Climate change - Net Zero Nation - draft public engagement strategy: consultation analysis

Analysis of the responses to the public consultation on the climate change - Net Zero Nation: draft public engagement strategy, which sets out our framework for engaging the people of Scotland in the transition to a net zero nation which is prepared for the effects of our changing climate.

2. The Green Recovery

This chapter presents the analysis of responses to question four on the Green Recovery.

Key Findings:

  • Respondents identified numerous opportunities and challenges for engagement in the Green Recovery. Sustaining and embedding the behaviour change resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic was prevalent and seen as an opportunity and a challenge.
    • Some noted that this is an ideal time to engage people because of the focus on issues such as public health, food supply and consumer behaviour. A challenge is to avoid a return to ‘normal’ behaviours post-pandemic.
  • Highlighting the positive benefits of a Green Recovery was the second most prevalent opportunity. These included cleaner air, better health and wellbeing, stronger communities, tackling fuel and food poverty, and training and green job opportunities.
  • Ensuring communication is sufficient in scope and uses clear messaging was seen as a challenge. This included raising awareness of terms, avoiding scientific jargon and using clear, consistent messaging around what individuals need to do.
  • Making engagement relevant was also identified as a challenge. Messaging needs to be tailored for different audiences to make it relevant. Others felt tackling climate change should be presented as something everyone needs to contribute to, to overcome lack of interest or scepticism.

Q4. What are your views on the opportunities and challenges for public engagement in the Green Recovery?

Over four-fifths (149/178) of respondents provided an answer to question four. Some discussed opportunities, challenges or both, while others raised specific points without linking these specifically to opportunities or challenges.

While the question focussed on public engagement, some respondents discussed opportunities and challenges of the Green Recovery generally, without necessarily linking these to public engagement.

Opportunities for public engagement

Embedding COVID-19 driven behaviour change

The prevalent theme was sustaining and embedding the behaviour change that has resulted from the pandemic. This was seen as both an opportunity and a challenge.

Respondents described a range of opportunities. Some noted that this is an ideal time to try and engage people because of the greater focus on issues such as public health, food supply and consumer behaviour. More specifically, opportunities include: empowering people to continue with changes they have made (e.g. home working, active travel); understanding people may be more receptive to change having undertaken radical shifts in their behaviours (e.g. reduced foreign travel); capitalising on greater awareness of, for example, local green space and community facilities and organisations; and building on a renewed understanding of the wider societal and global impact of individual actions.

A common challenge raised in relation to public engagement in the Green Recovery was to avoid a return to 'normal' behaviours post-pandemic, given the potential desire for the public to travel and consume in ways that have not been possible since March 2020. A few respondents also highlighted negative changes in behaviour which will be challenging to rectify, e.g. reassuring people to return to public transport.

"The Scottish Government must ensure that the positive impacts of the pandemic with regards to behavioural change are retained and maximised in the long-term. The strategy highlights some of the positive short-term changes to have taken place, such as the rise in active travel and a reduction in food waste across the UK, and we welcome the strategy's aspirations in this respect. However, looking forward it is also crucial that the potentially negative impacts of the pandemic with regards to carbon-emitting behaviours - such as the possibility of a decline in use of public transport leading to a long-term increase in car usage in towns and cities - are mitigated against as far as possible." - Scottish Episcopal Church - Church in Society Committee

Benefits of a Green Recovery

Highlighting the positive benefits of a Green Recovery was the second most prevalent theme in the discussion of opportunities. The overarching focus of these responses was showing the public how lifestyles would improve by taking individual and collective action. Improvements included cleaner air, better health and wellbeing, stronger communities, tackling fuel and food poverty, and training and green job opportunities. Most felt illustrating these positive consequences would be an effective way to engage the public.

Some respondents highlighted challenges faced by specific groups, notably those who are typically less engaged or harder to reach, those most likely to be impacted by changes, and more marginalised or vulnerable groups. Respondents described these audiences as likely to be concerned about the cost of taking action or threats to their livelihoods. Therefore, communication must be mindful of the day-to-day struggles these groups face and highlight the positive impact of taking action.

Role of communities

Communities playing a role in public engagement was the third most common opportunity identified. Several noted that the response of community groups and organisations to the challenges of the pandemic illustrated their value and empowered them with a stronger voice. For example, Nourish Scotland provided examples of creative and innovative ways groups strengthened communities in response to food insecurity.

