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Adapting our ways: Managing Scotland's climate risk

The UNISON Scotland Submission to the Scottish Government Consultation to inform Scotland's climate change adaptation framework.

October 2008

Executive Summary

  • UNISON is Scotland's largest public service trade union representing over 162,000 members working largely in the public sector.

  • UNISON is a member of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, which is campaigning for Scotland to have a strong and world-leading climate change Bill.

  • Adaptation to prepare for the impact of climate change is essential, alongside a commitment to drastically reduce Scotland's carbon footprint. A strategic approach to adaptation planning, based on key principles, is the correct way forward.

  • We believe the principles should include a specific commitment to social justice and protection of the most vulnerable. Specifying a commitment to sustainable development principles, including ensuring a just society, will, alongside the equality duties, mean that Scotland's Climate Change Adaptation Framework properly addresses differential climate change impacts.

  • UNISON Scotland is calling for the Scottish Climate Change Bill to place a statutory general duty on public bodies (similar to equality duties) to consider the impact of climate change in all their decisions. The specific duties would be included in secondary legislation. We note here that that general duty would also apply to adaptation work. We believe the public sector should lead by example.

  • We have called for all public bodies to be required to seek to negotiate a workplace environmental agreement with their recognised trade unions. Again, this should cover adaptation issues, where relevant.

  • An independent Scottish Climate Change Committee should be charged with advising the Scottish Government on adaptation planning.

  • The first and second strategic priority actions should be amended to read: ‘Act now, where possible', and ‘Provide leadership, coordination and partnership working with relevant stakeholders'.

  • The global financial crisis must not be used as an excuse not to invest now in proper mitigation and adaptation measures. As the Stern Review said, the costs of not acting are far greater than acting now.

Introduction

This paper constitutes UNISON Scotland's response to the Scottish Government Consultation to inform Scotland's climate change adaptation framework, ‘Adapting our ways: Managing Scotland's climate risk.'

UNISON Scotland welcomes the opportunity to respond to this consultation.

UNISON is Scotland's largest public service trade union, representing over 162,000 members working largely in the public sector in Scotland. Many of our members are at the forefront of protecting the environment and the quality of life for everyone in Scotland.

Adaptation to climate change presents numerous urgent challenges and UNISON agrees there is a need for a strategic framework with supporting principles and strategic priority actions.

Our response is informed by the fact that UNISON has long supported sustainable development and green workplace policies as key trade union issues that also link with our international outlook on social justice. At UK level, the Trade Union Sustainable Development Advisory Committee, a joint TUC/DEFRA body subscribes to the view that climate change is perhaps humanity's greatest challenge in the 21st century. It points out that:

'Sustainability' is not something we put in a separate box marked 'green'. It is a core trade union and workplace issue. It directly impacts on jobs, in numbers, types, skills and locations. The employment and training implications of the transition to a low carbon economy are profound, as is the need to manage the changes fairly - through the so-called 'just transition'.

UNISON Scotland is a member of the Stop Climate Chaos Scotland coalition and has worked closely with other members to call for a strong, world-leading Scottish Climate Change Bill. We want to see: an 80% target for cutting carbon emissions by 2050; statutory annual reductions of at least 3% per year; include emissions from international aviation and shipping; strong targets for the public sector to lead by example, with negotiated green workplace action.

In both mitigation and adaptation, we believe there are opportunities in the change to a low carbon economy, but it is important that this ‘just transition' is planned, with full and wide consultation and negotiated agreements with workers.

Tackling the threat from climate change

Climate Change Minister Stewart Stevenson is correct to state that unchecked climate change is one of the most serious threats facing us today. We welcome his commitment to a sustainable approach to climate adaptation.

In this interdependent world, the Scottish approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to adaptation to climate change, must be to ‘think and act global and local'. We in the western world have a duty to tackle our own emissions but also to help those countries whose people are hardest hit now and most at risk in the future from the effects of global warming.

