How climate change impacts Scottish cities

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Professor James Curran
Professor Duncan Maclennan CBE
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Tea and Talk with the RSE
How climate change impacts Scottish cities

With COP26 being held in Glasgow, we chat to Professor James Curran MBE FRSE and Professor Duncan Maclennan CBE FRSE about the impact of climate change on Scottish cities, and the policy and lifestyle changes needed in order to make cities more environmentally friendly.

James Curran is a former Chief Executive of the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, serves on the board of the Green Purposes Company, and is Chair of Climate Ready Clyde.

Duncan Maclennan is Professor of Public Policy at the University of Glasgow, Professorial Research Fellow in Urban Economics at University of New South Wales, and has worked for many years in the areas of housing, infrastructure and neighbourhoods.

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Episode transcript

Please note transcripts are automatically generated, so may feature errors.

S04E01 – Climate changes impact on scottish cities – James Curran and Duncan Maclennan

[00:00:00] Rebekah Widdowfield: Hello, and welcome to the RSE Tea and Talk podcast series, a program inspired by the coffee houses of the 18th century, where great thinkers would come together to discuss ideas and matters of the day. I’m Rebekah Widdowfield and I’m chief executive of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, which is Scotland’s national academy.

Our mission is to advance learning and make knowledge useful. And to do that we are holding conversations with some of our fellows and other leading experts in Scotland to talk about important issues and the challenges that we face as a society. You can find out more about our work on our website at

Today I am speaking with Professor James Curran and Professor Duncan Maclennan. James is a former chief executive of the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, serves on the board of the Green Purposes Company, and is Chair of Climate Ready Clyde. Duncan is Professor of Public Policy at the University of Glasgow, Professorial Research Fellow in Urban Economics at University of New South Wales, and has worked for many years on the areas of housing, infrastructure and neighbourhoods.

So who better than James and Duncan to talk to us today about the impact and implications of climate change in Scotland’s cities?

So James and Duncan, cities are often obviously a major source of emissions, whether that’s from industry or how the housing stock or from transport or the way that we use land. In headline terms, how do we make our urban areas more compatible with climate goals? Duncan, do you want to kick off?

[00:01:41] Duncan Maclennan: I think there’s three things.

You’re absolutely right. That when you look on a global scale, that cities are always seen as a major contributors. In fact, I think there was some recent American work that suggested 25 cities produced 50% of carbon emissions, interestingly, and in this area, which is sometimes not very scientific, none of these cities appear to be in the United States! They were mostly in China or Japan or India. So, despite that caveat about how we look at this, of course the nature of cities is they’re concentrated in location. That scale, concentration and the specialisation that goes with them is at the heart of citiness.

But it’s also at the heart of the difficulty that we have in terms of the impact on nature and use of natural capital. So to answer your question, Rebekah, I think that there are three things. We have to think about cities in relation to the environmental systems they’re set in. If we define Glasgow, if you want to define Glasgow, you’ll see it defined by capital work areas.

It’s not defined by the energy flows, the water flows. In other words, the reach of the city. And I think that’s an important first step we have to think of in policy and governance in Scotland is what do we really mean by city? When we embrace the environmental agenda. So whether you’re talking about ecosystem services or flows of environmental goods and bads, I think we need to rethink our workable conception of city.

Same thing as within cities. I spent a bit of time at university of Pennsylvania in the 1980s. And listen, Spurgeon wrote a fabulous book about time, about nature and cities gone to granite garden. Just making the point about how we dig our darkness, how we build our homes, how we lay out our streets has a huge effect on water, absorption reflection and so on.

And so much of that. Good, common sense. Has it been ignored for much too long. And then finally we get to the question of how we use the systems and how we design the bigger macro structures of spatial planning and neighbourhoods within cities, so that we allow people to live as locally as possible.

In other words, our city has to be local and it has to have a global reach. And we’ve only really just started thinking about.

[00:04:27] Rebekah Widdowfield: Thank you so much. And what about for you, James? I know you’ve done a lot sort of thinking about and working on nature-based solutions. Is that something we can draw on heavily in terms of helping the adaptation process?


[00:04:40] James Curran: absolutely. When we think about cities and how they can be compatible with climate goals, you’re right. We’ve got to think. Mitigation re-doing re reducing a mesh in order to fix if you like the problem of climate change, but there’s a lot of climate change where now landed with we can’t avoid it.

So cities are gonna have to adapt in order to make themselves safer and healthier places in the future. I certainly wanted to pick up on something. Duncan said that because. When we come to looking at mitigating climate change. So reducing emissions, we really know, most, if not all the technical solutions In a sense, we’ve done some of the easy stuff.

It may not seem Daisy up to this point, but believe me, we’ve done the easier bits. Anyway, I’m not as a kind of national strategic approach to reducing emissions from energy production. And Scotland has been really a global leader in developing and deploying renewable energies largely on. Much more recently offshore wind generation, a bit of solar and so on.

