The Government says it is working urgently to “ensure that the duty is discharged in full”.
Good Law Project and the Environmental Rights Centre for Scotland (ERCS) have forced the Scottish Government to accept it has breached climate commitments and to start “urgent work” on a “remedy”.
More than two years after the Government announced its £26bn Infrastructure Investment Plan, it still hasn’t published an assessment of the plan’s climate impact.
The campaigners said this was a clear breach of its statutory duty under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009.
Earlier this month, the pair wrote to the Government's Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Net Zero and Just Transition, Màiri McAllan MSP, saying they would launch a legal challenge unless she took urgent action to publish this assessment.
The Government has now accepted that its efforts to date fall short of its duties, and says it is working urgently to “ensure that the duty is discharged in full and as soon as possible.”
Dr Shivali Fifield, chief officer at ERCS, said: “While it is promising that the Scottish Government has finally admitted their failure, it is extremely concerning that they are still needing time to publish a climate impact assessment for a plan that is already in progress.
“This breach only came to light because a concerned citizen contacted us. It shouldn’t be left to individuals to suss out whether Ministers are acting lawfully or adding fuel to the fire when confronting the climate crisis.
“It is now down to the Government to regain credibility and show that their spending decisions will deliver a just transition towards net zero.”
In its response, the Scottish Government said the submission had been “carefully considered”, adding: “Urgent work is underway on a remedy to ensure that the duty is discharged in full and as soon as possible.
“Judicial review proceedings would be premature while the resolution process with ESS (Environmental Standards Scotland) is underway and while there is real scope for resolution without the need for litigation.
“Nothing in this letter is intended to restrict the Scottish Ministers’ ability to advance any particular argument in the event that judicial review proceedings are raised and the Scottish Ministers reserve the right to do so.”
The ERCS and Good Law Project have now asked for further details by 12 October, making clear both what it intends to publish and when it will be published.
Emma Dearnaley, legal director at Good Law Project, said: “Governments can try to duck and weave around their duties when their law breaking is revealed, so it’s heartening that the Scottish Government has owned up to its mistake and committed to correcting it quickly. We'll be keeping a close eye on this to make sure it follows through.
“With floods and fires sweeping across the world, there’s no time to lose in the fight against the climate emergency. The Scottish Government must now act with the urgency the crisis requires.”