Arctic Connections: Scotland's Arctic policy framework

A prospectus for cooperation, knowledge-exchange and policy partnerships between Scotland and the Arctic.

Climate Change, Environment and Clean Energy

The Arctic region and its melting glaciers are illustrative of the devastating impact of global warming on our planet. Combined with other environmental threats - such as pollution, sea level rise and erosion - climate change poses a serious threat to ecosystems and biodiversity on a global scale. Recent assessments have shown that the average warming is twice as high in the Arctic as it is in other parts of the world and that the volume of late-summer Arctic sea ice has declined by 75% since 1979.[22]

Scotland stands with the Arctic region in its determination to tackle this global challenge. The Scottish Government has declared a global climate emergency. We are committed to ensuring that Scotland's contribution to climate change will end within a generation. To this end, we are legislating to introduce a net-zero target for all greenhouse gases by 2045. We want to continue on the path that has led Scotland to almost halve its emissions since 1990.

Like Scotland, many Arctic states have set ambitious climate change targets. We are determined to work with them to share experience, values and expertise in areas such as adaptation, transport decarbonisation, renewable energy and environmental protection. While Scotland has already developed a wealth of expertise in relation to climate action, we want to learn from our Arctic partners to ensure Scotland has the best possible evidence to steer a sustainable path towards a net-zero economy.

Just transition and climate justice

By taking a human-rights based approach, Scotland and Arctic governments can reduce vulnerability and increase resilience to the effects of climate change, leaving no one behind.

The Scottish Government is encouraging community-level discussions on how we can reduce emissions and has established an independent Just Transition Commission to provide practical advice on ending our contribution to climate change in a socially and economically sustainable way.

At both a national and international level, we are determined to act on climate change through the lens of climate justice, recognising that those most vulnerable to climate change are often those who have contributed least to the problem. In 2010, we became the first government anywhere in the world to establish a Climate Justice Fund. We have committed £21 million between 2012-2021 to support projects that aim to build climate resilience in our sub-Saharan African partner countries of Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia. Arctic countries run similar programmes in other climate-vulnerable developing nations. By supporting and empowering communities in their own countries, we can jointly promote international resilience and further climate change action.

Marine pollution and biodiversity

Marine pollution is a global environmental issue posing an increasing threat to Arctic ecosystems, including its wildlife. Scientists have already detected a stark increase in the concentration of microplastics frozen in Arctic sea ice, with contamination risks affecting the entire food chain. It is imperative that the international community halts the flow of plastics to our oceans. Scotland and its Arctic neighbours can lead from the front in reducing waste, increasing recycling and moving towards a circular economy.

Learning from Sweden's and Norway's experiences, the Scottish Government has proposed the introduction of a deposit return scheme, with a target return rate of 90% of obligated drinks containers. We are committed to doing more to tackling the environmental impact of single-use plastic items and we stand ready to work with others to develop new best practices and take urgent action.

Achieved so far:

Energy Efficiency: £500 million invested in energy efficiency

Hydro: Scotland has 1.654 MW of installed hydro capacity and generated 5,004 GWh of electricity from hydro in 2018

Electricity: In 2018, 74.6% of gross electricity consumption came from renewable sources

Clean Transport: 475 new low emission buses

Climate Justice Fund: £21 million committed to climate justice related activities between 2012-2021


Climate Change: Net-zero emissions by 2045, including emissions from international aviation and shipping

Industry: 21% reduction of industrial emissions by 2032

Land Use: By 2030, we will have restored 250,000 hectares of degraded peatlands to health

Forests: Increase forest cover from 18% to 21% of the total area of Scotland by 2032

Electricity: 100% of Scotland's electricity demand to be generated from renewable sources by 2020

Transport: Need for new petrol or diesel powered cars and light vans phased out by 2032

Community Energy: 1GW of community and locally owned energy by 2020; 2GW by 2030

The Scottish Government's vision is for a marine environment that is clean, healthy, safe, productive and diverse, with seas managed to meet the long-term needs of nature and people. As part of the UK delegation to the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR), we are already actively collaborating with a number of Arctic countries on issues such as marine litter, persistent organic pollutants and biodiversity monitoring. We have a long history of contributing to the development of environmental assessment criteria through organisations such as Marine Scotland Science. Scotland also contributes to the development of biodiversity policy at the global scale through the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

In Scotland, Marine Protected Areas (MPA) are used to ensure protection of some of the most vulnerable species and habitats. We have already designated 21% of our waters as MPAs and are committed to achieving a 30% coverage by 2030.

