Climate change - Net Zero Nation: public engagement strategy

Sets out our overarching 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.

Section 1: Our Framework and Approach

Our Framework for Engagement

Our Vision

Everyone in Scotland recognises the implications of the global climate emergency, fully understands and contributes to Scotland’s response, and embraces their role in the transition to a net zero and climate ready Scotland.

Strategic Objectives


Communicating Climate Change

People are aware of the action that all of Scotland is taking to tackle climate change and understand how it relates to their lives


Enabling Participation in Policy Design

People actively participate in shaping just, fair and inclusive policies that promote mitigation of and adaptation to climate change


Encouraging Action

Taking action on climate change is normalised and encouraged in households, communities and places across Scotland



  • Develop and implement our public communications approach to ensure people understand Scotland’s climate ambitions and the policies that will be required to reach them
  • Collaborate with key delivery organisations to ensure information reaches key audiences, including through initiatives such as Climate Week
  • Working with Adaptation Scotland and others to continue to provide consistent messaging that makes clear the impact of climate change locally, nationally and globally
  • Build on Scotland’s Climate Assembly to develop further deliberative approaches


  • Continue to facilitate meaningful climate engagement and conversations with people and audiences not currently engaged on the topic
  • Ensure those affected by our transition and climate impacts are engaged in the design and delivery of key policies
  • Develop our approach to ensuring key climate change policies exhibit the principles of Open Government through meaningful consultation and participation
  • Develop a new approach to ensuring a genuine role in policy processes for young people


  • Continue to champion and fund community-led climate action
  • Support trusted messengers to promote climate literacy
  • Embed climate change within formal education
  • Use marketing and communications activity to ensure that households understand the changes needed to help Scotland get to net zero
  • Utilise the potential of the arts, creativity and heritage to inspire and empower culture change
  • Work with partners to help people make connections to nature and biodiversity
  • Promote a place-based approach to behaviour change

Guiding Principles


  • Our approach will be inclusive and accessible to all
  • Our approach will put people first and place people at the heart of all that we do
  • We will listen to and engage with experts to ensure an evidence-based approach


  • Climate justice and a just transition will be embedded within our approach
  • We will continue to encourage a participative society with two-way dialogue on climate change


  • We will take a positive approach that outlines a vision for climate action that promotes the many benefits
  • We will be open and transparent to make sure people can see and understand our actions


About this strategy

Transforming Scotland into a net zero nation by 2045 presents an opportunity to re-imagine the nation we live in[1]. Whilst there is no denying the significant challenge and urgency we face in addressing the global climate emergency, it brings with it a chance to create a better, fairer, and more inclusive society for everyone: a society in which individuals and communities across Scotland are actively involved in making the decisions that affect them.

Widespread participation and engagement are essential if we are to successfully limit the effects of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, preparing for the impacts that are already locked in, and harnessing the opportunities to innovate during the net zero transition. By putting people at the heart of everything we do, we aim to enable and empower everyone in Scotland to be a part of shaping our transition in a just and fair way, building a shared vision for the societal transformation needed to become a net zero and climate resilient nation.

In this Public Engagement Strategy, we set out our overarching framework for engaging the people of Scotland in this challenge over the next five years. We outline the actions the Scottish Government is taking to raise awareness and understanding, enable participation in decision making, and encourage all sectors of society to act on climate change. This strategy will serve as a guiding framework for the design and implementation of public engagement on climate change across all parts of government, to ensure our engagement activities are coordinated, coherent and consistent.

We recognise that the government are not, should not, and cannot be, the only ones who engage with the public on these issues. In delivering the strategy we will continue to collaborate with trusted messengers across Scotland. The main audience for this strategy is therefore trusted messengers – individuals and organisations working to engage the public, from small local groups up to stakeholders delivering national campaigns. We also welcome and encourage engagement with the strategy from other audiences and we have provided a glossary of key terms (see Annex D) to help make this document more accessible to those with less knowledge and experience of climate change.

The specific focus of this strategy is on educating, engaging participation and encouraging action on climate change. We believe that building widespread public awareness, understanding, and motivation to act on climate change is essential for achieving our climate goals. However, we know that this alone is not enough. Public engagement must be supported by policies and programmes that facilitate the required reconfiguration of societies, institutions and infrastructure to create an enabling environment for net zero lifestyles. In our update to the 2018 Climate Change Plan (see box below), we set out the concrete actions the Scottish Government is taking to put us on a pathway to meet our emissions reduction targets. It also sets out the roles that private and public sectors will have to take on to enable us to achieve our climate ambitions.

