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Scotland needs to take more action to meet its ambitious climate change plans

Scotland’s plan to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions into the 2030s will need to bring forward firmer policies in transport, heating and other sectors if it is to remain world-leading, the Committee on Climate Change says in its latest publication: Reducing emissions in Scotland – 2017 progress report

To date, Scotland has made good progress in reducing its emissions and is performing well compared to other parts of the UK. Scotland’s emissions fell 3% between 2014 and 2015 to 38% below 1990 levels. This is compared to a reduction of 35% since 1990 for the UK as a whole in 2015.

The Scottish Government’s draft Climate Change Plan sets out policies and proposals to reduce emissions into the 2030s in order to meet Scotland’s legislated carbon targets. It also seeks to lay the foundations for deeper emissions cuts beyond 2030. The final plan, due in February 2018, will need to set out firmer policies to meet these targets.

Action taken now will also need to pave the way to meet Scotland’s higher ambition to reduce its emissions by 90% in 2050 on 1990 levels (previously set at a minimum reduction of 80%). This is a suitable contribution to global efforts to tackle climate change as required by the Paris Agreement.

The Committee’s report also finds that:

  • Scotland met its emissions target in 2015. ‘Actual’ (physical) emissions, including international aviation and shipping, fell 3% between 2014-15. Progress was largely driven by action to reduce emissions in the electricity sector. Scotland also hit its ‘net’ emissions target, achieving a 41% emissions reduction on 1990 levels. An interim target of at least a 42% reduction in net emissions by 2020 is well within reach.
  • More effort is needed to reduce emissions from other sectors of the Scottish economy, alongside the good progress made in electricity. Emissions from agriculture, transport and non-residential buildings have not fallen in recent years. Scotland’s ambitious emissions targets will require broader, economy-wide progress in future years.
  • The balance of effort in the draft Climate Change Plan between the transport and buildings sectors is unrealistic. However, the recent Programme for Government announcement indicates stronger action to reduce emissions from the transport sector. At this higher level, transport emissions would be commensurate with ambitious Scottish emissions targets. This could allow for less reliance to 2032 on the rapid deployment of low-carbon heating in buildings. While ambitious deployment of low-carbon heat is essential, it is unlikely to be feasible at the rate or level envisaged in the draft plan.
  • The draft Climate Change Plan contains limited new policy to deliver emissions reductions to 2032 beyond existing commitments. Without effective new policies, progress seen in recent years is unlikely to continue into the 2020s. The credibility of the proposed 90% emissions target for 2050 will be compromised if Scotland fails to lay the groundwork over the period to 2030.

Plans to further decarbonise the electricity sector are suitably ambitious and align with the Committee’s analysis. The draft plan’s commitment to the deployment of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology is also welcome as are plans to increase tree planting to 15,000 hectares per year by the mid-2020s.

Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, Lord Deben, said: “Scotland’s level of ambition in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions and tackling climate change is amongst the highest in the world. Our report shows that Scotland continues to lead the UK in this area, as Scotland’s emissions continue to fall year on year.

“The Scottish Government’s Climate Change Plan will deliver the next chapter of emissions reductions into the 2030s and beyond. It’s therefore essential that further work is done to ramp up emissions reductions right across the Scottish economy and think through how to reduce emissions from heating Scotland’s buildings and from transport, amongst other areas. The process of review and revision should enable this to happen in time for the adoption of the final Climate Change Plan early next year.”

Notes to editors

  1. Emissions data for Scotland and the devolved administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland are produced with a significant delay compared to the UK as a whole. The Committee’s report therefore focuses on progress to 2015, while noting any significant subsequent developments that are not yet reflected in the emissions data.
  2. The difference between ‘net’ and ‘actual’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Under the existing Climate Change Scotland (2009) Act, Scottish GHG emissions are measured on a ‘net’ basis. The Net Scottish Emissions Account (NSEA) is calculated as the sum of: a) Non-traded emissions. Actual Scottish emissions in sectors not covered by the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), such as buildings, transport and agriculture (around 64% of total Scottish emissions); plus b) Traded sector allocation. Scotland’s share of the EU ETS cap for sectors that are covered by the trading scheme, such as electricity generation and heavy industry. Actual emissions are the physical greenhouse gas emissions emitted across all sectors including: Power, Buildings, Industry, Transport, Agriculture, Waste and F-gases, Aviation and Shipping, and Land Use, Land-Use change and Forestry (LULUCF). A detailed explanation is provided in the Committee’s March 2017 report: Advice on the new Scottish Climate Change Bill.
  3. The Scottish Government intends to pass new climate change legislation by early 2019, to replace the current Climate Change Scotland (2009) Act. In particular, the Scottish Government proposes to adopt a more ambitious target for emissions reductions by 2050 of at least 90% by 2050 (on 1990 levels), from an existing target of at least 80% by 2050 (on 1990 levels). The Committee provided advice on the design and levels of these targets in March 2017 in our report: Advice on the new Scottish Climate Change Bill.
  4. The Scottish Government’s draft Climate Change Plan was published in January 2017. It sets out policies and proposals for meeting Scotland’s legislated emissions reduction targets as required under the Climate Change Scotland (2009) Act. The Scottish Government is conducting a public consultation on the draft plan (until 22 September).
  5. Low-carbon heat: The draft Climate Change Plan’s assumed contribution to emissions reductions from uptake of low-carbon heat (80% of heating in buildings to be low-carbon by 2032) is very unlikely to be feasible and calls into question the integrity of the overall strategy, as well as risking missing emissions reduction targets in 2032. Securing lower levels of low-carbon heat roll-out (40%) in the CCC’s High Ambition Scenario requires immediate action, rather than waiting for deployment in 2025 as in the draft plan. The CCC recommends the final version of the plan relies on low-carbon sources providing no more than 50% of heat by 2032. These will need to be done in tune with further improvements in energy efficiency.
  6. Ambition on electric vehicles. The draft Climate Change Plan envisages ultra-low-emission vehicle (ULEV, e.g. electric vehicle) reaching 40% of new car and van sales by 2032, which would not prepare sufficiently to achieve the deep decarbonisation required by 2050 given the time it takes to turn over the vehicle stock. The recent Programme for Government announcement that petrol and diesel vehicle sales will be phased out by 2032 is a far stronger commitment, and is commensurate with the challenge set by Scotland’s ambition on climate change. The final version of the plan will need to set out the policies that will build the market for ULEVs over the next 15 years to the point that sales of petrol and diesel vehicles can be phased out.