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In context: the green recovery inquiry

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In context: the green recovery inquiry

The Scottish Government has said it wants to ensure a ‘green recovery’ from the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, the Scottish Parliament’s environment, climate change and land reform committee launched an inquiry into what that could look like. 

Here’s what it’s all about. 

What does ‘green recovery’ mean?

The term is fairly new, but the idea behind it isn’t so much.

It’s basically to do with what the government’s priorities should be when dealing with climate change in light of the economic damage caused by lockdown. 

Governments across the world are having to make decisions over which sectors of the economy will receive the financial support needed to survive and grow into a post-pandemic future. The UK is facing a deep recession and chancellor Rishi Sunak has warned that he cannot save every business. 

Advocates of a green recovery say that if the government is going to make large and expensive interventions in the economy, then the priority should go to industries and projects that will last into the future and could help Scotland meet its target to be net-zero on carbon emissions by 2045. 

A lot of work was already underway before COVID-19 to look at how the government could help sectors like oil and gas transition away from fossil fuels without creating damaging levels of job losses. 

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has also spoken about her aspirations to transform the economy into one that better values citizens’ “wellbeing”.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and others say the disruption caused by the pandemic should be an opportunity to realise these goals. 

Asked to define what the Scottish Government means by ‘green recovery’, environment minister Roseanna Cunningham said it should deliver “economic, social and environmental wellbeing and respond to the twin challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss”. 

What does the committee want to do?

The committee wants to “establish the principles that should underpin a green recovery” so that MSPs can be better informed when scrutinising the Scottish Government’s green recovery plans.

Over the next few months it will hear from a range of experts from across the scientific, political and business sectors in order to get a sense of what the evidence and opinion is on the topic. 

The inquiry began with informal discussions with the CCC as well as by writing to Cunningham.

Sustainable development principles laid out by the CCC as well as the definition offered by Cunningham make for the inquiry’s starting point.

The committee then put a call out for written evidence. By August it had received over 100 submissions from academics, activists, public agencies, industry bodies, councils, business leaders and members of the public. 

Responses were generally favourable, but many said the framework needed to go a lot further, with a number of respondents arguing that a green recovery programme needs tailoring to their particular cultural, geographic, financial or other needs. 

It’s held two oral evidence sessions to date, the first of which was with Benny Higgins, the chair of the Scottish Government’s Economic Recovery Group (ERG) and the second with Chris Stark, the chair of the Committee on Climate Change. 

In October the committee will hold oral evidence sessions with various ministers and then plans to publish a report before the 2021/22 draft budget and the updated climate change plan. 

What’s come out so far?

Benny Higgins, chair of the ERG, told the committee that Scotland “doesn’t have the levers” to invest the amount of money he believes is necessary to kick start a green recovery. He told the committee on 8 September that the government’s investment “ideally would be a lot bigger” if the Scottish Government had increased financial powers. He was joined by Professor Dieter Helm, who also sits on the ERG and Professor Dave Reay of the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation. 

Chris Stark, chair of the CCC, told the committee the following week that ministers should tie “environmental string to any support” that they offer in loan or grant finance to help companies with the recovery from coronavirus.

What has the Scottish Government committed to so far?

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the 2020/21 programme for government would have a “laser focus on creating new, good, green jobs”. 

Sturgeon also committed to implementing the ERG’s recommendations in full, which include proposals for a “greener future,” by promoting renewable energy, woodland creation, and using public procurement to build low carbon supply chains. 

The government also announced a £100m Green Jobs Fund which will be used to encourage public-private joint investment in new green jobs. 

It’s also pledged £60m to support decarbonisation of industrial and manufacturing sectors. 

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