Throughout the strategy we consider the roles of both climate change mitigation and adaptation. We are already seeing warming in Scotland, with more extreme weather events and rising sea levels and as a nation we must mitigate further changes and adapt to those already locked in. Given, at the time of publishing, we are at a critical juncture for mitigating climate change, the emphasis is therefore on actions towards achieving net zero. However, this strategy will continue to build public understanding of climate risks and our strategies for reducing vulnerability to them and building resilience to ensure the nation is climate ready.

A draft version of this Public Engagement Strategy was published for consultation in December 2020. Consultees were asked 19 questions relating to key aspects of the draft strategy’s approach, including its vision, principles and objectives, as well as sections relating to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), the green recovery from Coronavirus (COVID-19) and monitoring and evaluation. In total, from the consultation’s launch to its close at the end of March 2021, 178 responses were received – 138 from organisations and 40 from individuals. These responses were then analysed between April and June 2021 and the report was published[2]. The consultation exercise has allowed us to reflect the views of people and organisations integral to delivering the national endeavour required, including the public, private and non-government organisations as well as communities and individuals. The findings of the exercise have informed the development of this strategy. We are also publishing the strategy in alternative formats, such as large print, Easy Read, and British Sign Language, to enhance its accessibility.

Update to the 2018 Climate Change Plan

In 2020, we published an update to the 2018 Climate Change Plan to account for the new targets set out within the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 (as amended by the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019), which includes our commitment to reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. The Plan update also reflects that the 2019 Act enshrined our commitment to a just transition into law, ensuring everyone can access the opportunities of the transition and no one is left behind.

The Plan update sets out our strategic direction, containing the policies and proposals that will put us on a pathway to meet our emissions reduction targets. Collectively these policies will require societal changes, impacting how we travel, heat our homes and how we consume goods and services.

Open, transparent, and participatory approaches to policy development and government decision making with people, places and business are at the heart of our approach. The Public Engagement Strategy is a key part of the Scottish Government’s approach to delivering upon the ambition of the updated Climate Change Plan. A broad approach to public engagement will be required in order to include people and communities in the national effort required to reach our climate change goals.

The wider context

Since 2009, there has been a legislative requirement to publish a public engagement strategy for climate change. It has been eight years since our previous strategy, Low Carbon Scotland: A Behaviours Framework, was published. In that time much has changed, most recently due to the impact of COVID-19, which has altered all of our lives in many ways, and with the spotlight being firmly placed on Scotland ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference being hosted in Glasgow in November 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on our health, our way of life, and on the society and economy. It has starkly demonstrated how important it is to be prepared for system-wide stressors and shocks such as those which are likely to occur in future due to climate change. The consequences of this crisis will undoubtedly be felt for years to come, and it is therefore extremely important that we look ahead and ensure that we deliver an economic and social recovery that changes our country for the better.

The restrictions necessary to control the virus have been extremely challenging for most people. In some cases, however, we have also seen glimmers of what life could be like in a low carbon society – and the benefits that can come from this – as some people made a shift towards lower carbon behaviours. We have seen, for example, increased walking and cycling[3], more people enjoying time in nature[4], the adoption of more sustainable practices such as repairing clothes rather than buying new ones[5], and a reduction in food waste as households chose to cook more meals at home[6].

The Scottish Government has been clear in its commitment to delivering a green recovery from COVID-19 that prioritises economic, social, and environmental wellbeing, and responds to the twin crises of climate change and nature loss. Our vision for Scotland is to create a wellbeing economy[7] – that is, a society that is thriving across economic, social and environmental dimensions, and that delivers sustainable and inclusive growth for Scotland’s people and places. The 10 year National Strategy for Economic Transformation will utilise the expertise of business, trade unions and economists to deliver a focused plan of actions and projects to help transform our economy and help us reach net zero.

We are already taking action to ensure that our recovery delivers on these aims over the current parliamentary session, for example: our £2 billion Low Carbon Fund; our investment of £1.6 billion in heat and energy efficiency in our homes and buildings; establishing a £62 million Energy Transition Fund to support oil and gas diversification; delivering a £100 million Green Jobs Fund; providing £60 million for industrial decarbonisation; committing £500 million for transformational active travel infrastructure; and providing significant employment and training opportunities for young people through our Youth Guarantee, particularly in rural areas to help to ensure that our young people have the necessary skills and training to work in sectors which support our green recovery.

Realising the full potential of this investment in a green recovery depends upon widespread public support and buy-in. A just transition to a net zero nation and a wellbeing economy requires a societal transformation as much as technological transformation. This Public Engagement Strategy lays out the approach we are taking to engage people and communities in our green recovery, to ensure they not only deliver a greener Scotland but also a fairer and more equal society.

