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Scotland still outperforms the UK in reducing emissions but transport and agriculture remain significant challenges

Scotland continues to outperform the rest of the UK in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, but successful strategies for energy and waste mask a lack of progress in other parts of the Scottish economy.

The Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) 2018 Progress Report to the Scottish Parliament shows that Scotland is performing well as total emissions fell by 10% in 2016, compared to 2015. The lion’s share of this latest drop in emissions came from electricity generation, but following the closure of Scotland’s final coal plant, Longannet, Scotland’s strategy must now move on decisively.

The Scottish Government’s new Climate Change Bill sets an ambitious target of reducing emissions by 90% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. The Committee’s new report shows that the 2020 interim target of reducing emissions by 56% on 1990 levels is now within reach. The Scottish Government’s Climate Change Plan is an ambitious statement of intent and improves on the draft plan presented in 2017. The Committee also commends the new Energy Efficiency Scotland Routemap. Nevertheless, achieving the 2050 target is only possible when effective policy extends to other sectors of the Scottish economy, where emissions are flat or rising.

Transport is now Scotland’s biggest sectoral challenge. Emissions from transport have increased each year since 2010, with a further 2% increase overall in 2016. The Scottish Government announced last year an ambition to cut emissions from road transport – phasing out petrol and diesel vehicles by 2032 – but it’s unclear how these policies will deliver a more rapid transition than the rest of the UK. Emissions from agriculture, forestry and land use also present substantial challenges; relying on voluntary measures for agriculture as well as uncertain funding for targets for tree planting and peatland restoration.

The CCC’s new report finds that:

  • Overall, Scotland met its annual emissions targets in 2016. Actual emissions in 2016 were 49% below 1990 levels, and the Climate Change Bill’s interim target for at a 56% reduction in actual emissions by 2020 is within reach. In 2016, 17.8% of Scotland’s total energy came from renewable sources; outperforming the UK overall and ahead of the EU average of 16.7%.
  • Scotland’s progress in reducing emissions from the power sector masks a lack of action in other areas, particularly transport, agriculture, forestry and land use. The Government must move beyond the current voluntary approach to tackling nitrogen emissions and develop new targets, alongside soil testing and monitoring. Meanwhile, tree planting and peatland restoration targets have been repeatedly missed and policy ambitions are largely set without the budget to match.
  • Low-carbon heat, transport, agriculture and forestry sector policies need to improve in order to hit 2032 emissions targets. A clear plan for rolling-out electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure is needed to ensure the Scottish Government’s 100% take-up target is achieved by 2032; the recent £15m funding for EV charging infrastructure announced by the Scottish Government in September 2018 will help achieve this ambition. In developing effective policies, the Energy Efficient Scotland Route Map should be considered best practice for setting statutory commitments within a regulatory framework.
  • The Scottish Government’s Climate Change Plan – published in February 2018 – now has sensible expectations across each sector to reduce emissions. This includes more realistic deployment of low-carbon heating and an ambition to increase electric vehicles usage. In agriculture, ambitions to reduce emissions has been scaled back further from the Committee’s assessment of the initial draft plan. Overall, the Committee finds the Plan credible in meeting medium-term targets to 2050, and well-balanced across most sectors. The challenge now will be to deliver on this ambition.

The Committee will consider the appropriate level of emissions reduction for the UK under the Paris Agreement, following a request expected from the UK Government in October. As part of this, it will consider how this updated advice affects Scotland’s emissions targets and policy action.

Lord Deben, Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, said:

“Scotland continues to lead the UK in reducing its emissions and has ambitious targets which aim to go further. Decarbonisation of Scotland’s electricity sector, and reductions in emissions from waste, have seen Scotland outperform the UK overall as emissions continue to fall year-on-year to nearly half of 1990 levels.

“The Scottish Government has made some progress on tackling issues raised in the Committee’s report in 2017. However, challenges remain. Achieving a 90% cut in emissions by 2050, as envisaged within the new Climate Change Bill, means greater effort is now required across other areas of Scotland’s economy. This includes policies to drive down emissions in sectors where they are either flat or rising, such as transport, agriculture and energy efficiency in buildings.”

“Without real action in these areas, Scotland may fall short of its long-term goals.”