MSPs, business leaders and newly enrolled university students may be asked to take mandatory climate change studies if plans currently under consideration are adopted.
The module and workshop-based studies would help arm them with facts and knowledge to make urgent changes to society as it emerges from COVID-19 lockdown.
The Scottish Government has already committed to enrolling at least 100 senior officials to the Climate Solutions course.
The news comes just days before Tuesday’s one-year anniversary of Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon declaring a climate emergency. The course was devised by experts at the Perth-based Royal Scottish Geographical Society in partnership with the Institute of Directors, Stirling University’s Business School and the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Carbon Innovation.
Former UN executive secretary on climate change Christiana Figueres who brokered the Paris Agreement, former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney who is now UN special envoy on climate action and finance and ex Irish President Mary Robinson who set up a climate justice foundation, are among the heavyweight names lending their support.
Then man behind the idea, RSGS chief executive Mike Robinson, said a number of business leaders have already committed to undertake the course along with the Scottish Government, with further discussions to ensure new university students and MSPs can take part well-underway.
Speaking during Climate Solutions Week, he said: “The driving issue is we need to tackle the climate issue quickly and therefore we need people who are in positions of authority already, who are working to understand the issues better, to actually take action.
“We can’t wait for another generation of enlightened children to grow up and become old enough to do it. We haven’t got the time for that.”
“There’s a very, very serious conversation to take place about what do we want ‘normal’ to look like going forwards and how we recover after COVID-19. Everybody knew some sort of pandemic was going to happen, we just didn’t know when.
“To some degree – though you can debate the politics around this until the cows come home – we were prepared for it and had some degree of readiness for it. But it has been absolutely transformational in the way it has impacted our lives.
“One of the equally observable and scientifically predictable occurrences is climate change and we haven’t really done that much to address that yet. Unlike COVID-19, however, we even know the timescale for climate action.”
The studies are aimed at filling the gaps in knowledge, on a scientific and factual basis, with a focus on developing a structured plan. Online modules are live now, with the first planned workshop to be held in June.
Mr Robinson, who has just been shortlisted in the IoD’s Regional Director of the Year Awards for the third sector, added: “What we’re really hoping is we can make it universal.
“The conversations I’ve had are with six universities is about making it mandatory for students as a matriculation course. Stirling and Edinburgh universities are already further down the line on that than others.
“I’m also talking to others about making it as mandatory as we can in all other sectors – including business – because we need everybody to wake up a bit to their responsibilities.
“The Scottish Government are already committed through their programme of government to put through 100 senior staff on it.
“David Reay from the ECCI did a presentation for politicians and it was suggested that every MSP could sit the course as well and we’re still pursuing that with them.
“But if we have 100 senior Scottish Government Officials which is already committed, if we can get even half of MSPs on the course and then a handful of businesses, I’d be quite happy with that for year one.”
He added: “Tuesday is a year since the First Minister declared a climate emergency and it is very difficult to point to anything that reflects a response to that emergency.
“When you realise now what an emergency response ‘actually’ looks like – it’s even harder to work out what we’ve done for climate in the 12-month period.”
Among the main areas the course looks at are issues around transport, energy use, supply chains, social behaviours, mitigation and planning for the future.
Mr Robinson insists business leaders – and the farming community in particular – will play a key role in deciding future outcomes.
He said: “It’s a really big issue that’s going to reach across so much of future markets, future trades, future behaviours – shareholder value.
“The change in investment policy in the last two years has been phenomenal, as have customer and shareholder attitudes and dietary behaviours – there’s an awful lot that’s shifted and it hasn’t finished shifting.
“Among those businesses are the National Farmers Union who up until around 18-months ago saw climate change as a threat, but now they realise they are actually critical players in delivering a net zero economy.
“We won’t do it without farmers.”
Mr Robinson said the double whammy of COVID-19 and the postponement of COP26 climate conference in Glasgow in November threatened to derail progress that had been made.
He added: “2019 was full of the climate emergency and the biodiversity crisis that had been highlighted by IPBES report in 2018, and there was a real palpable sense that in 2020 these were going to be the main news agenda items and somehow we would make some serious progress.
“The Glasgow COP was hugely positive and optimistic and obviously it is still meant to go ahead and take place in Glasgow before next November, but nobody can say when.
“So, in a sense it’s a setback to the international negotiation. But it has maybe, I hope, woken people up to what an emergency response really looks like and if we are careful about how we rebuild there is an opportunity to actually make strides on some of this stuff.
