Public bodies climate change duties: putting them into practice, guidance required by part four of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009

Guidance to support public bodies in exercising their duties under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009.



The Earth's climate is changing. The evidence has never been stronger and climate change poses significant threats to life on Earth. Science shows our climate has already changed as follows 10 :

  • The year to September 2009 is the fifth warmest year in the 160 year global temperature record.
  • The Earth's temperature has risen by 0.75 degrees centigrade over the last century and the period 2000-09 was warmer than the 1990s.
  • Observations are consistent with ongoing warming of 0.15 degrees centigrade per decade since the mid-1970s.
  • Man-made greenhouse gas emissions have been the main driver of climate change over the past 40 years. These emissions will continue to affect our climate for many decades to come. If emissions continue to rise, temperatures could rise by 4 degrees centigrade 11 .

Climate change will affect all aspects of life increasing risks to food security, water availability, infrastructure and human health.

Crucially, if emissions are reduced early and rapidly, the extent of climate change will be mitigated. On the other hand, if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated, the implications of climate change grow more severe, posing even greater risk to life on Earth.

In view of the threat and risks of inaction, it is essential that public bodies put mitigation and adaptation strategies in place and act sustainably to address climate change in Scotland.


The Scottish Government's strategic framework for action on climate change puts it at the heart of government, embedding action through the Purpose, governance, plans and policies. This framework is made up of plans, policies, legislation, practical support and tools. Delivery of the climate change duties by public bodies will be an important aspect of this framework in the future. The Scottish Government is itself a leading public body in Scotland, and is already addressing climate change and delivering its own climate change duties through a variety of aspects in the framework.

Public bodies should ensure they understand the strategic framework and are mindful of relevant policy documents and legislation in taking forward their duties. Their relevance will vary depending on the nature of a public body's functions and the sectors they are involved with. Key elements are described in sections 2.3 - 2.7 below.


The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 is the centrepiece of the climate change framework and supports the transition to a sustainable low-carbon economy. It requires that actions are taken in relation to both climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as the development of a public engagement strategy.


A key objective of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 is to reduce Scotland's greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050, covering carbon dioxide and five other key greenhouse gases. These gases are: methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorcarbons and sulphur hexafluoride. The baseline year for carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane is 1990 and for the three fluorinated gases it is 1995. The Act also sets an important interim target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 42% by 2020. The use of the term 'carbon' in assessments is often used to describe the emissions of all six greenhouse gases in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide they are equivalent to.

The long-term targets will be complemented by annual targets, to be set in secondary legislation. Targets for 2010-22 were agreed by the Scottish Parliament on 7 October 2010 and came into force on the 13 October 2010 12 . The next batch of targets, covering 2023-27, must be set by 31 October 2011, with successive five-year batches then being set at five-year intervals thereafter.

NB. These are economy-wide targets and do not constitute specific targets for the public sector. However, section 44 of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 requires that public bodies must act in the way best calculated to contribute to the delivery of the targets set in or under Part 1 of the Act.

Climate Change Delivery Plan And Report On Proposals And Policies

In June 2009, the Scottish Government published a policy document, the Climate Change Delivery Plan 13 , which sets out the broad measures required in each sector to meet Scotland's statutory climate change targets, to 2020 and in the long term. The Delivery Plan is built around four transformational outcomes that must be delivered to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050:

  • a largely decarbonised electricity generation sector by 2030, using renewables complemented by fossil fuels with Carbon Capture and Storage;
  • largely decarbonised heating for buildings by 2050, through reduced demand, energy efficiency, and renewable and low-carbon heating;
  • almost complete decarbonisation (the reduction in the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases) of road transport by 2050, through wholesale adoption of electric cars and vans; and
  • a comprehensive approach to carbon in rural land use, incorporating: protection for Scotland's carbon rich soils; minimised emissions from agriculture; use of natural resources to generate renewable energy; and increased sequestration of carbon, for example, through woodland planting.

Scottish Ministers are required by the Act to lay a statutory Report on Proposals and Policies ( RPP) before Parliament as soon as reasonably practicable after setting annual targets. A draft RPP for the period 2010 - 2022 was laid in Parliament on 17 November 2010, and was then subject to a 60-day scrutiny period. A final RPP will be laid in 2011. The RPP builds on the Climate Change Delivery Plan by setting out proposals and policies to meet statutory emissions reduction targets. The draft RPP is available on the Scottish Government website 14 .


Section 53 of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 establishes the legislative framework to pursue the Scottish Government's ambitions for climate change adaptation. Scottish Ministers must lay a programme before the Scottish Parliament, setting out proposals and policies to meet Scotland's climate change adaptation objectives. This must address risks identified for Scotland in progressive UK Climate Change Risk Assessments, as required by the UK Climate Change Act. The first UK Climate Change Risk Assessment is required to be published by January 2012 and the adaptation programme will follow as soon as is reasonably practicable thereafter. The public bodies' climate change duties require that a public body, must, in exercising its functions, act in the way best calculated to help deliver any programme laid before the Scottish Parliament under section 53.

