SNP challenged over failing emissions record

The Scottish Government has tried to encourage renewable energy sources such as wind power. Picture: Ian Rutherford
The Scottish Government has tried to encourage renewable energy sources such as wind power. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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THE Scottish Government was accused of presiding over a “deeply worrying” failure to meet Scotland’s legal obligation on greenhouse gas emissions, as it was suggested ministers no longer viewed their own targets as achievable.

Scottish Green co-leader Patrick Harvie made the claim after an internal report stated that the Scottish Government faced “international disrepute” if it continues to miss its own ­targets for reducing carbon emissions.

Yesterday at Holyrood, Mr Harvie attacked the Scottish Government over its failure to reach its the targets three years running.

The Green MSP’s remarks came a week before the climate change figures for the most ­recently recorded year of 2013 are due to be published.

Scotland’s cabinet secretary for the environment, Richard Lochhead, told MSPs that the early years of meeting targets for reducing emissions were “particularly challenging” and claimed that Scotland was showing “international leadership” in tackling climate change.

However, Mr Harvie said that the minister “seems to imply” that the government now views the targets on reducing greenhouse gas emissions as “unreachable” as he suggested it had effectively abandoned the targets.

In 2009, Holyrood passed flagship legislation requiring Scotland to make big emissions reductions, with the Scottish Government committed to an 80 per cent fall by 2050 and a 42 per cent decrease by 2020, compared with 1990 levels.

However, the annual targets for 2010, 2011 and 2012 were all missed, with the government blaming exceptional cold snaps, year-to-year fluctuations and ­revised data for the failures.

Scotland missed its legally binding emissions targets by the equivalent of 2.4 million tonnes of CO2 in 2012, 0.8 million in 2011 and 1.1 million tonnes in 2010.

A civil service audit into ministerial climate change initiatives, which was completed in November, said the government faces “international disrepute” if it continues to miss targets, which, it says, will continue to happen in the short-term.

However, Mr Lochhead told MSPs that the Scottish Government was “trailblazing” in reducing carbon emissions, but had faced initial difficulties reaching its targets.

He said: “It is the case that the long-term trend shows a substantial emissions reduction of just under 27 per cent since 1990, it also is the case that we are beating, as far as western Europe is concerned, the majority of countries, therefore it is the case that Scotland is trailblazing and we are showing international leadership.

“This Parliament and the Scottish Government are giving a great deal of attention to what policies are required to ensure we meet our targets.”

Mr Harvie challenged Mr Lochhead to state whether the Scottish Government’s figures on emissions for 2013, which will be set out at Holyrood next week, would show the targets had been met.

Mr Harvie said: “The language which is being used and quoted in the press from the internal audit report on the Scottish Government’s climate change programme is deeply worrying, not just the suggestion that the real concern is international repute, which I hope we can all agree should not be our primary focus, but also language which seems to imply an acceptance that the climate change targets were unreachable.

“Does the cabinet secretary believe that the annual climate change targets are achievable?”

Mr Harvie said he questioned “how convincing it is to describe legislation as trailblazing if it has not in fact blazed a trail”.

“It has not been accompanied by the transformational policy changes that are necessary to achieve the targets and we are now falling further behind,” he said.

“Does the cabinet secretary ­accept that when next week’s failure is acknowledged, it has to be accompanied by a transformational policy agenda if we are to have the remotest chance of getting back on track in the foreseeable future.”