wales, their problem has been that they don’t have enough companies headquartered there, and enough organisations because some of them are not devolved. They all know each other but they haven’t got the organisations that can pull it together and lead it.
“Scotland is in the perfect-sized place where you can get the people that matter in the room. Down in England, organisations have to restrict membership to one bank, one utility. Whereas we can say ‘Feel free’.”
Sturrock, who has had a key role in bringing everybody in the group together and chairs the meetings, added: “At this time in Scotland I think we’re fortunate that there are leaders who get it. The Scottish Government clearly led the way with the climate change legislation and on the 2020 group, there are a number who understand what it takes to develop this theme to achieve the targets that have been set and understand the importance of working collaboratively.”
But for Sturrock there is another important aspect. “There’s something about the Scottish psyche, which is this sense of civic humility, a bit of perspective.”
And for once, although there are disagreements on aspects from the politicians, Marchant said climate change was an area which had seen a great deal of broad agreement.
“The political backdrop is effectively collaborative,” he said. “The Bill was passed unanimously and in my discussions with the various political parties in Scotland, the debate is about exactly what do we do and at what pace do we do it, not the dialogue of the megaphone diplomacy you get in some policy areas. I think the mood music is set right in that area as well.”
As if to highlight the impending targets that need to be met, the delivery group’s website has a clock counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds to 2020 and it is a challenge that is everpresent.
No sooner were the ‘12 for 2012’ targets dreamed up than the group was already planning on having ‘13 for 2013’ which, according to Marchant, promises to be “crisper and harder-edged” than the previous set.
With the figure of 42 per cent firmly imprinted on everybody’s minds, Scotland currently sits at 27.6 per cent, which at least appears that the country is well on its way.
But Sturrock said there was a lot of work to be done. “Perseverance is going to be the key here and the avoidance of complacency.
“In a paradoxical way, it may appear when one looks at the figures now, that Scotland has already made significant inroads in the target of a 42 per cent reduction. But, in reality, actually achieving that is going to be extraordinarily hard and to achieve what has to be done thereafter, even harder.”
Ultimately the group are keen to remain positive on the task ahead, but he said: “While this may read like a good news story, the reality is we could be easily misled by figures that appear to show that we’re ahead of the game or on target.
“In fact to achieve the incremental changes that are needed to achieve the goal is going to take an enormous amount of hard work and some significant changes in behaviour, right across all sectors in the next eight years.”
Marchant also is adamant that no matter how big the achievements so far nationally in terms of hitting carbon emission reductions, there is still a long way to go.
“One of the major challenges is going to be the durability. We’ve got to do 2 to 3 per cent every year.”
And as greater changes are made to reach targets, the group are steeling themselves for difficult choices.
This is an important issue to consider, says Grahame Smith, who although not as active as other members, sits on the opportunities and challenges group. He said: “In general terms, you can see a scenario developing where industries that are high-polluters, either are required to change their behaviour, or if they are unable to change their behaviour, find they are no longer able to function.
“We want to try and make sure that those who are not able to make adjustments that they need to make, are appropriately supported. Certainly from our point of view, we want to ensure that those workers and communities that may well be affected will be appropriately supported.
“If you take as a parallel what happened to Scotland’s industrial landscape in the late 70s and 80s, where the steel industry shut down, where large parts of manufacturing was shut down and very little was done to help support some of these economies, We’re still seeing the impact of that today.”
Although not naming specifics, Marchant adds there are some “big behaviour issues” that will have to be faced.
He added: “It is about land use, about waste, it’s about resource usage, it’s about transport choices, at some point there are what are currently seen as difficult issues that will have to be faced.
“Now, I happen to believe that when you put on a ‘wellbeing lens’ and you say that actually, you are looking at wellbeing in Scotland, not just GDP, some of these ‘difficult choices’ become a lot less difficult. But, there are fairly crunch issues and at some point they will have to be addressed.”
He stresses that Scotland is not alone in this. “There are difficult choices, not just for Scotland but for every developed economy. The path we have been on over the last 50 years is unsustainable. As you move to a sustainable path there will be disruptions, there will be changes.”
The ultimate proof of this group’s success will not to be known for another eight years after that first target of 42 per cent is either achieved, or missed.
Speaking to Holyrood earlier this month, Stewart Stevenson said that with the country now two-thirds of the way, the rest was certainly achievable.
Kerr said: “They are achievable, but they are very ambitious, they are hugely challenging. We may not achieve them but I think we would be better off trying to achieve them and falling short than setting targets that were much easier to achieve.
“We’re actually in a strong position to deliver really quite radical changes for the better within our society and elsewhere.”