Scottish Ministers are required to report annually on progress towards their programme to adapt to the changing climate. They must also seek independent scrutiny of their progress from the UK Committee on Climate Change's Adaptation Sub-Committee.

In advance of a statutory adaptation programme, Scotland's first Climate Change Adaptation Framework was published in December 2009. The core aim of the Framework is to make Scotland more resilient to climate change. Resilience in the context of climate change is defined as 'the ability of the subject (e.g. a organisation, community or nation) to absorb impacts of the changing climate without serious disruption to critical functions and adapt to future potential impacts'. 15

The Adaptation Framework has also established 12 key sectors where adaptation action will be focused over the next few years. Summaries for each of the key sectors were published alongside the Framework. These summaries outline the climate change issues and big challenges for each sector and provide an indication of the range of work already planned to strengthen resilience to climate change.

Using the published sector summaries as a basis, 'Sector Action Plans' with more comprehensive and prioritised actions are being developed by appointed sector leads. The Sector Action Plans will be living documents which are regularly reviewed and updated. Each sector will be outward-looking, engaging fully with stakeholders. Through this approach, the Scottish Government is taking a coordinated, strategic lead and is challenging all sectors to take action to capitalise on the opportunities and adapt to the negative consequences from the changing climate.


Section 91 of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 required the Scottish Government to publish a public engagement strategy by 31 December 2010. The strategy informs people about the emissions reduction targets set by the Act, encourages them to contribute to achieving those targets and identifies actions which they can take to contribute. It also aims to raise awareness of adapting to the impacts of the changing climate. Development of the strategy has been taken forward in parallel with broader communications and engagement on climate change issues, along with research into behaviour change. The Public Engagement Strategy was published on 30 December 2010 and is available on the Scottish Government website 16 .


The Carbon Reduction Commitment, now referred to as the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme, is a domestic, UK-wide emissions trading scheme which will reduce carbon emissions from large commercial and public sector organisations, such as supermarkets, hotel chains, banks, government departments and local authorities. The Scottish Government is working with its UK counterparts to implement the scheme. Public bodies in Scotland should know if they are within the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme. The Environment Agency 17 is the central administrator for the scheme. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency 18 will be the regulator for organisations with their headquarters in Scotland. The revised CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme user guide 19 gives an overview of the scheme.


Formerly referred to as the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, the EU Emissions Trading System ( EU ETS) is a Europe-wide cap and trade scheme that started in 2005. The EU ETS has been implemented through UK-wide legislation and covers electricity generation and the main energy-intensive industries. Some Scottish hospital and university sites are currently included in coverage. Operators of sites covered by the EU ETS should be aware of their inclusion.

Installations covered by the System receive allowances (1 allowance equals 1 tonne of CO2) distributed by EU member states. At the end of each year, installations are required to surrender allowances to account for their actual emissions. They may use all or part of their allocation. Installations can emit more than their allocation by buying allowances from the market. Similarly, an installation that emits less than its allocation can sell its surplus allowances. The environmental outcome is not affected because the amount of allowances allocated is fixed.

Emissions from activities covered by the EU ETS are excluded from the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme. Further information is available on the Scottish Government website 20 . The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency ( SEPA) is the scheme regulator for Scotland, and the first point of contact for Scottish participants/applicants.


Climate change action is already being taken across many policy areas in the Scottish Government including energy, transport, waste, housing, business, agriculture, forestry, land use, planning and environment. Policies and regulations that support the Government's climate change ambitions will continue to develop over time and many of these will impact on the public sector to varying degrees. The Scottish Government will communicate developments through its website 21 and other channels and stakeholders will be involved in development of these policies and regulations in the usual manner, including through consultation as appropriate. More details of specific sectoral and wider policy developments on climate change can be found in Annex C .

Annex D contains tables for key sectors identified from the Scottish Government's Climate Change Delivery Plan and Scotland's Climate Change Adaptation Framework which highlight how the sectors link to climate change and the actions that can be taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare Scotland for a changing climate.


Over the past decade or so, a number of public bodies covered by the climate change duties (although not all) have already been subject to a duty of continuous improvement. This existing duty, called "Best Value", covers a diverse range of organisations of varying size, functions and responsibilities and with different accountability and governance requirements. It has required all local authorities 22 and all Scottish Government public bodies 23 to demonstrate (amongst other characteristics) how the individual organisation is making a contribution to sustainable development.


Email: Central Enquiries Unit,

The Scottish Government
St Andrew’s House

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