Climate change Scotland: SNP ministers warned it is now 'impossible' to meet 2030 legal climate target

SNP ministers have been warned it is “impossible” to meet its crucial 2030 climate target and that changing the legal aim is “really challenging”

The chief executive of the Scottish Government’s statutory climate watchdog has warned SNP ministers that it is now “impossible” to meet their legal emissions reduction target for 2030 as his organisation set out a “scathing” assessment of progress.

Chris Stark, the chief executive of the Climate Change Committee (CCC), has issued the alarm after publishing the advisers’ annual report into Scotland’s strategy to hit legally-binding targets, warning the 2030 target to cut emissions by 75 per cent is “beyond what is credible”.

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Scotland has missed eight of its past 12 annual emissions targets and is off track in meeting its 2030 target that is binding by Holyrood legislation.

A night photo of the Grangemouth petrochemical plant. Picture: Getty ImagesA night photo of the Grangemouth petrochemical plant. Picture: Getty Images
A night photo of the Grangemouth petrochemical plant. Picture: Getty Images

SNP ministers had pledged to publish their updated climate change plan by November last year, but have delayed the document – a move Mr Stark has suggested is down to the numbers around the 2030 target not adding up.

In its annual report, led by Mr Stark, the CCC has bluntly stated “the acceleration required in emissions reduction to meet the 2030 target is now beyond what is credible”.

The document adds “current overall policies and plans in Scotland fall far short of what is needed to achieve the legal targets under the Scottish Climate Change Act”, warning “there are risks in all areas with significant policy powers devolved to the Scottish Government”, with particular concerns raised over transport, buildings, agriculture, land use and waste.

The report stresses “the Scottish Government should build on its high ambition and implement policies that enable the 75 per cent emissions reduction target to be achieved at the earliest date possible”.

When MSPs drew up legislation for the Climate Change Act, the CCC did not feel the 75 per cent reduction target by 2030 was achievable, but the Scottish Government’s full climate change plan, last published in 2020, set a pathway to achieving the legally-binding target.

But with Scotland having failed to hit eight of its past 12 annual targets, and 2030 creeping closer, Mr Stark said the CCC was “calling it” that the aim was now “impossible” to reach.

Speaking exclusively to The Scotsman, Mr Stark said: “We have been scathing, we’re really disappointed. And there is a big, flashing red sign over it.

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“This is the first report the CCC has ever produced that said that in any part of the UK we have a target that cannot be met. There's no good setting targets that you feel are ambitious if you haven't put a plan behind it. So we have never had in the CCC a pathway to hit that target. We don't know how to do it.

“The chips are down here. This is exactly what we said would happen if you didn't put a plan around it.”

Mr Stark said he was “hugely frustrated” at the Scottish Government delaying its updated climate change plan, and has suggested the numbers not adding up to meet the 2030 target could be behind the hold-up.

He said: “We're in a situation where the target isn’t credible, there is no plan to hit it. The Lord Advocate won't allow a plan to work that isn't legally sound. So I think the Scottish Government really has to think carefully about what it does now.

“The Act is pretty clear and they're going to have to make a plan to hit it. And I'm sure that's why we've seen delays to the climate change plan because the target is looming now.”

Asked what SNP ministers can do to respond to the lack of progress, Mr Stark said “the best option is to put in place a policy programme that actually delivers the targets”, but admitted that was proving to be difficult.

Mr Stark highlighted it was not simple to revise the statutory targets set out in legislation. He said: “That's quite a difficult thing to do actually. If you look at the facility in the Climate Change Act, if you want to change the target, you have to first of all come to the Climate Change Committee for its advice and we are duty bound to only give advice in certain circumstances that would permit changing the target.”

Mr Stark said that would be a “change in the international circumstances or the science towards climate change”, insisting that “if anything it has got worse”.

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He added: “So the idea of sort of loosening the targets is actually really challenging under the Climate Change Act and that's what it’s for. This was one of the features of the Act that is supposed to bind, not the government of the day, but future governments continuing into the future to keep them on the path.”

Mr Stark said “warning signs were there” the 2030 ambition would become out of reach due to the failure to hit annual emissions targets, but insisted “there is a path to the targets beyond 2030”, including Scotland’s 2045 net zero aim.

He said: ”That's where I feel the Scottish Government should now be focusing, rather than pretending that 2030 is still in play, they're going to need to get focused on what happens after that.”

Scottish Labour net zero spokesperson Sarah Boyack said: “This utterly damning report lays bare the SNP’s woeful inaction on the environment and the Greens’ failure to deliver the change Scotland needs.“The SNP’s environmental record is made up of empty rhetoric, missed targets and broken promises, and the Scottish Green Party is no longer worthy of the name. This lack of progress is not only an environmental travesty, but an economic one too, with jobs and communities being put at risk by a clueless government with no strategy.”

Fabrice Leveque, energy policy manager at WWF Scotland, said the report was another reminder about ministers’ “failure to act with the speed required”

Friends of the Earth Scotland’s head of campaigns Imogen Dow said the assessment by the CCC was “an embarrassing and abject failure of politicians to deliver on their legal commitments to the Scottish people”.

She said: “Good climate policies are popular and can change people’s lives for the better from warm, well-insulated homes to affordable public transport run in the public interest. Yet ministers have been either unwilling or unable to stand up to the oil lobbyists, the car fanatics and the climate delayers who have blocked necessary progress.”

Net Zero Secretary Mairi McAllan said: “I am grateful for the latest advice from the Climate Change Committee 2023 report.

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“The Climate Change Committee have always been clear that meeting the legislated 2030 target, agreed by Parliament on a cross-party basis, will be extremely challenging, and may not be feasible.

“We remain fully committed to meeting our target of net zero emissions by 2045, and in 2024-25 alone we are committing £4.7 billion to support the delivery of our climate change goals.

“Scotland is already half way to net zero and continues to decarbonise faster than the UK average.

“In the last five years we have created around 75 per cent of all new woodlands throughout the UK in Scotland, launched the world’s largest floating offshore wind leasing round through Scotwind, ensured Scotland has the most generous concessionary scheme in the UK with more than a third of the population benefiting from free bus travel, and invested over £65 million to support the installation of over 2,700 public EV charge points, ensuring Scotland has the best provision of public charge points per head of population in the UK, outside of London.

“However, we are under no illusion that the hardest part of this journey is ahead of us which is why our ambitious proposals for delivery include publishing a final route map setting out our approach to reducing car kilometres by 20 per cent by 2030 and decarbonising buildings through our plans for a Heat in Buildings Bill.

“These underline our commitment to further reduce emissions whilst ensuring fairer, greener transport and homes as well as high quality green jobs.

“However, over the past 12 months Scotland has faced a series of unprecedented changes by the UK Government, who have reneged on their net zero commitments, and rolled back on policies already announced and accounted for.

“We are also expecting a real-terms cut to our UK capital funding of almost 10 per cent over five years, totalling around £1.3 billion, which is deeply concerning given it has implications for the delivery of climate ambition in Scotland and our ability to produce a draft Climate Change Plan as intended.

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“We have also faced opposition to modest measures in tackling the crisis, such as low emission zones, workplace parking and the deposit return scheme, at a time when consensus is crucial to ensure that we have a sustainable planet.

“We will now carefully consider the report’s recommendations and our next steps, including legislative options, before providing a formal response.”



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