Scotland’s net-zero transition ‘hangs in the balance’, CCC warns

The Scottish Government has failed to put in place a clear plan for climate action and the integrity of the country’s climate framework is now at risk, the official climate advisory body for UK policymakers has warned. 

Scotland’s net-zero transition ‘hangs in the balance’, CCC warns

Pictured: Glasgow City Chambers and George Square

Through a new progress report, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has condemned the Scottish Government for failing to offer a “coherent explanation” for how its policies will achieve the country’s bold emissions reduction targets.

In recent years, the Scottish parliament has committed to “extraordinary ambition” to decarbonise its economy, with a welcome focus on a fair and just transition, the report states. It said the ambition “should be applauded”, but “only if targets are achieved”.

CCC chair Lord Deben said: “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.

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

The Committee conducted a methodological review of the Scottish climate targets and assessed its progress in cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Between 2019 and 2020 emissions fell by 12% – half of 1990 levels for the first time. But the fall in 2020 is only a temporary effect, largely due to travel restrictions in the pandemic.

Evidence from across the UK is that Scottish emissions will be shown to have rebounded in 2021.

Meanwhile, underlying progress in reducing emissions in Scotland has largely stalled in recent years. Since the Scottish Climate Change Act became law in 2009, the Scottish government has failed to achieve seven of the 11 legal targets.

The CCC has insisted that Scotland’s lead in decarbonising over the rest of the UK has now been lost. Progress is now broadly the same as the UK as a whole.

In June, the CCC warned that the policy packages designed to deliver the UK’s overall 2050 climate goal won’t deliver steep enough emissions reductions, due to a number of remaining policy gaps. Even in areas where there are “bright spots of progress”, the CCC is warning that interventions may yet under-deliver.

“Two years after the publication of the Climate Change Plan update, we do not see evidence of sufficient action to meet the Scottish parliament’s ambition,” the body said.

They added that there are now “glaring gaps” in the Scottish government’s climate plan and particular concerns about the achievement of the 2030 goal to cut emissions by 75%


Plans to decarbonise transport in Scotland are falling behind other parts of the UK, the CCC concluded. Sales of electric cars are now behind those of England, despite Scotland’s greater ambition to decarbonise transport. The Scottish government has so far been unwilling to consider measures to recover the shortfall, such as restrictions on aviation growth.


Scotland’s 2030 goal rests on rapid action to decarbonise buildings. Despite new public funding in this area, policies are still wholly inadequate to deliver the scale of low-carbon heat and energy efficiency improvements required, the CCC has stated.

Agriculture and land

Detail on low-carbon agriculture policy following Scotland’s exit from the EU Common Agricultural Policy is needed urgently. It is not clear how the emissions targets set by Scottish Ministers in this area can be delivered in the absence of new policies, the CCC is cautioning.

On the key issue of restoring Scotland’s peatland carbon stores, restoration rates are less than half of Scotland’s own target of 20,000 hectares per year, which is in turn much less ambitious than the CCC’s recommendation of 45,000 hectares per year by 2022.

In March, the CCC warned that Scotland has “no credible plan” to protect farmland from future climate impacts and that its plans to adapt infrastructure, buildings and businesses are also “insufficient”.

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