Scotland should be net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2045. That’s the advice from the Committee on Climate Change in their report on emissions targets in the UK.

ClimateXChange Programme Manager Dan Barlow reflects on the report’s main points:

After months of climate change action rising further up the public agenda, the CCC report highlights the potential to realise a net-zero emissions Scotland. It follows the IPCC report at the end of last year on how to keep climate change to 1.5C.

Based on extensive analysis the Committee on Climate Change suggests that of the administrations in the UK, Scotland should go the furthest fastest. This is ‘reflecting Scotland’s greater relative capacity to remove emissions than the UK as a whole’.

The CCC identify a number of opportunities with particular potential for Scotland to contribute towards achieving a net-zero goal.  These include cutting emissions through peatland restoration and removing greenhouse gases through reforestation and deploying Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS).

The report highlights that stable and well-designed policies to achieve emissions targets need to be introduced across the economy without delay. The report states that the Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland must make full use of the policy levers available to them, and work with the UK government to ensure delivery in those areas that are not devolved.

Scotland carbon neutral by 2040

The Scottish Government has welcomed the report and moved swiftly to propose amendments to the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill to set a legally binding target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 at the latest, with Scotland becoming carbon neutral by 2040.

In response the Scottish Government have also written to the UK Government urging them to act in a number of policy areas, for example to reduce VAT on energy efficiency improvements in homes.

A number of priority areas identified in the report are issues CXC have been involved in providing evidence for policy over a number of years. Forestry, peatlands and energy efficiency are key research areas for us.

The CCC report sets a target for England to be net-zero in 2050, while Wales should aim to reduce emissions by 95% by the same year. The targets for Scotland and Wales are dependent on the UK adopting the net-zero target for 2050.

Key messages for a net-zero Scotland in 2045
  • The Scottish Government should legislate to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. The target can be legislated as a 100% reduction in GHGs from 1990 and should cover all sectors of the economy, including international aviation and shipping.
  • The Scottish Climate Change Bill also requires interim targets. We recommend these are set for a 70% reduction by 2030 and a 90% reduction by 2040 against the 1990 baseline.
  • These targets represent Scotland’s fair contribution to the recommended UK target and hence to the Paris Agreement. They do not imply higher policy ambition or effort, but reflect the excellent opportunities to remove CO₂ from the atmosphere through afforestation and carbon capture and storage in Scotland.
  • Scotland cannot deliver net-zero emissions by 2045 through devolved policy alone. It will require both UK-wide and Scottish policies to ramp up significantly. If the UK does not commit to a net-zero GHG target for 2050 then Scotland may need to revise its target.
  • The new Scottish Just Transition Commission has an important role to help plan and deliver a just transition across Scotland that protects vulnerable workers, consumers and rural and island populations.

The Governments of UK, Scotland and Wales wrote to the Committee in October 2018 asking for the updated advice based on the Paris Agreement.

Scotland currently has a target to reduce emissions of all greenhouse gases including international aviation and shipping by at least 80% by 2050, relative to 1990. The target was set in the Climate Change (Scotland) Act (2009) and is under review in a new Climate Change Bill currently being considered by the Scottish Parliament.

 Read the report 

Read the CCC news release 

Read the Scottish Government’s response 

Read the Scottish Government’s letter to the UK Government 

Scotland has been incredibly successful at decarbonising our electricity sector, but if we are to achieve our ambitious climate change targets, more work is needed in other sectors. That is one of the key messages of the Committee on Climate Change’s recent assessment of Scotland’s progress in cutting emissions.

Here CXC Programme Manager Dan Barlow looks at the findings in the latest Committee on Climate Change report on Scotland’s progress on reducing emissions.

The Committee’s Progress Report to Parliament for 2018 shows that Scotland’s emissions have fallen at a faster rate than the UK and the bulk of the reductions over recent years are the result of cuts from the power, and to a lesser extent waste and industry, sectors. 

