Securing a green recovery on a path to net zero: climate change plan 2018–2032 - update

This update to Scotland's 2018-2032 Climate Change Plan sets out the Scottish Government's pathway to our new and ambitious targets set by the Climate Change Act 2019. It is a key strategic document on our green recovery from COVID-19.


How this document relates to the 2018 Climate Change Plan

1. In February 2018, the Scottish Government published the ‘Climate Change Plan: the Third Report on Policies and Proposals: 2018-2032’ (the 2018 Plan). In response to the global climate emergency, the Scottish Government brought forward primary legislation to amend Scotland’s emissions reduction targets. In October 2019, the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019 received Royal Assent and was commenced in March 2020, setting annual and interim emissions reduction targets for Scotland, on a trajectory to net zero emissions by 2045. These targets include the world-leading interim goal of a 75% reduction in emissions by 2030 (relative to the 1990 baseline). The Scottish Government also committed, in line with recommendations from the Scottish Parliament, to updating the 2018 Plan, in order to account for these new targets. This update to the 2018 Plan fulfils that commitment.

2. We had planned to lay this Plan update before Parliament earlier this year, and were on track for April 2020, however, its progress was necessarily postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In light of the unprecedented circumstances we are faced with, this Plan update now demonstrates not only our pathway to meeting Scotland’s emissions reduction targets over the period to 2032, but is also a strategic document on our green recovery from COVID-19.

3. It’s clear that, at time of publication, we are very much still in the midst of the pandemic and the lasting impact of this virus is not yet quantifiable. Our work on a green recovery will continue to evolve and develop beyond this Plan update towards our longer term vision to deliver a just transition to net zero by 2045.

4. It is also important to note that many elements of the 2018 Plan still stand and this Plan update should be read alongside that document. In addition to the new focus on green recovery, this Plan update:

  • shows which of the emissions reduction policy outcomes, policies and policy proposals within the 2018 Plan will be updated (by ‘boosting’ or accelerating actions), and what new policies have been added since 2018. The sector chapters in Part 3 set out the detail of the new policy package and Annex A provides a complete list of the policies;
  • includes updated emission envelopes for each sector which reflect the pathway to the new emissions reduction targets;
  • includes additional abatement in the updated emissions reduction pathway sufficient to make up the excess emissions of 5.5 MtCO2e from the 2017 and 2018 annual targets having been missed. As such, the present document also fulfils the requirements of section 36 of the 2009 Act in relation to those targets; and
  • updates the monitoring framework from the 2018 Plan. This will now be used for annual, sector by sector, reporting on progress from May 2021 onwards. See Annex B for more information.


5. In Scotland we have a particular approach to policy-making, putting people and organisations at its heart and engaging those who live here in decision-making. Collaborating with stakeholders and the public is especially important when it comes to tackling climate change because of the scale of the challenge we are facing.

6. The changes we make as we decarbonise will transform all our daily lives and this transformation can only be achieved with the endorsement of, and active engagement with, the public.

7. To assess how public opinion on climate change may have changed in light of the pandemic, the Scottish Government commissioned research to address the current evidence gap on public views surrounding potential actions for climate change mitigation and a green recovery in Scotland. When asked specifically about climate change, most respondents (79%) say it is an “immediate and urgent problem”, and the level of concern has increased over time, including since the start of the pandemic. All actions tested with the public received a majority level of support, with respondents highlighting the benefits that tackling climate change can have for jobs and the economy, as well as biodiversity. Actions tested included support for additional charges on the sale or provision of items that are harmful to the environment, reducing personal car travel, as well as regulations requiring low or zero emissions heating and increased investment in low-carbon companies[4].

8. These latest findings build on and complement those originating from the 2019 Big Climate Conversation, which offered citizens, businesses and public sector organisations the opportunity to have their say on Scotland’s transition to net zero emissions. A number of key themes emerged and these have been reflected in this Plan update, including the importance of a just transition, the need for a systemic approach and the importance of education and skills. The conversations also highlighted a number of policy actions that we are taking forward in this Plan update, including: investment in home energy efficiency improvements; increased tree planting; switching to low-carbon methods of farming; and encouraging the switch from private car use to public transport.

Citizens Assembly

The establishment of a citizens’ assembly on climate change is part of our commitment to open government, where citizens are facilitated to contribute meaningfully to the policies that affect their lives both now and in the future. Scotland’s Climate Assembly is independent of Ministers and operates according to principles of transparency and inclusion. The Assembly comprises of around 100 members selected randomly to be broadly representative of the adult population. The Assembly has begun its meetings online due to current Coronavirus guidance and will meet over six weekends, beginning in November 2020 and concluding in March 2021. The Assembly will provide a report of recommendations following its deliberations. The Scottish Government is required to respond within six months of receiving this final report. More details on the Assembly’s operations can be viewed at

