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New ambitious actions needed for a Net Zero Scotland

Scotland must match the ambition of its world-leading Net Zero 2045 target with decisive action to strengthen climate change policy in all parts of the economy. Decisions over the next 12 months are likely to determine the direction of the next 25 years.

Next year, Glasgow will host the most important global climate summit since COP21 in Paris in 2015. These crucial talks offer a major opportunity to increase global ambition and effort to cut emissions. The UK’s credibility as COP26 President – and Scotland’s, as hosts – now rests on real action at home.

The Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) 2019 Progress Report to the Scottish Parliament shows that greenhouse gas emissions reduced by 3% in 2017, compared to a 10% fall in 2016. The fall was again led by the power sector, due in large part to Scotland’s first full year of coal-free electricity generation. Recent performance in other sectors shows only incremental improvement at best and, unless emissions reductions are delivered economy-wide, Scotland is at risk of missing its new interim target of a 56% reduction in emissions by 2020.

Scotland’s Programme for Government 2019-20, alongside other recent policies, shows that the Scottish Government is taking its more ambitious Net Zero emissions targets seriously. However, a step change in ambition is needed, requiring a much steeper reduction in emissions than was required to meet the previous, less stringent target.

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

“Scotland has set an ambitious world-leading Net Zero target of 2045. Now Scotland needs to walk the talk. The new legally-binding target for 2030 – a 75% reduction in emissions compared to 1990 – is extremely stretching and demands new policies that begin to work immediately. The spotlight is now on Scotland’s plan to deliver meaningful reductions across all sectors of the economy, including from buildings, road transport, agriculture and land use. Their contribution to reducing emissions is vital to Scotland’s success.

“Scotland has outperformed the rest of the UK in cleaning up its economy, resting on the rapid closure of coal. As this chapter closes, the Scottish story must change. But so far, we haven’t seen the same progress in other sectors. With the right policies and the committed support of Westminster, Scotland can lead the way in ending the UK’s contribution to global warming for good.”

The CCC’s report finds that:

  • Setting a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions target for 2045 represents a step-change in ambition for Scotland. Achieving it requires urgent action to drive down emissions and every sector of the Scottish economy must contribute fully.
  • The Scottish Parliament’s 2030 target to reduce emissions by 75% will be extremely challenging to meet. It must be backed up by steps to drive meaningful emissions reductions, immediately. The recent sharp reductions in emissions due to the near-complete elimination of fossil-fired electricity generation in Scotland must be maintained through sustained action in other sectors.
  • Scotland’s Programme for Government 2019-20, alongside other recent policies, sent a clear signal that the Scottish Government is taking its more ambitious targets seriously, but there is much more to do. Promising new measures for green finance, new-build homes and transport have been put in place – now they must start delivering in the real world. Scotland’s plans for a long-term agriculture strategy are lagging behind plans in England and Wales, annual tree planting rates must continue to rise, and energy efficiency measures must be extended to non-residential buildings.
  • Scotland’s ability to deliver its net-zero target is contingent on action taken in the UK, and vice versa. Westminster must match Scottish policy ambition if Scotland – and the UK as a whole – is to make progress in key sectors where legislative powers are ‘reserved’. This includes: heavy industry, carbon capture and storage, electricity generation, the gas grid, vehicle standards, road freight, and a common aviation framework. Both governments must work more closely to make the best use of devolved and reserved policy levers in key areas where responsibilities are split, including the future of heating, electric vehicles and low-carbon infrastructure.
  • Scotland missed its annual target for emissions reduction in 2017. Despite actual emissions in Scotland falling by 3%, the ‘net’ measure of emissions actually increased by 4% as Scotland’s EU emissions trading allowances increased. Targets set on this ‘net’ basis have been superseded by an improved set of targets in the 2019 update to Scotland’s Climate Change Act. The CCC will report against these new annual targets in future years.

Scotland’s next Climate Change Plan must set out a comprehensive strategy detailing the policies and governance that will drive a rapid, sustained transformation to a net-zero society. Net-zero planning must be embedded across all levels of government in Scotland, it must also engage the public, provide a stable direction of travel and  set out a simple, investable set of rules and incentives for business.

The Committee will provide further guidance on the appropriate pathway for Scottish emissions over the period to 2045 as part of its advice to Government on the Sixth UK Carbon Budget, due in September 2020.

Notes to editors

  1. The 2019 update to Scotland’s Climate Change Act introduced new legally-binding emissions reductions targets for 2020, 2030 and 2040 of 56%, 75% and 90% respectively. The targets for 2020 and 2040 were set in line with the Committee’s recommendations, but the Scottish Parliament has set a more stretching 75% reduction target for 2030 than the CCC’s recommended 70%.
  2. Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions fell by 3% in 2017 to 40.5 MtCO₂e. This progress was primarily driven by lower emissions in the power sector.