We’ve made fantastic strides on that, but now comes actually the much more difficult, which is about our own personal travel, which is really important. As Duncan said in our own cities, it’s about how we heat our homes and, we all live in flats or houses or whatever, and in our cities. And about the way we consume and that these are very personal matters.

And I think now we move from the national strategic kind of impact of tackling climate change to a much more personal one and a much more local one just as Duncan said. So, so that means it becomes genuinely more of a cultural issue. Now that’s for mitigation. And I’ve been thinking along those lines recently, because you mentioned at the front end, I’ve got a lot to do with the climate ready Clyde, which has developed a no published climate change, adaptation strategy and action plan for the Alaska city region.

And that is so largely local because every locality has its own. Climate impact. So the solutions need to be local. So both of them mitigation and adaptation are moving into that much more personal, much, more local realm. And to me that makes it quite deeply cultural. And that’s a big shift in our thinking.


[00:07:11] Duncan Maclennan: think a couple of things. There’s a political culture and there’s a culture of individuals and organisations. And I, I think that people have written that, to do much better, both on. Adaptation and mitigation. We need a revolution in science that I think has made really impressive progress.

Looking at climate change shines, we needed new technologies, not the snail energy. And I think it again with it of phenomenal development of new technologies in relation to the also we need a revolution in finance. And I personally think. A lot of the developments in green finance have been really badly effective in terms of thinking about the mechanisms, the problem, the cultural uses in terms of using these technologies, that science gets down to what does politics decide to do and what the individuals decide to do.

And I don’t think we’ve done, we’ve not done the social science. That helps us understand much better, how we induce people to change how they react to taxis, how they’ll react to education programs and so on. I think that’s been left behind as a social scientist. I think that’s been left behind and a lot of what, when we get to policy discussions, You, you basically set beside a really much richer science and technology understanding with actually more pretty, quite often virtue seeking, interpretations of what we’re doing, where we go now, Mel, no objection to being vesture seeking.

And I agree fundamentally with the objectives that we have, that the social science and this is poorly developed.

[00:09:06] Rebekah Widdowfield: I think that’s really interesting. And it actually takes me back when I was in government when they first climate change bill was going through and at the time and certainly the year or so afterwards, there was a huge emphasis I felt in terms of the technical fixes.

And of course at the time we were mainly looking at production emissions rather than consumption emissions. And I think we’ve seen the shift in that over time, I was involved in setting up a climate change behaviors program, which was trying to address. Research program. And one of the key things about that was yes, there was a lot that was about our individual choices in terms of weight, the way we live our lives.

But there was also about actually how so much of our behaviors is also influenced by how easily. Or have a say or difficult something is to do. And I was thinking, just connecting with the point that you were making games about the importance of the local as well. We are hearing more and more about 20 minutes neighbourhoods.

I think that’s a scenario you’ve worked on Duncan. Can you tell us a little bit more about that sort of concept and, and why that’s important and how that sort of links behaviors with infrastructure?

[00:10:06] Duncan Maclennan: Based on two ideas, one that came out of Melbourne and another that’s come out of the experience in Paris.

I think that fairly uncritically, professions and planning professions particularly have adopted the idea of – sometimes it’s a 10 minute neighbourhood, sometimes it’s a 15 minute neighbourhood, sometimes it’s a 20 minute neighbourhood, and sometimes people say city and that reflects something about the fuzziness of the thinking.

I think we all agree that everybody should have access to good infrastructure and good services. And that’s particularly true of low-income households. But what we have done, is people have generalised that idea, which actually underpinned the Christie Commission on service provision in Scotland, what 12, 15 years ago? And it has not been implemented.

Where’s the ideal old 10 minute. Without thinking about what does the selection study on neighbourhoods of which there’s a substantial amount? What does that actually tell us about neighbourhoods, neighbourhoods, structures, and how they work and why the operate and my biggest objection to the idea, not the M’s, but the specification of the idea is it simply ignores economic logic.

If you look at employment and Lear locations within cities, you’re not going to disperse employment evenly across the city because agglomeration economies, scale economies actually matter. Therefore you can create neighbourhoods with equal access to employment equally in terms of the facilities and services.

Yes, we can. All of that cognitive. But we can’t all have a specialist high-level medical clinical facility within a neighbourhood. It doesn’t happen. On the other hand, we don’t have to people living in the privileged states of Glasgow, Edinburgh in two and a half hours taking their child to a clinic and getting back home again, we need to do better.

But I do think, the notion that we can look alone. Actually works for a middle-class neighbourhoods and gentrified neighbourhoods, close to city centers. I’m an academic. I could organise a really good 15 minute neighbourhood just off Beischer with neoclassical university. I could do it and start French.

I could do it and Bellevue, and can probably do it in bits of Aberdeen or Dundee because there’s lots of facilities. There’s a diversity of people and nothing was quite high incomes. You go into Drumchapel or castle or Western Hills there’s inadequate service provision people of low incomes. And if you look at the expenditure to actually re.

