A STUDY published in the journal Environmental Politics looks back to Scotland’s 2009 Climate Change Act and the role it has played in building a bridge between Scottish and international politics.

Not only were international ambitions an important motivating factor for developing world-leading legislation, since the act passed, it has been used to promote Scotland worldwide as a climate champion.

This month, the world’s eyes should have been directed towards Scotland again for the UN COP26 conference. The health risks and travel restrictions facing delegates from every corner of the world made the event untenable in 2020, so now this month instead marks the one-year countdown until the rescheduled summit.

In this year, Scotland needs to decide what we hope to achieve as a country from the negotiations taking place on our soil because although Scotland will welcome the world next year, it is the UK Government who will host the meeting. The Scottish Government has no defined role and does not even automatically have a seat at the table.

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However, in previous years First Ministers have attended the negotiations in varying capacities. Alex Salmond was in Copenhagen in 2009 to promote Scotland’s recently adopted legislation and Nicola Sturgeon has spoken in recent years, always drawing large crowds of delegates and observers.

A cornerstone of their contributions to the global meeting has routinely been the ambitious example Scotland’s climate legislation sets to the world, positioning Scotland as a climate leader. The amendments that were made to the Climate Change Act in 2019, setting the Scottish goal for achieving net-zero emissions in 2045, have ensured that Scotland is still at the top of the pile internationally in terms of on-paper ambition.

The door is therefore open for the Scottish Government to once again use its legislation to promote Scotland as a best-practice example of responding to climate change.

However, 2020 and all of its challenges demand more. While the Scottish Government’s work has rightly been dominated by responding to the global pandemic, at some point hopefully not too far down the road, the focus is going to switch from the medical and the virological to questions of post-pandemic economic recovery and societal cohesion.

If Scotland wants to hold on to our climate leadership status and carve out a role for the Scottish Government at the Glasgow meeting, it will not be the climate commitments made on paper in the past that are important.

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The key lies with a green, socially-just rebuilding of the economy, putting the climate commitments legislated for in 2009 at the heart of the vital decisions to be made in the months to come. So while it will be the UK Government’s job to sit at the top table and steer the world towards a more liveable climate future, Scotland could be in the position to inspire the world to commit to such a future – but only if we continue to lead by example.

Sarah Louise Nash is a Scottish political scientist working on climate change politics and policy, currently based at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna. Her study can be read at www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09644016.2020.1846957