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Climate Change Plan update not fit for the Climate Emergency

Published 19 January 2021 by Transform Scotland

Transform Scotland has published its response to the Scottish Parliament Energy, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee’s call for evidence on the updated Climate Change Plan. We shared our response to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee’s call for evidence separately last week which focused more on specific transport policies and you can read here.

Speaking on the context of the Plan, Transform external affairs manager Jess Pepper, said:

Scottish emissions by sector over the past 30 years shows no progress in reducing transport emissions.

“In considering whether this plan is sufficient, it is important to be mindful of the devastating impacts that climate change is wreaking across the planet right now – and bear in mind, it is those who are most vulnerable and have done least to cause them who suffer the worst impacts.

“More frequent devastation through floods, landslides, extreme weather that is leading to disease, the destruction of crops, homes, livelihoods and infrastructure – and lives being lost. It is in that context, and with consideration of the negligible contribution that the transport sector has made to reducing Scotland’s emissions over three decades that these observations are made.”

Our response focuses on three key factors:

Overview and Ambition

The Plan refers to following the sustainable travel hierarchy, and outlines a welcome ambition to reduce km travelled by car, but the vast majority of Transport Scotland’s action and spend does not prioritise active and sustainable transport options. The budget and the action prioritises cars.

A9 dualling by drone. Photo by Andy Smith.

Transform Scotland recommends an urgent moratorium and review of all road-building projects in line with the advice from these commissions and advisors to the Scottish Government. Separately, but in parallel, we urge the Parliamentary Committees to hold an inquiry into the decades of transport spend that has systematically exacerbated poor health, inequalities and the climate emergency.


In this emergency context, clear deliverable actions should be set out and accountable. Instead there is a lot of vague language like ‘commit to explore options around..’; ‘we will work to improve road safety..’; ‘we are committed to taking forward policy consultation..’.

There is a need for urgent clarity on how these commitments will be delivered and when. The only measurable for the Scottish Parliament and people on Outcome 1 is the 20% reduction in car km by 2030. Without milestones, or specific deliverables to get there, how can this be scrutinised? After decades of failure to make any progress on this, it cannot be enough only to hope that it is achieved by 2030.

Behaviour Change

The Scottish Government talks about how the sustainable travel hierarchy prioritises active and sustainable choices. The transport budget prioritises cars.

A major issue undermining all government leadership on climate change is that the messaging is inconsistent. On climate the message is not clear – government asks us to walk, cycle and use the bus. Yet, the government investment is in roads, increasing traffic and it is cheaper to use your car. This is a lesson learned time and again through covid. To achieve behaviour change people have to understand why action is needed, and key messages for action have to be clear, consistent and led by government. These are major issues to tackle to achieve what is needed.