Net-zero greenhouse gas emissions target year: information and analysis

Information and analysis paper to support discussion of the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill.

Section 1: The importance of achieving net-zero emissions as soon as possible

The United Nations ( UN) describes climate change as “one of the major challenges of our time”. The evidence is clear that climate change presents significant risks to the continued wellbeing of Scotland’s people, communities, and environment, unless urgent and sustained action is taken.

Climate change is causing changes to atmospheric and ocean temperatures, sea levels, ocean acidity, water cycles, and other earth systems. These physical impacts in turn cause human impacts through multiple channels such as crop yields, storm damages, flood and drought impacts, health impacts and reduced productivity.

Several studies have sought to weigh up the damage that will occur if climate change continues at current pace against the cost of action to prevent further change and the cost of adapting to a changing climate. This is complicated by the fact that the costs and benefits are experienced differently by different populations across the world and different generations over time.

The long-term, cumulative, nature of the impacts of climate change means that it is future generations that will be most affected. Geographically, it is developing countries that are most vulnerable, because they already operate at elevated temperatures, their economic structures are more exposed to the external environment, and poorer populations generally have lower adaptive capacity. Analysis from the World Bank Group indicates that, without further action, climate change could push an additional 100 million people into poverty by 2030.

The overwhelming moral, scientific and economic case for increased action led to the 2015 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Paris Agreement. The Agreement aims to strengthen the global response to climate change by holding the increase in global average temperatures to well below 2˚C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit this further to 1.5˚C. The Agreement states that, in order to achieve this, global emissions must peak ‘as soon as possible’ and decline so as to reach a net-zero level in the second half of this century. Ahead of the Paris talks, the First Minister called for a ‘bold and ambitious deal’, and subsequently confirmed Scotland’s backing for the historic agreement.


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