Sturgeon told Scotland’s climate targets are ‘in danger of being meaningless’

Nicola Sturgeon has been warned Scotland’s highly ambitious climate targets are “in danger of being meaningless” because her government still has no clear plan to meet them.

The UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC), an official advisory body, said the Scottish government would almost certainly miss its world-leading carbon reduction targets for 2030 by a substantial margin, despite Sturgeon’s repeated promises of radical action on the climate.

In its annual report on Scotland’s climate strategy, the CCC said there were “glaring gaps” between its ambitions to cut emissions by 75% by 2030 and its success in meeting them. It was failing on farming, building emissions, recycling, peatland restoration and on cutting car use.

Lord Deben, the CCC’s chair, indicated growing irritation with the devolved government’s faltering progress, which has been the subject of repeated warnings from the committee.

“In 2019, the Scottish parliament committed the country to some of the most stretching climate goals in the world, but they are increasingly at risk without real progress towards the milestones that Scottish ministers have previously laid out,” Deben said.

“One year ago, I called for more clarity and transparency on Scottish climate policy and delivery. That plea remains unanswered.”

After the CCC’s criticisms last year – days after Sturgeon reiterated her pledges to be a world leader on climate at the Cop26 meeting in Glasgow – Scotland’s net zero secretary, Michael Matheson, said ministers were “resolutely focused” on delivering its promises. Sturgeon also brought the Scottish Green party into government last year and made both its co-leaders ministers, with a pledge to prioritise the climate.

The CCC’s latest report repeats many of last year’s criticisms but this time warns the first minister there is an “urgent need” for a dramatically accelerated and detailed strategy to get closer to meeting the 2030 targets.

Hitting that target was now “extremely challenging”. Emissions only dropped in 2020 because of the Covid crisis; as things stand, Scotland’s emissions would probably fall by 65% to 67%, leaving the country up to 8 megatonnes of CO2-equivalent short of its legally binding 75% target.

It also reported that if the climate impacts of Scotland’s consumption of imported goods and energy was included, the rates were 22% higher a head in Scotland than the UK average, at 13 tCO2e a person in 2018.

It found that:

  • Despite pledging to stop the sales of all petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030, sales of electric cars in Scotland had fallen behind England.

  • Scotland’s plans to rapidly decarbonise heating in buildings “were still wholly inadequate” despite recent funding increases.

  • Scottish ministers were failing to tackle high levels of meat and dairy consumption, key causes of CO2 emissions from farming.

  • Scotland was meeting only half its target to restore 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres) of peatland a year.

  • Scottish ministers were failing to work collaboratively with other UK governments on shared climate strategies.

Colin Smyth, Scottish Labour’s net zero spokesperson, said the report left the Scottish government’s “empty rhetoric in tatters. On the three biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions – transport, heat in buildings, and land use – the report card on the Green SNP government is a resounding fail, fail, fail.”

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Matheson said the CCC’s report was “a timely reminder of the scale of the challenge faced by government, industry and civil society”, and said it would influence the government’s forthcoming climate strategy.

He insisted the government knew it had to dramatically step up its action. It was spending £1.8bn on decarbonising buildings, on renewables and on free buses for under-22s. “We are now entering the most challenging part of the journey to date, with a need to halve our emissions again within the next eight years,” he said.