There is an “acute risk” that Scotland will miss its targets to heavily cut carbon emissions because government policies are too vague and weak, an influential advisory body has warned.
The Climate Change Committee, which advises all the UK’s governments on climate policies, said the Scottish government was currently unable to prove how it would hit its ambitious promise to cut CO2 emissions by 75% by the end of the decade.
In an unusually critical statement, Lord Deben, the CCC’s chair, said “the credibility of the Scottish climate framework is in jeopardy.”
His challenge comes after Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, staked her government’s reputation on a partnership deal with the Scottish Green party in August which commits them to tougher policies on combating climate heating.
Sturgeon also enjoyed significant media coverage during the Cop26 global climate summit in Glasgow last month, meeting influential figures such as Greta Thunberg, the US climate envoy John Kerry and UN secretary-general António Guterres in the margins of the event.
Deben said Sturgeon’s government had the most ambitious and far-reaching pledges of any in the UK, including cutting car mileage by 20% by 2030, decarbonising heating in 1m homes and hitting net zero by 2045 – five years earlier than the UK target. Those included policies agreed with the Greens in August.
But despite these “laudable” ambitions, the strategies and policies needed to hit them were absent, Deben said.
And without that evidence, his committee may not be able to properly assess Scottish government progress in future.
“Clarity and transparency on policy, supported with detail on how these policies will be delivered, has been lacking,” Deben said. “My committee cannot assess future progress without this vital assurance.
“[The] risks to meeting the 2030 interim emissions target are now acute; ambition must increase in those areas where rapid changes are still feasible, or where it is possible to lock in lower emissions after the pandemic.”
The CCC said the devolved government needed far more detailed strategies on cutting meat and dairy consumption, but had not yet tackled that sufficiently. There was also an urgent need for a low-carbon strategy for farming, to replace the common agricultural policy.
Peatland restoration, to protect some of the world’s largest carbon stores, had to occur “at a significantly higher rate”, it said. And as yet there was no explicit goal of cutting aviation emissions or reducing flying, despite the deal with Greens.
The CCC’s annual reporting to the Scottish parliament, published on Tuesday, said the challenge of achieving such deep cuts was particularly acute because the easiest task – decarbonising energy production – had been largely completed.
Scotland now met much of its electricity needs from renewables, but was running short of time to decarbonise the rest of the economy – a far tougher task. Sturgeon’s government had also missed its annual CO2 reductions targets so far by a large margin, making it far harder to hit the 2030 target, the CCC added.
“It has taken 30 years to halve Scottish territorial emissions; they must halve again in a decade to meet the legislated 2030 target,” the committee said.
“Although a broad set of policies and proposals have been announced, there is still relatively little detail on exactly how committed public funding will be spent and how emissions will be reduced in practice.”
Michael Matheson, the Scottish cabinet secretary for net zero, said the government would set out clear commitments to address the climate crisis in its annual budget later this week and was “resolutely focused” on delivering those policies.
He said ministers welcomed the CCC report, adding: “I agree entirely with the committee’s key finding that the focus now, both for us in Scotland and for countries around the world, must be on the delivery of the policies to drive transformational emissions reductions across all areas of the economy.”