Service provision and infrastructure to standard in Eastland counties. The budgets are much bigger than the existing city deals. So what I want as a planning profession and the Scottish government who have this in the program. Be real about this, how that neighbourhood reinvestment strategy, redeveloped community planning.

So communities actually talk to the people doing the planning. That’s not community planning and worked as advisers three first ministers and community planning at that time was about how we got bureau council to talk to community. No, it was just how national bureau stock to local bureau carrots, liquidity, scalability, feature, and any of this.

So I honestly think you can get to many of the Ames with a much more focused conversation on deliberate, on strategy, on infrastructure sciences, the service strategy, and that’s what’s missing. I do appreciate it. There are lots of good initiatives in Glasgow. There’s no coherent infrastructure for the Glasgow city.

I’ve done some work on this recently. There isn’t any neighbourhood investment strategy for any of our cities and that’s where we have to go with this. We can really make progress, but let the fancy language and get to the realities of taking decisions about.

[00:14:26] Rebekah Widdowfield: James. How, how far is the local and what does local mean in terms of what you’ve been doing with climate ready, ready, tide.

Do you, is that worth thinking about a neighbourhood basis or think about a regional, regional, or is it thinking about the interconnectivity between different spatial scales?

[00:14:40] James Curran: Yeah, it, it necessarily works across all of those scales is a Glasgow city region, a strategy and action plan, which we’re now pursuing the, the, the activities that are required by it.

But most of those activities are quite localised. So-so there is a need to get not kind of community based co-development and co delivery. And there are all sorts of implications there because. Certainly it needs government backing it. It’s going to need funding. And we, we might be able to come back to that later on because it is a really critical point.

Glasgow is currently being hugely ambitious in its intentions for investors. But that money, that scale of money, that’s 30 billion or something that has been sketched out as a, as a good investment in Pasco. And it’s regional. Much of that is going to have to come from private investors.

And we’ve got to find new ways of getting that private investment in alongside, but exceeding the amount of public investment. And that’s a particular problem when you’re looking at the local level, where are they? Investments may actually be quite small. So we need to find ways to aggregate them up into bigger scale investment opportunities.

And of course, make those investments give a decent rate of return for the risk being born so that there’s so much in unpacking. This issue about a 20 minute neighbourhood and so on. I’m I’m a great believer in it. And I’ll, I’ll agree with Duncan on many points, but maybe disagree on some other points. I think in terms of adaptation.

Yes. We’ve got to make our, our neighbourhoods, our communities much more resilient to the impacts of climate change and that. Involves. And you mentioned that earlier, quite a bit of nature based solutions putting in additional green spaces, green roofs. So it would get shading and cooling using those green spaces very effectively for multiple co-benefits, maybe outdoor cafes, play areas, sports area.

Pathways, cycleways allowing people to walk, to work to the shops. The very core of a 20 minute neighbourhood walking to bus stops and train stations. So you still get the connectivity maybe allowing for SoCal ways. So you reduced sewer and river flooding downstream. Trying to grasp those multiple benefits means breaking down lots and lots of boundaries, both disciplinary professional ones and also government and Swan.

So, there’s a lot that straight away. There’s a lot of thinking that needs to be done, but the one area where I might disagree to some extent with Duncan is that I think a very core element as well of climate change adaptation is developing the circular economy.

The circular economy is far, far more than just recycling. It’s about redesigning all of our products so that they can be repaired, upgraded, disassembled, the parts reused and at the very end, if need be, recycled. So all of that drives a much more local economy and the opportunity for community based jobs is very significant. It goes against this, this history we’ve had over the last few decades of globalism.

Absolutely. It’s much more localism of the loss of employment and it’s high job content. It’s high GDP. Like good jobs and they do sit within the community. So, just talking about a 20 minute neighbourhood on the both of us have gone on for, I don’t know, quarter of an hour already, and we’re only touching the surface on.

I can see

[00:18:47] Duncan Maclennan: that there’s a couple of points. I, I share the objectives of being more local and I don’t object to the notion of the circular economy at all, in terms of designing and reusing materials and not deeply taking more nature and more natural capital. And I don’t disagree with that at all. I’m trying to suggest that in fact when James says, yes, it’s good for people to walk to work and, and That’s great.

Try walk in from castle milk to your relatively low-income job in Glasgow city center. That’s not much of a deal, James. And why I’m worried here is a 10, 20 minute neighbours. Becomes the new enthusiastic language in which people are us actually do much better, but people who are poor and that certainly 40% of the population in Glasgow, this is a new language of failure of delivery and public policy for them.

So that’s that because I’ve spent a lot of my life studying what neighbourhoods are and how they function. None of that notion about what neighbourhoods are and how they function appears much in that. So I don’t, I don’t want to be a kind of unicorn on this and just be hopelessly optimistic. We’ve got to be hard headed or don’t make it at work as for the money.

