Home » Holyrood ditches carbon emissions targets

Holyrood ditches carbon emissions targets

by Mark Cantrell
Electricity pylons with the sun in the background

The Scottish government’s decision to abandon annual targets for cutting carbon emissions in favour of multi-year ‘carbon budgets’ has prompted some dismay in the sector, but not exactly surprise.

Last week, Scotland’s net zero secretary, Màiri McAllan announced new legislation will be brought forward to introduce multi-year ‘carbon budgets’ to replace the current approach of annual targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

The move comes in the wake of the UK-wide Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) sober reminder of the pressing issues in its June 2023 progress report. Among its key highlights, it noted a lack of urgency in policy frameworks.

In its progress report for Scotland, released last month, it noted that the country could no longer meet its 2030 carbon reduction ambitions.

”Unwavering commitment”

In a statement to the Scottish Parliament, McAllan said: “The race to net zero is one that we must all win, and I want to begin by affirming this government’s unwavering commitment to ending our contribution to global emissions by 2045 at the latest, as agreed by Parliament on a cross-party basis.

“I was grateful for the latest report from the CCC on our progress in reducing emissions. The CCC are a key partner in our net zero journey and their insights are essential.

“Their report recognised much to be proud of, including this government’s provision of free bus travel to all under 22s, our work delivering more woodland in Scotland in a year than any other UK nations combined, and our work on decarbonising heat in buildings, noting that it could become a template for the rest of the UK.

“Considerable progress is also being made in energy. Scotland is becoming a renewables powerhouse – with 87.9% electricity generation coming from zero or low carbon sources in 2022.

“These are just some of the examples of the considerable work that has been taken, and which sees us nearly halfway to net zero, narrowly missing our most recent annual emission reduction target, but decarbonising faster than the UK average.

“But rightly, just as with the UK government, the CCC challenges us to go further. And that is exactly what we will do as I have announced a new package of climate action measures, which we will deliver with partners to support Scotland’s transition to net zero.”

Immense challenge

However, Don McLean, chief executive of Glasgow-based climate tech company, IES said this was not the time for any backtracking on climate commitments.

“We’ve long known that the scale of the climate challenge is immense. However, it’s disappointing to see that Scotland has missed so many annual targets, and its ambition to reduce carbon emissions by 75% by 2030 is now beyond reach – and officially scrapped,” he said.

“We’re already in a state of environmental emergency, and right now is simply not the time for our industry and society to backtrack on its commitments. Scotland’s 2045 net zero target remains in place, so we must now look ahead and further accelerate our efforts to decarbonise.

“We’ve already proven that progress can be made; between 1990-2021, Scottish greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by almost half (49.2%) compared to the baseline level in 1990. This issue isn’t about politics; it’s about our planet, and the private sector has a unique opportunity to acknowledge its responsibility and take the initiative to drive action.

“However, the biggest problem as I see it is that like most governments around the world, the Scottish government does not have the mechanisms in place to properly measure and make the reductions required to meet these ambitious targets. This is especially so in the built environment. Buildings are complex in the way they are designed, built and operated and in turn need sophisticated tools to navigate their decarbonisation. Without them governments face an impossible task.

“Buildings are responsible for almost two-fifths (39%) of global energy-related carbon emissions, and governments, businesses and landlords must invest in their long-term decarbonisation plans to ensure that they opt for the most cost, energy, and carbon-efficient options for the future. By doing so, they can play a meaningful role in decarbonisation.”

Carbon package

The measures announced by the Scottish government last week include:

  • The publication of a new route map this year for the delivery of approximately 24,000 additional electric vehicle charge points by 2030
  • An integrated ticketing system that can be used across all public transport
  • A pilot scheme to support the roll out of “methane suppressing” food products to reduce emissions from livestock working closely with Scottish businesses
  • Consulting on a new carbon tax on largest estates to encourage peatland restoration, tree planting and renewable energy generation
  • Helping people reduce their reliance on cars with a 20% fall in their use by 2030
  • The creation of a “Just Transition” plan for the Mossmorran (natural gas liquid) industrial site developed in partnership with the operators of the plant, workforce and local community

Patrick Harvie, minister for zero carbon buildings, active travel and tenants’ rights, said: “The package of new climate measures … is absolutely critical, to ensure that Scotland gets back on track and can meet net zero, becoming one of the first countries in the world to end our contribution to climate change in a just and fair way.

“Only by working together across the political divide and with all levels of government, the public sector and the business community can we tackle the climate crisis with the pace and urgency required.

“We are making progress towards our goal of net zero by 2045 – as demonstrated by our recent consultation on proposals for a Heat in Buildings Bill which the Climate Change Committee described as a potential template for the rest of the UK.

“We will now carry on working with stakeholders and communities to ensure progress is delivered fairly and in the right way, recognising the different needs of rural, island and urban areas.”

Pause and reset

In response to the Scottish government’s decision, Fiona Hodgson, chief executive of the Scottish & Northern Ireland Plumbing Employers’ Federation (SNIPEF), called for a comprehensive reset of policy, engagement, and targets.

“The 2030 targets, which always seemed more driven by the pursuit of headlines than establishing a meaningful, step-by-step roadmap towards the 2045 climate goals, were sadly and predictably abandoned due to their unrealistic ambitions, and the lack of a realistic plan to support them,” she said.

“This approach has inevitably led to their failure and fostered uncertainty among businesses and the public about the feasibility of future targets.”

Hodgson urged government to “pause and reset”, adopting a more inclusive approach by incorporating all relevant stakeholders, including industry experts and community representatives, from the beginning of the planning process.

“To prevent further setbacks and foster an investment-friendly environment, the government must systematically overhaul the target-setting process,” she added.

She also highlighted the need for future targets to be based on detailed, sector-specific knowledge that addresses “practical realities”, including the necessary infrastructure from power generation to consumption.

“These targets should not be arbitrary or merely top-down, reverse-engineered mandates but should be collaboratively developed, realistic, and achievable objectives with clear steps and milestones,” she said.

“We remain fully committed to advancing low-carbon heating solutions. Through thoughtful planning, robust collaboration, and consistent government support, we are confident that significant strides can be made towards the 2045 net-zero target.”

Image: Al Orfali/Shutterstock

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