Social justice principles, which are part of sustainable development principles, must be applied to domestic and international policies and must inform decision-making on how we plan to adapt to changing weather patterns as they impact on Scotland. It is not only the right thing to do, but, as the 2006 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change made clear, it is in our economic interests. Stern warned that the costs of not acting are far greater than the costs of making sure that we drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

We welcome the recommendations in October 2008 of the independent Climate Change Committee, which said the UK government should increase its target from 60% to at least 80% for cutting greenhouse gases and should include emissions from aviation and shipping. It said:

"The Committee's judgement, on the basis of the IPCC AR4 report, is that adverse human welfare consequences are likely to increase significantly if global temperature rises more than 2°C relative to pre-industrial temperatures, and that if a 4°C rise were reached, extreme consequences potentially beyond our ability to adapt would arise. We therefore believe that global policy should seek to limit the central expectation of global temperature rise to, or close to, 2°C and that it should ensure that the probability of crossing the extreme danger threshold of 4°C is reduced to an extremely low level (e.g. less than 1%)."

The science says that 80% cuts are now the minimum necessary and may not be enough to limit global temperature rises to 2°C. We believe it is vital to ensure that mitigation and adaptation plans are flexible and take into account the best and most up-to-date scientific assessments. UNISON has called for an independent Scottish Climate Change Committee to advise the Scottish Government. This Committee should also be charged with advising on adaptation planning.

The Climate Change Committee estimated the UK costs of meeting an 80% reduction target at between 1-2% of GDP in 2050. It said this is affordable and should be accepted, given the potential consequences and costs of inaction. UNISON Scotland believes that the global financial crisis must not be used as reason not to spend now on protecting the world for future generations. Short-sightedness of that sort, based on greed and massive profiteering, has brought the world to a financial and environmental precipice, with crises in the cost of food and fuel.

In fact there are major benefits in transforming economic priorities from short-term exploitation of natural resources to a sustainable green economy and there are clear job opportunities in the switch to low-carbon. One example is the ‘Green New Deal', launched by the United Nations Environment Programme in October 2008. Adaptation measures will also bring opportunities. The employment and training implications of a just transition must be properly and fairly managed.

UNISON argued, in our response to the consultation on the proposals for the Scottish Climate Change Bill, that it should establish an action programme of measures, with the explicit aims of securing sustainable adaptation across all sectors of the economy; safeguarding the future of Scotland's communities, businesses, biodiversity, ecosystems and ecosystem services.

In addition, the Bill should include a requirement to report annually on this programme and against key indicators of progress. These should include progress towards Scottish Biodiversity Action Plan targets; and a clear indication of whether the Scottish Government has provided funds over and above its existing commitments, to address the impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities and ecosystems.

We also said that the Scottish Government should make a financial commitment to support adaptation work in developing countries. Any funding must be additional, and must not come out of existing aid budgets. We recognise that the Climate Change Adaptation Framework focuses on domestic adaptation, but it is important that Scotland does its fair share internationally and we believe that the ‘educating the public' part of the priority actions should include discussion of what is being done and what more could be done in this area.

 

Response to the proposed strategic principles

It is right that the strategic principles should seek to fully integrate adaptation planning into all relevant processes for decision-making in Scotland. As part of this, UNISON believes that Scotland's public services have a vital role to play.

UNISON proposed that the Scottish Climate Change Bill should include a statutory general duty on public bodies (similar to equality duties) to consider the impact of climate change in all their decisions. The specific duties would be included in secondary legislation.

We believe the strategic principles should include a commitment to social justice and protection of the most vulnerable. Making that commitment by reference to sustainable development principles, which include a just society, will, alongside the equality duties, mean that Scotland's Climate Change Adaptation Framework properly addresses differential climate change impacts; for example the impact on women of access to public transport, or how adaptation measures might impact on people living in fuel poverty. Scotland's 32 councils have all signed up to the Scottish Climate Change Declaration which stresses that adaptation measures will be in line with sustainable development principles.

We note that the consultation on a climate change adaptation action plan for Wales said their plan would be underpinned by the five sustainable development principles. (They are: Living Within Environmental Limits; Ensuring a Strong, Healthy and Just Society; Achieving a Sustainable Economy; Using Sound Science Responsibly and Promoting Good Governance.) Although the Scottish consultation refers to sustainable development in terms of education initiatives, it does not refer to the principles as part of the strategic approach.

Therefore, we propose that the first strategic principle is amended to read: ‘Adaptation should be through actions, based on sustainable development principles, that build resilience and protect the vulnerable'

The public sector should lead by example, with the public sector equality duties also playing a role in ensuring that adaptation planning is inclusive of all groups in society.

