As the dust settles in Glasgow and people try to digest what the COP26 outcomes actually mean, it is time to look again at how Scotland is doing.
We missed three targets in a row and the 2009 Climate Act requires the Scottish Government to lay a report before the Scottish Parliament to explain how they are going to “compensate in future years for the excess emissions.” The catch up report for the latest figures, 2019, was published just before the COP. If it were a school science report it would be sent back for not showing its working out.
The 15-page report covers how to catch up on missing the 2019 target by 2.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. That’s the equivalent of having an extra million cars on the road or running one and a half extra gas-fired power station for the year. So a lot of catching up is needed. But the report is not for consultation and Parliament doesn’t have to do anything with it, so it could go largely unnoticed.
The first remarkable thing is that there are no new policies unveiled in the catch up report. There are policies listed but they are all from the SNP manifesto, the Programme for Government or the Co-operation Agreement with the Green Party, plus a prediction that the EU Emission Trading Scheme will produce a big reduction. So nothing actually new, just new since the last Climate Change Plan which came last Christmas.
Climate Plan fails to explain itself
Thus it mentions that 10% of the transport budget will be spent on active travel in the future, half the buses in Scotland will not be running on fossil fuels by 2023, there will be a 20% reduction in the distance driven by car by 2030, as well energy efficiency targets for homes and carbon conditions for getting public business funding.
The Scottish Government say they are confident these policies will go beyond the 2.7Mt saving needed, and some of them are indeed ambitious policies. But the second remarkable thing about the report is that there isn’t a single number to show how much any of these policies will reduce emissions.
There is also no indication of how fast we will catch up on the 2.7Mt. And this is particularly important because if we missed by 2.7Mt in 2019, the same lack of policy action means we probably missed by about another 2.7Mt in 2020. Plus a bit extra of course because the targets ratchet up every year so the 2020 target is tougher than the 2019 target. Which means we really need to catch up by more than 5Mt if we are to correct Scotland’s total emissions. The longer we take to catch up the bigger the catch up amount is.
We are asked to take the Scottish Government’s word that it will all work out without seeing any of the detail on when and how.
The Climate Change Plan was criticised by four committees of MSPs for a lack of clarity on what would happen when. This catch up plan is even worse for its lack of transparency and I hope MSPs take the opportunity to tear it to bits.
A version of this article appeared in The Scotsman on 25 November 2021