These are extraordinary times. Scotland is emerging slowly and cautiously from lockdown and considering how we recover, as a nation, and as part of the global community. Attention has rightly focused on the public health crisis and treatment of the most vulnerable, but as governments begin to look to life beyond lockdown it is clear that the lockdown and its aftermath is having severe consequences for the economy, both globally and nationally. Livelihoods, particularly in hospitality, retail and tourism, are under threat and millions of jobs are at risk. The Scottish Government forecasts an immediate downturn in economic activity of up to 33%, while the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts a downturn of 35% for the UK as a whole. Indeed, current predictions from the Bank of England suggest that this will be the deepest economic recession in living memory.
However, we should not be mistaken that this is the only crisis for which we need an immediate solution. Science shows us that we have 10 years to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and 10 years to reverse the loss in biodiversity, happening across the world and in Scotland. While there are a number of paths the Scottish and UK Government could choose to embark upon to lead us out of this crisis, we must not repeat the mistakes of the 2007-08 financial crisis and the following decade and more of austerity measures have crippled the public sector, including environmental services, and driven up inequalities in our society. We must learn from the recent past and choose an alternative path. A recovery that takes us back to the old ways of running the economy is not inevitable – it is a political choice towards an unstable climate and failing ecosystems.
Welcome statements from the Scottish Government Ministers have signalled the intention that the economic recovery should be ‘green’. However, for this to be real, there is a level of ambition for action that is not yet visible. Before the Covid-19 pandemic swept Scotland, we were already facing nature and climate emergencies and the Government’s Environment Strategy recognised that significant action was required. The Government’s response to the Economic Recovery Group Report produced quickly and under limited resources, has some good points but overall lacks the ambition, commitment and urgency that are needed to drive the level of change we need to see. Our tests show that a green recovery must stimulate national and local economies that work for people while delivering benefits for nature and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These issues are not separate to economic considerations – for example, Scotland’s £6bn tourism sector and £14bn food and drink sector depend on a thriving environment.
Our response must therefore be a step change in policy, with tangible results within the next decade, as urged by international scientists and policy-makers, and including natural solutions to climate change and reversing biodiversity loss with wide-reaching positive impacts on society and the economy. There are 3 vital elements that are present in part, but not at the scale needed, in the Government response to the proposals:
- Partnerships: The scale of the challenges cannot be tackled by government and the private sector alone. It is very clear that we will only achieve the level of buy in and action that we need through proper partnership working – not just between business and government but with local communities and with communities of interest in the arts, culture, environment and care sectors. Together we can create jobs, build the skills base needed and involve everyone. A top down approach simply will not work.
- Investment: government cannot fund us out of these crises. They simply cannot afford it. The funds identified in the report are a good starting point. But they must be matched against private investment and leveraged by local ingenuity and charitable sector creativity. That way we may see the scale of investment able to make a positive impact. That investment must also be in the right place and at the right time. The Scottish National Investment Bank has a clear leadership role to play here. In meeting its mission and objectives, it should firmly focus its limited public funding in de-risking green investments and thereby leveraging much greater private investment in initiatives that build back better for society and the planet.
- Embedding climate and environmental sustainability into decision making: this is now unavoidable if we are to avoid disasters of massive and long term recession, climate instabilities and uncontrollable ecosystem feedback loops. The Infrastructure Investment Plan for example with 3 strategic outcomes that mirror the green wellbeing economy outcomes, and include climate action and nature restoration is a part but must be so far embedded that environmental sustainability is the fundamental basis of economic growth and not an optional add on. Embedding this across Government is a powerful lever to lead and drive change. When it is matched across the rest of society, business and industry, we start to see a very effective mechanism to move towards the future we all want to see.
This all takes ambition, leadership, drive and commitment. With an election coming up, this is what we want to see in Party manifestos ready to be enacted immediately in June. This has to start now: unless such ambition is clearly committed to in Party manifestos, the scale of change we need to see for Scotland to lead by example and come out of the pandemic, the climate emergency and the nature crisis, simply will not be achieved.
 International Labour Organization, 2020. As jobs escalate, nearly half of global workforce at risk of losing livelihoods. https://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_743036/lang–en/index.htm
 Scottish Government, 2020. State of the Economy: April 2020. https://www.gov.scot/publications/state-economy-april-2020/
 Chaplain, C., 2020. UK recession: Bank of England warns of worst recession on record in 2020. The i. https://inews.co.uk/news/politics/uk-recession-bank-of-england-worst-record-2020-economy-coronavirus-lockdown-2845697
 Scottish Government 2019. Climate Change Plan update. https://www.gov.scot/news/climate-change-plan-update/ AND Scottish Government, 2020. Economy Secretary’s statement 21 April 2020. https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-update-economy-secretarys-statement-economic-impact-covid-19-tuesday-21-april-2020/
 Scottish Government, 2020. The Environment Strategy for Scotland. Available at: https://www.gov.scot/binaries/content/documents/govscot/publications/strategy-plan/2020/02/environment-strategy-scotland-vision-outcomes/documents/environment-strategy-scotland-vision-outcomes/environment-strategy-scotland-vision-outcomes/govscot%3Adocument/environment-strategy-scotland-vision-outcomes.pdf
 Scottish Government, 2018. Tourism in Scotland: the economic contribution of the sector. https://www.gov.scot/publications/tourism-scotland-economic-contribution-sector/pages/2/
 IPBES, 2019. Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/lec/about-us/news/why-citizens-assemblies-matter