I don’t, I think that was agreeing that the circular economy is important. Not many, many cities ever thrive by taking in their own washing, so to speak the tree. And they have to be competitive to trade. And that doesn’t mean ignore natural capital. And this is where these debates and public policy have to get grounded out.

We don’t have a growth conversation in Scotland anymore for a variety of reasons. And I’m very happy that we’ve gone beyond GDP in our thing. But where will productivity come from? How are we compete? Because we won’t have cities that are training and trading globally and internationally. We have to think about the boosting, the importance and role of the local and localising as much as life as we can, but we will not localise trade.

And we won’t localise the flow of ideas because if we do, we will be much better.

[00:21:17] Rebekah Widdowfield: So it sounds like you both both think the economy needs to be different, but maybe you have different ideas of how its parents are structured and, and played out. I wonder if, if Duncan, if, you said it’s quite a lot of money to actually, to equalise things.

I was one of another podcast I was talking about just transition we’ve given, stay in Camilla Tillman and there is that just transition, I think is what you’re, what you’re talking about. Partly here or that the fairness agenda, if you like. So what you’ve talked about, I think you’ve mentioned it about 9.75 billion, which is clearly a lot of money.

But actually is this, or should this be a catalyst for that sort of change?

[00:21:57] Duncan Maclennan: I’m not sure exactly the basis. I’m not questioning the basis of Jim’s 45 million or our billion even. I just don’t know what it was made up of, but I do know that in. The big picture thinking structure for a cities that the cities that are parts of Scotland that grow are very different animals to deal with in Michigan, from those that are still.

And that’s the Glasgow city region. We have Western Barton shine and we have, Inverclyde where the show population declined to clear there’s still economic decline. At the same time, we have a very large amount of vacant land in Glasgow city center, close to the new innovation. So close to where the Glasgow can activity strategy is.

So how in that city. Do you say, do decide that every neighbourhood that we have now will still be there in a hundred years time. People talk to the new industrial revolution. You don’t have industrial revolutions without spacial change. Spacial changes, always imbalanced. I’m sorry to appear. And I’m not seeking to be disagreeable here.

I’m just pointing out what the evidence is from regional and urban economics and geography on this. We have to think of. What the patterns are and how they unfold. So when you deal with some of that, like Glasgow, the budget for dealing with the Glasgow city region, these issues, it’s completely different.

If you take an even spread approach from saying, okay, there’s a huge potential to relocate population, enterprise and economic activity and too dense or struggling. Roundabout within two females, Glasgow city center, the politics of that are just impossible for local government. And I’m not suggesting this is easy, but if we’re talking about the longer term, these are very different approaches with different required amounts of public and private county.

[00:24:09] Rebekah Widdowfield: And quite any Alicia, I would suggest as well in terms of actually wherever you concentrate, that you public investment in particular, for example, in health specialist, health services and major, major cities, or whether you have a more distributed model. One area that you do seem to agree on or both be talking about is actually the important.

Public engagement and all this and engaging with the substance and James, I know that’s something that’s been very much at the forefront of some of your thinking, including in an article you wrote for us for RSE recently. How, how do you think we can affect it? Ensure that citisens are. Meaningfully engaged in the decisions that affect will affect them particularly around adapting to and mitigating climate change.

[00:24:54] James Curran: Yeah. Okay. It leads on from what Duncan was, was saying, just to pick up on the, the, the high ambition that Glasgow city actually has at the moment, whether it comes to fruition, who knows I’ve been, I I’ve. I was born and I’ve spent nearly all my life in Glasgow, so I truly hope it does. And I’m old enough to just remember the tail end of the days when Glasgow was an industrial Titan.

And it was so hugely and rapidly de-industrialised with. Multi-generational negative impacts socially. And health-wise the so-called Glasgow effect that Harry Burns talks about. And Harry Burns links that, that at least to some extent with the disempowerment of communities, particularly over their local environment.

And when I was in Seper, as you mentioned the game at the front end of our discussion obviously as a regulator, I was really, really interested in my relationship between empowering communities over their environment and improving life expectancy and life outcomes. And I think there’s still a lot of work to be done in that area.

If you think about the green print for investment, which is Glasgow’s bid for 30, 30 billion, it’s going to go on things like retrofitting houses both for climate mitigation on climate adaptation, into district heating taking power out of the river Clyde, which would be a nice retirement. It in a way.

Glasgow’s history into an investment, into public transport and things like nature-based solutions that the climate climate forest all, all of these, stand along in those really valuable investments and they do each in their own way, contribute to what you had mentioned earlier as the just transition.

Just transitioned. And I also talk about just resilience because that’s the adaptation of exactly the same thing. Adaptation will drive transition in the way we, we live our lives and why we do everything. But that, that comes down to the just transition commission, not four factors that they looked at.

