Leadership in the public sector

Scotland’s public sector is on the frontline of our response to the global climate emergency, and is already playing a strong leadership role in our national endeavour to deliver a just transition to net zero emissions by 2045.

Since 2011, Scotland’s public bodies have been legally required to reduce emissions. Our public sector can be proud of the role it has played in helping to halve national greenhouse gas emissions. Many bodies are already going well beyond their legislative duties to influence change and drive action across society. Public bodies are also central to Scotland’s preparedness for the challenges that we will face as our climate continues to change.

Following consultation in 2019, we have already delivered our Programme for Government commitment to strengthen our legislative framework through new regulations which will support public bodies’ leadership role. Public bodies must now report:

  • their target date for achieving zero direct emissions from their own operations
  • targets for reducing indirect emissions, for example from their supply chain
  • how their spending aligns with emissions reduction
  • their contribution to Scotland’s Adaptation Programme

We have pledged at least £95 million to decarbonise the public sector estate and will implement a Net Zero Carbon Standard for new public buildings.

We are working to decarbonise the public sector car fleet by 2025 In 2021 Transport Scotland’s Switched on Fleets invested over £16 million in public sector fleet decarbonisation and supported the procurement of over 700 vehicles.

We are mobilising £12.6 billion of annual public sector procurement. Our cross-sector Climate and Procurement Forum is developing tools, guidance and a practical approach to support the green recovery and our wider climate and circular economy ambitions. This includes the Sustainable Procurement Tools platform, which enables individual public bodies to identify and act on economic, social and environmental risk and opportunities in their procurement activity. Additionally, our recently published Organisational Procurement Strategy includes a specific section on climate and circular economy.

To drive forward climate literate leadership across Scotland, last year we supported the delivery of 100 places on the Climate Solutions course by Royal Scottish Geographical Society to leaders across the public and private sectors.

Local authorities

All 32 of Scotland’s local authorities signed Scotland’s Climate Change Declaration in 2007. COSLA recognises the climate and biodiversity crisis.

Local authority area-based emissions fell 35% between 2005 and 2018. Glasgow’s city-wide emissions fell by 37%, well exceeding their target of 30% by 2020.

Our Green Growth Accelerator was first announced in 2019 Programme for Government with a commitment to extending the current Growth Accelerator model, to unlock additional investment for emissions-reducing infrastructure that supports our transition. The £200 million investment will speed up delivery of low carbon infrastructure projects across Scotland, and provide extra resources and technical support to local authorities to get projects off the ground more quickly.


The NHS in Scotland has cut buildings’ emissions by over 60% since 1990 and committed to net zero by 2045.


In May 2021, Scotland’s colleges came together to support a new, ground-breaking statement of commitment on the Global Climate Emergency, aiming to achieve net zero by 2040, or earlier.

Environment bodies

The Environment and Economy Leaders Group are showing strong leadership, with some of those organisations demonstrating emission cuts of 50-60% over the last few years. The 12 CEOs committed in March 2021 to a decade of deep decarbonisation and by 2030 to make a major shift to become predominantly net zero organisations.

Scottish Water and Zero Waste Scotland launched new net zero transition plans in 2020, with Scottish Water targeting net zero by 2040.

Scottish Government

At the end of March 2020 our core estate had reduced its carbon emissions by 45% compared to the baseline year of 2009-10, ahead of a targeted 30% reduction by 2020. We were the first of the Devolved Administrations or UK Government Departments to achieve the Carbon Trust’s Triple Standard, independently-verified as an environmentally responsible organisation for our year-on-year reductions in carbon, waste and water. Building on this we are developing a Climate Change Strategy for the our core estate, due to be published mid-2021.

We report annually on our progress in addressing the climate emergency, within our Public Bodies Climate Change Duties Report and s.76 Scottish Civil Estate Report

Sustainable Scotland Network

We are working closely with the Sustainable Scotland Network (SSN) to develop guidance for the public sector and supporting the Network’s Secretariat on planning for the public sector at COP26 and producing analysis reports on annual climate change reports of over 180 public bodies.

SSN’s analysis report this year found that reported emissions from public bodies’ operations and electricity use are down 28.5% since mandatory reporting began in 2015-16. The analysis also highlighted that, overall, around 50% of reported public sector emissions are now covered by a net zero target that aligns with, or is more ambitious than, the national 2045 target.

Contact: climatechangepbreporting@gov.scot

Page last updated: September 2021

Back to top