Now is the time for an ambitious green, wellbeing recovery

20 Aug 2020

A view from Deborah Long, LINK Chief Officer.

In my earlier blog, I didn’t see the ambitious green wellbeing recovery vision in the Economic Recovery Group’s report that I and many others want for Scotland. The question now is, is it in the Scottish Government’s response, published on 5 August?

There are two elements to this: has the Government identified the most effective approach and action to achieve a green recovery that improves our wellbeing? And can that happen at a pace to meet the urgency of today’s situation?

In terms of an effective approach, the most obvious way to achieve success and to make the most of our physical, social, natural and human capital (as the report calls it) is working in partnership. Hence the very clear acknowledgement in this Government response that partnership working is the only way a green recovery will be achieved is very welcome. This needs to be a consistent thread and it needs to reach beyond the business and banking communities. The Scottish Government make it very clear they are looking to build stronger and closer ties between the public and private sector through board membership, but where are the community voices?

Arguably the GDP focus of the business and banking communities has got us into the unsustainable mess we are already in, and that has led to the climate crisis and the nature emergency, which in turn have led to large scale refugee crises and a global pandemic. Partnership working absolutely must include working with local communities of place and with the charitable sector and communities of interest. The strength of a green,  wellbeing recovery strategy will be in building on the world views of those that see new paths for achieving welfare and wellbeing into the future and are able to predict implications of resource use that reaches beyond sustainable limits. By only talking to one side of the equation, this represents not just a massive lost opportunity, but, in my view, an error.

Secondly the levels of investment that the Scottish Government are putting into the green recovery, across multiple facets is welcome. With this matched against private investment and leveraging local ingenuity and charitable sector creativity, we begin to see a scale of investment that should start to make a positive impact.  Of course, that investment has to be in the right place and at the right time: the 5 green purpose tests of the Green Investment Bank would be a useful check on whether proposed investments can deliver or not.

And thirdly, embedding climate and environmental sustainability into decision making is evident, welcome and unavoidable. 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 good, as long as environmental sustainability remains a fundamental basis of economic growth and not an optional add on. Embedding this across Government would form 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.

So does this all add to the urgency of action we need to see? As ambitions go, this is a good start but needs to take us further if we are to address climate change and nature loss in the  next decade, in turn doing much more to tackle the ongoing environment refugee crisis and the spread of disease and collapsing ecosystems. This is why the next Programme for Government, due in September, needs to set out more detailed plans for how progress will be delivered in the short term.

We also need to see all political parties set out their bold ideas for a Green and Fair Recovery in the run up to next year’s elections and for all parties to bring forward constructive proposals that enable Scotland to take effective action using the skills, innovation, creativity and human energy we have across government, business, the charitable sector and communities, to make a swift and effective shift into a sustainable future for all.

If we have learnt anything from the pandemic, it is that wellbeing is not based on fleeting experience and material gain. It is actually instead about immersive experience, close to nature and with family and friends. With that shift in perception ongoing, now is the time for Government to put in place the mechanisms that take us as a society much nearer to wellbeing as we have rediscovered it.  And away from the seduction of wealth generated at the expense of local communities, society and nature, what we call, business as usual.

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