Scotland’s emissions of greenhouse gases have fallen to nearly half the levels measured in 1990, according to a new report.
The latest official figures show the country has hit its statutory annual climate change target for the third year in a row, after achieving a 49 per cent cut in emissions since the baseline year.
The 2016 statistics suggest the country is on course to exceed its current 2020 goal, which demands reductions of at least 42 per cent.
They also show Scotland continues to outperform the UK as a whole.
Emissions of the single most significant greenhouse gas – carbon dioxide – have dropped by more than 50 per cent.
Two measures of greenhouse gases are presented in the report: source, or actual, emissions, and adjusted emissions, which take into account Scotland’s participation in EU-wide emissions trading and are used to measure progress against targets.
Actual emissions were down 10.3 per cent on the previous year.
The adjusted figures show an overall drop of 45.2 per cent was reached in 2016, which represents a 2.5 per cent rise on 2015.
Scotland achieved cuts in excess of 42 per cent in 2014, six years early.
Scotland comes second only to Sweden when it comes to cutting emissions in western Europe, and ahead of Finland, Germany and Denmark.
Environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “These statistics are hugely encouraging and show we have almost halved the greenhouse gases emitted in Scotland, underlining our role as an international leader in the fight against climate change.
“We all have a role to play in that fight and I want to thank the households, communities and businesses who are working hard every day to reduce their own emissions.
“But we must go further and faster if we are to meet our responsibilities to our children, grandchildren and future generations.
“Our ambitious Climate Change Bill will ensure we do exactly that – by setting a new 90 per cent reduction target for 2050 and paving the way towards achieving net-zero emissions as soon as possible.”
Climate campaigners have welcomed the new figures, which they say demonstrate how ambitious goals drive progress.
Tom Ballantine, chair of environmental coalition Stop Climate Chaos Scotland (SCCS), said: “Everyone who has played their part in achieving this reduction should be proud.
“Back in 2009, when Scotland’s first Climate Act was passed, there was no clear path to meeting the 42 per cent emissions reduction target and many were sceptical it could be achieved.
“Today’s results show that setting stretching targets works by driving innovation and strong policy delivery.”
He urged the Scottish Government the aim higher in the new Climate Bill and set a net-zero emissions target for 2050 at the latest.
But ministers have come under fire from Green MSPs for a lack of progress and action on cutting emissions from transport.
“Progress on reducing the pollution that causes climate change is welcome but Scottish ministers cannot be serious if they think they are showing international leadership, given they plan to slow down the rate of action,” said Mark Ruskell, environment spokesman for the Scottish Greens and MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife.
“They are trying to wriggle out of setting a zero-carbon target in the new Climate Change Bill, when other countries are already pressing ahead.
“A zero-carbon target will drive the innovation we need in our economy to create new jobs, build warm homes and improve public transport.
“In particular, we need to see action from government to reverse the worrying trend of rising numbers of cars on our roads driving an increase in transport emissions.
“Government needs to give up on building more roads and trying to give airlines tax breaks; instead it needs to listen to the public and fix the roads we already have and invest in up-to-date buses, trains and cycle lanes to help people get on with their daily lives.”