And the first one immediately makes you think quite deeply about some of these issues, because it’s an, it, it’s all about an orderly. Managed transition from jobs that are going to go like Oil and gas into new jobs of the future. Now talking about an orderly managed transition, and to be honest, I don’t see that happening currently with the oil and gas industry, but it really, really needs to come.

But an orderly managed transition to me as an ex regulator immediately means there’s going to be quite a bit of public policy intervention there because I don’t think the free market is ever going to deliver that. So the needs to be. Quite a high level of intervention at the national and the local level in order for us to make that transformation, to tackle the causes of climate change and the impacts of climate change.

We’ve got a lot of work to

[00:28:15] Duncan Maclennan: do. I believe I agree with you and Natalia, I’m not Jim’s the market. Isn’t going to do this. And, and when you look at big changes in economy, since society. There’s imperfect information and uncertainties that Marcus just never resolved. And in that context, you have to have a clear minded strategy for the long term from government about workplaces should be about what the.

But I don’t think we have that yet. I liked a lot of what the infrastructure commission in Scotland but it was critical of them for failing to ever consider the question of where Scotland would actually be, where it’s got a need infrastructure and 10 years time, 20 years time, because that forces you to take these diff difficult questions in about what’s the economy going to look like.

Where in a sense what the sectors we think we’ll grow and on. So I think we miss, we lie. Long-term decision taking skills. And I think that’s true at the Scottish government level in terms of special prioritisation in particular and actually, uh, local government level. So I believe in it in terms of just transition you’re right to point out, we’re still suffering the effects of the industrialisation that you saw.

I’m also a native of Glasgow and studied there and what they’re most of my life what, what then was an unjust transition. That’s left us with the horrible legacy of towns of the nose. For something like 40 years, so I can get him and Tyler about that. But how do we get that? You’re right.

To be positive about the plans. I think gloves, schools uh, housing insulation to tenement installation strategy is great. I was on the glassware economic recovery group and I’m proud of the five pounds of force person that raised the issue on that group, that insulation of housing and. Almost going back to the kind of tenement retrofit program that there wasn’t a 1970s.

I was on the board of Scottish homes for 10 years, and we finance a lot of the community based associations that a huge impact in giving a positive drive to neighbourhoods change and engaging communities to sort of thing that we are talking about creating a local that was. And I think that has been hugely beneficial to not just Glasgow, but other places as well over the last 30 years in terms of how we do this in terms of.

Going wider. I think that’s where we need to have some of the the strategic discussions about resources. For instance, people say, oh, well uh, Scottish government, or put up the money for the tenement refurbishment, but everyone else thought, but almost spend more. They get. Well, one of the characteristics of hormones for the last 20, 30 years as they’ve made huge capital gains, why don’t we develop a finance facility whereby people can equity withdraw to finance the required energy transition of their home.

Everyone who buys a whole note. So use the energy report and hardly anyone does anything about it? I do think that with one or two quite strategic decisions about issues, uh, in terms of the regulatory framework about how you have to bring housing up to standard, I think we can do that. Without penalising poor households significantly in the process, if we use some decided requires some fairly courageous political decision taken.

And I think that engaging community and all of the decisions is I think really important, but engaging consensus. When we get to the long-term issues, there’s too much there. Main parties play off the opposition plays off the government saying, oh, they’ve not done enough or whatever, or we wouldn’t do that.

Or the, the Nazi oil question is a classic example of this. We need much more consensus state. Across Fort needs to be done in the political parties in the Scottish parliament to actually put the green credentials on the table and not just pick at each other. Otherwise we will not get the strategic framework within which communities can change.

I’m not a political scientist.

[00:33:01] James Curran: Certainly going to agree with that. To, to make it very real in the place where I live and I’m not going to reveal names and so on, there’s currently a planning application submitted, for a very well-known coffee chain to have a drive through outlet.

Literally quarter of a mile from multiple main street, which has many existing cafes. And if you believe in anything like a 20 minute neighbourhood, that is just outrageous, but we have such a laissez Faire, permissive planning system that I have no confidence that that planning occupation will actually be rejected.

So I am naturally instinctively quite interventionists, and I know that has many dangers attached to it, but another. Uh, example is that there’s growing concern across Scotland that big investors are moving into buying up very substantial estates, largely in the islands, but not exclusively in order to at the moment, probably land bank, but very soon to start developing them for carbon sequestration so that they can claim carbon offsets and sell them because there’s already market for that.

It worries me. We’ll just repeat some of the, the mistakes of the past, like planting conifer forests across the flow country. It will. Without some intervention, it will probably end up being done badly and then appropriately, without getting the nature based benefits, the additional ecosystem services that the community involvement and the community benefits out of it.

So I’m a great believer in intervention. And I knock around some investment cycles these days because of my connection with the green properties company and having spent my life in the public sector. It continues to astonish me that there is no constraint on money that is vast amounts of ready Tash in the private investment sector.

