A PANEL set up to examine Scotland’s strategy to eliminate the country’s contribution to the climate experienced a “decline in members’ confidence” that SNP ministers are taking the body seriously, expert research has concluded.

A report by Scottish Government officials in collaboration with Newcastle University on the climate assembly, which drew up 81 recommendations for ministers, has also insisted that it has been “difficult to identify exactly what impact the assembly has had on policy”, adding that “no evidence of assembly impact was found in other policy documents analysed”.

Of the 81 recommendations, more than a third are not being taken forward by the Scottish Government.

As part of the Scottish Government’s legislation to reduce emissions by 75 per cent of 1990 levels by 2030 and become net zero by 2045, provisions were set to allow SNP ministers to establish a citizens’ assembly on climate change.

The Scottish Government has also pushed responsibility for a new form of council tax onto a citizens’ assembly.

But concerns have now been raised about how much influence the assemblies, representative of a cross-section of Scottish society, are having on Scottish Government policy.

Scotland’s climate assembly met between November 2020 and March 2021 and tallied up 81 recommendations for the Scottish Government to consider.

In a letter to the climate assembly last month, SNP Net Zero Secretary Michael Matheson highlighted he was “exceedingly proud” of the work.

But he added: “There are a number of recommendations where the Scottish Government cannot act alone and where further discussion with yourself to explore cooperation would be valuable.

“Many of the areas highlighted for action by the climate assembly require UK Government action and are critical to the delivery of Scotland’s targets given the current balance of devolved and reserved powers. These include, but are not limited to the fiscal and pricing elements of emissions trading, decisions on the gas grid, investment in the electricity network infrastructure, regulation on energy networks, vehicle standards, motoring taxes and the regulation of renewable energy investment.

“The vast majority of tax and fiscal powers, including many of those that relate to recommendations made by assembly members, are reserved.”

A new report published by the Scottish Government evaluating the climate assembly, has issues some stark lessons for ministers.

It says: “The Scottish Government response is comprehensive, but the way it is written makes it difficult to identify exactly what impact the assembly has had on policy, and no evidence of assembly impact was found in other policy documents analysed.

“It is generally unclear in the government response how change will be implemented at the scale and urgency emphasised in the assembly report’s statement of ambition.

“With an overall lack of specific timescales and measureable objectives in both the assembly recommendations and the government response, comparing recommended to existing or planned action is open to interpretation.

“A third of recommendations appear to broadly match existing or planned policy, with around a fifth being explored by government in some way albeit with no commitment to implementing. “ It adds: “Over a third of recommendations include policy that will not be taken forward. Whilst 14 recommendations relate to UK Government reserved matters, the Scottish Government committed to contacting the UK Government about these, and has done so.

“Member survey results indicate that between the end of the main assembly period and after receiving the government response, there was a decline in members’ confidence in the Scottish Government taking the assembly seriously.”

Liam Kerr, Scottish Conservative shadow net zero secretary, said: "The climate assembly seems to have had next to no impact on the SNP Government's policies. It's understandable that members have lost faith in the process.

"The climate conversation should generate action. The SNP are good at setting these assemblies up, particularly if it makes them look like they're listening.

"But if there's one thing this government doesn't like, it's accountability. So it's little surprise if this assembly has been largely ignored."

Labour's Colin Smyth added: “The climate assembly showed ambition in their recommendations and recognised the urgency of the climate crisis. This report lays bare that that in their response, the SNP-Green coalition showed neither.

“Having set-up the climate assembly, the SNP-Green coalition have ignored it and now simply want to cast it aside."  

He added: “It is all too clear that this SNP-Green government is not matching its rhetoric on the environment with action.

“Ministers should properly engage with the climate assembly members and listen to them, businesses, experts and trade unions so that we can deliver a fair and just transition to net zero.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Scottish ministers have been clear that the assembly’s work will play a pivotal role in Scotland’s journey to becoming a net zero nation and their influence on government policy is ongoing.

“As the report authors highlight, it is simply too early to accurately measure the full impact of their recommendations.

“As we said in our response to the Climate Assembly’s recommendations, the Scottish Government will deliver many of the Assembly’s bold and wide-ranging proposals across a number of key themes including transport, waste and home energy.

“We are also committed to using the Assembly’s report to support future decision making – something that has already happened in the development of our heat in buildings strategy and new national strategy for economic transformation.

“In addition, the assembly’s report is influencing policy development at a national and international level. We have written to the UK Government to ask that the assembly’s recommendations are discussed at the next meeting of UK net zero ministers.

“Lastly we remain committed to enabling assembly members to continue their engagement and ongoing scrutiny of the Scottish Government. That is why we will fund support for a members’ network in the coming financial year.”