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.



Mitigation - Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The first element of the duties is that, in exercising their functions, public bodies must act in the way best calculated to contribute to delivery of the Act's greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets (referred to as mitigation).

The Act has set an interim target of a 42% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. 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. 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. To support Scotland's mitigation targets, public bodies must take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Whilst the interpretation of the duties is for public bodies themselves and ultimately for the courts to decide, should a challenge that a public body is not compliant be brought before them, it is suggested that when it comes to considering what "exercising functions" covers, public bodies take a broad approach and do not restrict this to simply their direct impact. Public bodies both contribute directly to greenhouse gas emissions and may also play a key role in relation to greenhouse gas emissions in the wider environment through the way they exercise their functions in relation to policy, service delivery, etc. Public bodies are advised to approach the duties broadly and include direct and indirect emissions. These terms are explored in more detail later in the guidance and defined in Box 2.

Adaptation - Adapting To The Changing Climate

The second element of the duties is that public bodies must, in exercising their functions, act in the way best calculated to deliver any statutory adaptation programme. Although the first statutory adaptation programme is not expected until 2013, public bodies are advised to consider their approach to adaptation now.

Organisations will have varying degrees of influence in relation to adaptation in Scotland depending on their particular role, functions and responsibilities, but all public bodies need to be resilient to the future climate and to plan for business continuity in relation to delivery of their functions and the services they deliver to the wider community.

Acting Sustainably - Sustainable Development As A Core Value

The third element of the duties places a requirement on public bodies to act in a way considered most sustainable. It is suggested that this element of the duties is about ensuring that in reaching properly balanced decisions, the full range of social, economic and environmental aspects are fully taken into account alongside the impact on greenhouse gas emissions, and that these aspects are viewed over the short and long term. It is recommended that public bodies equip themselves to be able to demonstrate how sustainability has been integrated into their decision-making processes, for example by devising procedures for sustainability proofing or assessing the sustainability of policy decisions and strategies.


What is required in compliance with the duties may vary from one public body to the next, depending upon various factors. It is therefore suggested that a degree of proportionality should be borne in mind. What is required of a public body with limited influence on emissions, and small estate and/or staff numbers should reflect their resources and the nature of what they do. Equally, there are a number of public bodies that the Scottish Ministers consider to be 'Major Players', as they have a larger influence or impact on climate change than others.

For the purposes of this guidance, Major Players are considered to be:

  • Public bodies with large estates and large numbers of staff
  • Public bodies with a high impact and influence, e.g. Scottish Government, local authorities, SEPA, SNH
  • Public bodies with large expenditure
  • Public bodies that provide an auditing or regulatory function

A list of those bodies considered to be Major Players is available on the public bodies climate change duties web page 24 and will be kept up to date, however this list is not exhaustive, nor is it a cast-iron classification.

In some aspects of the guidance, it is suggested that Major Players could consider doing more in comparison with other public bodies. Where this is the case, it is clearly specified throughout the guidance in the sections containing 'suggested actions', which set out those suggested actions for Major Players in bold text. However, it is up to public bodies to decide what action is appropriate for them.


The following key principles underpin this guidance:

Focus on outcomes - The Scottish Government wishes to see Scotland's public sector playing a key role and setting an international example through:

  • Leading and contributing to the achievement of Scotland's ambitious climate emissions reduction targets. Scottish public bodies have a key role to play in championing climate change action and ensuring their own emissions are reduced as far as possible.
  • Building a resilient Scotland prepared for the challenges of the changing climate.
  • Ensuring that we meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, in line with the Government's Purpose in relation to sustainable economic growth.

Public bodies should focus on climate change outcomes which are appropriate to their own functions, circumstances and ways of working.

Use of evidence - Keeping abreast of evidence is essential if public bodies are going to understand climate change issues and methodologies for tackling these. Public bodies should use evidence-based policy and decision making to identify priorities and in due course demonstrate compliance with the duties. It is also important that public bodies have information about the communities they serve, and the people they employ, in order to champion climate change in the broader sense.

Consultation and involvement - Public bodies should think about the consultation they carry out in relation to their climate change duties plans and policies, and how they disseminate information about these and progress against them.

Transparency - Public bodies should be open and transparent to enable the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament, and the wider community to understand their plans in relation to climate change action and to determine progress.

