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Climate Conversation Pack

We need to talk about climate change.

Climate change is already happening and is affecting day to day lives around the world, including Scotland. The evidence is clear that we must take urgent action to avoid further catastrophic change to our planet and prepare for changes that are already locked in.

As the need for action becomes ever more urgent, climate change and global warming are becoming more and more prominent in the media. There is a huge amount of information out there. A wide range of language is used to describe what is happening to our climate and it is changing all the time. Sometimes it’s difficult to follow or know who to trust.

This pack is for people to learn more about the basics of climate change and have conversations with others about climate change. It covers what the government is doing in response, and importantly, what we all can do to lower our carbon footprint and help tackle climate change.

Climate change – what’s it all about?

We are increasingly hearing terms such as ‘climate emergency’, ‘net zero’, ‘just transition’ and ‘COP’, but what does it all mean? And importantly, what does it mean for you ?

To help, we’ve put together some key facts about the climate emergency, Scotland’s net zero target, our just transition approach and COP26.


Vehicles drive down a motorway into the sunset.


What is climate change and the climate emergency?

  • Climate change is one of the biggest threats facing humanity. Scotland led the world in becoming one of the first nations to declare a global climate emergency in April 2019.
  • Over the past 150 years, average global temperatures have risen by 1.2°C.
  • We are also experiencing more extreme weather events, such as summer heatwaves, rising sea levels, reduced snow cover, very heavy rainfall and flooding. We are already seeing these impacts in Scotland. You may even have noticed this in your own local area.
  • The issue is referred to as ‘the global climate emergency’ because urgent action is required to avoid potentially irreversible environmental damage.
  • Over two thirds (68%) of adults in Scotland view climate change as an immediate and urgent problem. This proportion has grown consistently since 2013.
  • Climate change is being caused by greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, which are harmful to the environment.
  • Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, water vapour, nitrous oxide, methane and ozone. The most common greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide (CO2).
  • Lots of different human activities result in CO2 emissions. As examples, boiling a litre of water in an electric kettle (70g), driving a mile in an average car (710g), taking a return flight from Glasgow to London (500kg), using your mobile phone for an hour a day for a year (1.25 tonnes), and cutting down one hectare of trees (500 tonnes).
  • The average CO2 emissions per person in the UK was almost 5.5 tonnes in 2019. This was more than the world-wide average of 4.7 tonnes.   
  • Climate change and nature loss are linked. In Scotland we have already lost 25% of our wildlife and 11% of our species are currently facing extinction and climate change is making this worse.
  • Unless we can rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, these changes will rapidly accelerate and cause irreversible damage to our economy, environment and society.
  • Even with urgent action to reduce emissions, we must also prepare for the impacts of climate change which are already locked in. This is called “adaptation” and involves actions like building resilience for communities to flooding and coastal change as sea levels rise.
  • Click here for more information on the climate emergency.

What is net zero? 

  • Net zero emissions’ means that the amount of greenhouse gas emissions put into the atmosphere balances with the amount taken out of the atmosphere.
  • We can achieve net zero by cutting our emissions across the economy to a minimum and capturing the emissions we cannot prevent by, for example, planting trees
  • Scotland has set a target to become ‘net zero’ by 2045, with interim targets of a 75% reduction in emissions by 2030 and 90% by 2040.
  • Scotland’s emissions reduction targets are ambitious and will need everyone in society, from Government to businesses, individuals, public and private sector organisations, and communities, to make lasting changes to the way we live.
  • Being net zero will transform the way we live for the better, making Scotland a healthier, cleaner, safer and fairer place for us all.
  • Reaching net zero and preparing for the ongoing effects of climate change is key to tackling the global climate emergency.
  • Click here for more information on net zero.

What is a just transition?

  • Meeting our climate ambitions will require rapid changes to our economy and society. The impact on Scottish workers, regions, communities and industries will vary.
  • Previous changes to our economy and society, including COVID-19, have shown how problematic these changes can be for certain groups when not managed properly. 
  • A just transition is about ensuring that, as we work towards net zero and greater climate resilience, the journey is fair and creates a better future for everyone – regardless of where they live, what they do, and who they are.
  • A just transition is an opportunity to deliver on our social, economic and climate goals at the same time.
  • Therefore Scotland has embedded the principles of just transition into its climate change legislation.

What is COP?

  • The United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (or ‘COP’) is held annually. COP brings together heads of state, climate experts and negotiators to agree coordinated action to tackle the global climate emergency.
  • At COP21 in Paris in 2015, countries committed to keeping global warming to below 2°C, and ideally 1.5°C. it is recognised that limiting global warming to these levels would substantially reduce the impacts of climate change.
  • From 31 October to 12 November 2021, Scotland hosted the 26th COP (COP26). It was the world’s biggest international summit on climate change.
  • Click here for more information on COP26.