“Targets, particularly on climate change, relate to the whole of our society and not just government, and you need businesses, you need local authorities, you need individual actors to pick up the baton and play their role.
“Until you all have the same thing you are working too, then the danger is you are actually pulling apart instead of pulling in the same direction and that’s actually the single biggest risk.
“There is a willingness, but not necessarily clarity.
“So, here’s a way that’s credible, reliable, makes sense to business and helps them implement stuff – because if you don’t know this stuff how are you going to run a business in ten years time.”
“One of the biggest problems with the Coronavirus is the way it has pushed us all apart in a way where even now we don’t know when we are going to be able to socialise and convene in the way that we did.
“Climate last year was something that was really beginning to bring people together, almost everybody is beginning to engage in a way they just weren’t before.”
Anticipating hundreds of people to enrol in the first year, he hopes the course can help reduce the impact of the pause.
He said: “It’s very solutions focussed, it’s imbued with optimism which I think is essential from a mental health point of view. I’m not into scaring people witless about this, we want to enable them.
“What we’re trying to do is make it easy as possible for people to work out the answers quickly, and the need to take action quickly.
“Even if you can’t necessary impact a solution directly by introducing it in your business or in your own life then what you can do is recognise the need for that change and allow it to happen.
“Better informed decision making is what we’re trying to encourage. Each business is going to respond in their own way.
“Really the fundamental principle is that everybody needs to know a certain amount, even if it’s just to prepare themselves and their organisations for the future.”
The Climate Solutions has attracted widespread backing from key influencers in the climate change movement who have recorded video messages of support.
Former Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney said: “Each business is going to need a strategy on how it’s going to respond, how it’s going to contribute to this transition to net zero carbon economy. And, how it’s going to take advantage of the opportunities created. The first thing to do as business leaders… is making this a priority, and ensuring appropriate seniority of the organisation is focussed on it.”
Christiana Figueres, who is a Shackleton Medallist of the RSGS said: “Climate change and its associated impacts will drive our markets and behaviours over the next few years and decades, influencing national and global trade, legislation, innovation and opportunity. Any organisation which does not understand this issue is at severe risk of losing competitiveness and even becoming obsolete.”
Initiator of the Solar Impulse Foundation Bertrand Piccard – who flew around the world in a solar-powered aircraft said: “The Scottish government is a pioneer in terms of fighting climate change. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that this initiative is being developed in Scotland to reconcile ecology and economy. It is time to understand that protecting the environment is a very profitable business opportunity for everyone. And the RSGS is the perfect partner to help make this happen.”
David Watt, former Executive Director of the IoD, said: “Climate change is something that affects businesses all across Scotland and, indeed, the world. I think given where we are with our environment and climate, the more business – and everyone coming into business – knows about climate change, the better. Climate Solutions is an important initiative on possibly the world’s most vital issue.”
Ian Marchant, previous CEO of SSE and current Head of Dunelm Energy said: “The economic risk to business of climate change is that it can affect everything. It can affect your supply chain, your use of materials, and it can affect how your staff get to work.”
Dave Reay, Professor of Carbon Management & Education at Edinburgh University, who has been involved with the project, said: “As climate change intensifies, the need for expertise, leadership and well-informed action is more urgent than ever. This new professional qualification is precisely the kind of innovative approach required. By providing accessible, robust and stakeholder-led training on tackling climate change this course is set to become a core of professional development right across public, private and third sector organisations. In doing so it will greatly enhance the capacity of Scotland, the UK and other nations to achieve the rapid emissions cuts required for a net zero future.“Time is against us on climate change, so this initiative led by Mike and the RSGS can’t come soon enough.”
The originator of the global school strikes movement, Greta Thunberg, recorded a series of bespoke video messages for the Climate Solutions programme, doing so after receiving the Geddes Environment Medal from the RSGS in Stockholm during the summer. She said: “My message to young people is to hold the older generations accountable, and to never stop doing this”
The project is a collaboration between the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, the Institute of Directors, and the Universities of Stirling and Edinburgh, working with digital content creators Jump Digital, with funding support from the Scottish Government.
The first modules are live with Module 4 expected in May. The first Climate Solutions workshop is scheduled for June 2020 and will be provided via Zoom given the COVID-19 outbreak.Organisers are currently offering the full course at £300 per participant, which represents a 33% early bird discount.
The offer ends in December 2020, and the course must be completed within three months to qualify. Further details can be found at this link: https://www.rsgs.org/climate-solutions