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Guest blog: Why we need a Wellbeing Economy to tackle the climate emergency

Alex Turner, storyteller and WEAll Scotland volunteer, shares her reflections on the recent Cross Party Group on Wellbeing Economy.

a graphic with a woman standing in front of a board organising different elements

September's Cross Party Group (CPG) meeting, Why we need a Wellbeing Economy to tackle the climate emergency, focused on the urgent need to integrate environmental sustainability into economic policy in order to combat the climate emergency, and create an inclusive and thriving economy. We heard from a panel of speakers on climate leadership, economic policy for climate action and community-centric approaches.

Co-chair, Maggie Chapman MSP, invited the three speakers to share their perspectives. They sparked conversation about practical strategies for climate action, the role of local business and community initiatives. As well as how to address leadership challenges to better support climate goals.

We heard from three fantastic, and well qualified, speakers: Anna Beswick, Head of Climate Ready Leadership at Sniffer; Ann Pettifor, Economist and Director of Policy Research in Macroeconomics (PRIME) and Scottish Just Transition Commission; and Aileen McLeod, Interim Director at Wellbeing Economy Alliance (WEAll) Scotland.

Perspectives on climate leadership

Anna Beswick opened the discussion with a compelling arguement for immediate and decisive action to increase resilience and adapt to the climate emergency. She emphasised the critical role of leadership in driving climate initiatives, highlighting the gap between current policies and what is urgently needed to mitigate climate impacts.

Anna stressed the importance of not only setting ambitious targets, but also implementing practical strategies to achieve them. Highlighting that progress in adapting to climate change in Scotland has significantly slowed down. The UK Government Committee on Climate Change has provided clear evidence of this stall. This means Scotland is missing out on key opportunities to build resilience by taking early action which would benefit society.

River Basin Management Planning illustrates the broader problem: key policy areas are not adequately considering climate change adaptation. This means we are building on an unstable foundation.

Without proper planning for climate change, Scotland is heading towards an insecure future. We urgently need more effective and forward-thinking climate change adaptation strategies.

Anna shared her realisation that climate resilience is a public health issue. Vulnerable groups, like those in substandard housing, temporary workers, the elderly and children, are disproportionately affected by climate change in Scotland. Addressing health inequalities is crucial in responding to the climate emergency.

Despite the importance of scientific research in understanding climate risks, Anna highlighted a significant oversight: the lack of community voices in climate adaptation planning. She advocates for a more inclusive approach that values the experiences and knowledge of local communities. While Scotland's climate risk assessments and programs are based on academic research, they often neglect the insights from those directly affected by climate changes.

To tackle this, Anna proposes a balance between top-down interventions (like policies and funding from large oragnisations) and grassroots involvement. This dual approach combines expert-driven strategies with community-driven insights, ensuring that climate adaptation is comprehensive, inclusive, effective and equitable.

Economic policies for climate action: an economist's viewpoint

Ann Pettifor offered a unique perspective on how economic policies can be restructred to support climate goals. She revealed a need for policy autonomy in transforming Scotland's economy and improving wellbeing, particularly in the context of moving away from fossil fuel dependence.

To illustrate this, Ann shared a story about a visit to the Isle of Lewis as part of the Scottish Government's Just Transition Commission. She met with a community wind farm, a brilliant and enterprising local initiative. They faced significant challenges securing finances, eventually securing it from a Spanish bank. However, despite local energy generation, the community expressed resentment due to high energy prices - which are determined by global markets, not local production.

This situation highlights a borader issue: the inability of local or national goverments to control or regulate global market forces, including energy prices. Ann argued that such market dynamics, detached from democratic oversight, hinder local communities benefiting from their resources and adapting to economic changes.

Drawing an anology with the 19th Century Plimsoll line (which regulated ship loading to prevent overburdening), Ann suggested that our current global economy is overloaded, particularly with fossil fuel exploitation. This threatens both ecological and economic stability. Real change and resilience require a systemic transformation of the global economic system - a daunting but necessary task.

A community-centric approach

Aileen McLeod brought a community-focused angle to the discussion. She talked about the power of local initiatives and the role of communities in driving change from the ground up. Stressing the need to transform the economy from an extractive to a regenerative model, prioritising wellbeing, health and environmental limits.

This transformation involves rethinking systems like production, consumption, energy, transport and finance. It's underpinned by four key design principles: placing wellbeing and equity at the heart of economic decision making; measuring societal progress beyond Gross Domestic Product (GDP); embracing redistribution for fairer resource allocation; and empowering people and communities in the transition.

Aileen noted Scotland's existing governance structures supporting a Wellbeing Economy, including a dedicated Cabinet Secretary, the National Performance Framework, and various legislative measures: the Circular Economy Bill, Land Reform Bill, Natural Environment Bill and Heat in Buildings Bill.

The challenge will be integrating these into a coherent Wellbeing Economy policy framework. The role of the Scottish Parliament is pivotal in ensuring coordination and accountability, engaging the public in discussions about societal and economic aspirations, and addressing the distributional impacts of climate policies.

Scotland is well positioned to be a global leader in developing an economy that works for people and planet. But it will need a collaborative approach across all levels of government and communities.

Aileen's points underscore the importance of empowering local groups and integrating their voices into broader policy frameworks, ensuring that climate action is inclusive and equitable.

The three speakers illustrate how a collaborative, corss-sectoral, multifaceted approach is needed to tackle the climate crisis. Anna's focus on leadership and actionable strategies gave us practical tips for getting involved at any level, while Ann provided a macro view of necessary economic reforms. Aileen underlined the need for grassroots community involvement and provided us with an inspiring vision, revealing how close we are to delivering an economy geared towards the wellbeing of people and planet.

This CPG discussion did not shy away from the challenges we face, but shone a light on the potential pathways forward in redesigning our economy for climate-resilience. As the world focuses on Dubai and the outcomes of COP28, we should be proud of all the transformative pioneering work being done in Scotland to deliver a Wellbeing Economy.


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