"In coming together to respond to food insecurity, community groups developed innovative and creative ways to build and strengthen communities... Many of these groups did so with an environmental focus, running climate change workshops as part of their activities and using their community gardens to grow local and seasonal food. This provides opportunities to engage with already active communities and to work with them to engage others in the recovery. Even though guaranteeing access to healthy and sustainable food is the government's responsibility there is a lot to learn from these groups and opportunities to support them in their activities that tie directly to a Green & Just Recovery." – Nourish Scotland

Most agreed that communities are well placed to know the requirements and limitations of their local areas and called for them to have input into decision making. A few noted additional steps to enhance this capacity, for example, training community 'change agents' and creating new community spaces. A small number specifically suggested that engagement should be place-based, responding to local needs and delivered in a meaningful way; a detailed response from RTPI Scotland considered the role of Local Place Plans and the concept of 20-minute neighbourhoods.

Green jobs

Several respondents noted the opportunity for a Green Recovery to generate green jobs. They suggested promoting these in communication to reassure those whose current jobs may be at risk. The need for skills in renewable energy, energy efficiency and health care was noted, as was the role of further and higher education in training and upskilling to meet that demand.

A small number of responses from energy companies emphasised the progress they have made in creating green jobs. A few responses provided more detail on what this would mean for public engagement, noting the need to communicate what green jobs are, what sectors they are in and what skills and qualifications are needed. Dumfries and Galloway College noted the challenge around knowing what the demand for certain skills will be.

Scale and clarity of communication

The nature and scope of communication around the Green Recovery was seen as an opportunity and a challenge. Some saw the chance to amplify messaging and raise awareness of the climate emergency and Green Recovery generally, or of specific initiatives, for example, energy efficiency improvements.

Ensuring communication is sufficient in scope and clear in its messaging was a commonly mentioned challenge. Respondents presented a range of issues. Some noted the need to continue to raise awareness, particularly of terms such as Green Recovery, Net Zero, Just Transition and Wellbeing Economy. A small number advised against using scientific and economic jargon. Another common issue was the need to ensure clear, consistent messaging around what individuals need to do and how this makes a difference. A few noted the need to communicate the consequences of not taking action against climate change. One respondent welcomed the work of the Climate Change Communications Working Group in developing a shared narrative about climate change; participants in the equality workshop asked from more detail about the composition and work of the Group.

Sustainable technology and infrastructure

Opportunities to develop and capitalise on sustainable technology and infrastructure as part of the Green Recovery were mentioned by some respondents. These included the decarbonisation of transport through electrification and hydrogen, heat decarbonisation, and Carbon Capture. A few advocated for greater promotion of Active Travel. Some responses linked these directly to the question noting, for example, the need for more significant promotion of the benefits of renewables and their importance to net zero.

Positive feedback

Some respondents provided positive feedback including support for the Scottish Government's commitment to a Green Recovery, agreement that the opportunities for public engagement had been well identified and support for the approach in the strategy.

Collaboration between bodies, organisations and businesses

Engagement with, and collaboration between, organisations was identified as both an opportunity and a challenge. Some noted that the Green Recovery presents an opportunity for all sectors to be involved and create a shared vision and agenda; a few mentioned the need for the Scottish Government to engage this range of stakeholders. Responses from public bodies, cultural organisations and higher education establishments all noted their desire to work with others and engage wider audiences.

Conversely, a small number noted the challenges around engaging businesses. This included greater clarity for agriculture about what actions they need to take, a long-term framework to help businesses make investment decisions, and noting that some smaller businesses are themselves recovering from the pandemic.

Less commonly mentioned opportunities

Greater education was also mentioned. Responses from the further education sector outlined the role that colleges could play through their curriculum. More broadly, a small number of respondents echoed SCCAN's response which detailed how different sectors could be upskilled through climate literacy training. A few others called for greater environmental education across society.

Mention of opportunities to engage young people were identified in some responses. These included covering encouraging a stronger voice and meaningful participation for young people, greater climate literacy and adaptability skills in schools, and green jobs.

Some highlighted the opportunity to communicate as if in an emergency, given the urgency of the climate crisis. Most commented that they would like to see a similar focus to that used in COVID-19 communications, with regular briefings etc. A few suggested the pandemic has made people realise that radical and rapid change is possible.

