Rural Exchange

Climate action in Scottish rural and island communities

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Climate action in Scottish rural and island communities

In November 2023, members of SRUC’s Rural Policy Centre team including Ana Vuin attended the Scottish Rural and Island Parliament hosted in Fort William. The Parliament is a grassroots democratic assembly, part of the European-wide network of Rural Parliaments which aims to strengthen rural voices to ensure that the interests and wellbeing of these communities are reflected in national and European policy.

Held over 3 days, attended by over 500 participants, 60+ curating organisations, across 20 venues, the Parliament featured multiple events including workshops, study field trips, and discussion sessions under the overarching theme of “village halls and community spaces”.

The SRUC team curated and moderated one such session, a screening of a short film Climate Action Highlands and Islands, and an accompanying discussion with over 80 participants. The film shone light on the range of innovative social enterprises working across communities in the Highlands and Islands to combat climate change. This was complimented by a Climate Café where participants discussed themes emerging from the film and shared ideas, actions, and learnings from climate initiatives in their communities.

Local growing initiatives such as Polycrub community growing infrastructure in Shetland which featured in the film provided inspiration for others. Such community initiatives could provide wide ranging benefits including learning and skills building opportunities, healthy eating and promoting local produce, as well a social space which could promote intergenerational knowledge sharing.

Energy was another key theme highlighted in the film. Participants discussed opportunities for community renewable energy production, repurposing community centres into energy hubs, and the role of local grid networks and energy pricing in incentivising local production. Whilst projects such as AMAZE on the Isle of Mull were highlighted, significant barriers including regulatory issues and limited access to land for community projects were identified in communities’ pathways towards decarbonisation.

Rural and island communities have high levels self-sufficiency and self-organisation. The film and discussion highlighted the variety and ingenuity of community initiatives and their ability to respond to local needs with both people and climate in mind. However, initiatives often face significant challenges and barriers. Crucially “money matters”. Funding needs to be flexible, support hiring staff and providing training, and allow local organisations to define community led priorities rather than criteria determined by funder priorities.

Promoting knowledge exchange is also important. Sharing success stories, learnings, and solutions can enhance action and capacity across projects and communities. Participants recognised that this is also critical in scaling up local climate initiatives to drive transformational change. Local action is important, but system change requires thinking globally (“think global, act local”). Strategic collaboration across community led initiatives, local government, and other funders is required to harness the full potential of local initiatives in Scotland’s Net Zero and Climate ambitions.

Ana reflected on the session, “it was an incredibly rewarding and insightful experience to be a part of this session. We had a wonderful opportunity to capture some of the very much present challenges rural and island communities are confronted in their everyday lives. These go beyond, but are directly related to, Climate and Net Zero ambitions as well as initiatives, ideas, and plans contributing to Net Zero goals.”

To read more about this session at the Rural and Islands Parliament including key takeaways and recommendations take a look at our Climate Action Policy Spotlight.

You can also hear more about SRUC at the Parliament on our Podcast.

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