We believe that it will be important to have due regard to important social and economic factors in decision making and in assessing priorities. We will look for this in the second stage of the consultation, which will identify roles and responsibilities for public and private decision makers. It is clear, that planning of new public infrastructure, should take into account the uncertainties we currently face about the coming impact of climate change and that, for example, lengthy inflexible and costly PFI/PPP type contracts, which limit public bodies' control over schools, hospitals and other buildings, do not make sense. Similarly, ideas such as the potential mutualisation of Scottish Water would be rejected, if examined with sustainability and the need for good governance in mind.

 

Response to the Strategic Priority Actions

The first priority action is listed as ‘Where possible, act now'. At the risk of being pedantic, we would propose turning this around, so that it states: ‘Act now, where possible'.

This would better reflect the urgency of the climate change agenda where the next few years are crucial as to whether the world can prevent warming of greater than 2°C. Delaying without good reason will weaken our ability to become a ‘well-adapting Scotland'. Indeed, the consultation document refers to analysis by the Tyndall Centre that indicates "even with the most ambitious targets for emissions reduction, an increase of 3-4°C above pre-industrial levels is more accurate". The Government's chief scientific adviser to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs warned in August 2008 that the country should be preparing for dangerous temperature rises of 4°C. Professor Bob Watson told the Guardian that:

"There is no doubt that we should aim to limit changes in the global mean surface temperature to 2C above pre-industrial. But given this is an ambitious target, and we don't know in detail how to limit greenhouse gas emissions to realise a 2 degree target, we should be prepared to adapt to 4C." *

This emphasises the importance of the other strategic priority actions, which UNISON supports, of providing leadership, building adaptive capacity, reducing and managing uncertainty and educating the public.

Clearly much work is already underway by local authorities and other public bodies in Scotland, alongside the private sector, including on flood risk, areas at risk from landslide and protecting transport, energy and water infrastructure. Building adaptive capacity within organisations is essential and will require key skills. As ever, quality employment conditions and proper training are extremely important in delivering this.

We would also suggest bringing into the strategic priority actions the need to work with key stakeholders in all relevant planning; for example with communities, with specific interest groups, workers, transport users etc. The second priority action, ‘Provide leadership and coordination', could be amended to read: ‘Provide leadership, coordination and partnership working with relevant stakeholders'.

UNISON Scotland's Reponse to the Consultation Questions

Our response above covers many of the reasoning behind our answers to the questions below, therefore these are answered briefly.

1. Do you think what we have outlined in paragraph 4.10 constitutes the correct understanding of climate adaptation?

Please provide any additional comment. (paragraph 4.10)

We are happy with this paragraph, particularly as it points out the danger of acting too late and without proper planning, with subsequently high social and economic costs, particularly for the most vulnerable. It is essential to act urgently and to consider how adaptation policies may impact differently on different groups, for example giving consideration to women's often greater dependence on public transport and to how adaptation can play a role in efforts to end fuel poverty.

2. Do you think what we have outlined in paragraph 4.11 constitutes the correct understanding of a well-adapting Scotland?

Please provide any additional comment. (paragraph 4.11)

We would suggest adding to this paragraph a commitment to the public sector leading by example.

3. Do you think we have identified the correct strategic principles for promoting a sustainable approach to climate adaptation?

If not, do you think any of the existing strategic principles should be removed or clarified?

If not, do you think any additional strategic principles should be added, such as the four As: Awareness + Avoidance + Alleviation + Assistance? (paragraph 5.6)

These proposed strategic principles should be based on the principles of sustainable development. This would bring in a specific commitment to social justice and the duty that society has to provide for the most vulnerable. One option would be to make the first principle: ‘Adaptation should be through actions, based on sustainable development principles, that build resilience and protect the vulnerable'.

Scotland's 32 councils have signed up to the Scottish Climate Change Declaration which stresses that adaptation measures will be in line with sustainable development principles.

We support the aim of full integration of adaptation planning into all relevant processes for decision-making in Scotland and the need to be responsive to new scientific information. We agree too that ‘Adaptation must be addressed alongside actions to reduce emissions'. The science is overwhelming that both are needed together as a matter of urgency. Massive emissions reductions are key to protecting the planet for future generations and there must not be any suggestion that good adaptation policies ease the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The two policies must go hand in hand.

