3. Engagement – society’s expectations
3.1 The second theme we have identified relates to the need for proactive and on-going dialogue to help understand society’s expectations relating to the transition. In the previous section we discussed the importance of including a variety of voices in the creation of transition plans, but understanding society’s expectations goes deeper than that. There is a need for on-going and proactive dialogue with all corners of society that will be affected by the transition to net-zero. This is required to generate buy-in for the scale of change that will ultimately be needed to meet Scotland’s climate change ambition.
3.2 The transition to net-zero emissions will affect people and communities across the country in different ways, and on different timescales. While this presents a challenge for carrying out engagement, documents such as the updated Climate Change Plan will set out the direction of travel and can help us think in a more systematic way about how communities may be impacted across the country. Plans can then be drawn up to generate the kind of social consensus that will be required.
3.3 When we talk about the need for dialogue we need to be clear that this is not about treating communities as passive bystanders. What is needed is a conversation that allows Government to understand clearly what the expectations of people are in relation to tackling climate change, and makes sure that these are reflected in policies brought forward. There is also a need to inform individuals about the role they have to play in reaching net-zero through changing behaviour. This needs to be done on an on-going basis and not simply as a one-off exercise and will require frameworks to be established that support this kind of balanced decision-making.
3.4 Making sure we understand and address society’s expectations will help us avoid the mistakes of the past. We’ve seen the impact that big structural changes can have on communities and regional cohesion. Examples such as the sudden closure of the coal mining industry serve as an example of what can happen when structural shifts occur without thought or consideration to the needs and concerns of families and communities. The legacy of this poorly managed transition continues to be felt in communities across the country. Beginning the conversation now about how any future transitions should be managed can help avoid a repeat of this.
3.5 We can make a similar case around the need for proactive dialogue with the private sector in relation to emerging economic opportunities. Companies in sectors that will need to reduce their emissions must be aware of the potential impact of the national drive to tackle climate change on their business. SMEs in particular are likely to benefit from this kind of ongoing dialogue – often in our work we came across examples of smaller companies in industries such as oil and gas, which were less developed in their thinking about diversification of their businesses and the impact decarbonisation may have on them.
3.6 Bringing everyone – communities, businesses, and individuals – along with us as we transition to net-zero will be vital if we are to succeed in ending Scotland’s contribution to climate change. However, this will only happen if Government engages in timely and proactive dialogue. Some of the building blocks are in place but focused attention will be needed.
3.7 This theme has emerged consistently through our work, often in the context of engagement we have undertaken outside of our main schedule of meetings.
3.8 Near the beginning of our programme of work we met in Kincardine to examine the closure of the last coal-fired power station in Scotland, Longannet. We heard from members of the Government-initiated task force working on the closure, and subsequently met with a local community group to hear their perspective of how the closure was handled.
3.9 There was a general consensus that the task force had largely been successful in managing the immediate threat of loss of jobs at the site. The task force brought together local and national Government with trade unions, the private sector, and agencies like Skills Development Scotland and Scottish Enterprise to deliver a coordinated response to closure. Figures presented to us by Fife Council demonstrated that a high proportion of former workers at the site had ended up in positive destinations following the closure, and many had been offered early retirement by the company managing the site.
3.10 However, it was interesting to contrast this perspective with voices from the nearby Kincardine community. Here we found the strong feeling that the voice of people from the surrounding area was not heard in the process of planning the response to the closure. As a consequence, there was a feeling that the task force missed an opportunity to address wider questions of economic development and empowerment in the area.
3.11 While Government should always aspire to plan strategically ahead for structural shifts which will inevitably happen (as outlined in the previous section), we recognise that responding to events as they develop is sometimes inevitable. However, even in these situations community voices must be central in considerations of any response from the public and private sectors. It was clear to us that, in this specific instance, the expectations of the local community were not met and an opportunity to address questions of local economic development may have been missed.
3.12 Other engagement we carried out through the year strengthened our view of the need for ongoing dialogue. In Aberdeen, a co-hosted event with the Energy Institute Young Professionals Network was instructive. We had the opportunity to hear directly from young professionals in the oil and gas industry in relation to the energy transition and what their careers may look like in the future. A consistent theme was the feeling that better engagement was needed with young people regarding the future of industry – people are excited by the possibilities of the transition, but feel they don’t have a voice in how it will be brought about. This perceived lack of ownership and involvement must be bridged in order to secure buy-in from those early in their careers. If this is not achieved, then it risks people being resistant to change and we will have made the difficult transition to net-zero even more difficult.
3.13 Again, we would emphasise the need for Government to start thinking now about how this call for broad social dialogue can be achieved. Building social consensus with communities and businesses is a huge task and we cannot afford to wait. As a starting point, Government should consider whether the engagement activities it currently carries out in relation to climate change are targeted at groups most likely to be impacted by transition. The creation of a Citizens Assembly on climate change in Scotland presents an opportunity to begin this dialogue. If set up to deal with questions relating to transition, then learning from this Assembly will provide a building block for our approach to social dialogue in future.
3.14 In the year ahead we will continue to travel across the country, engaging with businesses and communities through the course of our work. We hope this will help us understand better what people expect from Government to support them through the transition. We will also consider different models for social dialogue that could be repurposed towards this question.
3.15 Our work plan for 2020 will include visits to a mixture of rural, urban and island settings which allow us to hear a range of perspectives. Through both this and consideration of existing models for social dialogue we expect to be in a position to make formal recommendations to Government by the time of our final report to Ministers in 2021.