What they’re looking for are the, the, the, the investments to put it into. And of course the rate of return. I get endlessly frustrated with the investment sector, congratulating itself about how open and transparent it is these days. And it reports on its carbon emissions and it reports on this lot and mailer and I think, well, yeah, you can report on it, but frankly, If nobody cares it doesn’t get you anywhere.

So I’ve gain. I would tend to be much more interventionists, even dare I say, in the investment and finance sector, driving that investment towards all kinds of good things that we’ve been talking about today.

[00:35:50] Rebekah Widdowfield: And what do we do? How do we do that though? Because I think there is an increasing recognition that the state can’t fund it all.

It needs a combination of funders individually. Th the state, the private sector as well, but there’s been a lot of talk for quite a number of years now about innovative financing and different ways of doing things. But it, again, seems to fall on that sort of practical implementation level. What would be your sort of key things, James, in terms of actually, how do we move from talking about it, to actually making that sort of more innovative creative financing models work and how.

[00:36:21] James Curran: Well, yeah, I’m a great believer in smart regulation. Having spent half my life, I hung up trying to help deliver it and good smart regulation. Generally speaking business likes anyway, because it removes risk. An entire industry sector has to start doing things differently because there’s a new regulation coming in and you can give some years of notice if you like.

So it’s, it doesn’t happen overnight. And it removes that risk from businesses. Some of who may actually want to do that good thing anyway some who weren’t because it removes the risk from the first move on the entire industry sector has to move together. If you remove risks, well, investors like that straight away.

And that will incentivise investors to start moving finance into that sector. And. Does numerous studies and I do mean numerous studies again, good smart regulation encourages innovation and encourages improved productivity. Again, something investors will like. So it, it may almost be second hand.

You, you regulate in a specific area which might be about uh, purchase of land, bought something, and certainly want to come see ways to do that. And most Scottish government is already beginning to. Think about that with, with some legislation potentially coming through and in the very near future and the investors will then follow on and the investors have to invest according to the new regulatory requirements.

[00:37:59] Duncan Maclennan: I think that that’s generally the case that effective regulation and smart regulation will make a huge difference. I have a couple of concerns. And this one would be that the regulatory framework that’s emerging in the UK is largely for companies that have assets of more than 500 million.

And a lot of small and medium enterprise is not really being captured to the same extent. Can rely there was on those that run or those that support through financed a small enterprise that will put in place sustainable goals. No, we can’t. So that we do have to think about how that gets extended, but I’m really impressed by the ways in which both corporations and the financial sector.

I’ve taken on board, precisely the point it’s about risk it’s at risk longer term risk. It’s also about investor preferences, all these things matter, but I’m worried about first of all what about the smaller site? The other concern I have and here we get back to cities, is that in some cultures in some countries.

Investment measure, investment by cities is made through bond markets. They borrow, they have experienced, they know how to use finance. They all know how to use good in finance. I have a concern about not only Scotland, but you care as a whole. We have the most centralised local government finance system in Western and quite more or less the world apart from a few still social socialist or Stalinist.

And in that context we say not only how much look tax revenue can be collected, but their tax base is not re-imagined to think about environmental groups and bats along with property to actually provide a much more coherent fiscal base, for, uh, local authorities and the world and cities and city regions.

I think Scotland’s got to get corrected. I produced the paper for the David humans this summer, Scott Scotland, a better places. And one of the recommendations is about Latin tax and local government tax. And that was a 180 of recommendation that every political party said, no, we’re not interested in. Well, why?

Because they look unpopular relative to the others and the, somebody has to start the local government finance system. And in the Scottish context as the do that it’s about the autonomy’s of local authorities, as well as uh, the responsibilities that they’re increasingly given. No. A lot of this changes local.

So let’s get a bigger local component to attack space. Let’s get more local autonomous. So that glass group doesn’t always have to ask the Scottish government or Westminster to do every single thing, essentially, that. And in that context, let’s put in place. I’d like to see every major city in Scotland have a partnership with some of the major financial institutions where they get on to comment two or three key staff from all the bank finance players in Edinburgh should be providing two or three key staff to a green financing strategy group within each of the major city regions, because they know how to do it.

The cities don’t know how to. If you look at whether it’s a city strategy and digital green finance or whatever, we talk really big ideas and then might have thinking capacity and senior executive capacity within local government. It’s just not there. The people that are there are great. There’s just not enough of them to do the digital revolution in Glasgow is down to about 2:00 PM.

And I, and that simply because of the scuffing constraints they have and the environmental stuff are run into the same constraints. So yeah. Let’s look at financing let’s again, let’s get serious about it and we’ll get some of the posts don’t so local scale and get some of their expertise working at that skill too, because we have the expertise and the funds in Scotland, but they’re not.

[00:42:38] James Curran: Yeah, I would agree. Absolutely. On that last point. We’re in the green purposes company, we issued a a survey recently of investment worldwide nature-based solutions and particularly for the private sector, obviously, and yeah, it’s beginning to happen. We, we called it a new asset class nature-based solution.