In the decade since the CCC came into being, emissions from the power sector in Scotland have fallen significantly, including by 68% from 2015 to 2016 alone. As a result, electricity has moved from being the most significant emission sector to almost the least significant one. Although this major achievement is the result of changes at international, European, UK and Scottish levels, it would not have happened without the determination of successive Scottish Governments to deliver a step change in the generation of renewable energy in Scotland.

So where next? With Scotland close to achieving a 50% cut in emissions compared to 1990 levels, and the power sector virtually decarbonised, maintaining Scotland’s low carbon emission trajectory now depends heavily on action in other areas.  This is the biggest theme that comes through the CCC’s report. 

The Committee suggests that Scotland is now well prepared with plans and strategies for how to achieve the necessary change. The Climate Change Plan and the Energy Efficient Scotland Route Map both receive praise in the report, with the Committee calling Scotland’s energy efficiency policies ‘more detailed and comprehensive’ than those in the rest of the UK and stating that the goal to end the need for new fossil fuel cars by 2032 is far more ambitious than the UK equivalent. 

However, the Committee is clear that existing policies need to be strengthened and new policies introduced in key areas if progress is to be maintained. Examples include introducing non-financial incentives for electric vehicle users such as preferential road access and free parking, and strengthening energy efficiency standards for new build homes in support of achieving broader decarbonisation goals.

Reducing the challenges ahead to a selection of new policies or stronger implementation makes achieving the necessary change seem relatively straightforward.  But making progress in sectors beyond electricity poses some new and different challenges, not least in the very distributed nature of the actions that is required.  For example, rather than substituting one form of power generation with another, this requires work to improve the efficiency of nearly all of our homes, replace the majority of our vehicle fleet and change to the way we manage most of our land. 

In reality, securing these goals relies on demonstrating low carbon solutions at significant scale (for example city or region), identifying and articulating the multiple benefits that can be derived from new approaches, finding innovative ways to lever in the investment required and ensuring that millions of individuals adopt, adapt to and champion different approaches. 

If we are successful in achieving such an approach, Scotland will be well placed to rise to the final challenge the CCC report sets out – a call for Scotland to prepare now for even greater emission cuts than those it is currently planning for.

Dr Dan Barlow is joining the ClimateXChange secretariat team as new Programme Manager. He has spent the last five years as a Senior Researcher on climate change and resource use issues for the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe).

Dan has held a number of policy, research and management roles in the environmental NGO sector, including seven years as Head of Policy for WWF Scotland and a period as Acting Director. He has a BSc in Environmental Science from the University of Plymouth and PhD in soil erosion and land use change from the University of Edinburgh.

Dan joins CXC as the Climate Change Plan has barely hit desks and with discussion on-going about a new Climate Change Bill. The Scottish Government is also working on the second Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme, due in 2019.

Here are his initial thoughts on the challenges ahead for CXC:

While Scotland has made good progress in cutting emissions and preparing for the impacts of climate change, the next phase will require a wider transformation across society.  For that to happen we need new approaches, broader buy-in, leadership across society and some significant policy decisions about the best routes to decarbonising key sectors.

Scotland has the political commitment, technical and practical expertise in several important areas, and high levels of public support and community engagement. This provides huge scope to maintain Scotland’s leadership across this agenda. At the same time we mustn’t forget that developing the approaches for transformation also offers an opportunity to realise a wider range of benefits and solutions, beyond cutting emissions and adapting to the impacts we are already seeing from a changing climate.

ClimateXChange is at the heart of helping to identify, clearly define and prioritise what research and analysis can best support the process of developing climate policy. It is key to the Centre’s success that this can be delivered in time to inform key decisions.

In my work in SPICe, supporting climate change scrutiny in the Scottish Parliament, I frequently drew on CXC reports, and I’ve been impressed by the volume and quality of information and the expertise in the CXC network.

Coming into the organisations I wonder if there is scope for this huge bank of evidence and analysis to be communicated and promoted more widely. How can the  wider climate change community in Scotland benefit from the research and analysis done by CXC researchers?  Equally, can CXC work reach into areas where low carbon approaches are less developed, linking further with European and global expertise?

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