Climate change: Scottish Government misses climate target as emissions bounce up after Covid cuts
Scotland has failed to meet its latest target for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, with the total rising by one million tonnes in 12 months.
Official statistics show total source emissions of seven climate-warming gases amounted to an estimated 41.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2021. This is 2.4 per cent higher than the 2020 figure of 40.6 million tonnes.
The total represents a 49.9 per cent reduction in Scotland’s overall emissions since the baseline period. However, this falls short of the legally binding target for a 51.1 per cent drop by 2021.
The latest failure means annual targets have been missed in four out of the past five years. A jump in emissions from domestic transport and homes were the key contributors to the latest rise.
Domestic transport was the largest source of net emissions, followed by agriculture, business, residential and energy supply.
Reductions were seen in energy and business as well as international aviation and shipping, but all other sectors, such as waste management and forestry and land use, showed increases in the latest year.
Covid lockdowns have been credited with the country successfully meeting its 2020 emissions reduction goal, coming after substantial overshoots in 2019, 2018 and 2017.
Now levels have bounced back up, meaning bigger efforts will be needed to achieve a 75 per cent cut in emissions by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2045.
The figures come just months after independent government advisers at the Climate Change Committee warned Scotland’s progress on tackling climate change had “stalled” and its net-zero transition “hangs in the balance”.
In a statement to the Scottish Parliament, net zero and just transition secretary Màiri McAllan expressed disappointment the country had “so narrowly” missed its interim target for emissions cuts. But she stressed the 2.4 per cent rise in Scotland in 2021 was much smaller than the 4.4 per cent increase seen across the UK.
“It also demonstrates that we are not far behind where those world-leading targets dictate we need to be,” she said.
“While the 2021 results show a rebound from 2020, this was not entirely unexpected, given how much the 2020 position was affected by pandemic lockdowns. And Scotland is not unique in experiencing this.
"The UK rebounded by 4.4 per cent over the period, compared to 2.4 in Scotland and we knew to expect an increase in transport emissions as a result of Covid restrictions easing and we also expected that one of the coldest winters in ten years would see an increase in domestic heating emissions.”
Ms McAllan added: “Any target missed is a concern and is not something I will ever shy away from. However, we should take heart from data that shows continued underlying progress in many sectors such as energy supply and industry.
"We must also remember that these figures do not yet reflect the 100 new and boosted policies that were included in the Government’s climate plan update, published in March 2021.”
Environmentalists have stressed the scale of the battle to get the country back on track. Mike Robinson, chair of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland campaign group, said: “Meeting the 2020 emissions target was a hollow success – the result of the impact of pandemic lockdowns.
“Now for 2021 we’ve seen a rebound in emissions, despite continued pandemic effects. Every missed target means more effort is required the following year, making it harder to meet our crucial goals.”
Jamie Livingstone, head of charity Oxfam Scotland, said: “The Scottish Government’s latest failure to meet its own annual climate target is yet another reckless misstep in a very dangerous dance with climate destruction – one that threatens all of our futures, but particularly those of people living in poverty.”
He said the Government was “alarmingly out of sync with the speed and level of action required” and ministers must deliver “urgent and decisive” measures.
Political opponents slammed the SNP-Green Scottish Government, describing ministers as “serial failures” and an “embarrassment” on environmental progress.
Sarah Boyack, net zero spokesperson for Scottish Labour, said: “Rising emissions are not only an embarrassment for the SNP-Green government, but a disaster for our planet.
“The SNP’s record on the environment is one of empty rhetoric and broken promises, and the Green party are no longer worthy of the name.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat climate spokesperson Liam McArthur said: “These figures show that the Scottish Government are serial failures when it comes to hitting our national climate change targets.
“In the first year that the Scottish Greens were in government source emissions actually rose. It seems that Patrick Harvie and Co’s role in government is simply to whitewash SNP failures. In the transport and residential sectors, things have gone backwards.”
But the Greens said the missed targets underlined the scale of the challenge and “exactly why the Scottish Greens went into government in the first place”.
“Today’s stats reflect yesterday’s choices – sometimes choices made decades ago,” said Mark Ruskell, the party’s climate spokesperson.
“It tells us that tackling the climate emergency won’t be achieved by business as usual, but will need concerted effort and the kind of long-term changes that we are putting in place now.”
Mr Ruskell added: “The decisions we make today will have an impact for years to come. So we need to get them right.”
He attacked “massive resistance” from opposition parties, accusing them of tackling the climate crisis with “wishful thinking”.
"They have all supported the targets to reduce emissions but have opposed and attacked the very policies needed to deliver them,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Conservatives have tabled a motion of no confidence in Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater, minister for the circular economy, due to the debacle over Scotland’s deposit return recycling system.
The baseline period for measuring progress against targets uses 1990 for carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide and 1995 for hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, sulphur hexafluoride and nitrogen trifluoride.
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