Which which can potentially give the kind of rights and books on what private investors would look for. We didn’t end up with that many recommendations from their parents. I think it was only four or five, but the one that intrigued me the most was exactly that point, that the investment sector having fantastic expertise, of course, within their own professional realm.

But what, what is needed is a collaboration, a partnership you could call it. Coproduction and co delivery between the investment sector and then my particular sector of interest, the environmental sector. So the green investment. Good investments, but they’re also good environmentally. If we’ve got to break down those boundaries, it goes back to, years of thinking about sustainable development.

You cannot have sustainable development. You cannot have multiple benefits without breaking down these old fashioned boundaries between disciplines and professions.

[00:44:02] Duncan Maclennan: Absolutely. Absolutely. And going back to the search history prior to 1989, all investment in public and nonprofit housing in Scotland basically came from the government.

There was really significant effort and part of the government agency at that. Housing corporation and then Scottish arms to build new connections and social housing finance between the bond markets, major lenders and small and large associations in terms of being able to resource, uh, expenditures and housing.

Like for instance, in Glasgow, the Glasgow housing association takes bonds of 300 million patrons of the capital market to improve low-income housing and class. And it’s managed to keep doing that through the recession that required a financial revolution, but people want to know. And it’s in place. We could Sumo away have green financing on a whole range of things.

If we actually had task forces putting these things in place now, so my tone and this, this question might sound a little critical it’s because I spend a lot of time out at Scotland and see how things work in other places. And I do think. That we have great intentions. We have many good people that were just not making that transition from the debate, the desire to be green, to be fair and so on.

And I think that’s written all across Scotland is great, but whether it’s neighbourhoods, whether it’s a city level or whether it’s at Scotland level delivering it is still a long way behind. I mean

[00:45:50] Rebekah Widdowfield: the, the new forgive me, cause I, that I can’t resist the plug for RSE here, which of course you’re both fellows, but that importance of interdisciplinarity and across sexual approach, is, is represented in the fellowship, which is, we’re quite unusual for a national academy in covering the breadth of academic disciplines, but also reaching into practitioners from business and public sector.

But, you’ve given some really nice examples there of how you build trust and capability through collaboration, but I guess the other dimension that’s important, there is leadership and James, I know this is something that you’ve been reflecting on. What sort of formal style of leadership. Do we need to sort of help drive that drive from the debate and inductance towns into delivery.

[00:46:31] James Curran: This is such a difficult topic. Leadership is so important in every area of life, but as we’re trying to under. Genuine transformation it’s particularly important. And I remember many, many years ago actually being asked by the Scottish government to give a kind of keynote at a one day meeting on leadership, climate change.

I’m wondering if you were there a better or maybe even more organised it. And it’s scared me to death because I thought, what do I know about leadership? But it drove me and I’m being absolutely honest here. It drove me to do some Googling. Other search engines are available leadership styles, and I came across and it was new to me and I never pretended to know anything about leadership.

And I still don’t. The, it is the formerly known style of leadership, which is called authentic leadership. And I never know whether people know what it is or don’t know what it is. Genuinely that ignorance, but it is a style of leadership that I think at the personal level, and we can open it up to kind of uh, organisational wide leadership and sauna.

It’s a style of leadership at the personal level that I think is very well suited to the kind of transformations that we need to undertake at the moment. It’s, it’s all about personal credibility. It’s all about personal honesty. It’s about surrounding yourself with people who know much more than you, which I certainly always tried to do all of my life.

And, and it’s about delegate, delegating authority, extensively and widely, but always of course re retaining their accountability. It’s about encouraging others to show leadership as well. And. Authentic leaders create more leaders. They don’t want followers. They want others who lead as well.

So if anyone is interested, I would really suggest looking it up. I, it, to me. Is a vital style of leadership for the kind of transformations we need in future, not degree of honesty and integrity and being open about not always having the answers in certain circumstances where experiments. The honest about law, and if it fails, be honest that it fails.

We’ll try something different to me, not takes people with you on it’s a kind of culture, the in genders willingness. Dare. I say, even an enthusiasm amongst others to go with you and to, to see that transformation. But at the end of the day is going to make all of our lives better, safer, and healthier.

And I think it

[00:49:35] Rebekah Widdowfield: also allows risks. And allows learning because it isn’t about it does allow for trying things different and sometimes they, they won’t work. I wonder if we might, just, before we close, just turn back to Glasgow. Since you’re, you’re both from there and I spent most of your working, working line set, I would just wonder if you could reflect briefly on what excites you at the moment in terms of what Blasko is doing, whatever, in terms of mitigating climate change or in terms of adapting to.


[00:50:06] Duncan Maclennan: I think that When you’re talking about Glasgow, I talk about the class for secured region, because I think there are two scales of governance of governance that matter. And this one is community and neighbourhood. The other is the way their metropolitan. Unfortunately municipality is not the right skill for anything in this discussion.