Sunset over the Glasgow Clyde skyline.



Climate action – what can I do?

There’s lots of things that people can do to help tackle climate change. But sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start, or which actions are really making a difference. To help, we’ve put together some ideas of actions that you can take.

Taking these actions can have real benefits on your physical health and well-being, and many of them will save you money, at least in the long-term.


Get involved! One of best things you can do to tackle climate change is to talk to your friends, family and schoolmates or colleagues about it.


A elderly man helps two children plant vegetables.


The following sections include interesting facts, examples of positive action you can take and talking points to spark the discussion. These are categorised around your lifestyle, such as the way you travel, your diet, the things you buy and use, what you do around your home and the way you interact with nature.

Everyone has a right to know about climate change and to be involved. It can be a challenging and emotional subject to bring up and it is important to remember that people have different values and beliefs. No one should feel blamed, attacked, criticised or judged when talking about climate change. We should always be mindful of where people are coming from – economically, societally, and emotionally.

Transport – walk, wheel or cycle

Infographic showing sustainable travel hierarchy.


1. Reducing car use


Transport is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland, with 40% of transport emissions coming from cars. During the pandemic car use reduced dramatically, and many people noticed the benefits of living in quieter, safer and less polluted environments.


What is the Government doing?


The Scottish Government has set a target to reduce car kilometres by 20% by 2030, in order to help address the climate emergency but also to help reduce inequalities, deliver inclusive economic growth and improve health and wellbeing. Our route map to car use reduction is due to be published in late 2021 and will include a wide range of policy measures to support people to rethink their travel behaviours and reduce unnecessary car use.


What can you do?

  1. Rethink your need to travel – could you use an online service instead?
  2. Choose a more local destination for your trip if possible.
  3. Switch to active travel or public transport use wherever possible. Physical activity, including as part of a public transport trip is also good for health and wellbeing.
  4. Combine or share car trips. If you can’t switch to active travel or public transport then try to make sure your car trips are as efficient as possible, but combining multiple trip purposes or sharing a car with someone already travelling.


Talking Points


  • How often do you use the car?
  • Are there any car trips that you think you could avoid, for example by working from home; using an online service; visiting local destinations which you can easily walk or cycle to; or combing or sharing trips with someone else?
  • What are the barriers preventing you from using your car less and how could these be can these be overcome?
  • Can you think of the benefits of using your car less, for example an opportunity to get more physically active and connect with more people in your local area?



2. Active Travel


Over half of the journeys we make in Scotland are under 5km. Many could be taken using active travel (walking, wheeling or cycling).


What is the Government doing?


As part of the Scottish Government’s target to reduce car kilometres by 20% by 2030, we are investing heavily in active travel infrastructure. We have established pilot schemes to provide free bikes for school children who cannot afford one and are introducing safer speed limits in built up areas. We are introducing low emission zones in four Scottish cities by May 2022 to encourage active travel.


What can you do?

  1. Walk, wheel or cycle where possible instead of taking the car.


Talking Points


  • How often do you take the car for short journeys?
  • What are the barriers preventing you from using active travel more often, and how can these be overcome?
  • Can you think of the benefits to using active travel over more traditional transport modes, such as cars? For example, reduced petrol costs, improved health and well-being from exercising etc.



3. Public Transport


Transport is Scotland’s biggest emitting sector, and 40% of transport emissions come from cars. One full double decker bus is the equivalent of removing 75 single occupancy cars from Scotland’s roads.


What is the Government doing?


From 31st January 2022, everyone aged under 22 in Scotland will benefit from free bus travel. This will help embed more sustainable travel behaviours from a young age.


What can you do?

  1. Switch from private car use to public and shared transport use wherever possible.


Talking Points


  • By using public transport you can help to reduce traffic on the roads, making journeys faster for all road users. Reducing the number of private cars also provides more space for people to walk and cycle safely. As most public transport journeys include a walk at the beginning and the end they can also help improve your health and wellbeing through physical activity. Can you identify occasions where you can use public or shared transport instead of a private car?



4. Ultra-low emission vehicles


Electric vehicles emit between 17%-30% less greenhouse gases than petrol or diesel cars. It takes about 40 minutes to fully charge an electric car, which is quicker than charging your phone. Doing this from a public charging point costs around £8-£10, and from home around £4-£6.


What is the Government doing?


