As part of the Regions4 interviews series, we spoke to Ms. Roseanna Cunningham, Climate Change Cabinet Secretary of the Government of Scotland, to learn about the region’s leading initiatives in adaptation for a resilient present and future.

Regions4: The RegionsAdapt is the first global initiative that supports climate adaptation by regional governments. As its newest members, could you tell us what adaptation actions has the Government of Scotland put in march already?

Ms. Roseanna Cunningham: Scotland’s Climate Change Act not only sets ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also a statutory framework for ensuring that Scotland is prepared for the changes that are already happening. In September 2019, the Scottish Government launched our second statutory five-year climate change adaptation programme, setting out more than 170 policies and proposals to protect Scotland’s communities, infrastructure and natural environment from the threats posed by extreme weather, flooding and coastal erosion. The Programme builds from more than ten years of preparations undertaken to date, which has seen substantial investment in flood risk management, a range of comprehensive climate risk assessments being undertaken and the emergence of a distinctive Scottish place-based model for adaptation. The new Programme develops stronger links between our mitigation and adaptation work and focuses on tangible outcomes, helping to deliver wider objectives for our society and economy. It has also been aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals to ensure it complements international ambitions. In line with our response to the global climate emergency, the Programme will deliver a step-change in securing the benefits of a climate-ready, resilient Scotland for current and future generations.

R4: Where do you see the value of collaboration between different regional governments, such as in RegionsAdapt?

One outcome of the Paris Climate Conference was the acknowledgement that a more diverse range of actors is needed on global climate action without adding additional complexity. Non-party stakeholders, including states, regions and cities are fundamental delivery partners on climate policy. For instance, they often have responsibility for sectors that are key to meeting emission reduction targets like building standards, transport and waste management. Moreover, they are also often closer to climate problems (and solutions). Consequently, organisations such as RegionsAdapt are important in sharing information and expertise, as well in collaborating to introduce new approaches and providing a platform for representatives from subnational governments, who wouldn’t otherwise have the platform to share their challenges and progress.

R4: Scotland declared a climate emergency earlier this year. What does it mean for the government and what actions have been taken so far?

RC: Our First Minister was the first national leader to declare a global climate emergency, and since then we have already put in place the most stringent climate legislation of any country in the world, including a target to reduce emissions of all greenhouse gases to net-zero by 2045 at the latest. We are leading by example through our bold actions and ambitious targets to end Scotland’s contribution to climate change within a generation. Climate change was also firmly at the heart of our latest Programme for Government, which sets out our policy plans for the year. This included a landmark investment of more than £500 million to improve bus infrastructure across the country to encourage more people to use public transport. We are determined no-one gets forgotten or is left behind as we make the necessary changes in order to address the climate emergency. That is why we have placed just transition principles at the heart of our climate change legislation.

Of course, the only way we can successfully tackle the global climate emergency is for all nations to work together to exchange ideas and agree on shared actions. That is why Scotland is a proud member of the Under 2 Coalition. I look forward to deepening and strengthening international relations further at this critical time for climate action.

R4: What kind of climate risks is Scotland most exposed to and what actions are being taken to address them?

RC: The priority risks for Scotland are reviewed every 5 years through the statutory UK Climate Change Risk Assessment process. The most recent assessment, in 2017, sets out that we are already seeing warming in Scotland, with more rainfall, extreme weather events and rising sea levels. In particular, rainfall levels have increased by more than a quarter since the 1960s, with 1 in 11 homes and 1 in 7 businesses in Scotland now at risk of flooding. The Scottish Government is acting now by investing £420 million over 10 years to protect homes in many of Scotland’s most flood-prone areas. We take a partnership approach with public bodies, local authorities and communities, working together to reduce risk and build our resilience. In recognition that homes and businesses in areas at risk are likely to flood more often, I recently launched a new action plan to encourage homeowners and businesses to implement resistance or resilience measures, such as flood guards, solid floors that can be easily mopped out or raising the height of electrical sockets. These actions can prevent damage or reduce the amount of time spent in temporary accommodation. However, flooding is not the only impact we will experience from a changing climate, we recognise that we have further work to do to deal with impacts from heat, drought and increased storminess. For example, we have installed wind shielding on a major new bridge to ensure it can remain open in high winds.

R4: The UN Climate Action Summit was held last September to advance climate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and move to low carbon or carbon-neutral economy. What steps is Scotland taking in this regard?

RC: As I said in my earlier response, Scotland has set a legally binding target to reach net-zero emissions, of all greenhouse gases and across the whole economy, by 2045 at the latest. We have also set a world-leading interim target for a 75% reduction by 2030, which goes far beyond what the climate science is needed globally to limit warming to 1.5 degrees. Responding to the global climate emergency is at the heart of our Programme for Government and a priority theme for our next Budget, we are committed to achieving our emissions reduction targets in a way that is fair for all. We are committed to a Green New Deal for Scotland, which will deliver billions of investment in our net-zero future and position Scotland to take advantage of a green economy. We are developing a strategic approach to mobilising the scale of finance needed for a net-zero transition and maximising growth opportunities for the Scottish economy. Securing the transition to net-zero will be the primary mission of the Scottish National Investment Bank, supported by £130 million in the coming year, and we also have plans for a Green Growth Accelerator, which will combine public and private investment to unlock additional investment for emissions reductions, transforming Scotland’s cities and regions. We will bring to market a £3 billion portfolio of projects over the next three years. These projects, which will all be ready for investment, will include renewables, waste and construction and we will look at expanding into other sectors.

R4: Regions4 in cooperation with the Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3) and the LSE Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment launched during the last COP25 the report “Climate Change Adaptation in a Multi-Level Governance Context: A Perspective from Subnational Governments”. In this sense, how is Scotland working towards a more integrated multi-level governance approach for climate action? Could you describe one or two measures taken to foster this approach?

RC: I have been consistently clear that our approach to ending Scotland’s contribution to climate change by 2045 will require shared endeavour. We must all – governments, businesses,  public bodies, communities and individuals – play our part. I recently consulted on plans for all public bodies – including our Local Authority councils – to set a date for zero emissions. Several public bodies, including the City of Edinburgh Council, have already made firm commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I am bringing the leaders of those bodies together, to form a coalition of the ambitious and play a leading role in Scotland’s response to the global climate emergency. Many of the levers that are essential to achieving our climate ambitions are held by the UK Government and I have called, a number of times, on the UK Government to act with urgency in these areas, including the deployment of fully operational carbon capture utilisation and storage facilities, reducing VAT on energy efficiency improvements in homes, and committing to adhere to future EU emission standards regardless of our position in relation to the EU.

We take a place-based approach to adaptation working in partnership with public bodies, local authorities and communities, to reduce risk and build our resilience. Glasgow is a good example of this work.  Climate Ready Clyde is an initiative to create a shared vision, strategy and action plan for an adapting Glasgow City Region.  It builds on the partnership work that has gone on before including the Metropolitan Glasgow Strategic Drainage Partnership which has been the trailblazer for urban surface water management in Scotland. It is helping us understand how to work together to manage surface water flooding, improve water quality and habitats in our cities and enable these areas to flourish. It will inform how blue-green infrastructure can be rolled out across the country.