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Smoking chimneys in the Scottish village of Braemar, Aberdeenshire, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland, UK. Credit: MediaWorldImages / Alamy Stock Photo B5DCJ1
Smoking chimneys in the Scottish village of Braemar, Aberdeenshire, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland, UK. Credit: MediaWorldImages / Alamy Stock Photo.
2 March 2018 12:20

Analysis: How Scotland plans to meet its climate change targets

Jocelyn Timperley

02.03.2018 | 12:20pm
UK policyAnalysis: How Scotland plans to meet its climate change targets

The Scottish government released its new climate plan this week, setting out how it plans to meet its emissions targets over the next 15 years.

The plan includes measures to significantly cut emissions from transport, buildings and industry to help the government meet its target of a 66% cut on greenhouse gas emissions by 2032, compared to 1990 levels.

However, climate campaigners were disappointed about its roll back of previous targets for low-carbon heat, as well as a lowering of ambition on reducing emissions from Scotland’s agriculture sector.

Carbon Brief take a look at where the Scottish government does – and does not – expect to cut emissions over the next 15 years and how plans for a new Scottish Climate Change Bill could affect its ambition.

The new plan

The new climate plan, which covers the period 2018 to 2032, is the third to be published since Scotland’s Climate Change Act was first passed in 2009. It follows a draft plan released in January 2017 for consultation.

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The 222-page plan sets Scotland’s strategy for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 66% compared to 1990 levels by 2032. This target, set by the Scottish Parliament in accordance with the Scottish Climate Change Act, means greenhouse gas emissions in 2032 should be no more than 26.4m tonnes CO2e (MtCO2e), including Scotland’s share of international aviation and shipping. Unlike the UK as a whole, which has five yearly carbon budgets, Scotland has yearly targets, set by parliament, to reach this goal.

Scotland’s emissions were already 38% below 1990 emissions in 2015 compared with the UK’s reduction of 35%. Scotland is also on track to meet its 42% emissions reduction target by 2020.

The chart below, from the new plan, shows in brief how Scotland plans to continue to reduce its emissions to 2032.

The Scottish government’s pathway to meets its target to emit no more than 26.4m tonnes CO2e by 2032. LULUCF stands for land use, land-use change and forestry. Source: Scottish government (2018).

As the chart shows, the plan targets, in particular, emissions reductions from transport, industry and buildings.

The Scottish government aims to reduce transport emissions, including those from international aviation and shipping, 37% by 2032. In 2015, Scotland’s transport emissions sat at 13.1MtCO2e, slightly below the 1990 baseline year of 13.3MtCO2e. This represented a quarter of Scotland’s emissions.

A major part of its plan to reduce transport emissions is Scotland’s planned phase-out of new petrol and diesel cars or vans by 2032, eight year earlier than the equivalent UK government target. The government also promises to introduce low-emissions zones in Scotland’s four biggest cities, electrify 35% of Scotland’s rail network, as well as ensure a third of the ferries owned by the Scottish government are low carbon by 2032.

Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. 30th May 2014. After 6 years of construction, the tramline through Edinburgh will be open to the public. Credit: Andrew Steven Graham/Alamy Stock Photo E1C9ME

Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. 30th May 2014. After 6 years of construction, the tramline through Edinburgh will be open to the public. Credit: Andrew Steven Graham/Alamy Stock Photo

The plan says Scotland’s electricity sector – already largely decarbonised as the chart shows – will become increasingly important as a low-carbon power source for heat and transport. Half of all Scotland’s energy needs will be delivered by renewables by 2030, it says.

Meanwhile, Scotland’s industrial emissions should fall 21% by 2032 to around 8 MtCO2e, the plan says, beyond the 49% cut already seen between 1990 and 2015. This is broadly consistent with the existing EU and UK regulatory frameworks, the plan says, and will be driven by diversification of the fuel supply, increasing energy efficiency and fuel recovery, and participating in the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS).

On buildings, the plan promises a 33% reduction in emissions. Emissions in this sector largely come from energy used to heat and cool houses and businesses, and stood at 9.5MtCO2e in 2015, a fall of 14% since 1990. They account for around a fifth of Scotland’s emissions.

The plan includes goals for 35% of homes to be heated by low-carbon technologies (including heat supplies by low-carbon electricity) and a 15% reduction in residential heat demand through energy efficiency measures. Emissions will fall 23% over the lifetime of the plan, it says. The plan also promises the government will publish a route map setting a long-term ambition for the development of “Scotland’s Energy Efficiency Programme” (SEEP) in 2018.

Ambition shortfall

The new climate plan follows a 175-page draft version published in January 2017. However, it differs in several key ways, which campaigners say reduce ambition.

Most significantly, perhaps, the plan significantly lowers ambition on reducing emissions from buildings. While the the draft plan outlined plans to reduce emissions from homes by 75% by 2032, the final plan has rolled this back significantly to 23%.

This comes despite the Scottish government designating energy efficiency a “national infrastructure priority” for the country in 2015. It is worth pointing out that the UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which assessed the draft plan in September, said its milestone of an 80% share of low-carbon heat by 2032 is “very unlikely to be feasible”, but recommended a 50% target. The new plan targets 35%.

Sarah Beattie-Smith, climate and energy policy officer at WWF Scotland and part of the Existing Homes Alliance, tells Carbon Brief the new target is “desperately unambitious” and means locking in an extra 3m tonnes of CO2 from Scotland’s homes. She says:

“It’s a huge rollback on ambition from last year from the draft plan that we saw in January last year…When the Scottish government back in 2015 declared that energy efficiency would be a national infrastructure priority, we all cheered…But what we’ve actually been seeing is the same amount of money going in towards energy efficiency that we get every year and, if anything, a slight drop since the infrastructure priority was declared three years ago. So the money is going down, or at least not going up, and the ambition is rolling back as well.”

