Reducing greenhouse gas emissions - proposals and policies: report

Report prepared under section 36 of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, setting out proposals and policies to compensate in future years for the excess emissions resulting from the missed 2019 emissions reduction target.


This is a particularly important year in the global fight against climate change, with COP26 in Glasgow representing the world’s best chance to avert the worst impacts. It is absolutely crucial that the international community takes this opportunity to raise their ambition and commit to tangible, transformational actions. By highlighting Scotland’s world-leading statutory commitments, and setting out how we are working to meet these commitments, we hope to inspire others as we strive towards a net zero future.

Highly ambitious annual targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are a central feature of Scotland’s distinctive statutory framework for tackling climate change. In direct response to the UNFCCC Paris Agreement, this framework includes our world-leading target of net zero emissions by 2045, and a 75% reduction in emissions by 2030.

The Scottish Government is committed to meeting these targets, reducing our emissions year on year through the delivery of our updated Climate Change Plan, which sets our pathway over the period to 2032. We have made huge progress to date, and on the basis used for reporting progress to targets, Scotland’s emissions (during 2019) were down 51.5% since the 1990 baseline. This is over half of the way to net zero emissions. Emissions have fallen year by year, down 2.3% from 2018 to 2019, and there have been welcome reductions across many key sectors, including transport, buildings, electricity and industry. However, greenhouse gas emissions data published earlier this year show that the annual target for 2019 of a 55% reduction was missed, by an amount that equates to 2.7 MtCO2e of emissions.

It is firstly important to recognise that these figures do not yet take account of the step-change in action associated with the recent update to our Climate Change Plan. The updated Plan included over 200 policies and proposals designed to deliver on our emissions reduction targets over the period to 2032, including a 75% reduction by 2030. These include landmark commitments such as our aim of reducing car kilometres by 20% by 2030; our commitment to restore 250,000 hectares of degraded peatland by 2030; increasing our tree planting targets so that 18,000 hectares are planted per year by 2024/25 (ensuring that 21% of our land is covered by forest by 2032); our commitment to invest £1.6 billion in heat and energy efficiency over the course of this Parliament (an investment that we are now boosting to £1.8 billion); and many more transformational policies and proposals.

Nevertheless, in response to the 2019 greenhouse gas statistics, we are now furthering our ambition with additional policies and proposals. We are one of only a very few countries to have such a rigorous system of legally binding annual targets which required us to outperform on future targets when past targets are not met. We are proud to be held accountable in this way, and are committed to going further in our policy approach in order to ensure we deliver upon our targets. This process underpins our commitment to learn by doing: when an approach doesn’t work or more action is needed, we find out why and what is needed and put in place new measures that will deliver further emissions reduction. We know that Scotland has world-leading climate change targets; but these targets are only meaningful if they are supported by world-leading action.

It is for this reason that we have further increased our ambition even since the updated Climate Change Plan was finalised earlier this year. Whether that be through our boosted support for the decarbonisation of heat and energy efficiency; our commitment to spend at least £320 million or 10% of all the transport capital budget on supporting active travel; or our commitment to create a ten-year £500 million Just Transition Fund for the North East and Moray – we are continuing to develop and strengthen our approach to reducing emissions in Scotland.

This report sets out the additional policies and proposals that, over and above those included in the updated Plan, will account for the excess emissions arising from the missed 2019 annual target. As with the updated Plan itself, these measures have been designed to reduce emissions while also contributing to our economic and social recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. We are confident that this policy package will go beyond the 2.7 MtCO2e required to make up to the missed 2019 target, with the Climate Change Committee pathway indicating that expected changes to the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) alone are likely to significantly exceed the amount of emissions reduction required. Yet we have chosen to go further in this report, whether that be through additional policies and proposals in the Transport sector, which is our biggest emitting sector, or by further supporting the decarbonisation of businesses, buildings or related activity in other sectors. This approach demonstrates the scope of our ambition, and our commitment to back up our targets with transformational action.

Covering both the inclusive approach we will take as we transition, and the fairer, greener future we hope to realise, just transition continues to be at the heart of our response to the global climate emergency. It is something we have continued to prioritise since the publication of our updated Climate Change Plan, including in the development of the policies and proposals in this report. As we seek to deliver further emissions reductions, we will do so in a way that priorities fairness, and ensures that no one is left behind. A just transition is therefore an opportunity to deliver on our social, economic and climate goals, harnessing the transition to net zero to build a better and more equal society.

Scotland was the first country in the world to embed just transition principles in our climate legislation, and we are now the first country in the world to publish a National Just Transition Planning Framework. As part of our response to the previous Just Transition Commission’s final report, this Planning Framework provides the tools and the structures to deliver evidence-led and co-designed Plans for every sector and every region. Just Transition Plans will provide certainty for business to invest, will support workers and communities, and will ensure that Scotland can seize the opportunities of the transition while mitigating the risks. We have committed to delivering our first Just Transition Plan as part of the refreshed Energy Strategy, due to be published in 2022.

Despite the ambitious actions demonstrated by the Scottish Government, many key policy levers for decarbonisation are reserved to the UK Government. Scottish Ministers highlighted key asks of the UK Government to deliver Scotland and UK-wide targets in the updated Climate Change Plan, and we remain clear that a more ambitious UK-wide approach will be critical in achieving our emissions reduction targets. We have consistently called on the UK Government to match Scotland’s level of climate ambition, including a formal request for action to deliver the updated Climate Change Plan and specific correspondence on energy issues. We will continue to make the case for action in these areas in the delivery of the UK Net Zero Strategy. Collaborative action is particularly vital as we approach COP26 in Glasgow.

While the UK Government’s international commitment to a 68% cut in emissions by 2030 is welcome, it is very disappointing that this has not been reflected in domestic UK law, where the target remains considerably less ambitious. The divergence between the UK’s domestic and international commitments, in spite of representations from both the Scottish Government and the Climate Change Committee, risks undermining confidence as we approach COP26. Conversely, there is no such divergence between Scotland’s legislated domestic targets and our ‘indicative nationally determined contribution’ to the Paris Agreement. Both of these are based on our world-leading statutory target of a 75% reduction in emissions by 2030.

COP26 must move from the world of promises to action, and mobilise the ambition needed to deliver on the Paris Agreement. This report also builds on Scotland’s indicative Nationally Determined Contribution and demonstrates the Scottish Government’s commitment to deliver upon our promises, strengthening and advancing our response to the global climate emergency.



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