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In context: Climate Change Plan update

Climate change - Image credit: Adobe Stock 209291980

In context: Climate Change Plan update

What is it?

The Climate Change Plan update is a review of the Scottish Government’s climate change plan for 2018-32. It had been due to be published at the end of April 2020 but was postponed due to coronavirus. Environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham said it was “no longer feasible or appropriate” to produce it by that date. It was finally published on 16 December 2020. 

What’s in it?

The update includes more than 100 additional policies and targets to support green recovery and help the country move towards net-zero emissions, some of which are completely new and some that have already been announced but were not previously in the strategy.

The plan covers eight areas: electricity, buildings and heating, transport, industry, waste and the circular economy, land use and forestry, agriculture, and negative emissions technologies (NETs).

Among the key additions to the plan are a 20 per cent reduction in kilometres driven by car by 2030, a £180m Emerging Energy Technologies Fund to develop NETs such as carbon capture and storage and hydrogen, the phasing out of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030, and £120m to decarbonise buses.

The plan also had to be updated to reflect the emissions targets agreed by MSPs in the 2019 Climate Change Act, which ups the 2030 target significantly from a 66 per cent reduction in emissions to a 75 per cent reduction in emissions compared to 1990 levels.

There is a very real concern that negative emission technologies are being used as a ‘get out of jail free’ card by the Government to make their figures add up rather than doing the hard work of cutting emissions in the here and now

What has been the reaction to it?

Reactions have been mixed. The tougher targets and breadth of the strategy have been welcomed, but there has been criticism of some of the detail, or lack thereof, from environmental bodies and academic experts.

Among the concerns are an overreliance on undeveloped and unproven new technologies to achieve the targets; a lack of detail on exactly what reduction in emissions each policy is expected to achieve, making it difficult to measure progress; and a failure to include anything in strategy about the transition to new jobs for those who currently work in the oil and gas sector, which was recommended by the Just Transition Commission in its report in July 2020.

In his evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee Chris Stark of the Committee on Climate Change described the plan as being “on the fringes of credibility”. He said the 2030 target for emissions reductions was “very, very stretching” and would be “extremely hard to meet”.

Speaking to the Rural Economy Committee, Stark also said he could not say whether the policies were sufficient to meet the targets because he could not tell what emissions reductions were linked to the policies.

How do Scotland’s targets compare?

Scotland’s emissions targets are currently more ambitious than the rest of the UK, aiming to achieve net zero by 2045, with interim targets of a 75 per cent reduction by 2030 and a 90 per cent drop by 2040.

The UK as a whole has set the target of achieving a 68 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2050, while Wales has the aim of achieving a 95 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050. Northern Ireland began consulting on a climate change bill in December 2020 with a view to setting a pathway to the UK 2050 target.

The EU also has a target of net zero by 2050, with a 55 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030, although Denmark is closer to Scotland, aiming for a 70 per cent reduction by 2030.

What are people saying?

Jess Cowell, Friends of the Earth Scotland: “Towards the end of this decade, the plan relies heavily on illusory promises of carbon capture, hydrogen from gas and hare-brained schemes to burn trees for energy.

“There is a very real concern that negative emission technologies are being used as a ‘get out of jail free’ card by the Government to make their figures add up rather than doing the hard work of cutting emissions in the here and now”

Environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham:  “Unavoidably, the plan update is published against a backdrop of considerable uncertainty, such as the pace of technological development.

“We expect technological change to unlock more and faster opportunities for decarbonising challenging areas and we are committed to monitoring these and amending our actions accordingly”

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