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Scotland’s 2030 climate target slips

Scotland’s 2030 climate target slips

It is five years since the Scottish Government set itself legally binding targets to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that exceeded those set in many other countries.

The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 was amended by the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) Scotland Act 2019 with a ‘net zero’ target of 2045 – five years earlier than the rest of the UK – as well as interim reduction targets of 75% by 2030 and 90% by 2040.

These were in addition to annual targets, which were designed to ensure steady progress was being made towards the overall goal.

Fast forward to 2024 and Scotland is significantly off track.

'Beyond what is credible'

This week, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) – the independent, statutory advisor to the Scottish and UK governments – produced a scathing progress report to parliament.

The CCC pointed out that delays to publication of the Scottish Government’s draft Climate Change Plan update and slippage in promised policies mean that the GHG reductions required to meet the 2030 target are now 'beyond what is credible'.  

Professor Piers Forster, interim chair of the CCC, said: 'Scotland has laudable targets, but it isn’t enough to set a target; the government must act'.

The CCC said that Scotland has now missed eight of its 12 annual targets, with most key indicators including tree planting and peatland restoration rates behind schedule.

It called for stronger action across all sectors of the economy to provide a pathway to the 2040 and 2045 targets – with a particular focus on transport and buildings.

Agriculture and land use targets

The report also references the 2020 Climate Change Plan update which requires emissions from agriculture and land use to decrease by 11% by 2030, which would constitute a reversal of recent emissions increases.

On woodland creation, Scotland needs to double its rate of planting, while overcoming a 30% budget cut for Scottish Forestry and a 41% reduction in the budget for woodland grants. 

Meanwhile, a tripling of the rate of peatland restoration is required to meet the government’s own target – which is still less ambitious than that set by the CCC.

Overall, the CCC said there had been 'limited' progress this year and called on the government to set out how the post Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) farm support framework will support delivery of climate mitigation alongside the recently announced targets for halting and restoring biodiversity by 2045.

In response, Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Economy Mairi McAllan said the SNP-Green government remained 'utterly committed' to meeting the 2045 net zero target, while adding that the CCC had always described the 2030 target as 'extremely challenging' to deliver.

What next?

As commented on many occasions by this blog, the setting of targets was in many ways the easy part. It was always going to prove much more difficult to implement the changes required to meet those targets – particularly when those come at a cost to businesses or individuals.  

That challenge is much more acute in an election year, when politicians are naturally wary of policies that may prove unpopular with voters.

When it comes to farming and land use, the impact of policy changes has to be weighed against other pressures – including rising input and energy costs, low returns from the market, extreme weather events and the impact of trade deals struck by the UK Government.

Scottish Ministers and civil servants will be well aware of rising tensions spilling over in Europe and closer to home in Wales as farmers have begun to push back. The reasons for the protests are complex, and often based on different issues in different countries, but the drive for net zero and a perceived 'green agenda' is undoubtedly part of the picture.

Ag Bill and future policy

MSPs are debating the Agriculture and Rural Communities (Scotland) Bill as this blog is being written, and we know that Scottish Government has committed to retaining the bulk of the agriculture support budget in direct payments to farmers. From next year, new conditions will be attached to basic payments, including new cross compliance conditions for peatland and wetland, as well as reduced calving intervals for suckler beef cows under the SSBSS.

We also know that 50% of that direct payment budget will be subject to ‘enhanced’ conditionality – which will mean that farmers and crofters will have to adopt measures that will reduce emissions and improve biodiversity on their holdings to remain eligible for that payment.

The lack of progress so far underlines the need for those conditions to be as robust as possible so that funds are targeted towards those measures that deliver the most. These should include reductions in the use of synthetic fertilisers, more cover cropping, better manure/slurry management, integrating trees and improved animal health and nutrition.

We think that meeting the climate goals will also require significant investment in the higher tiers (3 and 4), including payments for organic farming, capital grants, producer co-ops, farm advisory and knowledge exchange services, woodland creation and peatland restoration.

Above all, this requires leadership at the highest level of government.

This week, we joined 63 other organisations in signing an open letter organised by Stop Climate Chaos Scotland to First Minister Humza Yousaf calling for an emergency response to the CCC report.

Climate action across all sectors of the economy is needed and must be a priority for this government – and the move from target-setting to delivery and implementation of plans must now happen at pace.