Building capacity - Knowledge and research about the causes of climate change and methodologies for tackling this is growing all the time. While meeting the challenges of climate change is stretching, it also brings many opportunities. In taking forward their responsibilities, public bodies should consider how best to build capacity within their organisation. This may mean looking at embedding new approaches and cultures across the organisation or creating or improving capacity in relation to specific tools or projects.

Cultural change - Cultural and behavioural change among organisations and employees will be a key part of successful climate change action and the commencement of the duties offer public bodies an opportunity for engagement with their staff. Cultural and behavioural change have been shown to be most successful when seen as a joint endeavour where individuals are equal partners in collective action towards the same goal, with mutual benefits for both employer and employee. One example is encouraging employees to consider alternative methods of travelling to work, such as walking or cycling, which will not only help them to live longer healthier lives but also assist the organisation in reducing its carbon footprint. Public bodies are encouraged to consider how they will work with their staff as joint partners in promoting cultural change, in order to achieve buy-in to action throughout the organisation, and identify those areas of activity which would both help meet their climate change duties and have positive effects on employees' everyday lives. Programmes such as Healthy Working Lives 25 and Active Nation 26 (which is part of 'A Games Legacy for Scotland') can help in this.

Simplicity - Public bodies may wish to make use of existing mechanisms in relation to corporate planning processes and existing reporting arrangements where possible, in order that planning and reporting on progress is done in an effective and efficient way, and so that public bodies are not required to duplicate work. The guidance also has regard to proportionality: what is expected of public bodies should be a reflection of their impact and influence, as well as the nature of what they do, in order to balance proportionality and flexibility with effectiveness and delivery.

Cost - This approach to implementing the climate change duties seeks to mainstream climate change action across organisations and make it a natural part of decision-making processes, with the aim of keeping associated potential costs as low as possible. Reducing emissions through, for example, improved energy efficiency may also contribute towards greater efficiencies which could assist in addressing current public expenditure constraints.

Leadership - The public sector as a whole accounts for an estimated 3% of Scotland's total greenhouse gas emissions. This estimate includes emissions from direct fuel use - likely to be predominantly from operating boilers for heating, and the use of electricity for heating, lighting and operating equipment. However, through exercise of wider functions and community engagement, the public sector will influence a much higher proportion of Scotland's emissions. As well as reducing their own emissions, public bodies have a key role to play in leading by example and promoting climate change action more widely. Strong leadership at all levels will be crucial if Scotland is to meet its ambitious climate change targets. Public bodies who are further ahead in addressing climate change have an opportunity to play a leading role in supporting the implementation of the duties across the public sector by sharing best practice and providing advice.

Empowerment - Detailed planning and priorities for climate change must be for public bodies themselves and this guidance does not seek to be prescriptive or attempt to set targets for individual public bodies. The guidance aims to offer suggested actions which empower public bodies themselves to deliver the duties in a way which best meets their own circumstances and those that they deliver services to.

Partnership working - Public bodies are encouraged to work together through existing mechanisms - for example, Community Planning Partnerships and Single Outcome Agreements - or through devising new partnerships, and to explore opportunities for building capacity and sharing best practice.


All public bodies within the definition in the Act are required to comply with the climate change duties. Public bodies should check whether they fall within the definition and act accordingly.

Other public bodies in Scotland which are outwith the definition of the duties may wish to consider this guidance as a source of information, tools and support in whatever climate change action they choose to take.

Public bodies are encouraged to take a broad approach when complying with the duties and include all direct, indirect and influenced emissions. Climate change action should address mitigation, adaptation and acting sustainably and be embedded across all public bodies via corporate planning.

Understanding of how to most effectively address climate change is developing quickly. Public bodies should use evidence-based policy- making techniques and learn from the good practice of others. Public bodies should ensure they understand the principles of climate change action, keep up to date with emerging thinking, and seek to engage their staff at all levels in promoting cultural change.

Public bodies should know the national targets and trajectory and think about how they can assist in meeting these. They should also know whether they are within the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme or the EU Emissions Trading System.

Major Players should keep abreast of the high-level strategic framework and relevant policy documents. It is envisaged that Major Players would be expected to do more than public bodies with less influence on climate change.


Email: Central Enquiries Unit,

The Scottish Government
St Andrew’s House

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