Recommendations for policymakers
This report, based on research carried out on behalf of SIDA and some of its members, and in partnership with Newcastle University, calls on the Scottish Government to give force and meaning to commitments on wellbeing and sustainable development, while ensuring that consideration is given to the global impacts of activities here in Scotland in terms of what we want to achieve, and how we deliver on those commitments in that broader context. You can also access a short summary of the report here.
The report contains 14 recommendations for the Wellbeing and Sustainable Development (Scotland) Bill, committed to in the Scottish Government’s 2021-22 Programme for Government, A fairer, greener Scotland1. The recommendations aim to build on existing legislation in five key respects:
- Establishing a clear definition of sustainable development (SD), and of policy coherence for sustainable development (PCSD) as a key component of it.
- Strengthening Scotland’s national outcomes, placing them at the service of delivering SD through a ‘policy-coherent’ approach, while strengthening public and parliamentary consultation requirements, and improving reporting and scrutiny processes.
- Ensuring that the numerous existing statutory SD duties on public bodies in Scotland are clear, have the requisite priority, and that duty-bearers can be provided with the support and capacity building they need.
- Supporting the transition towards a wellbeing economy in Scotland that fosters sustainable development and wellbeing.
- Establishing a support and accountability structure with a Wellbeing and Sustainable Development Commissioner placed at its heart.
Read the full report below, or click to download a summary.
The Scottish Government, through its commitment to bring forward a Wellbeing and Sustainable Development (Scotland) Bill (WSD Bill), could trigger a step change that ensures sustainable development and wellbeing become the unequivocal drivers of policy and practice across public life in Scotland.
There is an opportunity to create a world-leading piece of legislation that puts policy coherence for sustainable development, and human and ecological wellbeing, at the forefront of government. This is necessary not only to respond to pressing national challenges and meet the needs of citizens, today, within planetary boundaries, but to ensure that Scotland makes a positive contribution to people, globally, and enables future generations, both here and abroad, have their needs met.
As global challenges mount, with multiple intersecting crises, the imperative to understand the connection between how our systems and decision-making impact upon poverty, inequality, the ecological crisis and the climate emergency, have never been more important. No longer can we see our consumption habits, fossil-fuel dependency and economic decisions in isolation from what happens elsewhere. But this doesn’t happen routinely. Governments, largely, see their role in relation to domestic action, which can give rise to incoherent policies vis-a-vis the global impact.
To realise more joined-up policymaking in this regard, policy development must consider not only the potential impacts in other policy areas, places and into the future, but also ensure that, as a whole, public policy is pro-ecological and pro-social, in order to support the ability of people in Scotland, and elsewhere, to meet their needs now, and in the future.
This report, based on research carried out on behalf of Scotland’s International Development Alliance, and in partnership with Newcastle University, makes a range of recommendations that could give force and meaning to commitments on wellbeing and sustainable development, while ensuring that consideration is given to the global impacts of activities here in Scotland in terms of what we want to achieve, and how we deliver on those commitments in that broader context.
It also important to understand clearly the problem that sustainable development seeks to address, namely, the detrimental effects of the policy of perpetual economic growth as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on human societies, i.e. un-sustainable development.
Importantly, while many of the recommendations may read as being about systems, processes and duties, the recommendations also position this potentially ground-breaking legislation as a way to generate a culture of continuous improvement in Scotland; and one that encourages, nurtures and supports conversations and joined-up thinking so that Scotland makes a progressively enhanced contribution to sustainable development, at home and abroad. This will not only bolster our credentials as a responsible global citizen, but also back up our ambitions with actions.
This report consists of seven chapters. After an introductory chapter, in Chapter 2, we identify key features of the Scottish and international context on sustainable development legislation, looking at existing practice here and abroad. In Chapter 3, we offer recommendations, with detailed suggested text, on the stated purpose and key definitions of a possible Bill, drawing on lessons learned in Wales and other contexts. Chapter 4 addresses Scotland’s national outcomes and Chapter 5 considers, in detail, how public bodies in Scotland’s current duties could be amended to embed sustainable development, and some of the pitfalls and challenges in operationalising these duties. Chapter 6 addresses the specific need to support Scotland’s transition to a wellbeing economy. Chapter 7 considers potential accountability for the Bill, focusing on the powers and duties of a Wellbeing and Sustainable Development Commissioner.