So, but let’s assume that municipalities are collaborative and middle leadership style that Jim’s talked about. I think that the is an openness and a willingness to look at this in a kind of very non-ideological how do, how do we fix this? And I’m encouraged by that. Because I have a particular interest in infrastructure, and I want to see an infrastructure strategy that works for the overall city region, but also articulates neighbourhood scales.

I can’t be that excited about where we are right now. There’s lots of good ideas and I think the housing project is fantastic. So I’ll be really enthusiastic about that. And I think the Glasgow clinic devotee ideas of good, and I think the innovation story. I’ve all been good. The bets are good.

The overall framework, like strategic. And I think that think sometimes James and I have sent it, but I can reconstruct it stolen gyms as we can do this. I don’t think that’s where we are. I certainly, I believe that the market has to do some, uh, in that context a much better resource, local government structure with people there are people who have real capability there, just not enough of.

To make this happen. So I do think that there’s lots of good people watch good ideas. Uh, I think that Glasgow’s held back and other cities are held by, but the context of government that they know operate within, under endlessly disagreed use each other about.

[00:52:22] Rebekah Widdowfield: In the world from the one that you’ve been doing Duncan or any cities or city regions that you point to a sort of got everything white, but you think they’re in a good place in terms of baby having that, growing up, having that strategic approach, is there anywhere you think that we could learn from.

[00:52:39] Duncan Maclennan: And learn different things from different cities.

I think that a lot of the north and south, and, and almost central European cities have been fantastic in taking decisions about buildings and infrastructure and parks. I think about styles of governance and grasping the big issues. I think Vancouver is a really excellent example of. City leaders, uh, who have a strong set of officials that support them and take forward these ideas now reasonably orderly strategic fashion, but you will find many other places.

I do think that some of the cities in the United States have made remarkable progress because of the good leadership and also resource base, despite the. The sort of uh, uh, and our strategy of Mr. Trump, nicely, a lot of American cities because they had that power and the capability of actually moving forward.

So I don’t think there’s any one single place that we say. And I do think there is a talent and ability and institution. In Glasgow and in Edinburgh, Dundee, and Aberdeen, and the other, other places that I would consider cities to actually move forward, but they don’t just have enough space and resource to do it.


[00:54:05] Rebekah Widdowfield: Thanks. What about for you in terms of what excites you or encourages you about what’s going on in class?

[00:54:10] James Curran: Yeah. An interesting question on your right. We have been thinking about it recently on actively right now in climate ready Clyde, because we’re at a transition point between having done the research, gathering the evidence and creating the adaptation action plan and now moving into delivering it, which is a very different task.

So we’ve been thinking very actively about some of those aspects. Why did we base climate ready Clyde’s strategy on Glasgow city region? I think it is. And having spent nearly all my life here, I, I hope I’m right. That there is a sense of identity. So Glasgow city region . Pretty strong feeling of common interest, I think across it, despite, a history of many deep inequalities and so on.

It, it has an advantage of these days are pretty broad based economy as well. So it, it can be flexible and it can can shift and and duck and dive a bit. Recently I’ve been really. Excited by the degree of ambition being shown right across the city region from Glasgow city council to, to many others.

But well, what is lacking? And I think I’m agreeing with Duncan hair, at least to some extent is governance structures. And this isn’t, this isn’t related to Glasgow. I think it’s a common feature. Right around the world. We don’t have the governance structures that can really deliver what you might call the wicked solutions to the wicked problems we’re increasingly facing now.

And in the future, climate change is a wicked problem. It’s multi-dimensional, multisectoral we don’t have the governance structures that. Talk a lot, but I think that beginning to be seen within the Glasgow city region, there is the city region itself, which is a kind of fairly loose informal structure, but it’s there and it’s functioning.

There’s things like the client mission which, which is working to, to, to re-energise the whole of the kind of Clyde river corridor Plaza cities recently released a nine year. Green plan, which involves the region as well. Those things like the central Glasgow carbon innovation district, which is led by the university, but involves numerous stakeholders within Glasgow city center.

So I think we’re kind of feeling our way towards new and different governance structures. I’m very keen in climate ready, Clyde that we try and develop a new structure of. We’re very actively thinking about that to the environment which transcends and cuts across the old kind of vertically vertical forms of delivering.

Of governments genuinely allows us to tackle these wicked problems. That sounds

[00:57:11] Rebekah Widdowfield: like a nice positive note on which to change. We’re not there yet, but there’s an appetite for changes and energy for changes some the new initiatives or some coming together and collaboration. Thank you so much.

Professor Duncan, McLennan and professor James Curran for spending time to us today and sharing your expertise on climate change and its impact and implications for cities.

[00:57:32] James Curran: Real pleasure.

[00:57:38] Duncan Maclennan: Thanks

[00:57:39] Rebekah Widdowfield: for listening. You can find previous tea and talk episodes on our website Or you can subscribe on Spotify, apple, and Google podcasts for our latest news details, events and activities. Search for the Royal society of Edinburgh on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.