Scotland fails to hit greenhouse gas reduction targets as emissions rise

The Scottish Government has missed out on its target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions which instead rose over the year – sparking widespread concern among environmental groups.

The Scottish Greenhouse Gas Emissions report confirmed “The target for 2018 has not been met.”

Climate change emissions between 2017 and 2018 rose by 1.5% over the year. The report said the biggest driver was from energy supply.

In 2018, Scottish source emissions of the basket of seven greenhouse gases were estimated to be 41.6 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e). This is 1.5 per cent higher than the 2017 figure of 41.0 MtCO2e; a 0.6 MtCO2e increase.

The main contributor to this increase between 2017 and 2018 was a rise in Energy Supply emissions (0.8 MtCO2e; an 13.4 per cent). This increase was driven almost entirely by increased emissions from power stations.

– The Scottish Government

The admission will likely be seized upon by opposition parties and environmental groups as proof that the Scottish Government needs to do more if it is serious about tackling climate change as a priority issue.

In particular it will add to the clamour for a Green New Deal and Just Transition to be at the fore of Scotland’s environmental and economical recovery, particularly as the country emerges from the COVID-19 lockdown which has decimated business.

Scotland is still due to host COP26 in Glasgow next year, postponed from this November.

The political embarrassment, not to speak of the significant environmental implications, of failing on targets would be acute. It will almost certainly form a key battleground of the forthcoming Scottish elections next summer too – just months before world leaders gather.

The Scottish Greens environment spokesman Mark Ruskell said: “This is what happens when politicians congratulate themselves over targets but won’t commit to serious action to meet them.

“This is a climate emergency, and instead of cutting emissions Scotland continues to hurtle towards climate breakdown.  

“The sharp rise in energy is partly due to the closure of Hunterston nuclear power station being replaced by fossil fuels.

“This shows why we can’t rely on expensive and unreliable nuclear power and a new generation of gas power stations, instead we need a step change in investment in Scotland’s renewable energy generation, storage and grid infrastructure to meet our targets and create green jobs.” 

“Transport remains the biggest contributor to Scotland’s poor record. It’s now indisputable that the Scottish Government’s agenda of massive road investment at the expense of public transport, cycling and walking has failed. ” 

He added: “The Scottish Greens are calling for a transformative shift in spending priorities on transport, we can’t afford to lock-in high carbon transport choices for generations to come.

“The Covid crisis has encouraged people to take up walking and cycling. That opportunity to invest in that infrastructure is now, not after our roads become choked with traffic again.” 

Jess Cowell from Stop Climate Chaos Scotland: “It is incredibly worrying to see a 1.5% rise in Scotland’s annual emissions compared to 2017, and the Scottish Government missing its 2018 target of reducing emissions by 54% since 1990.

“If the Government is going to meet the crucial target of a 75% reduction in emissions by 2030 we need to see action to reduce emissions showing up in significant declines in these figures.

“The burning of fossil fuels is the key driver of the climate crisis, the government must commit to delivering a decisive just transition that ends our economic dependence on fossil fuels whilst protecting employment and securing social benefits for the communities who will be impacted by industrial change.”

Scottish Greenhouse Gas Emissions, 1990 to 2018. Values in MtCO2e Source: Scottish Government

The group said urgent action is needed in the transport sector where progress on emission reduction is still lacking, with emissions only being reduced by 4.9% since 1990.

They argued that instead of investing in what they called high-carbon, expensive infrastructure – with £749 million being spent on motorways and trunk roads for 2020/21 – expenditure should instead be directed towards other projects.

The money could instead be spent on enabling walking, safe cycling networks and accessible public transport routes which would also contribute to reductions in air pollution, they said.

Levels in some of Scotland’s normally worst polluted streets have been slashed during lockdown as cars and lorries were kept off the roads.

Cowell added: “After announcing a climate emergency and with the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 26, being held in Glasgow next November, it is crucial that the Scottish Government show leadership and place ambitious climate action at the centre of a just and green economic recovery from the devastating effects of Covid-19 felt across society.”

The news comes just days after the Scottish Government revealed it had narrowly missed out on its tree planting targets too, an activity seen as a key driver in tackling climate change.

Scotland still performs better than the rest of the UK accounting for around 80% of all new tree planting. In all around 20 million new trees were planted across 29,000 acres of new woodland – just around 1000 hectares shy of the target.

Lockdown over COVID-19 was cited as the mitigating factor.

But today’s news also follows a warning from campaigners that claims by the UK oil and gas industry to reduce emissions from its production platforms – welcomed by Scottish Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse – should not be regarded as a cure for the damage caused by the use of their products..

UK Oil & Gas – the trade body – said the electrification of sites, decommissioning of older platforms and reduction in flaring would all help reduce their pollution.

But in a statement, Friends of the Earth Scotland said it was ‘disingenuous’ of the industry to claim green credentials when their core products – oil and gas – continued to be burned in massive quantities.

Scottish Liberal Democrat energy spokesperson Liam McArthur: “There needs to be a green recovery to the coronavirus crisis. We’ve got record low borrowing rates and a rock bottom oil price.

“To get the economy firing on all cylinders we can make a record investment in green infrastructure, taking advantage of our experienced engineers and groundbreaking science.
“Transport emissions are rampant so the Scottish Government must today withdraw its support for an expansion of Heathrow – already the single biggest emitter in the UK.

“It is utterly incompatible with the First Minister’s declaration of a climate emergency.”

READ MORE: Scottish Greenhouse Gas Emissions 2018 report

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