Summary of Recommendations:
A. Establishing a clear purpose and definitions
Recommendation 1: The proposed long title and/or purpose of the Act should refer to the key concepts of:
- sustainable development
- domestic and international policy coherence
- transition to a wellbeing economy in the service of sustainable development and the delivery of enhanced wellbeing in Scotland and globally.
Recommendation 2: Clear and rigorous definitions of the key concepts of sustainable development, and policy coherence for sustainable development, wellbeing and a wellbeing economy, should be set out in a Wellbeing and Sustainable Development Bill.
Recommendation 3: Sustainable development should be defined in the Bill as follows: sustainable development can be defined as the development of human societies in ways which do not threaten planetary boundaries, and which, equitably, supports the capability of present and future generations across the world to meet their needs.
Recommendation 4: To ensure that domestic and international policy coherence for sustainable development is understood and implemented as a core principle of sustainable development, as listed under the definition in Chapter 3, it should be defined, clearly, in the Bill as follows:
- Policy coherence is the consistency of public policy, whereby:
- no policy undermines any other policy
- where policy conflicts occur, the root cause of the conflict should be identified, and efforts made to resolve it in a manner which:
- minimizes trade-offs
- maximizes synergies.
Policy coherence for sustainable development must:
- support ecological integrity and social equity within Scotland, and elsewhere in the world.
- support the self-defined sustainable development of other countries.
B. Strengthening Scotland’s national outcomes for sustainable development
Recommendation 5: Part 1 of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 should be amended (or lifted entirely, amended and inserted into this new WSD Bill legislation), to ensure that national outcomes support sustainable development including domestic and international PCSD.
Recommendation 6: National outcomes should be determined following meaningful, open and transparent public engagement, with this then followed by both comprehensive reporting on progress and enhanced public and parliamentary scrutiny.
Recommendation 7: A requirement for Scottish Ministers to develop and maintain a framework for the implementation/delivery of national outcomes should be added to Part 1 of the Community Empowerment Act or alternatively, included as part of the WSD Bill. This framework should detail policy, spending and other measures, setting out how progress will be assessed.
C. Ensuring existing sustainable development duties work properly
Recommendation 8: The WSD Bill should strengthen the existing duty in the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 for public bodies to mainstream sustainable development.
Recommendation 9: It may be possible to further amend Section 44 of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 by adding a new clause which serves to resolve existing conflicts in public bodies’ statutory duties. For example, a clause after 44(1), stating that “where the implementation of any other statutory duty appears to conflict with 44(1)(c), a transparent resolution must be sought with regard to policy coherence for sustainable development as defined in the Wellbeing and Sustainable Development (Scotland) Act 202X”.
D. Supporting the transition towards a wellbeing economy in Scotland that fosters sustainable development and wellbeing
Recommendation 10: The Bill should include a definition of a ‘wellbeing economy’ that creates human and ecological wellbeing within planetary boundaries. This should give focus to enabling all people in Scotland to meet their needs without having a detrimental impact on the ability of people in other countries, and future generations to meet theirs.
Recommendation 11: The Bill should contain an indicator, an index, or a dashboard of indicators that provide a transparent and continuously updated assessment of Scotland’s contribution to human and ecological wellbeing. This should become the key driver of public policy and, in so doing, support the displacement of economic growth as the dominant measure of national progress.
Recommendation 12: The WSD Bill should ensure that public bodies are required to ensure their engagement with the private sector, including that their procurement procedure is fully consistent with the statutory duties and overarching ambitions of the Bill. This would include provisions to allow for public bodies’ interactions with the private sector to be better scrutinised.
E. Establishing a support and accountability structure
Recommendation 13: Public bodies must be fully supported to understand, and then successfully implement, the new sustainable development duties imposed on them by the WSD Bill, as well as to monitor, transparently, their usage, to ensure progress is both continuous and progressive and to encourage a culture of learning.
Recommendation 14: The WSD Bill should create, and place in statute, a new ‘Wellbeing and Sustainable Development Commissioner’ to monitor implementation of the Bill, including the statutory duties, with a legal requirement for the commissioner to be both independent of government, and adequately resourced to support public bodies to deliver their duties within the terms of the Bill.