Other opportunities

Opportunities noted by small numbers of respondents included:

  • Being able to engage specific groups in the population, particularly those who are more vulnerable, to reduce inequalities.
  • Using legal frameworks – taxation, regulation and legislation – to drive change.
  • To use COP26 to engage the public and promote the message more widely.
  • Moving towards a fully circular economy. FOUR PAWS UK provided a very detailed response on what this might entail, e.g. recycling and reusing clothing and a reduction in food waste.
  • Capitalising on other areas of knowledge and expertise in Scotland, for example innovation, cultural heritage and historic environment.
  • Using the Green Recovery as an opportunity to introduce a Carbon Income policy.

Challenges to public engagement

Resistance to change

The most commonly mentioned challenge for public engagement was a resistance to change among the public. Several respondents raised this concern, identifying a number of issues. While the public has some awareness and understanding of the climate emergency, it is not translating into people taking action. Others noted the need to challenge the consumption and waste that arises from consumer society.

More specifically, multiple respondents reflected that because the pandemic has affected the public, communities and businesses in so many other ways – such as job losses, food insecurity and challenges around health – tackling climate change is not seen as an immediate priority. As such, a few noted the importance of getting the timing and messaging of public engagement right. Other barriers mentioned included resistance to reducing car use, issues of trust because of rogue traders operating under government-backed schemes, and the cost of making changes.

Enabling people to act

Another prevalent theme in discussion of challenges was ensuring that the necessary infrastructure, initiatives or support are in place to allow people to act. A variety of actions to address these were proposed. Many focussed on transport: reassessing the operation of railways; better public transport and active travel infrastructure; developing electric car charging networks; and changes to aviation.

Other proposals included: improved digital connectivity for rural and island communities; funding for home energy efficiency measures; an increase in urban green space; and providing space for community gardens. One respondent suggested that infrastructure created as part of the Green Recovery should be signposted as such to draw the public's attention to the action being taken.

Ensuring relevance

Ensuring communication is seen as relevant to everyone was also noted as a challenge. There were two strands within this discussion. First, while some respondents recognised that everyone needs to be included in engagement, they noted that people also need to understand what taking action, or not, would mean for them and their lifestyle. Such messaging would need to be tailored in relevant ways, e.g. giving examples of how much money could be saved by improving home energy efficiency.

The second strand is that the topic itself needs to be made relevant. Some respondents noted a lack of interest or scepticism around climate change or a perception that only those involved in nature or the outdoors are interested. These respondents suggested it needs to be presented as something everyone needs to contribute to, with certain issues – the cost of changes, people believing they are powerless – being tackled with specific engagement strategies.

Communicating scale and complexity

Communicating the scale and complexity of tackling climate change was another theme across comments. Some respondents reiterated the size of the task and the need to take action. Others highlighted the difficulties in increasing the public's understanding of a complex issue and the fact that very significant changes will be required in the future. A few described how lifestyle changes could be achieved, through advice, support schemes and funding on a range of options.

Other challenges

A few respondents noted other challenges, including:

  • A need for the Scottish Government to build trust with consistent messaging and actions. Respondents highlighted the conflict between pursuing a Just Transition while also expanding the road network and airports. They also noted that changes that ignore the public's needs are likely to lead to alienation, as will making promises which are not necessarily achievable, e.g. green jobs.
  • Funding a Green Recovery. Comments noted significant funding will be required, that less money might be available due to spending to combat the pandemic, and that decisions will need to be made on how best to allocate resources.
  • Moving from GDP driven economic growth to an economy focussed on wellbeing.
  • Overcoming vested interests of certain sectors and their influence on politicians and the decision-making process. A few also noted the role of the media in influencing public opinion and social media in spreading disinformation.
  • Ensuring public engagement is adequately resourced, including the community organisations who may play a role in this.

Other less frequently mentioned challenges included: translating national initiatives into local engagement; avoiding 'locking-in' Greenhouse Gas emissions; reducing bureaucracy; current difficulties in visiting local or international projects; and short-term gain being prioritised over long-term sustainable action.

Other themes across responses to question four

Two further themes were identified in a small number of varied responses:

  • Calls for Government action. These ranged from calls for the Scottish Government to do more; to include public engagement and the Green Recovery across all policy areas; to guide the public through a route map to recovery; to support rural communities; and to promote renewable technologies.
  • Outlining ways to encourage participation. Respondents noted: increasing the public's understanding of how their spending can make a difference; developing environmentally friendly innovations in healthcare; more digital engagement; publishing and consulting on impact assessments; and the need to engage the public and stakeholders to avoid public objection to critical national infrastructure.



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