We are publishing this strategy as Scotland prepares for COP26. This international spotlight on Glasgow provides us with a unique opportunity to raise awareness and engage the people of Scotland in climate change. It is also our chance to demonstrate Scotland’s leadership in public engagement to international audiences. The approach we set out in this strategy has been honed through our experience of engaging with the public on climate change for over a decade. This experience has given us valuable insights which we can share with organisations and governments across the world and highlight the crucial role of public engagement in addressing the climate emergency.

Our Revised Approach to Engagement

Public engagement has always been a core component of our response to climate change, however, this new strategy signals a raising of our ambition to reflect our recognition of the vital role of public engagement in facilitating the societal transformation to a net zero nation.

Our emissions reductions targets are greater now than they’ve ever been. These ambitious targets demand ambitious action across society, including changes to how we heat our buildings, how we travel, and how we use our land. The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has estimated that over 60% of the measures needed to reach net zero emissions will require some degree of behavioural or societal change[8]. It is clearer than ever that we all have a part to play in this national endeavour, as members of households, communities, businesses, and local and national governments. This includes our roles as consumers, but also as employees and employers, influencers and investors, volunteers and voters[9]. Achieving our climate targets fundamentally depends upon the involvement and support of the people of Scotland in all aspects of their lives.

We have seen a significant increase in the level of concern about climate change since our previous public engagement strategy was published in 2013. The most recent results from the Scottish Household Survey show that 68% of adults in Scotland agree that climate change is an immediate and urgent problem, up from 46% in 2013[10].

For the first time, the majority of every age group view climate change as an immediate and urgent problem, as shown in Graph 1. The largest increase is amongst 16-24 year olds, increasing from 38% in 2013 to 69% in 2019.

However, this large increase in concern has not been matched by evidence of a comparative increase in people taking action to tackle climate change[11]. This suggests the need for a revised approach that better reflects the role of public engagement in facilitating the societal shift to net zero.

Graph 1: Percentage of adults perceiving climate change as an immediate and urgent problem by age over time (Scottish Household Survey, 2013-2019)
A line graph showing an increase in the percentage of adults in Scotland by age group who view climate change as an immediate and urgent problem between 2013 and 2019

Our 2013 public engagement strategy – Low Carbon Scotland: A Behaviours Framework – had a strong focus on behaviour change. The central message of the strategy was to encourage action from individuals and households in 10 Key Behaviour Areas (KBAs). It also introduced the ISM (Individual, Social, Material) tool[12]. This tool helps policy-makers and practitioners consider the wide spectrum of factors that shape people’s behaviours when designing and delivering policy to influence behaviour.

The individual, social, and material factors which influence behaviour
A diagram listing the factors that influence behaviour. In the centre is a green icon of a person with the word ‘individual’. This sits in a blue circle with the word ‘social’, which sits within a purple square with the word ‘material’.

With this new strategy, we are setting out a more holistic, systemic approach to public engagement with the aim of building a strong social mandate for the society-wide, long-term changes needed to transition Scotland to a net zero nation. This approach recognises that, whilst behaviour change at the individual and household level is a key element of the transition to net zero (see Annex A), we cannot rely on nudging people towards one or two key low carbon behaviours. Achieving net zero requires a more fundamental shift in the way we live our lives, including changes to underlying social and cultural norms, so that low carbon behaviour becomes part of the fabric of our society and people have the information and access they need to take advantage of new infrastructure and technology as it becomes available.

Our approach to public engagement therefore focuses on connecting people with what is happening in the transition to net zero. We aim to promote meaningful engagement with people’s values, identities, and concerns to facilitate a society-wide response to the climate emergency. This includes effectively communicating climate change to increase awareness and understanding of how Scotland, collectively, is addressing the climate emergency and the implications for individuals and communities. It also means providing processes and forums through which people can participate in policy development, to ensure there are opportunities to help shape the actions we take so the transition is fair and just for everyone. Finally, it also includes normalising net zero lifestyles within our places and communities, shifting aspirations and expectations towards a ‘new normal’.

We know that our lives are shaped not only by individual and social factors, but also by the material environment around us. Infrastructural, economic, and institutional factors can constrain and dictate the options available to people. Therefore, this Public Engagement Strategy is one part of a wider programme of action on climate change by the Scottish Government that addresses these structural factors. This includes the policies and programmes set out in the update to the 2018 Climate Change Plan, Scotland’s Second Climate Change Adaptation Programme, the draft Heat in Buildings Strategy and the National Transport Strategy, as well as the ongoing programme of work to deliver a just transition.

