This week’s Scottish Fiscal Commission report comes on the back of a range of wider reports, which all make it clear that the cost of damage from climate change is going to grow exponentially, unless we take greater steps to avoid it, and that we are still not acting sufficiently quickly or at scale. And if we keep ignoring it, or delaying action to tackle it, it will cost a lot more money. The report makes the point that this is a shared responsibility and all the analysis from the CCC shows that the UK cannot deliver its net zero ambitions without Scotland playing a significant role, especially within the land-use sector. The SFC report is partly based on an OBR discussion paper from last year, and is the latest to highlight the economic impacts of climate change.

In summary from this range of reports we know the following : We need to see action. We need better plans in place. The Scottish and UK Governments are going to have to start working better together, or they will both fail. The cost to the economy risks getting out of control if we don’t act or delay action. But we do need to spend significant sums to deliver against target emissions cuts. However, we can fully or partly meet these costs by redirect existing public expenditure, and if we do so, the economy will be net better off.

The SFC report failed to deliver all it promised. In particular it fails to properly assess the existing and anticipated damage from climate change, acknowledging that the costs of damage are going to get unaffordably high. Its conclusions mostly worry about the disproportionate cost to the Scottish government of delivering against national targets. It’s like we’re in a boat that is sinking, watching it slowly slip below the increasingly stormy waves, whilst we argue about whether to try and stop it sinking, and who should pay for it.

We need people to see beyond their differences and get on with it.

The cost of damage from climate related floods, drought, heat and other damage will far outweigh any cost of trying to tackle it, and will, if unchecked, eventually spiral out of economic control and become altogether unaffordable in every sense. If anyone reading the report thinks the cost of tackling climate is unaffordable, then they should be paying more attention to the cost of not tackling it!

We have to tackle climate change. Scientifically we have known this for perhaps four decades. Morally we know we have to act. And economically it’s the only sensible course of action. Even a delay of 5 years could double the cost of damage, and could also make adaptation impractical, according to the OBR last year. It is frustrating that despite new more stringent targets being adopted in 2019 by all political parties, there has been little or no new funding or commitment to actually deliver against them, and we have therefore lost the momentum from 2019 and now risk falling well short of those targets.

The Scottish Fiscal Commission’s (SFC’s) latest paper, explores the potential costs of adaptation – measures needed to protect existing communities from the worst of this damage – things like building flood defences (natural or otherwise); improved drainage;

subsidies to help fill skills gaps and deliver a just transition; and measures to avoid sea level rise impacts, drought or heat.

And it considers the costs of actually preventing climate change damage in the first place – delivering against our national and international targets, by cutting emissions (mitigating) to actually try to prevent climate damage getting worse in the first place. It reaffirms the point that the more and the quicker we cut our emissions, the less the cost of damage to our homes, infrastructure and our lives there will be and the more our ability to adapt will remain in reach practically and financially.

It does not necessarily mean we have to find new money, although that might well help, but it reinforces the fact that we need urgent and significant action. Although the government is convinced it cannot deliver much of this without private investment, the totality of Public spending is already a very significant proportion of total GDP, and if directed appropriately could go a long way to funding the right actions.

The SFC report leaves a lot of questions unanswered, such as who will fund the necessary land-use changes needed, especially when the UK cannot hit its national targets if Scotland cannot deliver, but what it does tell us is compelling, and leads to some obvious conclusions.

Climate change action deserves far more political attention, and priority in terms of immediate action, by government and industry. It needs better joined up thinking across disciplines, geographies and sectors, a shared approach following a strategic plan of how we need to respond. So we need a credible Climate Change Action Plan and quickly, written and committed to by both Scottish and UK governments. And a National Adaptation strategy. We urgently need budgetary commitments and better assessment of public spending, to ensure it is appropriately targeted. We need to stop funding damaging activities and properly fund positive ones.

What these reports make clear is that inaction is a completely false economy – and the most costly path of all. If we keep putting it off, and treat climate action as somehow optional or irrelevant, the price we will pay is only going to get bigger and bigger – and not just in monetary terms.

We know we need to do it. In recent surveys 9 in 10 members of the public want more action on tackling climate, yet it feels like every political party and a large number of corporates are rolling back on commitments and refusing to fund action.

In a similar report from the UK Office of Budgetary Responsibility (OBR) last year it showed that if we funded all or most of the transition to net zero by redirecting existing public spending, we will actually grow the economy. It also outlined that if we keep delaying and allow climate to worsen we will spend increasingly large sums simply recovering the damage caused or in trying to adapt our infrastructure to survive and be more resilient.

In case you still think this latter course of action is preferable, it is worth quoting the UN’s 2022 Climate Impact Report, which reminds us that we can adapt, but only up to a point: “Ultimately, unless the emissions that are driving climate change decline rapidly then the options for

societies to adapt will become increasingly limited.” In other words, as climate worsens we will simply not be able to afford the adaptation measures necessary.

What this report, and previous OBR reports reaffirm, yet again, is that there really is only one credible course of action. Morally we need to tackle climate change before it gets worse. Scientifically we need to tackle climate change before it escalates. And economically the sooner we cut emissions the better off we will be.

Climate change is not optional – it is already causing significant damage. That’s why governments the world over declared climate emergencies. It’s well past the time we actually started acting like it was one.