The Scottish Government is phasing out the need for new petrol and diesel cars by 2030. Energy Saving Trust provides expert advice on reducing transport costs and lowering emissions. Interest-free loans are also available for individuals that are thinking about buying an electric car, van or e-bike.


What can you do?

  1. Reconsider your car ownership. Could you make all the journeys you need using a combination of walking, cycling and public transport use?
  2. An e-cycle or e-cargo cycle may be an option to consider if you need to transport children or other heavy or bulky items.
  3. Car club membership could also be an alternative to car ownership.
  4. If you do still need to own a private vehicle, think about switching to an electric vehicle or plug-in hybrids instead of a petrol or diesel car.


Talking Points


  • How often do you need to use your car?
  • Are there other ways you could make the trips that you currently use your car for? For example by e-cycle or e-cargo cycler?
  • If you do still need to own a car how do you feel about switching to electric or hybrid vehicles?
  • Can you think of some of the benefits of doing so? For example, saving money on fuel and maintenance costs and reducing air and noise pollution?


Find out more information on active travel, electric vehicles or public transport.

Food – reduce waste, recycle food

Close up of roasted vegetables including carrots, onions and sprouts.


1. Planning Meals


If food waste were a country, it would be the world's third largest greenhouse gas emitter. Planning and smarter food shopping can reduce your food waste, and it’s also estimated the average Scottish household could save up to £437 each year.


What is the Government doing?


The Scottish Government has committed to reducing food waste by 33% by 2025 (against 2013 levels). So far, we’ve invested £30 million in food waste prevention. The amount of food waste going to landfill in Scotland is at its lowest level.


What can you do?

  1. Look at what is already in fridges and cupboards, then make a shopping list and stick to it. This means you only buy what you need to eat, and can help to reduce food waste.
  2. Turn your fridge thermostat to below 5 degrees to keep food and drink fresh for longer.
  3. Think about how you travel to shop for groceries – can you shop using active travel or public transport?


Talking Points


  • How much food do you throwaway each week?
  • Are there any particular foods that you tend to waste often?
  • What are your top tips to ensure you only buy what you need to eat?



2. Recycle food waste


Around one third of the food we produce is wasted worldwide every year. That’s 1.3 billion tonnes of food thrown away annually.


What is the Government doing?


We’re helping more people than ever to recycle their food waste. 80% of households in Scotland now have access to a food waste collection service. This year we will make our first investments from the £70m Recycling Improvement Fund, one of the largest single investments in recycling in Scotland. This will help local authorities increase both the quality and quantity of recycling, including food waste, while delivering wider environmental benefits.


What can you do?

  1. Recycle unavoidable food waste, such as fruit and vegetable peelings. Using food waste recycling points around your home and creating a natural composting area outdoors so unavoidable food waste can be recycled


Talking Points


  • Are there any particular foods you throw out that could be recycled?
  • Do you know where your nearest food waste recycling point is?


Find out more information on eating greener.

Waste – reduce, reuse, recycle, repair

Infographic showing the hierarchy of waste.


1. Fast fashion


‘Fast fashion’ describes low cost, mass-produced clothes. Textiles make up just 4% of household waste, but 31% of the waste’s carbon impacts. Worldwide, emissions from textile production each year is more than all international flights and shipping combined.


What is the Government doing?


Zero Waste Scotland is funded by the Scottish Government to deliver waste-reducing initiatives, such as advice and guidance on how to make your clothes last longer and what, where and how to recycle unwanted clothes.


What can you do?

  1. When buying new clothes, think about the ‘30-wear rule’ – will you wear it at least 30 times or is it fast fashion?
  2. Also think about repairing your clothes, sharing clothes with friends or buying second-hand items instead of new.
  3. Think about the transport that you use for fashion shopping – can you make the trip by active travel or public transport?


Talking Points


  • Think about your wardrobe and the clothes you buy – do you tend to wear each item at least 30 times?
  • What can you do with the items that you don’t wear as often?



2. Reduced consumption


Around 80% of Scotland’s carbon footprint comes from all the goods, materials and services which we produce and use. A lot of the time, we throw these away after just one use.


What is the Government doing?


The Scottish Government has committed to reducing all waste by 15% and recycling 70% of remaining waste by 2025. We are doing this by encouraging more sustainable product design, reducing consumption of single-use items (e.g. plastic items, carrier bags, disposable cups) and promoting the re-use of products.


What can you do?

  1. See what you can repair or rent, rather than buying new.
  2. Or buy second-hand, at charity shops or online marketplaces.
  3. Choose longer-life products by checking guarantee periods or use-by dates.
  4. Opt for items with less packaging.
  5. Think about how you travel for any purchases – ideally by active travel or using public transport. If you need to use a car, think about combining trips.


