9. Human Rights and the Environment
Climate change is an urgent human rights issue which creates a constant threat to the lives and livelihoods of individuals and communities across the world. In Scotland, we are clear about the action we must take to address climate change – for over half of the emissions cuts needed at a global level, the responsibility lies with local government such as states, regions, and devolved nations like Scotland.
This year the United Nations General Assembly declared that everyone has the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. Indeed, it is clear that the environment is central to the protection and fulfilment of a wide range of other human rights, including the rights to life, food, water, sanitation, and the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Human rights are therefore central to the Scottish Government’s work on land policy and climate change as we seek to build on the legacy of COP26, held in Glasgow in 2021. We are committed to incorporate the right to a healthy environment into domestic law through our Human Rights Bill (see Section 1(A)), to advance Scotland’s just transition to a net zero nation, and to promote climate justice internationally.
A) Net Zero and Just Transition
Scotland is committed to a just transition to net-zero by 2045, with an interim 2030 target of a 75% reduction in emissions – one of the most ambitious legally-binding commitments in the world. In pursuing this target, we are delivering lasting action to secure a net-zero and climate-resilient future in a way that is fair and just for everyone. We are focussed on delivering the detailed and ambitious policy package set out in our updated Climate Change Plan 2018-2032, and on developing a new Climate Change Plan to be published by March 2025. Scotland’s emissions are down by well over 50% since the 1990 baseline.
Scotland’s statutory framework on climate change, set through the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 and the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019, contains ambitious targets to reduce emissions in response to the global goals of the UN Paris Agreement. It also includes a range of duties to ensure that action to reduce emissions is undertaken in a way that supports sustainable development, climate justice, and a just transition. A just transition will deliver on our social, economic and climate goals, harnessing the net-zero transition across all sectors of the economy to build a better and more equal Scotland. It will also ensure that we build resilience to the locked-in impacts of climate change here in Scotland, as part of wider action on climate adaptation.
In September 2018, the Scottish Government established the Just Transition Commission (“JTC”) to advise on using the transition to net-zero as a catalyst for building a fairer, healthier, greener country. In September 2021, the National Just Transition Planning Framework set out how the Scottish Government will work with others to manage the economic and social impacts of the transition. In December 2021, the Scottish Parliament overwhelmingly voted to endorse the importance of delivering a just transition for Scotland, and our response to the work of our JTC. The Scottish Government is committed to developing Transition Plans across sectors and regions beginning with the Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan.
The Just Transition Fund is a ten-year, £500 million investment to support a fair transition to net zero and to diversify and transform the regional economy in the North East and Moray, with the first £50 million allocated to projects in September 2022. We have also committed to £100,000 in grant funding to support just transition capacity within the trade union movement. This will provide dedicated worker engagement roles within the STUC to support just transition planning and delivery for workers.
We are also responding to climate risk through our Adaptation Programme 2019-2024, which sets out more than 170 policies and proposals to build resilience in Scotland to the impacts of global climate change.
B) International Climate Change
In this decisive decade for climate action, the Scottish Government is committed to working with and supporting our international partners to help secure a global transition to a net zero and resilient future in a way that is fair and just for all.
The Scottish Government takes a climate-justice approach to our international climate work and has embedded the principle of climate justice in the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019. By centring people and their rights, climate justice aims to share the benefits of equitable global development and to ensure that the impacts of climate change do not disproportionately impact those who have done the least to contribute to it.
Since 2012, the Scottish Government’s Climate Justice Fund has supported communities in partner developing countries to become more resilient to climate change in way that also acknowledges and tackles embedded inequalities. At COP26, the Scottish Government committed to trebling the Climate Justice Fund to £36 million over this parliamentary term, of which £2 million is committed to addressing loss and damage.
Following our independent evaluation and stakeholder feedback on the Climate Justice Fund, the Scottish Government has set a future approach for action on climate justice which prioritises targeting our funding to the people most vulnerable to climate change in the communities in which we work – particularly women and young people. This will be achieved through delivering against the three distinct pillars of climate justice identified through the evaluation:
- distributive justice i.e. equal access to and sharing of resources and benefits, and equitable sharing of the costs of responding to climate change;
- procedural justice i.e. transparent, fair and equitable decision-making processes;
- transformative justice i.e. addressing structural inequities and focusing on mainstreaming understanding of climate justice issues, as well as building capacity.
We are also committed to using our position to champion and raise the voices of women, young people and people from the Global South and to take action so that their perspectives can play a decisive role in the development of local and national action, strategies and in global negotiations. To this end, Scotland launched the Glasgow Women’s Leadership Statement on Gender Equality and Climate Change alongside UN Women during COP26 and also endorsed the UNICEF Declaration on Children, Youth and Climate Action.
Scotland’s COP26 legacy embraces our commitment to drive international progress in just transition among members of the Under2 Coalition. Scotland is the European Co-Chair of the Under2 Coalition and on the Steering Committee for the Regions4, networks of states, regions and devolved governments committed to ambitious climate action.
Ahead of COP27, we will play our full part to help ensure that climate action supports the most vulnerable people and communities who are facing the worst impacts of climate change, tackles inequalities, addresses loss and damage, and delivers climate justice. We will continue to demonstrate the leading action that governments at all levels can take in pursuit of global climate goals. We will also work to see greater recognition from Party governments of the contribution that states, regions and devolved governments make towards climate action alongside recognition at the global level, and to see structures in place that enable governments of all levels to maximise their potential in responding to the climate crisis.
C) Land Reform
Scotland's land is a precious national resource that is fundamental to our economy, our environment, our wellbeing and our just transition to net zero. We are very fortunate to have great potential in Scotland’s natural world to sequester carbon and to support biodiversity, for example through woodland creation, peatland restoration, energy generation, blue carbon and many other initiatives. These also represent a real opportunity for our rural communities, for investment and for good green jobs and industries of the future.
To bring about a just transition we need to have a framework of law and policy that ensures communities can make the most of these opportunities. This means that not only must we address questions of who owns land, who uses it, and how it is managed, but we must also consider the issue of who is benefitting from land and from investment in it.
Scotland has a proud history of land reform going back to the early days of devolution. In September 2017, the Scottish Government published the Scottish Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement, the first of its kind anywhere in the world. Taking a human rights approach, it sets out a vision of a strong and dynamic relationship between Scotland’s land and its people, where all land contributes to a modern and successful country and where land rights and responsibilities are recognised and fulfilled. Ministers must review the Statement every 5 years, and a revised statement was published in September 2022.
In March 2022 we published our Interim Principles for Responsible Investment in Natural Capital. This set out our ambitions for a values-led, high integrity market for responsible private investment in natural capital, to ensure our local communities and wider society benefit. One of the six Principles we set out is the delivery of public, private and community benefit – we are clear that the benefits of investment should be widely shared.
We are committed to taking forward a new Land Reform Bill to be introduced by 2023, and doubling the Scottish Land Fund by 2026 to £20 million to support community ownership. The new Bill will build on our land reform measures to date and seek to further tackle Scotland’s historically-iniquitous patterns of land ownership – including by addressing issues arising from the scale and concentration of ownership, aiming to introduce a public interest test on transfers of large-scale landholdings. The Bill will also seek to ensure that our land is owned, managed and used in ways that rise to the challenges of today: net zero, nature restoration, and a just transition.
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