Scotland’s energy strategy and just transition plan
The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE), Scotland’s National Academy, welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the draft energy strategy and just transition plan. The RSE has been active in the area of energy policy in recent years, including publishing a major inquiry into Scotland’s energy future in 2019 and preparing policy advice for national consultations on the hydrogen action plan (2022), Scotland’s supply chain (2021) and renewable energy in Scotland (2022). The working group preparing this paper was comprised of Fellows and Young Academy of Scotland members, all of whom have significant knowledge of Scotland’s energy landscape and workforce and occupy various roles across academia, industry, policy, and other sectors.
- The RSE applauds the ambition driving this draft the energy strategy and just transition plan and acknowledges the significant progress already underway in Scotland’s transition to net zero. The working group recognised that this energy transition is very complex – economically, politically, and socially – and welcomed the whole system approach that involves the various components essential to make it a just transition. This draft document provides a good initial framework to build on for achieving Scotland’s net zero targets, however, details on certain aspects, including the delivery, need to be explored further. The RSE contribution, although not addressing all the questions raised in the consultation, makes some recommendations for core themes/areas to further develop in the final document to ensure the step-change needed to deliver the proposed outcomes.
- The working group stated from the outset that there is limited connectivity between the current situation and the targets set out in this vision. As we explain in this submission, there is a gap between reality and ambition, and this must be addressed in the final strategy.
- In particular, the absence of roadmaps to set out how we make this transition in a way that is achievable and in a way that is genuinely integrated is concerning. The complexity of this transition will not be lost on any, but the perceived siloed approach which the government and associated agencies are taking when setting some of these ambitious targets has the potential to be unhelpful and counterproductive.
- The RSE would like to see the development of high-level roadmaps and graphical representations in the simplest-to-understand format explaining how the integration and alignment across the areas covered in the plan are to be achieved. This strategy should pay more attention to the outcomes and impacts that arise from setting ambitious targets, whilst building in accountability and risk assessment to mitigate against unpredicted hazards. Altogether, the strategy misses this crucial step.
- One of the primary concerns would be that this strategy will lead to a series of well-intentioned interventions that create unintended consequences across health, wellbeing, and sustainability. There are mechanisms that can be built in to mitigate against these possibilities from the outset and ensure coherence across sectors that will protect both people and planet. These mechanisms are not optional and must be placed front and centre to identify risk and consider impact, which we explore further in this response.
- The working group also believed that circular economy should be at the heart of this plan. It is surprising that circularity is not emphasised more across the strategy, particularly given the efforts of the Scottish Government elsewhere (e.g., the circular economy bill). This comment links to a wider concern that the document appears to take issues in isolation, rather than connected to a wider system/economy.
- Additionally, this strategy omits one of the most evidenced demand reduction policies, namely, encouraging people to use less to gain more (extracting/consuming less resources whilst increasing prosperity). Whilst we do not underestimate the political challenge of presenting such an argument, the ties between economic growth (increasing output) and prosperity must be challenged and this will require a powerful public engagement strategy to drive behavioural change.
- Overall, there is a certain level of overconfidence in Scotland’s geopolitical stature in the world (in terms of trade negotiation and purchasing power of critical raw materials, for instance). This complex reality requires some serious consideration and work with UK Government, including over ongoing post-Brexit trade agreements. As the RSE has emphasised in various submissions on related matters, cooperation between UK and Scottish Governments and coherence across devolved and reserved policies will be key for the successful delivery of this strategy.
- Given that this was a long-anticipated document, there is a lack of new information presented that wasn’t already available across other policy departments. In addition, given the scope and importance of this plan at a national level, the structure, format, and wording of the final energy plan will need to be more inclusive. The draft strategy fails to provide an accessible plan where individuals from all ages and backgrounds can understand what this means for them and engage with it. The RSE would recommend that the final strategy include an accessible short report that can be understood by the average citizen (e.g., through an easy read version, or similar). If the Scottish Government really wants honest and inclusive feedback, the final plan needs to be more accessible.