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Scotland's 2030 climate target scrapped: what now?

By Iain Black - Posted on 25 April 2024

Iain Black looks at what the next steps might be following the Scottish Government scrapping of its 2030 climate targets of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 75%.

That Scotland is not going to achieve its 2030 greenhouse gas reduction target has been recognised for several years now. Failing to reach an ambitious target is one thing, not having had a credible plan in the first place is another; even worse is working from one that guarantees your failure. Those of us well-established in the environmental and social justice civil societies in Scotland have also recognised for some time that the policies being proposed and enacted were not capable of delivering the impacts required of them. I think we were perhaps too polite as we urged the Government to enact deeper reforms, more quickly.   

The reasons that Scottish Government policies (and others) aimed at addressing the climate crises are failing, are the same ultimately as the reasons why it is failing to address the poverty crisis and the fossil fuel cost-of-living crisis: The interventions try to moderate the current system and they represent short-term mitigations rather than addressing structural causes. They rely on tried and failed thinking surrounding how to organise markets to deliver goods and services, they rely on existing power structures and partnerships with those who are threatened by what the required reform brings: the democracy, social justice and opportunity for all, that come from independence from energy bills, access to land ownership and meaningful participation in government. 

So, we have been betting our future on green hydrogen and carbon capture, utilisation and storage rather than on strategies and technologies that work now and are available to scale.  The market approaches envisaged for these technologies also recreate existing centralised power structures and re-establish the oil and gas industry.  Hence, they re-entrench energy dependency or the (green) Laird and feudal dependency.  

Neither are they sited within a clearly articulated, robustly evidenced, best practice and citizen-voice led vision by which planetary, societal and citizens wellbeing are articulated and set as the priorities for the economy to then deliver. 

So, imagining that the dropping of the 2030 greenhouse gases (GHG) reduction target by the Scottish Government acts as an inflection point and leads to open and honest conversations about our collective failure, what could we do?  What would an emergency systems wide response look like to deliver the goods and services required for everyone to live a dignified life?  One where we all have a sense of purpose and trust our institutions and where we recognise the role of the economy is to deliver this within the self-evident boundaries imposed by living on one planet.  What would a response look like that recognised as an immutable truth that the health of our planet is an essential precursor for our own?   

One such approach is Mission Oriented Market Making. This approach borrows heavily from a range of work.  Most obviously from that of Mariana Mazzucato but considering the existential threats we face through climate change and biodiversity loss, it takes a narrower focus of what our national missions are likely to be.  It also draws on work on innovation contexts that shows that if we are to scale the technologies and behaviours we need to address climate change, then we need to look at a bounded capitalist model such as the one used by the United States to support its second world war arms industry.  As an example, that approach allowed the US to launch 2710 liberty ships, from 18 different yards at a top rate of two every three days.   

Mission Oriented Market Making 

Mission oriented market making is a strategic and interventionist approach to market creation and maintenance. The Missions faced here are those required to address three interlinked crises: 1) addressing the climate emergency, 2) the fossil fuel cost-of-living crisis and 3) the Scottish Government’s relationship with business.  We should be under no illusion that these crises are interlinked. The cost of not insulating Scotland’s homes and lack of investment in public and active travel means, whilst we miss our targets to reduce emissions from buildings and transport, families across Scotland and the UK are struggling with energy bills. Relying on discredited laissez-faire free market economics and entrenched actors to solve our energy crises puts SME’s at a disadvantage and does not provide the regulatory and stable markets they need to thrive.   

In adopting this approach, governments recognise and exercise their preeminent capacity to structure economic activity (as seen during the Covid crisis) to address persistent, intensifying and multiplying environmental and social crises.  It relies on focusing legislative, regulatory and financial powers to ensure that economic and governance institutions and structures are (re)created, democratised and localised. This means deep land and local government reform.   

Finance in a Scottish context would be raised through the Scottish National Investment Bank, local government pension funds and government backed crisis bonds.  Private investment is leveraged but rates of return and areas where this is invested are controlled for the public good.  Costs are addressed through democratising structures controlling the costs of energy, land and rent.  

Together, these resources are used to support innovation and industrial strategy fixed ruthlessly on directing national and local economic activity to create high levels of self-sufficiency in the goods and services required to address the persistent crises agreed through national conversations.  It is an approach where government, taking an emergency and crisis orientation, convenes and directs national assets (from private, public and third sectors) to develop the markets and structures required to innovate, create and maintain, at scale, the technological and behavioural solutions required to address agreed national missions. 

This approach requires managing collaboration for the design, supply, manufacturing, building, maintaining, servicing, repair, remanufacturing and eventually recycling of the products needed to deliver for everyone, the services required to satisfy core human, community and societal needs. 

Building and maintaining these markets is coordinated and controlled by national bodies supported by trade unions, universities/colleges and the third sector. Delivery is by a full range of organisations: SME, international corporates, third sector and community organisations from strategically located national centres, devolving technology and process down for local development and installation.  These centres focus on scaling technologies that works now and is open source. We need to make more of what is good, rather delaying scalar action seeking to make the newest and best.  

Governments support business by de-risking investments through guaranteeing long-term support for strategically important markets whilst ensuring rewards are socialised. The empowered delivery and coordination bodies, overseen by citizen assemblies, invest in, and own infrastructure and ruthlessly focussing on providing a supportive consistent regulatory environment. These organisations wield significant sticks. 

Which Missions and Markets? 

For Scotland, these missions link the ‘forever needs’ - heat, home, food, transport, meaningful work, sense of purpose, community and socialising - to the interlinked crises Scotland faces.  The following examples should be seen as a starting point for the national conversations required so that when work starts, it is with the clear support of the population, something currently missing:   

Everyone benefits from Scotland’s energy: prosumers, warm homes and lower costs 

  • National Insulation and retrofit company: From farm or forest to manufacturing to installation. Developing the community scale, street by street installations addressing the high cost of individual projects 
  • National Public Energy Agency: Focusing on domestic and industrial and district energy through heat pumps, district heating systems, onshore and offshore turbines plus recommissioned units 

Enough food for everyone: nutritious, tasty ,healthy and affordable 

  • National high value farm produce agency: 
  • Grown in a range of farm types, including vertical farms so deliver appropriate nutrition and taste for everyone. 

Access for all to active and low carbon travel: safe, clean, reliable and cheap 

  • National transport agency controlling provision (though construction and requisition) and maintenance of public transport infrastructure and assets including ferries, trains/buses and e-charging network. 

Mission Oriented Market Making is a rejection of the roundly criticised and observably failing approach of the last 40 years where governments intervene, by the minimal amount, to correct market failure.  Instead, the model followed here is war time prioritisation and mobilisation.  The Scottish Government would convene an emergency cabinet overseen by citizen assemblies.  It would ruthlessly focus its powers on what we need to grow, make, build, install and service to address these mission-based needs by taking systems level approaches that are circular by design and pre-designed to deliver a wellbeing economy.   This is an approach that can be expected to produce the scale and speed of response required whilst facilitating a Just Transition.  

Professor Iain Black wrote this article for the Common Weal in his capacity as a Common Weal Board member 


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