Publication: Blog: Climate change

by Auditor General

Making climate change an audit priority

By Stephen Boyle, Auditor General for Scotland

Tackling climate change is one of the greatest challenges we face – and public audit has a clear role to play.

Experts have warned that urgent and decisive action is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and decarbonise how we live and work.  We also need to minimise the harm climate change is already causing by investing in adaptations like flood prevention and coastal defenses.

Scotland has one of the most ambitious and challenging emission targets – to become net zero by 2045.  It wants to get three quarters of the way towards net zero within the next 8 years. That will mean big changes to everyone’s lives – the cars we drive, the food we eat, the ways we heat our homes and the holidays we take. 

The Scottish Government has also made it clear it wants an economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic that is achieved in an environmentally sound and sustainable way, with benefits for all of society. This will not be easy.

Tough decisions face the public, private and third sectors. Leadership, joint working, and coordinated action will be essential. And care will be needed to ensure changes for a greener future don’t impact negatively on some communities more than others. We all have a role to play, including Audit Scotland. Our unique role as auditor of the public sector means we are in a privileged position to:

  • scrutinise action and spend on climate change by public bodies. All public bodies must act on climate change and should have plans and targets to do so. Some have also declared their own climate emergencies and have committed to being net-zero before 2045. Audit Scotland can consider how well public bodies are planning for and responding to the climate emergency, report publicly on the value for money that is being achieved from what will likely be huge sums of public investment and make recommendations for improvement. That work will support the Scottish Parliament’s important role of scrutinising progress towards net zero.
  • use our knowledge and expertise of how public bodies operate to provide assurance on how they are managing their actions on climate change - things like governance, risk management and public reporting arrangements are all important here.
  • look across the public sector to assess the collaboration needed to tackle climate change. We can assess how well public bodies work with the private and third sector and within communities. We can look for what is working well, what the main barriers are and how these might best be overcome. We can identify good practice and share it too.

This is obviously a huge task, and not one we are going to crack overnight or on our own. But we are committed to developing our approach and integrating climate change into our audit work. Our work here is developing and we are keeping under review how and where we can best add value to the efforts that everyone must make.

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