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May 29, 2019

Backsliding on climate

While the official language on the climate emergency has been stepped up, it’s not being reflected in recent actions by Scottish Government concerning the role that we as citizens, and collectively as communities, have to play in delivering the necessary changes on the ground. If anything, it looks like we’re in reverse. Scotland’s community led national body on climate action (SCCAN) has just had its funding completely withdrawn and the Climate Challenge Fund, the only public investment in community-led climate action has had funding for new projects cut by 50%. What on earth is going on?

The Ferret

The Scottish Government has quietly halved funding for communities tackling climate pollution, depriving 43 local projects of grants and putting people out of work.

The Ferret has discovered that the budget for the Climate Challenge Fund to support new projects has been cut from around £5 million last year to £2 million this year. Only 22 new schemes were funded in 2019, compared to 65 in 2018.

This has resulted in ventures to save energy and reduce waste across Scotland having to be abandoned. Staff have been made redundant, and dozens of opportunities to help people live more environmentally sustainable lives have been lost.

Ministers have been accused of being “deeply hypocritical” for cutting climate projects while declaring a “climate emergency” and toughening their targets to cut carbon pollution. They are also under fire for trying to “hide” the cutbacks, and for subjecting community groups to “heartbreaking” disappointments.

The Scottish Government accepted that “difficult decisions” had been made due to “considerable budget pressures”. Climate challenge funding was under review to assess whether it offers “value for money”.

The Climate Challenge Fund (CCF) was launched by the Scottish Government in 2008 in response to a proposal put forward by the Scottish Greens. Since then it has given £104 million to more than 1,100 local projects across Scotland.

The projects are all aimed at helping communities reduce the carbon pollution that is disrupting the climate. They improve the energy efficiency of buildings, help grow food, encourage recycling and promote active travel.

But without making an announcement, the Scottish Government has cut the CCF’s budget for new projects in 2019. In the past the fund has spent around £10 million a year, half on new projects and half on the second year of existing projects.

In response to questions from The Ferret, the government has confirmed that for 2019-20 the fund was only allocated £7.4 million, £5.4 million of which was to pay for continuing projects. That left just £2 million for new projects – less than half of the amount in previous years.

As a result CCF is now funding 87 projects, only 22 of which are new, with the remaining 65 being continuations of projects started in 2018 and due to finish in 2020. In previous years 50-60 new projects have been given grants.

Funding for local projects to tackle climate change

Financial year     Climate Challenge Fund budget

2014-15 £10.9m

2015-16 £9.5m

2016-17 £9.6m

2017-18 £10.1m

2018-19 £10m

2019-20 £7.4m

The climate change Cabinet Secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, disclosed in a recent parliamentary answer that for the first time in 2019 most of the projects recommended for funding by the CCF’s independent grants panel were turned down. The panel works with Keep Scotland Beautiful (KSB), the charity that administers the fund for ministers.

“In 2019 the process for agreeing and adopting the Scottish Government budget had not concluded by the time of the panel meeting,” Cunningham said.

“This meant that it was not possible to provide an indicative budget to KSB and unlike previous years it was therefore necessary for the panel to rank all projects, with no budgetary cut-off. When budgets were confirmed, there were 43 projects that were deemed to meet the minimum criteria for funding that were not funded.”