Beattie-Smith adds that the plan is short on details about how the Scottish government is going to meet any low-carbon heat target.

The slider below shows the difference between the draft plan, published in January 2017, (left) and the final plan published this week (right, as published above).

The Scottish government’s pathway to meets its 2032 climate target, as laid out in its 2017 draft climate change plan (left) and 2018’s final plan (right). The slider can be used to compare how sectoral ambition has changed. Note that the “services” and “residential” sectors in the draft plan have been combined for the final plan to “buildings”. Also, the draft plan included 2017, while the final plan does not. LULUCF stands for land use, land-use change and forestry. The 2017 graph has been stretched somewhat to align with the 2018 version. Source: Scottish government (2017 & 2018).

As the charts show, alongside a drop in ambition for emissions cuts to the building sector (equivalent to the “services” and “residential” sectors in the draft plan combined), the new plan shows lower ambition for electricity.

The draft plan laid out how the government thought Scotland’s electricity sector (in red in the chart above) could be wholly decarbonised by the late 2020s, and even become a net sink through the use of carbon capture and storage (CCS). The new plan, meanwhile, says Scotland’s electricity system will only be “largely decarbonised”. It adds that CCS is not required for reducing Scotland’s electricity emissions out to 2032, although it still emphasises its importance in the longer term for decarbonising industrial emissions.

As the charts above show, the main reason the Scottish government has been able to decrease ambition in these areas since the publication of the draft plan is a large increase in net emissions sink from the land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector both now and over the next 15 years. In fact, the draft plan previously foresaw LULUCF emissions becoming a net source of emissions in Scotland, whereas it is now expected to be a net carbon sink. The new plan explains:

“It should be noted that since publication of the draft Climate Change Plan, new projected future baseline land use areas and emissions have been provided by BEIS [the UK Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy], consistent with its Updated Emissions Projections, and taken from analysis by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH). These have had the impact of increasing baseline sequestration by the LULUCF sector by about 6MtCO2e on average, per annum, relative to the data used in the draft Climate Change Plan.”

In essence, says Beattie-Smith, changes to the emissions inventory since the draft plan mean there are now an extra 6m tonnes of CO2 to spare since they are absorbed by LULUCF. She explains:

“Improvements to the greenhouse gas inventory have provided Scotland with a 6MtCO2e windfall. The climate change plan effectively proposes to “spend” that bonus by reducing ambition elsewhere in the economy.

“Given both the urgency with which we know we need to tackle climate change and the benefits of leading that transition to a zero-carbon economy, we would have liked to have seen the vast majority of that saving banked and a clear policy path to kick on and decarbonise our homes and buildings.”

The Scottish government does also have several land-use change targets, including an increase of woodland cover from 18% to 21% of the Scottish land area, as well as restoring 250,000 hectares of degraded peatland by 2030.

Meanwhile, the Scottish government is targeting only a 9% reduction in agricultural emissions by 2032. This is despite it contributing around a fifth of Scotland’s emissions, with almost half of these coming from methane.

Tom Ballantine, chair of the Stop Climate Chaos Scotland (SCCS) coalition of NGOs, said the “failure to put in place any credible plan to help farmers to reduce their climate impacts” is “particularly short-sighted”. He adds:

“The lack of progress made by the cabinet secretary responsible for farming on issues like soil testing and managing our nitrogen fertiliser use is deeply disappointing.”

But others, such as Dave Reay, professor of carbon management at the University of Edinburgh, acknowledge the difficulty of reducing emissions from agriculture and praise the government’s plans to help increase the efficient use of nitrogen fertiliser.

Susan Shaw, founder of Scottish law firm Living Law, tells Carbon Brief her firm is also concerned by the heavy reliance on electric vehicles in addressing the transport sector. She says:

“In many respects, Scotland has already made the “easy wins” on climate and now has to grapple with the more difficult challenges if we are to actually meet our Paris and other equally important international legal obligations. The Scottish government should be under no illusions that meeting the de-carbonisation challenge requires much more than building renewables.”

Climate Change Bill

There is, however, scope for higher ambition in the near future.

Scotland’s current Climate Change Act sets a target to reduce emissions by at least 80% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. However, in its proposed Climate Change Bill, which would amend the 2009 Act, the Scottish government has put forward a more ambitious 90% target for emissions reduction by 2050.

Launching the climate plan this week, Roseanna Cunningham, the Scottish climate change secretary, said:

“Across the Scottish government, we are working hard every day to [provide leadership on this vital issue] and in the coming months we will bring forward a new Climate Change Bill which will raise the bar higher still.”

However, the debate over exactly how high the bar should be raised continues in Scotland, with campaign groups, such as SCCS, arguing for a net-zero target by no later than 2050, and the Scottish Greens calling for net zero by 2040.

Beattie-Smith from WWF Scotland tells Carbon Brief over 19,000 people backed SCCS’s call in a mass response to a consultation on the Bill last year.

SCCS also call for a nitrogen budget for 2020 to be included in the new bill, as well as a commitment for all homes to meet at least Energy Performance Rating C (EPR C) by 2025 and a phase out of new fossil fuel-powered cars by 2030.

The Scottish government is due to unveil the new climate bill, which is likely to apply from 2021, in May or June this year. If the 2050 target is changed, the government would then need to produce a new climate change plan.

Sharelines from this story
  • The Scottish government released its new climate plan this week
  • Carbon Brief takes a look at where the Scottish government does – and does not – expect to cut emissions

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