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.