The launch of the Scottish Government’s public consultation on how to combat the global climate emergency has been condemned as “fiddling while the world burns”.

The inaugural meeting of ministers’ much-vaunted “big climate conversation” in Glasgow on 16 July faced a tirade of public criticism from participants frustrated by its “closed questions and narrow focus”.

When organisers, Keep Scotland Beautiful (KSB), asked at the meeting whether the questions were too narrowly framed, almost all of the 65 people present put up their hands to agree. In response KSB said it would review the format.


The big climate conversation was announced by the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, on 19 June to discuss action “to tackle the global climate emergency”. After the event in Glasgow there are due to be meetings in Stirling, Aberdeen, Skye, Fort William and Orkney in July and August.

Highlighting a string of complaints about the Glasgow meeting on social media, the Green MSP, Ross Greer, argued that it was “structured to prevent anything useful coming out of it”. It was “fiddling while the world burns”, he said.

Friends of the Earth Scotland’s climate campaigner, Caroline Rance, described the meeting as “very frustrating”. She said: “Governments don’t seem to realise the extent to which public concern and understanding about the climate crisis has grown in the last year.”

The children’s book illustrator, Alison Murray, was shocked at how “lightweight” the conversation was. “Going away really concerned about the lack of information given and really closed leading questions asked,” she tweeted.

Another participant, Heather Urquhart, was disappointed that corporate responsibility, infrastructural change and reducing inequalities were not on the agenda. Only technology and behavioural change were put up for discussion, she said.

At the outset of the meeting people were asked to choose one word to describe their feelings about climate change. The words most chosen loomed large on an overhead projector: overwhelmed, worried, frustrated, scared, angry.

“Broad engagement on the climate emergency is essential, but we need to see big, systemic changes presented as part of the solution,” said Scott Leatham, policy specialist at Scottish Wildlife Trust.

“It was clear that people were engaged but they wanted less focus on individual action and more emphasis on the big picture. We need a process that can respond to the level of climate anxiety and frustration that participants said they felt.”

The Scottish Government argued that responding to the climate emergency will require significant changes across all sectors of society. “The big climate conversation aims to build a collaborative approach to that,” said a spokesperson.

“Through a series of workshops, conferences, meetings, consultation and digital engagement, we want everyone to have their say on how we, as a nation, deliver the transformative changes required.”

The government pointed out that the event in Glasgow was attended by a diverse mix of ages and backgrounds. “The event was reassuringly lively, demonstrating the importance of this issue to the Scottish public,” added the spokesperson.

“In response to some of the feedback, the format will be revised to include more chance for open discussion and encourage attendees to put forward more of their own suggestions while maintaining a means to capture and compare input across all conversations.”

The Ferret has published a survey of how 30 public sector bodies responded to the Scottish Government’s declaration of a climate emergency in April. Eight said they were thinking about how to respond, 17 stressed that they were already working to meet government targets, and five didn’t say.

Public sector accused of paying ‘lip service’ to climate emergency

Tweets thanks to their authors, and cover image thanks to the Scottish Government. This story was published in tandem with the Sunday National.

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