The strategy’s vision directly contributes towards Scotland’s National Performance Framework[13] which sets the overall purpose and vision for Scotland and tracks progress using a set of national outcomes. In particular, the strategy promotes the type of society where people value, enjoy, protect and enhance our environment, and where communities are inclusive, empowered, resilient, and safe.

The strategy has also been designed in line with the Participation Framework, which is a fundamental element of Scotland’s Open Government approach. It recognises the important role that people (individuals, communities, civil society organisations, professional stakeholders, and experts) have in bringing different types of knowledge and experiences to address the challenges faced by government[14]. This Public Engagement Strategy sets out how we will facilitate widespread participation in addressing the climate emergency.

Our New Approach
A graphic summarising our new approach to public engagement on climate change. In a ring around the outside is a banner with our seven guiding principles for public engagement, that it will be Participative, Just, Inclusive, Evidence-Based, People First, Positive, and Open & Transparent. In the centre, our three strategic objectives are showcased: Understand, Participate, and Act with arrows pointing toward our vision for Scotland - that everyone in Scotland recognises the implications of the climate emergency, fully understands and contributes to Scotland’s mitigation and adaptation response, and embraces their role in the transition to a net zero and climate ready Scotland. This graphic is intended to show how all of the parts of the strategy feed into our overarching vision and how they will help to achieve this.

Our Strategic Objectives

We have three strategic objectives:

Understand: People are aware of the action that all of Scotland is taking to tackle climate change and understand how it relates to their lives.

Participate: People actively participate in shaping just, fair and inclusive policies that promote mitigation of and adaptation to climate change.

Act: Taking action on climate change is normalised and encouraged in households, communities and places across Scotland.

These objectives guide our approach and apply to our engagement on a green recovery and wider engagement on climate change. This includes our just transition to a net zero society. These objectives are based on significant engagement with the public and experts in climate change engagement. In 2019, participants in the Big Climate Conversation called for a more just and systemic policy approach with participation, awareness raising, and education all highlighted as important elements of action on climate change[15].

Objective 1 – Understand

Our approach to tackling climate change and ensuring a green recovery has people and fairness at its heart. In order to achieve the national effort needed to transform our economy and society we need to bring people with us. We must communicate our approach and the changes that are coming in an engaging and relevant way which caters to every audience.

In Scotland we are proud of the world-leading approach we are taking to tackle climate change, but we understand the need to improve how we communicate it to individuals and communities. We recognise there are many local, regional and national organisations that are often the most effective communicators and trusted messengers. They are able to reach the different groups, communities or sectors within their sphere of influence, particularly those who are less engaged or have a certain distrust of government messaging. We will therefore work closely with these trusted messengers in order to reach all parts of Scottish society.

We are committed to ensuring that:

People are aware of the action that all of Scotland is taking to tackle climate change and understand how it relates to their lives.

Our updated Climate Change Plan sets the policies and proposals to meet future emissions reduction targets, as well as demonstrating how we will deliver a green recovery in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Plan update has implications for all corners of Scottish society.

Given its importance, it is crucial that we as a government communicate these policies positively and effectively, without using jargon or technical language, so that people and communities understand what it will mean for them. We will communicate using a range of communication channels, including both traditional (printed media, out-of-home, radio) and digital (website, social media) forms of communication to ensure that messaging is accessible for all, particularly those least engaged.

Objective 2 – Participate

Actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change will be transformational across all of society, affecting how we all live our lives on a daily basis. Given these policies will be so far-reaching, it is vital that constructive dialogue with people and communities is at the heart of developing climate policy, including in our green recovery from COVID-19.

We are committed to ensuring that:

People actively participate in shaping just, fair and inclusive policies that promote mitigation of and adaptation to climate change

The Scottish Government is committed to being an Open Government where citizens are co-designing the policies which affect their lives both now and in the future. This extends to our approach to climate policy.

We are building on our experience of developing public climate conversations. We established Scotland’s Climate Assembly. We will develop this approach further by delivering an innovative, comprehensive and consistent approach to participation in climate change policymaking.

Objective 3 – Act

Public concern about climate change and the environment has steadily risen over the past decade. In 2019, levels of concern rose to new levels following increased media coverage of the need for urgent international action in light of the IPCC’s special report on 1.5°C global warming[16]. These concerns were reinforced with the publication of the IPCC’s 2021 working group report which warned of the ‘imminent risk’ of hitting 1.5°C global warming[17].

The transformation required to reach net zero is fundamentally a social one. The CCC calculate that over 60% of changes required to reach net zero will be, at least in part, behavioural or societal. Whilst we have seen concern and public attitudes increasing over recent years, we have not seen the same changes in individual behaviours.