Oceans absorb a significant proportion of the carbon dioxide emitted by human activities. This has resulted in a detectable change in the acidity of our oceans. In addition, oceans produce in excess of 50% of the oxygen we breath. Disruption of this ecosystem will have significant consequences, with changes being more apparent at northerly latitudes. Scotland will work with Arctic countries, both directly and through the OSPAR Commission and the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, to assess the impact of these changes.

Scottish MPA Network

The Scottish Government has a vision of clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse marine and coastal environments. The creation and maintenance of the Marine Protected Area (MPA) network is an integral part of that vision.

Scottish MPA Network

Forest management

Forests play a crucial role in determining the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by sequestering carbon emissions. With 73% of Finland covered by woodlands[23] while Russia and Canada host some of the world's largest forest areas, Arctic states make a crucial contribution to the fight against climate change through their woodlands.

Globally, deforestation is a leading contributor to climate change, releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than the world's entire transport sector. Sustainable forest management can help to reduce emissions from deforestation, as well as enhance biodiversity and support sustainable economic growth. Scotland has ambitious woodland creation targets, aiming to increase forest cover from less than 19% to 21% by 2032 by planting 10,000 hectares of trees per year until 2021, increasing incrementally to 15,000 hectares by 2025.

Bilateral work with Sweden has contributed to increasing our understanding and expertise of forest management issues. We will also continue to cooperate with Arctic countries through the European Forest Genetic Resources Programme, which aims to improve science-based strategies, tools and methods to advance the management of forest genetic resources.

Renewable energy and decarbonisation: Economic benefits

The Scottish Government is working with established industries across the energy sector to ensure that the benefits of our transition to a net-zero economy are maximised. The Scottish renewable energy sector has seen considerable investment by companies based in Arctic states. Among several successful renewable energy projects, Scotland hosts the world's largest floating offshore wind array off Peterhead. The construction of NorthConnect, a transnational interconnector cable between Scotland and Norway, will create new trading opportunities for our renewable energy industries while improving our energy security. Going forward, more interconnection with our Arctic neighbours can assist the growth of our respective renewable energy industries.

Carbon Capture Utilisation Storage systems are opening up new opportunities for economic collaboration with Arctic states. The depleted gas fields and aquifers identified as suitable for the injection of carbon dioxide in the central North Sea are far larger than the totality of Scotland's carbon emissions. This over-supply of storage assets represent a unique asset and has the potential of making Scotland a European hub for the importation and safe geological storage of carbon dioxide. The Acorn project near Peterhead, for instance, possesses the location, infrastructure and access to storage necessary to become a key site for the whole North Sea region. We therefore support the UK Government's efforts at advancing discussions on the transboundary transport of carbon dioxide through the North Sea Basin Taskforce. Scotland has a strong academic reputation to inform these discussions and is host to the Scottish Carbon Capture Storage, Europe's largest research body on this subject.

The First Minister has instructed the Scottish National Investment bank to support the transition to a net-zero society once operational in 2020. By exploring market opportunities and making commercial investments, the Bank will contribute to expanding and diversifying low-carbon technologies in Scotland.

Marine energy

With vast natural resources and strong expertise in energy innovation, Scotland and Arctic countries can establish themselves as leaders in marine energy development. Significantly, the economic benefits from the marine energy sector are expected to be mainly created in coastal areas where the need for economic regeneration is greater.

International collaboration is crucial to ensure that all ongoing improvements feed into cost-reduction efforts. Scotland is strongly represented in international collaborations on marine energy, including the Ocean Energy Systems Technology Collaboration programme, organised under the auspices of the International Energy Agency.

Scotland is home to a number of world-leading tidal energy solutions. Simec Atlantis Energy's MeyGen in the Pentland Firth, for instance, is the world's largest tidal stream project. In addition, Shetland Tidal Array has recently been connected to battery storage developed by Tesla. The European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney is at the forefront in the development of international standards for marine energy, exporting its knowledge around the world to stimulate the development of a global marine renewables industry. Many of the projects being led by EMEC showcase the role wave and tidal energy could play in remote and island communities.

The Scottish Government's Wave Energy Scotland (WES) programme is the largest of its kind globally and has maintained Scotland's position as the leading nation in this emerging sector. In addition, our £10 million Saltire Tidal Energy Challenge Fund, launched in February 2019, drives innovation and incentivises investment in the Scottish tidal energy sector, supporting a pathway to long-term cost reduction.


The Scottish Government recognises the huge potential hydrogen has as a zero carbon substitute fuel for heat and transport as well as a form of long-term energy storage.

