Greenhouse gas statistics 2018: statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform

Statement given by the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Roseanna Cunningham to Parliament on 16 June 2020.

Presiding Officer, the most recent greenhouse gas emissions statistics for Scotland were published this morning.

These statistics are historic and apply to the period up to the end of 2018 only.  They, therefore, pre-date the First Minister’s declaration in 2019 of a global climate emergency and the substantial work undertaken by this government since then to combat climate change.

Reporting to Parliament is an annual requirement under Scotland’s climate change legislation. However, this year’s statement occurs in circumstances that could not have been predicted.  Our immediate focus of course must continue to be responding to the public health crisis of COVID-19 and on protecting lives and livelihoods.

But the climate crisis has not gone away.   It remains the greatest long term challenge facing humanity.  Unchecked, climate change has the potential to cause significant and irreversible social and economic damage, both here in Scotland and globally. 

That is why the Scottish Government’s response to the global climate emergency continues in earnest.  We remain absolutely committed to ending Scotland’s emissions contribution by 2045, with a 75% reduction being achieved by 2030.

COVID-19 means that our starting position has most definitely changed – but our ambitions have not – and we are committed to delivering a green recovery from this pandemic.

Today’s statistics are the first to be reported under new, more transparent arrangements which this government introduced through last year’s Climate Change Act in accordance with recommendations from the Committee on Climate Change.

On this new reporting basis, emissions in 2018 were down by 50% since the 1990 baseline - exactly half of the way to net-zero.  This strong long term progress means that Scotland continues to lead the UK as a whole and to rank second only to Sweden amongst our western European neighbours.

However, the annual target to reduce emissions by 54% has been missed.  This outcome is certainly disappointing, but we should not lose sight of two things.

Firstly, Scotland’s annual targets, shaped and agreed across this chamber as they were, have intentionally been set to provide an extremely stretching pathway to net-zero.  Such a world-leading pathway will inevitably face challenges, but by being ambitious and by stretching ourselves in pursuit of net-zero, we will go a long way to reaching our destination.

Today’s statistics do highlight one such setback, with changes to the national energy mix and freezing temperatures from the ‘Beast from the East' during the early months of 2018 contributing to a rise in emissions from energy supply and heating used for buildings.  To set that in context, whilst emissions reductions were seen in all other sectors – including transport, industry and agriculture – during 2018, the overall effect was a 1.5% increase and we expect a substantial part of that was driven by the cold weather. 

Secondly, many other developed countries are experiencing a similar journey towards net-zero as Scotland.  We are now in a transition period where changes across the whole of society will be essential to achieving future reductions.

And – as I have said – we must remember that these statistics are always two years after the event and so do not capture many recent Scottish Government actions.

The actions not yet being picked up include most aspects of our 2018 Climate Change Plan, which rises to the shared, international, whole-society challenges that I have referred to. It also misses all of the measures announced following the First Minister’s declaration of a Global Climate Emergency in 2019.

To give just a few examples of specific work not yet captured in these statistics:

The development of an ambitious Deposit Return Scheme,

Further increasing our tree planting ambition,

Announcing last year increased funding for the restoration of our vital peatlands,

Increasing the budget for Energy Efficient Scotland this year to over £150 million across a range of domestic programmes,

Making available an extra £2 billion of infrastructure investment over the next parliamentary term for measures to support climate change, and;

Ensuring that the Scottish National Investment Bank has the transition to net zero as one of its primary missions.

This recent acceleration in action reflects our recognition of the scale of the challenge represented by Scotland’s world-leading targets and the need for a national effort to meet these.

However, Presiding Officer, the nature of the challenge faced by Scotland and other countries has also now been fundamentally altered by the lasting impacts of COVID, particularly to our economies.  The foundation from which we will now journey towards net-zero has changed.

In recognition of this, the Scottish Government is developing a green recovery and reflecting carefully on last month’s advice from the Committee on Climate Change.  We have welcomed the Committee’s six key principles, to rebuild whilst delivering a stronger, cleaner and more resilient economy.

This will include a revised version of the 2018 Climate Change Plan. I hope to lay this in Parliament in December, to align with the Scottish Budget if possible. This “recast Plan” will set out a credible pathway, as part of a green recovery, to meeting Scotland’s world-leading climate targets over the period to 2032.  It will also set out plans to reduce emissions further to make up for the shortfall from the missed annual targets for 2018 and 2017.  I am continuing to chair a Sustainable Renewal Advisory Group to help shape the recasting of the Plan and to work towards a green economic recovery.

In addition to the principles from the Committee on Climate Change, we are awaiting further expert advice on shaping the recovery from Scotland’s Just Transition Commission and the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery.  This strong collective platform of expert advice will guide our approach to sustainable economic recovery.

We are also looking to learn lessons from the changes to people’s lives during the pandemic.  We know there is support for a green recovery and we are committed to supporting people to embed new behaviours which reduce emissions and benefit both our environment and health. 

We are already taking action.

In April, we announced a £10m million fund for Scottish 'pop-up' cycle lanes and wider pavements to support active travel during lockdown. In May, the fund was tripled to £30 million. 

Last week saw the launch of ScotWind – the first offshore wind leasing round to be administered in Scotland. This is a significant milestone – both for Crown Estate Scotland and for our climate change ambitions.

We have also launched the Energy Transition Fund – a £62 million package of support for recovery and a just transition through growth in markets such as hydrogen and Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage.

Tomorrow, the Energy Minister will set out plans for low carbon infrastructure funding as part of the phased delivery of the Heat Transition Deal to support recovery in the energy efficiency, heat and low carbon energy sectors, and to accelerate the much needed investment in heat decarbonisation projects.

Of course, Scotland’s ability to deliver a green recovery and meet our emissions reduction targets is also dependent to a very significant extent on UK Government action, a matter referred to also by the committee on climate change.

Substantial responsibilities and regulatory controls that could assist in our objectives are retained by the UK Government, including parts of the fiscal system, decarbonisation of the gas and electricity grid, development of hydrogen capacity and further investment in carbon capture and storage.

I have recently written to the UK Government to call on them to take the action, that currently only they can, in these vital areas.

Finally, just as global cooperation is crucial in the fight against COVID-19,  it is also crucial in the fight against climate change. 

COP26 will be in Glasgow in 2021. We look to other countries to follow our lead and come forward with strategies to reach net-zero emissions and deliver a green recovery.  We will share our experiences but also learn from others. 

COP26 must build on green recovery plans and help set the world on course to net-zero in a way that is fair and just.

Presiding Officer, we are committed to such a green, just and resilient recovery for Scotland - one that places us firmly on the pathway to net-zero emissions by 2045 at the latest.  Both COVID-19 and climate change present global challenges of unparalleled scale and Scotland is making progress in tackling both.

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