Climate change: Scotland's carbon emissions, even in lockdown, worked out at 7.3 tonnes per person – Dr Richard Dixon

The climate change emissions results for 2020 are out and they show that we met our target for the first time in four years. Hurrah!

Young people protest during the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow in November (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Young people protest during the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow in November (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

But only because the Covid lockdowns kept emissions from cars and planes unusually low.

The new figures published this month showed that total emissions were down to a nice round figure of 40 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. That’s still 7.3 tonnes for every one of us living in Scotland. The drop from 2019 to 2020 was a whopping 12 per cent, the biggest annual reduction since targets were first agreed in 2009.

Each annual target is nearly a million tonnes of carbon dioxide lower than the one before. We missed our targets in 2017, 2018 and 2019, with emissions actually rising between 2017 and 2018. The government’s official advisor, the Committee on Climate Change, has said we are likely to miss quite a few of our targets in the 2020s.

The target for 2020 was beaten by a good margin, in fact the reduction is so big it beats the 2021 target too. The transport sector has the largest emissions and most of this reduction was due to a quarter of the usual emissions from cars disappearing during Covid restrictions and a nearly 70 per cent reduction in emissions from international flying.

There was also a smaller reduction from the energy sector, as renewable energy continues to advance. The only sector to show a rise was gas and oil heating in homes, possibly because people were using their heating and hot water more during lockdowns and working from home, although the weather also has a big impact on this number.

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Frustratingly, the figures take about 18 months to produce because of the complexity of some of the data collection and processing involved, so we won’t see the 2021 figures for another year.

The local air pollution figures for 2020 showed that same big dip, with all the automatic monitoring sites in Scotland meeting the targets for nitrogen dioxide and fine particles for the first time ever.

But the 2021 figures showed pollution creeping up again as traffic built back up, although still not to pre-Covid levels. So the 2021 climate figures will still see some reduction in traffic emissions but even if cars and planes closed only half the pre-pandemic gap it will be hard to meet the 2021 target.

This year’s traffic levels look pretty much back to pre-Covid levels so meeting the 2022 target will only be possible if there are significant reductions in other sectors.

Also this month, the Scottish Government published an update on how we are doing against our plans to meet the climate targets over the next decade. They had to admit that the plan to use carbon capture to remove industrial emissions and store them under the North Sea was not going to happen any time soon, leaving a hole in their package of measures to meet Scotland’s targets over the next decade.

Work to produce a new plan has started, with a draft expected in Parliament towards the end of next year. In that plan, and in the meantime, we will have to accelerate plans for reductions in in other sectors, particularly transport.

Dr Richard Dixon is an environmental campaigner and consultant

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