A year ago we published a blog which looked at how Scotland had almost halved its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions between 1990 and 2018. In this blog Declan Finney, CXC Project Manager (Climate and Energy) looks at the emission figures for 2019.

Covid-19 has dramatically changed our lives and the associated greenhouse gas emissions. The newly released emissions data for 2019 give us a chance to take stock of the progress Scotland had made towards net-zero before the pandemic unfolded.

Overall, emissions in 2019 were 52% lower than in 1990, with greater than two thirds reduction in several sectors: energy supply, industrial processes, aspects of land use, and waste management. However, the total reduction was less than the 55% reduction target specified for the time period in the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019.

More electricity generation than ever came from renewable sources in 2019, 61%. This was equivalent to 90% of electricity consumed within Scotland. These statistics mark progress towards targets for the Scottish energy sector:

  • By 2020, an equivalent of 100% of Scotland’s Electricity demand to be met by renewable sources
  • By 2030, renewable energy should account for the equivalent of 50% of our energy demand across electricity, heat and transport

One challenge with an increasing proportion of renewable electricity can be intermittency of supply. Previous research by ClimateXChange described the potential role for grid-scale battery storage in the electricity network, which would help mitigate risks of intermittency.

Transport still the biggest source

Domestic transport remains the largest source of emissions, though it did see small but consistent reductions in emissions between 2017 and 2019. Scottish Government are targeting a 20% reduction in car kilometres by 2030 in order to reduce transport emissions.

Recent research for ClimateXChange looked at how well Scottish communities score against the criteria for being 20 Minute Neighbourhoods. Neighbourhoods where people can feel safe to walk, wheel and cycle to most or all of their daily needs can make an important contribution to cutting car kilometres and emissions. 

The emissions reporting now presents emissions from international aviation and shipping sector. The 2019 Scottish climate legislation incorporated these into Scottish emission reduction targets. International aviation and shipping is the only sector to have increased its emissions since 1990.

Including peatland emissions

Since the 2018 emissions statistics published last year, there has been a change in the scope of the land use sector emissions to include peatland emissions. Note that the full title of this sector in the emissions publication is Land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF). Inclusion of peatland emissions in the sector has led to a significant recalculation of its contribution to emissions since 1990.

Emissions for the land use sector now include those associated with the historical drainage and rewetting of peatlands, and the impact that such activity has had, and continues to have, on net GHG emissions. The reassessment of the sector is the culmination of a programme of research undertaken by the UK Government to consider how these new emissions can be measured appropriately. The land use sector is now considered to have been a net source of GHG since 1990, opposed to a net sink as determined in previous emission methodologies.

Land use emissions have increased since 2018. However, Scottish Government have committed to restoring 250,000 hectares of peatland by 2030. Recent research for ClimateXChange describes the lessons from previous peatland restoration experiences, and provides information on potential priorities for further restoration.

The total GHG emissions are made up of different gases, with the main ones being carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. When compared to the emissions statistics published in 2018, reassessment of the land use sector scope has greatly modified the methane and nitrous oxide emissions, as well as reduced the sink of carbon dioxide.