Facing Up to Climate Change: 10 Years On | City regions and urban areas

In the 10 years since the RSE inquiry, “Facing up to Climate Change: breaking the barriers to a low-carbon Scotland”, Scotland over-achieved against its then ambitious 2020 climate target. This was largely a result of sectoral efforts to support and facilitate the growth of Scottish renewable electricity generation at the expense of fossil-fuelled generation within UK-wide incentive frameworks. However, achieving further significant reductions will require more difficult decisions about changing energy demands and the demands for a wide range of goods and services that entail significant carbon inputs. The key challenge will be to change the ways we work, live and consume; how we pursue these quotidian activities both shapes, and is shaped by, the cities we build, maintain and manage.

The past 10 years have seen an extraordinary change in the narrative of households, firms and governments about climate change. However, despite UK and Scottish governments embracing ambitious carbon reduction goals, the RSE enquiry’s main finding – that the biggest barrier to a low-carbon Scotland was a lack of coherence of policy at different governance levels – continues to resonate within city regions.

With Scotland now setting more ambitious targets – 75% emission reduction from 1990 levels by 2030 and net-zero by 2045 – delivering a low carbon society will require a very different approach between national and local government, and between public authorities and local communities and businesses, than has hitherto been the case. A net-zero target of 2045 for the country as a whole – including hard to abate sectors such as aviation and agriculture – points to the need for cities and urban areas to meet this target well in advance of 2045. Governance and delivery will really have to match vision and strategy

A new approach, focused on a people and place-centred practice of delivering change, needs:

  • Civic legitimacy, where communities shape their net zero vision: the speed and scale of the change in the coming decade means that the transition to a net zero society cannot be done ‘to communities’, it must be done ‘with communities’, whilst also recognising the need for governance structures that can mediate between different communities’ aspirations.
  • ‘Place-making’ approaches, which offer greater opportunity to connect and therefore transform, our health and wellbeing and our jobs and skills in the time available, recognising the creativity of our communities.
  • A strategic investment mindset, to take a 10–20-year vision of our city regions and the investment required to deliver the built, green, blue and public infrastructure required in the coming decade.

This publication is part of a follow-up series to the 2011 RSE inquiry, Facing Up to Climate Change.

A lot has happened over the subsequent ten years – and at the same time, not enough. While Scotland has made some progress towards meeting its world-leading emissions reduction targets, certain sectors remain in need of concerted and integrated action.

Facing up to climate change: 10 years on