Big Climate Conversation: report of findings
A summary of findings from the Big Climate Conversation, a public engagement programme about climate change held over six months across Scotland.
Section 4: Are We Ambitious Enough?
In 2019, the First Minister declared a global climate emergency and the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019 sets a new net-zero emissions target for all greenhouse gases by 2045. Participants in The Big Climate Conversation were asked for their reactions to these developments.
Declaration of a global climate emergency
At the beginning of both the open-audience and targeted-audience workshops, participants were asked to rate how concerned they were about the global climate emergency using a score of 1 (Calm) to 10 (Very worried). These scores out of 10 are shown in Figure 5.
Figure 5: Level of concern about the global climate change for participants in facilitated workshops
As Figure 5 shows, there was a difference in level of concern between participants at the open-audience and target-audience workshops. The average score in the open-audience workshops was 8.9 out of ten, with over 83% of participants giving a rating of 8 or above. By comparison, the average score at the targeted-audience workshops was 6.6 and only 38% of participants gave a score of 8 or above. The higher levels of concern in the open-audience workshop is likely to reflects the fact that people who are more concerned about climate change are more likely to come to open meetings to discuss climate change.
Participants were also asked to share the word that describes how they feel about climate change. The responses are displayed in the two word clouds in Figure 6.
Figure 6: Word clouds showing the word participants associated with the phrase 'climate emergency'
As Figure 6 shows, many similar sentiments were expressed across both types of workshops. Many of the words were very negative, most commonly relating to feelings of concern, worry, anxiety or fear. There were also some interesting differences between the two types of workshops. For example, participants in the targeted-audience workshops more commonly expressed a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness, while the open audience workshop participants were more likely to use words relating to frustration and anger. In addition, several of the open audience workshop participants used language of hope, motivation or determination.
"[We need to] look at all policy in light of the emergency – no use planting trees with one hand while giving out oil exploitation licenses with the other."
Community-led conversation in Perthshire
As the participants in the open audience workshops were reportedly more knowledgeable about climate change, this may suggest that increased knowledge about the issues may help people feel more empowered or motivated in addressing it. This reasoning may also explain the results of the exercise when it was repeated at the end of the targeted-audience workshops.
Figure 7: How participants in the targeted-audience workshops felt about climate change at the end of the workshop.
Figure 7 shows that, at the end of the targeted-audience workshops, there was much greater diversity in the tone of the words. Whilst concern and worry remained the most common feelings, many more positive words were also included, such as, 'hopeful', 'encouraged', 'determined', and 'empowered'. Participants in the open audience workshops were not asked to repeat this exercise at the end of the workshops.
Participants in the community-led conversations also shared their views on the Scottish Government's declaration of a climate emergency, either as single words or in longer explanatory text. As in the facilitated workshops, many of the responses from community groups conveyed fear and frustration that the declaration was too little too late.
"It's such a shame; this should have been noticed a long time ago. We shouldn't have to be declaring emergencies in 2019."
Community-led conversation in Dumfries
Many groups also stated that they perceived this to be a tokenistic declaration, to make it look like politicians were addressing climate change whilst not actually taking any climate change mitigation action. For example, participants shared words such as "propaganda" and "all talk, no action".
There were also positive responses, with some community groups stating that they saw this declaration as an important first step in the right direction, with Scotland leading the way on climate change:
"Bigger countries need to act but Scotland can start to show the way."
Community-led conversation in Hamilton
Often positive responses were caveated or conditional in nature, characterised by phrases and words like, "good if acted upon" and "Hopefully government believes in this but I'm cautious".
Conversely, there were some responses from community groups that expressed the view that the declaration of a climate emergency was overstated and too inflammatory, using words such as "hysterical", "exaggerated" and "fake news".
As with the shift in attitude seen in the targeted-audience workshops, there was evidence that some participants in the community-led conversations became more positive following the event. In the 'further comments' section at the end of the feedback form, some community groups stated that they felt more hopeful because they were more confident that action was being taken and that the Scottish Government was serious about making meaningful changes in the near future.
Participants in the facilitated workshops were asked for their views on the level of ambition of the Scottish Government's target of achieving net-zero emissions by 2045. Figure 8 shows the results for the two different types of workshop.
Figure 8: Workshop participants' views on the level of ambition of the Scottish Government's net-zero target
Across both types of workshops, the most common reason given by participants who did not think the target was ambitious enough was the belief that this target did not adequately reflect the scale or urgency of the situation. Several participants stated that Scotland should be setting a stronger global example and did not believe the target demonstrates the political leadership required.
There were also responses from both types of workshops which suggested that, if we are to adhere with the tenets of climate justice, Scotland has an ethical imperative to be more ambitious on climate change. Some also suggested that a more ambitious target would lead to more positive opportunities for Scotland.
In the open-audience workshops, in which many participants considered themselves very knowledgeable about climate change, many of those who felt that the target was not ambitious enough made reference to scientific reports that have indicated the risk of crossing a tipping point before 2045.
For participants who stated that they believed the target is too ambitious, the key reasons given were a concern over the high cost and economic impact of radical change, the lack of action by other major global emitters, and a perceived lack of public support for the necessary changes to consumer culture and behaviour.
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