By Ruth Harvey and Josh Littlejohn

This week marks a major achievement in our democracy. The interim report of Scotland’s Climate Assembly has been laid in the Scottish Parliament. For the first time, ordinary citizens are setting out a concrete program for how we can take the lead in tackling the climate emergency.

The Assembly leaves no room for doubt that this is an emergency and that immediate action is required, from politicians and right across Scottish society, from businesses to communities and individuals.  “If we fail to act now,” the Assembly warns, “we will fail our current and future generations, in Scotland and across the world.”

We have been proud to be co-conveners of this remarkable collective effort. The Assembly is a “mini-Scotland” with over 100 members broadly representative of the country in terms of age, gender, household income, ethnicity, geography, rurality, disability, and attitude towards climate change. It operates independently of government, and took evidence from over 100 expert speakers.

Our report to Parliament establishes 16 goals, agreed by overwhelming consensus, that speak to the bold and radical changes the Climate Assembly has decided are essential steps for Scotland.

We need to reduce consumption and waste by embracing society-wide resource management and re-use practices. We need to implement clear and future-proofed quality standards for assessing the carbon impacts of all buildings (both public and private) using EnerPhit/Passivhaus standards at a minimum. We need to retrofit the majority of existing homes in Scotland to be net zero by 2030, and establish Scotland as a leader in retrofit technology, innovation and installation practices.

We need government and public sector to implement mandatory standards, regulations and business practices that meet the urgency and scale of the climate emergency. We need an integrated, accessible and affordable public transport system, and improved local infrastructure throughout Scotland that reduces the need for private cars and supports active travel.  We need to minimise the carbon emissions caused by necessary travel and transport by investing in the exploration and early adoption of alternative fuel sources across all travel modes.

We need clear and consistent, real and total carbon content labelling on produce, products and services (showing production, processing, transport and usage emissions) to enable people to make informed choices.

We need everyone to be provided with accurate information, comprehensive education, and lifelong learning across Scotland to support behavioural, vocational and societal change to tackle the climate emergency and ensure everyone can understand the environmental impact of different actions and choices.

We need to balance the needs of the environment, landowners and communities across Scotland for sustainable land use that achieves emission reductions. We need to empower communities to be able to develop localised solutions to tackle climate change. We must strive to be as self-sufficient as possible, with a competitive Scots circular economy that meets everyone's needs in a fair way.

We must develop work, training and volunteering opportunities to support net zero targets, connect people with nature, rebuild depleted natural resources and increase biodiversity. We need to support long term sustainable business models where people and the environment are considered before profit, and the carbon footprint of working practices is reduced.

We need to realise the principles of a '20 minute community' in flexible ways across Scotland by reducing the need to travel for work, shopping, services and recreation in ways that support localised living. We need to implement a fair, equitable and transparent tax system that drives carbon emission reductions, while recognising different abilities to pay, and generates revenue to enable energy transition.

How do we measure success? We must reframe the national focus and vision for Scotland’s future away from economic growth and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in order to reflect climate change goals towards the prioritisation of a more person and community centred vision of thriving people, thriving communities and thriving climate

The climate emergency affects every aspect of our lives and every structure of our society. There are no easy solutions, and many of the options available to us require complex, technical knowledge to assess.

The Assembly has shown that ordinary members of the public are quick and engaged learners about the climate crisis. We have shown that citizens can take a leading role in shaping decision-making by drawing on the experience of their own everyday lives in setting the terms for how Scotland can respond to the climate emergency in a fair and effective way, and how we can do so right now.
Our members have shared a tremendous sense of being energised and empowered by the Assembly. One member’s daughter told her “Mum, you’re part of history.”

Now the Assembly is calling for action to make their vision a reality. They also want their learning journey to be paid forward and amplified across Scotland. If we are to tackle the climate emergency adequately, policy changes need to be underpinned by a sustained public information campaign to embolden and enliven the people of Scotland.

Leaders of all political parties at Holyrood spoke to the Assembly at our final meeting on Sunday, praising members for their efforts and underscoring the critical role our final report, published in May for the new Scottish Parliament, will play in shaping policymaking.

This cannot be the end of the story of citizens actively leading our response to the climate emergency through informed deliberation together. For the good of Scotland and the wider world, it must be the beginning.

Ruth Harvey and Josh Littlejohn are the co-conveners of Scotland’s Climate Assembly