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Greenhouse gas report is ‘real blow’ as Scotland prepares for global climate summit

Scotland has missed another environmental target.
Scotland has missed another environmental target.

The latest snapshot of missed targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions has been branded a “real blow” in the year Scotland hosts a global climate summit.

Greens were alarmed by new findings showing the impact on the natural landscape was worse than previously thought.

There are also clear challenges to tackle transport emissions and the find quick solutions ahead of the major COP26 summit in Glasgow.

It’s the third year in a row Scotland has missed its ambitious targets.

Scottish Green Party co-leader Lorna Slater said it does not have to be “doom and gloom” but warned deliberate government policies have created the problems which now must be addressed.

“I don’t accept we can’t reverse this,” she said.

“We’re here because of deliberate decisions. Aviation is cheaper on purpose, it’s not a malign market force to blame. Car travel was made cheaper, we can make rail cheaper.

“Oil and gas, and aviation, are among the most subsidies industries. It can all be changed.”

What does the latest report say?

A report, published on Tuesday, showed a reduction of the greenhouse gas account of 51.5% in 2019 from the baseline period, despite legislation calling for a 55% reduction.

The legally-set targets for 2017 and 2018 were also missed.

Emissions in 2019 were 2.3% lower than 2018, with the reduction mainly coming from the business, energy supply and domestic transport sectors.

There was negligible change in the international aviation, agriculture and shipping sectors.

Domestic transport was the largest sector contributing to climate change emissions, producing the equivalent of 12 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (MtCO2e) in 2019.

Business and agriculture were the next-largest sources of emissions at 7.9 and 7.5 MtCO2e respectively.

In what was described as a “major revision” in the way greenhouse gases are accounted, the land use sector is now considered to be a net source of emissions rather than a carbon sink.

Greens co-leader Lorna Slater in Holyrood.

The report said: “Previously this category has been shown to be a net-sink of GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions.

“The reason for this revision is the inclusion of the effect of historical drainage and rewetting of peatlands that previously were not included in the data.”

Ms Slater said this has been a shock.

“It was a real blow finding out the environment is more damaged than we thought,” she said.

“We’re not protecting it enough. We’re not tackling grouse moors, we’re not doing enough on forestry and sustainable tourism.

“Beyond discussing healing our landscape, there is low hanging fruit. New housing needs environmental conditions, set nationally. Never mind the need to retrofit existing housing, we need to act now on new housing standards.

“We also need to look at the number one culprit, transport. We have targets but the government isn’t saying X number of cars need to be off the road, and here’s how.”


Michael Matheson, the Scottish Government’s lead minister on climate change, addressed the report’s findings in Holyrood on Tuesday.

He admitted: “Whilst it is undoubtedly disappointing that the annual target has not been met, the figures do still show good progress.”

Scotland outperformed the UK in long-term reductions, he said, with the country now more than halfway towards the net zero goal.

He said the Government published an updated climate change plan in December 2020 which had more than 100 new policies while the targets for 2020 and 2030 “are the most stretching of any country in the world”.

Mr Matheson said the “eyes of the world” would be on Glasgow for the Cop26 summit later this year, providing an opportunity to showcase Scotland’s climate action.

Following the missed target, he said the Government would publish a “catch-up” report within six months.

Scottish Government climate change
Michael Matheson, cabinet secretary for net zero, energy and transport

The cabinet secretary said: “Even when we do fall a little short, as unfortunately is the case today, Scotland’s climate legislation ensure that even deeper reductions will be achieved in the future.”

Scottish Conservative Liam Kerr, a North East regional MSP, said the missed targets were “much more serious” than the cabinet secretary implied.

Mr Kerr said: “Yet again this SNP government has missed its own statutory target for reducing emissions.

“The cabinet secretary mentioned numerous actions about what is being done but we’re already seeing schemes fail.”

He continued: “Time and time again, in portfolio after portfolio – be it health, justice education, now this – we see this SNP government put statutory targets in place which are then missed, then blame others for that failure.”

Scottish Labour’s Monica Lennon said the figures should be a “wake-up call to get our house in order”.

She urged the minister to publish the report faster than six months’ time, saying “that could take us to Christmas and after Cop26”.

Orkney Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur said: “I welcome the cabinet secretary to his post but this is an inauspicious start.

“We’re nowhere near where we need to be in reducing emissions and the Government’s warm words are simply making for a warmer planet.”

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