Why Scotland’s leading emissions drive needs renovating

A new report from the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has revealed that Scotland is the exemplar Home Nation in regards to emission reductions, but with a major shift to the energy mix now integrated, the country may need to turn to other areas to keep pace with reduction targets.

Scotland’s low-carbon efforts crept past a monumental milestone in 2014. With the UK striving to reduce emissions by 80% against a 1990 landmark by 2050, latest Government figures have revealed that the country is now halfway to this goal. In comparison, the rest of UK has reduced emissions by 33%.

Year-on-year emissions in Scotland have fallen by more than 3% since 2009, enabling the country to meet a 2014 reduction target. Even gross emissions – which include international aviation and shipping – fell by 8.6% in 2014; again ahead of the UK’s total reduction of 7.3%.

In fact, if you take net emissions into account, the country’s greenhouse gas levels are 45.8% lower than 1990 levels. All of this paints a picture of a country showing no signs of slowing in the low-carbon transition, but while current progress has been noteworthy, reductions could grind to a halt unless a tweak in national approach is introduced.

The 40% reduction, the CCC claims, has been driven by Scotland’s willingness to deploy largescale renewable projects, which was amplified this week with the unveiling of the world’s first grid-connected tidal array. Coupling the renewables outlay, which powered half the country in 2014, with the closure of all its coal-fired power stations, and you begin to see how the emissions have been slashed.

So much so, that the CCC’s chair Lord Deben commented: “Scotland continues to lead the UK both in performance and ambition when it comes to tackling climate change. Emissions are reducing and the latest targets have been hit.”

New avenues to explore

The CCC claims the country is operating with a “well developed” energy policy, but with the Scottish Government set to release an updated Climate Change Plan later this year, the CCC is calling for greater focus on under-developed areas including transport, land use and renewable heat projects.

With the country’s energy mix revamped, the CCC want attentions turned to increased uptake of low-carbon transport. The report revealed that while a reduced share of the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) had helped keep emissions from shipping and aviation unchanged, more needs to be done on the country’s roads.

The report claims that there has been a “limited model shift” from cars to other forms of transport and despite electric vehicle (EV) sales increasing to 5% of all UK sales, Scotland’s share of the UK EV market was lower than its share of total car sales of 8%.

The report notes that efforts to improve transport efficiency have “not been sufficient” and as well as accelerating EV sales and infrastructure projects, the Government should introduce “softer” policy aids to improve the process.

One of the major concerns that the report noted was how emission reductions in agriculture and lands use had slowed. While emissions in forestry have fallen by 13% since 2006, tree planting rates are “markedly below” rates that existed in the 1970s. Farm fuel efficiency, waste management and the dietary habits of livestock are all recommendations laid out in the report as a means to lower emissions in this area.

Another potential catalyst in this area is the European Union’s Common Agriculture Policy (CAP). Even though British farmers have called for reforms, the report suggests that EU-derived polices have a role to play in helping Scotland achieve its emission ambitions.

Crucial years

This, of course, cannot be guaranteed until the ramifications of the UK’s decision to leave the EU are fully explored. Green groups are concerned that the UK’s environmental and energy policies could be “eroded” by the Brexit-vote, and the CCC report calls on the UK Government to ensure that policies, existing or otherwise, are strengthened to deliver equivalent emission reductions to those that derive from the EU.

The report briefly calls on Scotland to examine the slow uptake of renewable heat projects, and although capacity is increasing, projects in other parts of the UK are more advanced, despite subsidiaries being removed.

Despite the calls for improvement, the report did commend Scotland’s efforts to introduce a national circular economy strategy, which also aims to cut food waste by a third by 2025.

With the CCC laying out recommendations – and the Scottish Affairs Committee warning that the country’s renewables sector is threatened by political ‘cloud of uncertainty’ – the success of the updated Climate Change Plan could hinge on political guidance.

Matt Mace

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