Carbon Neutral Islands: project progress report

We announced the commitment to support at least three islands to become fully carbon neutral by 2040 in the Programme for Government 2021-2022. This was raised further at COP 26 and the project now aims to support six islands become carbon neutral.

The Carbon Neutral Islands Project – First Steps Towards Decarbonisation

Programme for Government commitment

In the 'A Fairer, Greener Scotland: Programme for Government 2021-2022', Scottish Government announced the commitment to support at least three islands to become fully carbon neutral by 2040. At COP26 the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands announced that she would be taking this ambition even further by aiming to support six islands in their journey towards carbon neutrality by 2040. The Carbon Neutral Islands project (the Project) will support one island in each of the six local authority areas which have responsibility for islands in Scotland.

Definition of a Carbon Neutral Island

The Project considers carbon neutrality akin to net zero. Accordingly, a carbon neutral island is an 'island where the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (captured as CO2 equivalent) are in balance with the sinks'. Sinks can be natural resources capable of absorbing CO2 (trees) or technological solutions that do the same thing (carbon capture and storage). Carbon neutrality is to be achieved by 2040, five years prior to Scotland as a whole.

The Project will look at carbon neutrality as broadly as possible in line with the Scottish Government's updated Climate Change Plan list of sectors:

  • Electricity
  • Buildings
  • Transport
  • Industry
  • Waste and the Circular Economy
  • Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF)
  • Agriculture
  • Negative Emissions Technologies.

In addition, the project will also include a blue carbon component which will support Scotland to refine its nationwide methodologies in this field.

Drivers underpinning the Carbon Neutral Islands Project

The Project is underpinned by three key drivers: alignment, justice and fairness, and replicability.

Alignment: The project aims to align with existing island-based climate change efforts and to avoid duplication. The first step towards this was a study mapping island-based climate accounting exercises, projects and funding.

Justice and fairness: The project will support islands to become carbon neutral in a just and fair way. In order to ensure a just approach, the project will take into account the recommendations of the Just Transition Commission. Fairness will be promoted through an effective bottom-up participatory process driven by the six island communities.

Replicability: All Scottish islands will benefit from the project through the sharing of good practices coming from the implementation of the project. Effectively the six islands will act as catalysts for net zero action across Scotland.

Selecting the six carbon neutral islands

In order to identify the six carbon neutral islands we established an External Technical Working Group. This group was made up of local authority officers and representatives from socio-economic organisations, such as Highlands and Islands Enterprise, University of the Highlands and the Islands, Scottish Islands Federation, Scottish Futures Trust and the Young Islanders Network.

In collaboration with the External Technical Working Group we identified a set of criteria that assisted us in identifying the six islands. The criteria fell into the following six areas:

  • Housing
  • Fuel poverty
  • Energy
  • Transport
  • Economy
  • Carbon sequestration.

While these areas were used to help identify a mix of islands that would provide as much learning as possible, the Project will focus on all areas relevant to the climate emergency.

Following input from the External Technical Working Group and relevant policy colleagues across the Scottish Government we identified the following six islands:

  • Barra
  • Great Cumbrae
  • Hoy
  • Islay
  • Raasay
  • Yell.
Map showing the location of six Carbon Neutral Islands. Barra, Great Cumbrae, Hoy, Islay, Raasay and Yell

We know that each island is unique and this is also the case when it comes to decarbonisation. However, many will also face similar challenges and opportunities. The selection process outlined above was designed to bear this in mind and it is anticipated that good practices from each of the selected islands will be applicable to other islands across Scotland and in some instances the nation as a whole.

Implementation strategy

The Project implementation strategy focuses on three key stages; carbon audits, community climate change action plans and climate change investment strategies.

Carbon Audits: It is crucial to get a complete understanding of the greenhouse gas emissions' baseline for each island in order to inform plans on how to decarbonise. This will be done through the development of carbon audits, which constitute an important first step in moving towards carbon neutrality. The carbon audit will serve as a tool to help drive action and as an indicator tracking progress over time

When it comes to carbon audits, the Project will align as far as possible with the Scottish Government emission inventory baselines and methodologies and will include: energy, transportation, waste, industrial processes, agriculture, forestry and other land use. The Project will also include a blue carbon audit. This aims to help understand the potential relative contribution of marine habitats for climate mitigation and adaptation in an island context.

Community Climate Change Action Plans: The Project will support Scotland's islands to achieve carbon neutrality according to their own decarbonisation priorities and at a pace that they feel comfortable with.

To do so, the six carbon neutral islands will receive support towards developing a community climate change action plan that responds to the interests of the island stakeholders and community. The community will be engaged to explore what the key priorities are for each island and how best to tackle these in order to make real and lasting change. This will ensure that the voice of island communities will truly drive the decarbonisation and resilience-building process, delivering on the fairness driver of the Project.

Climate Change Investment Strategies: In order to deliver on the community climate change action plans, we will support the development of investment strategies. These strategies will lean upon three different financial levers:

  • Existing public funding
  • Public-private partnership
  • Private investment.

Community Energy Scotland

Community Energy Scotland (CES) was identified as the most appropriate delivery partner, being well suited to coordinate the three implementation phases (carbon audits, community climate change action plans and investment strategies). CES has extensive ties with island communities and has previously delivered work building on effective community engagement.

In order to embed the project within island communities CES has supported the development of a steering group on each of the six islands. These steering groups have identified local anchor organisations who have employed community development officers who will co-ordinate input from the community into the project.

Carbon Neutral Islands Project structure

Graphic text below:

SG Islands Team Support

Local Island Community

External Stakeholders

Local Anchor Organization

External Partners

External Expertise

CES Support

Where required CES will bring in technical expertise to support key actions such as the blue carbon audits.

Island Anchor organisation CDO
Yell North Yell Development Council Reuben Irvine
Hoy Island of Hoy Development Trust Aisling Philips
Barra Voluntary Action Barra & Vatersay Shona MacLeod
Raasay Raasay Development Trust Rosie Macinnes and Tom Luinsk
Islay Islay Energy Trust Neil Gow
Great Cumbrae Cumbrae Community Development Company Recruitment in progress

Overall, the Project will produce 6 carbon audits, 6 climate change action plans and 6 climate change investment strategies, one for each carbon neutral island. The work and the partnership that will go into producing such deliverables will allow the Project to draw lessons and good practices for all other Scottish islands.



Back to top