We have supported the successive phases of the HySeas project, which has secured EU Horizon 2020 funding to develop the world's first sea-going passenger ferry powered by hydrogen. The Scottish Government also helped the Aberdeen Hydrogen Bus Project, which in 2015 saw the establishment of what at that point was Europe's largest fleet of hydrogen-fuelled buses.

For islands, the cost of energy to consumers is, on average, higher than that of the mainland. However, these areas often have huge renewable energy sources. The challenge both Scotland and Arctic countries are facing is how we harness that local energy to benefit local populations. Hydrogen may be part of the answer, calling for closer transnational cooperation around these technologies.

Case Study

The Surf 'n' Turf initiative (funded by the Scottish Government) and the "Big Hit" project (funded by the EU) are seeing production of hydrogen from wind and tidal energy.

In Orkney, more electricity is generated from renewable sources than the population use and zero-carbon power is routinely exported to the UK National Grid. At times, so much renewable energy is available that the power cables reach full capacity. The production of electricity has hence to be capped and clean energy goes unharnessed.

Hydrogen provides a solution to this issue. By means of electrolysers, renewable electricity is used to produce hydrogen, which can act as an energy-storage medium. Hydrogen is later converted back into heat and power for buildings as well as fuel for the operation of a small fleet of zero-emission hydrogen vehicles. Orkney's experience of using hydrogen to store renewable energy can support wider replication and further deployments of hydrogen technologies in isolated territories.

Community and local energy

Scotland and many Arctic nations face similar challenges in terms of developing economically viable energy projects in remote communities. As we begin the transition away from traditional models of centralised energy and passive consumption, it will be increasingly important to put communities at the heart of decisions about their local energy system and empower them to take an economic stake in new developments.

Scotland already has a legacy of strong community engagement in local renewable generation, often led by our most remote rural and island communities. Our Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES) has supported almost 600 renewable energy projects across Scotland.

Case Study

In 1997, residents of the Hebridean Isle of Eigg secured the community buyout of the island. After decades of diesel generators due to the island not being connected to the mainland electricity supply, in 2008 Eigg became the world's first community to launch an independent power grid. The £1.6 million hybrid renewable energy system provides 95% of the island's electricity 24 hours a day and at 25-40% cost saving compared to what the community was previously paying in diesel generators. The system combines wind, solar and hydroelectric generation to provide the island with a continuous reliable electricity supply with minimal use of fossil fuel generators. Power is distributed from the renewables via 11km of underground cable that was laid to form an electricity grid for Eigg. Repair and servicing is the responsibility of a trained maintenance team of island residents.

Decarbonisation of transport

Reducing emissions from transport is a key component of the world's efforts at meeting future climate targets and reducing local air pollution. Arctic countries are carrying out important work in this field, with Norway, Iceland and Sweden topping the electric car market in 2018.[24] Scotland continues to develop a comprehensive charge point network, with over 1,000 publicly available points. Registrations of ultra-low emission cars is growing rapidly, increasing by 39% in 2018. We are working on a further expansion of our electric charging network, including the provision of infrastructure in rural areas.

While the transition to ultra-low emission vehicles plays an important role in reducing emissions from the transport sector, it is essential to encourage other forms of sustainable transport. We are keen to work with our Arctic partners to develop best practices that can promote greater use of public transport, reduce the movement of freight by road and curtail emissions from maritime and aviation sectors. For instance, we are looking with interest at the city of Malmö's successes in promoting active travel and Norway's intention to make all domestic flights electric by 2040.

Many Arctic states share Scotland's aspiration to increase the decarbonisation of transport and encourage modal shifts, opening important opportunities for partnerships. We are already engaging with several Arctic states in relation to the decarbonisation of various modes of transport and are keen to cooperate with others across the region that have similar issues to Scotland, such as the need to ensure strong transport connections to remote and island communities.

The Electric A9

The electrification of the A9 highway, Scotland's longest road at 440 kilometres, will go a long way towards expanding and reinforcing Scotland's existing charge point infrastructure. By developing multiple charge place hubs, the Electric A9 will reduce "range anxiety" and provide charging for both long distance journeys and local businesses and residents. The project is due to be completed by 2022.

Going forward, we will:

  • Continue to work internationally to further climate justice, looking for opportunities to partner with Arctic organisations to build on the work of our Just Transition Commission on socially and economically sustainable emission reductions.
  • Share scientific knowledge and expertise on marine pollution and biodiversity monitoring through organisations such as Marine Scotland Science.
  • Explore new opportunities for bilateral and multilateral learning in the fields of transport decarbonisation, active travel and ultra-low emission vehicles.
  • Engage with Arctic partners who are interested in working with us to develop best practices in relation to community engagement in local renewable generation.



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