9. In producing this update we have also engaged closely with experts, advisory bodies, businesses and other organisations. This engagement has come in a number of forms, including the Sustainable Renewal Advisory Group, advice from the Committee on Climate Change, the Scottish Science Advisory Council and the Just Transition Commission, as well as considering the green recovery recommendations of a number of other organisations. In February 2020, the Scottish Government engaged with over 200 stakeholders to consider our priorities for the Climate Change Plan update and our vision for a net zero Scotland. Covering a wide range of views and interests, those in attendance were generally supportive and positive regarding the level of ambition demonstrated by the Scottish Government. There was acceptance that urgent action is required to meet our targets and maximise the opportunities from emissions reduction, acknowledging that businesses, organisations and the public have a fundamental part to play in this. There were a number of key, cross-cutting, themes identified from these conversations. These remain highly relevant and have helped to inform this Plan update and our green recovery work. They include:

  • the importance of prioritising fairness, and a just transition; managing any risks, avoiding exacerbating inequalities, and ensuring that everyone can experience the benefits of a transition to net zero;
  • prioritising the wellbeing of citizens when developing and implementing policy;
  • the need for a more coordinated and joined up approach, with collaboration between the Scottish Government, local government, business, industry and communities;
  • the value of setting clear and accurate standards and targets, (such as waste reduction, energy efficiency and goods production) to help those outside government take action; and
  • the importance of influencing behaviours to implement policies and interventions which are effective and successful.

Looking forward to the next full Climate Change Plan

10. The Plan update recognises the continual need for learning by doing, review and further policy development, especially given the limits of devolution, technical complexity of measuring emissions reduction, significant uncertainties and changing markets as well as emerging technologies and how they can be deployed at a commercial scale.

11. As such, this Plan update does not, and cannot, contain all of the answers; it builds upon learning to date from a broad range of sources which are explored further in this document, but also needs to be further updated through future Climate Change Plans and a range of associated national policies and strategies. It has been created with, and aligned to, a range of publications and will be built on and adapted through future strategies and other publications. These include:

  • ‘Net Zero Nation: Draft Public Engagement Strategy for Climate Change’
  • National Planning Framework 4
  • Infrastructure Investment Plan
  • [Scottish Government] Housing Strategy
  • Energy Strategy
  • Heat in Buildings Strategy
  • National Transport Strategy Delivery Plan
  • Hydrogen Policy Statement
  • Hydrogen Action Plan
  • Climate Emergency Skills Action Plan
  • Previous monitoring reports on progress to the 2018 Plan

12. The range of strategies and publications with which this Plan update interlinks demonstrates how firmly our climate change targets are embedded in decision-making across the Scottish Government.

13. Scotland’s statutory framework on climate change also ensures that strategic planning on emissions reduction will continue to be revisited on a regular basis, with annual monitoring reports on progress each May and the next full statutory Climate Change Plan process due to be completed by early 2025 at the latest.

Just Transition

The transition to net zero emissions will transform our society and economy, therefore the manner of our transition will be crucial. If we plan and prepare, building consensus about our collective future through dialogue and engagement, then we can ensure Scotland benefits from the opportunities of net zero. The transition can realise green jobs, a better environment and a healthy economy that supports our wellbeing. Failure to plan risks abrupt shifts, the loss of key industries and jobs, and deepening inequalities. This is why Scotland has committed to a just transition to net zero.

A just transition puts people, communities and places at the heart of our approach to climate change action. It ensures we work together in order to capture opportunities, tackle existing inequalities and exclusion, whilst anticipating and mitigating risks to those worst impacted so no one is left behind. As the pace of the transformation increases, the need for a collaborative just transition becomes ever more important. This approach is at the heart of Scotland’s ambitions to move to a wellbeing economy that prioritises society’s wellbeing as the core aim of our economy.

The just transition concept features in the Paris Climate Agreement. It encompasses a range of social interventions to secure workers’ jobs and livelihoods and has often been closely aligned with particular industries or regions undergoing transitions, for example coal mining. Scotland’s just transition approach and decision to establish an independent Just Transition Commission was informed by the trade union movement as well as private sector, third sector and academia.

In Scotland we have taken a broad approach to just transition, looking across the economy and the whole of Scotland. This recognises that the scale of the net zero transition will impact everyone, but not equally. We need a plan to ensure that the decisions we are making take into account different circumstances and enable everyone to access and benefit from the opportunities of net zero whilst supporting those potentially at risk from an unmanaged shift away from fossil fuels.

The just transition principles in our Climate Change legislation emphasise the importance of taking action to reduce emissions in a way which:

  • supports environmentally and socially sustainable jobs;
  • supports low-carbon investment and infrastructure;
  • develops and maintains social consensus through engagement with workers, trade unions, communities, non-governmental organisations, representatives of the interests of business and industry and such other persons as the Scottish Ministers consider appropriate;
  • creates decent, fair and high-value work in a way which does not negatively affect the current workforce and overall economy; and
  • contributes to resource efficient and sustainable economic approaches which help to address inequality and poverty.



Back to top