We are committed to ensuring that:

Taking action on climate change is normalised and encouraged in households, communities and places across Scotland

In order to make these changes, and mainstream low carbon lifestyles, we will need to create the necessary conditions for action to be taken. This will include ‘material’ changes including legislation and infrastructure, many of which are included within the update to the 2018 Climate Change Plan. Crucially, it will also require shifting of social norms and increased ‘climate literacy’ across the population. Increasing our levels of knowledge about climate change (‘climate literacy’) will ensure people know why they are being asked to change certain behaviours. Generating positive social norms will provide a facilitating environment for change.

Change often starts at a local level where the people and places we interact with are critical factors in how we live our lives. Community action can also be a major driver in bringing about positive change with wide-ranging co-benefits. Section 2 of this strategy provides some case study examples of how community action is helping to normalise climate action.

In order to achieve the emissions reduction aspects of this strategic objective, we will need to engage with all corners of society, using trusted messengers to reach different audiences in new and innovative ways. We also need to draw more attention to the need for climate change adaptation and resilience, building greater public understanding of climate risks facing Scotland in an increasingly changing world.

Within this document we set out the steps we will take at the national level to progress these objectives. In the next section we also outline our principles for public engagement to reflect the approach we wish to take, building on learning from leading research in climate change engagement.

Principles for our Public Engagement

The following principles will be embedded throughout the public engagement activity included within this strategy.


We are committed to creating an uplifting vision which people can relate to, understand, and be motivated to achieve. Our green recovery from COVID-19 and our transition to a net zero nation and wellbeing economy bring numerous opportunities with potential benefits to our health, wellbeing, and local communities. It is important that our public engagement includes a renewed focus on these opportunities and benefits. People can make a real difference and our engagement must highlight this[18].

The actions required to combat and adapt to climate change can create a better, and fairer, society for everyone. For example, using active travel (walking, wheeling or cycling) where possible can lead to positive health and wellbeing benefits. Reducing food waste by only buying what you need to eat, and eating greener or growing your own food where possible can save money while improving your diet.

Putting People First

Decarbonising our nation will cause significant disruption to people’s lives. As we transition to net zero, it is therefore crucial that we understand and respond to people’s concerns, have an inclusive decision making process, and put people in Scotland at the forefront of everything that we do. A net zero nation is not possible without the support and contribution of our people. Communities are not bystanders in the transition but key players in making it a success.


Conversations around climate change are essential to encourage positive social norms and dispel negative misconceptions[19]. We are reassured by discussing these issues with those around us, listening to others, knowing that climate change is a shared concern and that our combined actions are making a difference[20]. This type of two-way engagement is required for all of society, including those that will be most affected by the transition to net zero.


Climate justice and a commitment to a just transition to net zero are integral to the Scottish Government’s approach to both mitigating and adapting to climate change. It is important to understand which communities and sectors are most likely to be affected by the transition to net zero and actively engage with them[21]. We are undertaking research to further understand the perception and the impact of climate change on different population groups in Scotland.

This will inform how we shape our engagement. Working with affected communities to design and deliver our transition to net zero will ensure we tackle climate change in a way that is fair, and that reflects their circumstances and experiences.

Just transition

A just transition is both the outcome – a fairer, greener future for all – and the process that must be undertaken in partnership with those impacted by the transition to net zero. Just transition is how we get to a net zero and climate resilient economy by 2045, in a way that delivers fairness and tackles inequality and injustice.


Scotland is a nation of incredible diversity. It is important that this diversity is reflected in our transition to a net zero society and that we reach all sections of Scottish society, giving everyone an equal say in their future. Our engagement approach will therefore be inclusive and accessible to all. This includes communication that is accessible to people with different levels of ‘climate literacy’. We also commit to publishing key communications in accessible formats, wherever possible, to ensure inclusivity across Scotland’s population.


An evidence-based approach is important for delivering real and lasting social transformation. We will draw on a wide range of research and expertise to support development and delivery of policy. Sources of evidence will include published and commissioned research, as well as direct collaboration with academics, experts, and national and international institutes. We will communicate the findings of research we commission so that all members of the public can engage with the latest developments. By working in collaboration with experts, duplication can be avoided, gaps in research identified, and the evidence base expanded.

Open & Transparent

The Scottish Government is committed to being an Open Government with these values placed at the heart of our National Performance Framework and our Participation Framework. We will be open and transparent in our approach to climate change, to make sure people can see and understand our actions and performance. We will publish progress against our targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions so that people can understand how far we have come and how far is still to go on the route to becoming a net zero nation.



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