Talking Points


  • Thinking about your buying habits, identify products that you throw out after one use.
  • How can you reduce the amount of unnecessary goods, materials and services that you consume and quickly throw out?


Find out more on reduce, reuse, repair and recycle.

At home – efficient heating, switch off not stand-by


1. Efficient Heating


Around one quarter of Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions come from our homes and buildings. Burning oil or gas to heat radiators creates carbon emissions.


What is the Government doing?


The Scottish Government is investing £1.6 billion in zero emissions heating for homes and workplaces. Support for people to go greener at home and reduce their bills is provided by Home Energy Scotland.


What can you do?

  1. Changes such as installing a heat pump or room thermostat, investing in smart heating controls and getting your boiler checked once a year to ensure its efficient can help save energy and money at home. This will be a significant change for everyone. Ensuring your home is energy efficient and has well-regulated internal temperatures are key components of having home which is resilient to extreme cold and heat.


Talking Points


  • When at home, how can you improve your energy efficiency? For example, only heating the room you’re using at home, turning down the hot water during summer months, better insulating doors, windows and ceilings etc.



1. Appliances


The average household owns 41 different electrical appliances, though some own much more. Leaving appliances on stand-by, or in a non-active state, accounts for 9-16% of the annual electricity bill for the average household.


What is the Government doing?


Energy Saving Trust provides support to individuals looking to reduce their energy use.


What can you do?

  1. Buying low-energy models when items need replacing
  2. Switching laptops and kitchen appliances fully off (not just on stand-by) when not in use can help to reduce emissions and save on energy bills.


Talking Points


  • Are there appliances around your home you could use more efficiently or switch off when not in use?


Find out more about home energy.

Nature – make space for nature


1. Making space for nature


Climate change is already impacting nature in Scotland. 49% of our species are declining in numbers.


What is the Government doing?


The Scottish Government has created 22,000 hectares of new woodland in the last two years. That’s around 44 million trees. We will restore over 250,000 hectares of peatland and protect 30% of our land and seas for nature by 2030. NatureScot provides more ways to make space for nature.


What can you do?

  1. Help nature thrive at home by adding flowering pots, window boxes, bird feeders and a source of water to encourage pollinators and birds to take refuge and refuel. A pond is great, but even a bowl or saucer of water on a windowsill can help.
  2. Take a trip to your local greenspace with suitable food scraps – spike soft fruit on a tree branch for birds.
  3. Feeders that attach to windows are a great way to observe local birds, particularly if you’re housebound or without a garden.
  4. Even a small greenspace at home can help mitigate flooding and make sure you keep surface-water drains free from debris.


Talking Points


  • Can you ‘rewild’ part of your garden? Leaving piles of leaves and twigs and not cutting grass can provide habitat.
  • How can you make your home more nature-friendly? Think about where can you add flowers, birdfeeders or a source of water.



2. Active travel for nature


Most people feel health and wellbeing benefits after spending time outdoors. We de-stress, relax and unwind, feel energised and revitalised and our physical health is improved.


What is the Government doing?


Projects like Central Scotland Green Network are creating urban greenspace to allow people to enjoy the outdoors in their own neighbourhoods – and help nature. Improving cycling and walking trails provides essential habitat networks for a variety of wildlife.


What can you do?

  1. Greenspaces can be great for taking a breather, walking dogs, enjoying family time, and for outdoor learning.
  2. When you are walking, wheeling or cycling, and where safe and appropriate to do so, pick up and recycle litter to support nature along the way.
  3. Submit sightings of birds, butterflies, frogs, plants and much more, or report invasive non-native species. It's really easy and fun for all – plus many surveys can be done via your smart phone.
  4. Think about how you travel to access nature – try to pick a local destination that you can reach by active travel or public transport rather than driving to a more distant location.


Talking Points


  • While you are out and about stop, listen and enjoy a mindful minute.
  • Think what wildlife you can see and hear to connect with nature. Healthy people need healthy nature.


Find out more about nature and the outdoors.

Ways to get involved

Not sure what actions will work in your local area or for your circumstances? Get involved with your local authority, MSP, climate hub or community groups to find out what solutions are being considered for your area or bring your ideas to the table. Here are some ways you can get involved.


People in an audience raise their hands to ask questions.


Most importantly, share your experience with others.


There are loads of handy resources out there to help people understand about climate change and the impact it will have on them. We’ve put together a list so you can find out more about the points raised in this pack.


A model globe sits on the ground.