For the last three weeks, we've seen a number of reports coming out around climate change, and Scotland's performance against its target. None have been positive. And now this week, we hear that Scottish Government plans to remove the 2030 emissions reduction target, which (other than the Greens who wanted to go to 80%) was agreed by every political party back in 2019. It is an incredibly retrograde step, and undermines years of climate leadership in this country.

The first report was from the Scottish Fiscal Commission, which in essence outlined how climate change is going to impact our economy detrimentally, because of all of the various consequences of rising temperatures. Then the annual World Meteorological Organisation ‘status’ report confirmed that 2023 was the warmest year on record, and the warmest ten-year period on record. “Sirens are blaring across all major indicators... Some records aren’t just chart-topping, they’re chart-busting. And changes are speeding-up.” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

Hot on the heels of that report, the UK Climate Change Commission reported that Scotland's 2030 target (of 75% emissions reductions) is no longer achievable. They called for Scottish Government to write a climate plan setting out how it will try to meet those targets, both to 2030 and out to 2045 when the country is meant to be net zero. It highlighted the lack of action in the last five years and challenged government to prove it was serious about climate change. The government’s response, announced in Parliament this week, has been to propose scrapping the 2030 target altogether.

So what we can safely say we know is : that climate change will damage our economy badly; it is getting progressively worse; that it is quite expensive to tackle climate change short term (unless we simply redirect existing public expenditure) but it will be an awful lot more expensive if we put it off; and that the lack of action in recent years means the 2030 target is almost certainly out of reach. In other words:

1. we have to do something,

2. the sooner we invest the cheaper and safer it will be, and

3. so far we’re failing.

So how should we respond? Do we admit our collective failure? Do we give up and remove the targets? Or do we double down, and try harder to galvanise support across the whole of society?

Government declared a climate emergency in 2019, and later set the 2030 target in law. It was a year in which young people could not have made it more apparent how angry they were at the lack of previous action, and many people in every walk of life woke up to their responsibility to do more. But since then it largely feels like we have all sat on our hands.

To be fair, there have been distractions. Many of the climate efforts were focused on hosting the UN Climate COP26 in Glasgow, when the whole world's governments came together for their annual meeting about how to tackle climate change. Companies queued up to jump on the bandwagon, and make net zero commitments, not all of which were credible. Scotland lauded its leadership on the global arena, which may have been why the UN COP came to Glasgow in the first place. But hosting a meeting and influencing change is not the same as taking action at home. Without action, it all starts to sound a bit hollow.

Declaring a climate emergency, as our Government and Parliament did in 2019, is no response, if it isn't backed up by action. Nor is a vague corporate promise to net zero. It is like sounding a fire alarm during a fire and then standing watching it take hold, but not bothering to evacuate the building or trying to put it out (and in some cases throwing more fuel on the flames).

Over the last five years, we have seen almost no commitment to domestic action, and a lot of political back pedalling or delay. I have heard time and again a reiteration of the excuses as to why we haven’t done things – “there are other short-term priorities” (there always will be but we still need to tackle these long-term crises), “there’s no money” (but it’s so serious we need to find some and we’re still subsidising damaging behaviours), “there’s too much push back/ it’s too difficult/ we’ve done all the easy stuff” (and yet 80% of the public want more action on climate),”it’ll take 3 or 4 years at least to bring it forward”( well that doesn’t sound like an emergency), or ”there is too much political disagreement / polarisation” (yet every party voted for these or higher targets).

This is not unique to climate change and we have clearly all suffered a Covid pandemic during that period with all sorts of knock on consequences – not just in terms of immediate deaths and health impacts, but also in terms of societal breakdowns in trust, political polarisation, the cost to the public purse, and now the cost of living crisis.

Barely five years after setting legislation, but six years before we even reach the target date, we are already told it is out of reach. It’s frustrating but hardly surprising - there has been very little commitment or investment in climate action, since the 2019 Act. How on earth did they think it was going to happen? Did they hope it would just sort itself? It’s not just Governments, there has been significant back-pedalling in most sectors of industry too.

Climate change is not optional - it's happening anyway - and we need to tackle it for the sake of every single person in society. It has been known about for decades and yet we are still not educating people about it – and I don’t just mean young people!

It's time for everybody, every sector, to put their hands up and admit that the last five years have been pretty much a write-off in terms of climate delivery. None of us have done what we could and should have done. We have taken our eye off the ball.

We urgently need to see action. We need to get back on track. And every single sector of society needs to step up and get back to the level of commitment, energy and focus that we had in 2019. To tackle this issue head on. Not just to set more targets, but to actually do something meaningful to try to meet them. This is not an easy issue, but everything tells us that the most expensive course of action is to do nothing.

I don’t want to waste time and energy trying to point fingers, that gets us nowhere, and truthfully none of us has done enough. I just want to see more impetus, funding and priority for climate action. This moment should be a wake-up call and rallying call for every one of us to step up and do what is necessary, and urgently. It is time for a reset. Do we actually care about the future or don’t we?