4. Do you think we have identified the correct strategic priority actions for Government to promote a sustainable approach to climate adaptation?

If not, do you think any of the existing strategic priority actions should be removed or clarified?

If not, do you think any additional strategic priority actions should be added? (paragraph 5.7)

Yes. However, we would rephrase the first and most important strategic priority to read 'Act now, where possible'. This is because the threat from the known and unavoidable impacts of climate change is real and immediate. Delaying without good reason will weaken our ability to become a ‘well-adapting Scotland'. We must have flexible plans based on the best scientific advice at the time. Professor Bob Watson, the DEFRA chief scientific adviser has suggested preparing for some of the worst scenarios. While some might argue this is not currently necessary, the Guardian editorial on his advice said: "Professor Bob Watson says Britain must prepare for an increase in temperatures of 4C - a rise deep in catastrophe territory... Is Prof Watson encouraging fatalistic acceptance of it? Emphatically not. His responsibilities include advising not just on climate policy, but also flood defences. And the only responsible way to plan coastal barriers is on the basis of an honest appraisal of what the future could bring - however depressing that may be. In line with the Stern report and the IPCC, Prof Watson believes all governments should seek to contain global warming to 2C. He merely acknowledges that the chance that this target will not be met is too real to be ignored."**

 

We would also suggest bringing into the strategic priority actions the need to work with key stakeholders in all relevant planning; for example with communities, with specific interest groups, workers, transport users etc. The second priority action, ‘Provide leadership and coordination', could therefore be amended to read: ‘Provide leadership, coordination and partnership working with relevant stakeholders'.

 

5. Do you think these are the most pressing challenges for organisations responding to critical weather events?

Please provide any additional comment. (paragraph 6.4)

This list should probably include accessing external resources, as some events may need organisations to not only liaise with and work with other bodies, but to also secure sufficient emergency and, potentially longer term funding, which they may not have within their own resources.

6. What do you think are the most pressing challenges for organisations planning for critical weather events? (paragraph 6.4)

Having reliable scientific assessments and predictions and well resourced teams to plan in partnership with other relevant organisations.

 

7. Do you think we have identified the right role for the Scottish Government in supporting climate adaptation in Scotland?

If not, what would you add to, remove from or clarify about this role? (paragraph 6.8)

The Scottish Government should have a role in estimating the costs to the public sector and ensuring that realistic funding is available to local authorities and other bodies to deliver the adaptation measures that are required.

 

  1. Which key audience groups/ organisations/ bodies do you think the Scottish Government should be communicating with about climate adaptation? (paragraph 6.19)

The consultation is correct to state that adapting effectively will require the participation of everyone - individual households, businesses, community groups, the voluntary public and private sectors.

UNISON would emphasise the importance of the ‘green workplace' (in the public and private sectors) in delivering mitigation and adaptation measures. The Scottish Government says it will encourage actions in key audiences directly and through public bodies. We welcome recognition of the importance of the public sector in leading the way. Key audience groups should include trade unions.

Conclusion

UNISON Scotland believes the forthcoming Scottish Climate Change Bill will be one of the most important pieces of legislation that will ever be presented to the Scottish Parliament. It is essential that the Bill includes the key measures highlighted by Stop Climate Chaos Scotland.

However, the Bill has to go hand in hand with urgent adaptation policies. UNISON welcomes this first step towards developing a Framework that can incorporate sustainable development principles. We hope the final Framework will state clearly, as did the consultation in Wales on a Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan, that it will "need to follow the principle of social justice and avoid any increase in social disadvantage".

Finally, there will be major costs associated with investing in various adaptation measures. It is essential that at Scottish and local government levels, adequate financing is available to ensure the necessary actions are taken to adapt to the changing weather patterns. It would be wrong to say that these are ‘extras', which in a time of global financial crisis, cannot be afforded. The Stern report made clear that the benefits of strong, early action considerably outweigh the costs. Leadership is required to make this happen and communicate clearly to the public the ways in which everyone can contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to adapting to the global warming that is already underway. The public sector is well placed to provide that leadership.

* www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/aug/06/
climatechange.scienceofclimatechange

** www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/aug/07/
climatechange.planning

 

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For Further Information Please Contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
UNISONScotland
UNISON House
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX

Tel 0845 355 0845 Fax 0141 342 2835

e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk

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