The world is heading for its hottest year ever, with some parts of the world reaching dangerous new temperature highs last month. According to UN Secretary General António Guterres we have gone beyond global warming, beyond even global heating and we are now in a world of global boiling.
The almost immediate response from the UK Government was to announce plans to approve more than 100 new oil and gas fields, guaranteed to keep the planet on the boil.
We are in a climate emergency. Last year’s heatwave across Europe killed nearly 62,000 people, this year’s is likely to be worse. The multi-year drought in Eastern Africa continues to see 40 million people facing severe hunger. The record high land and sea temperatures across the globe, the low levels of ice at both poles and the dire predictions for our future, mean it is time to increase climate ambition, not retreat from it.
Earlier this year, António Guterres called on all developed nations to reduce emissions to zero by as close to 2040 as possible, saying “everything, everywhere, all at once” was needed to reduce emissions.
Guterres is calling for more ambition; Scotland should be the first nation to answer that call. We have already made large reductions in emissions and have more ambitious targets than many other countries, so it is reasonable to expect that Scotland should be among the first nations to commit to a target of net zero by 2040.
Scotland has halved its climate emissions since 1990. This has been partly because of the collapse of heavy industry, most notably the steel industry, and the closure of our two coal-fired power stations. But a good part of this reduction has been driven by deliberate, positive policies in energy, waste, transport and buildings.
We have some ambitious targets for the future, including reducing car-km driven by 20% by 2030, phasing out gas boilers in homes and massively increasing the generation of electricity from renewables. Nearly £2bn is being spent over the next few years insulating people’s homes and installing zero-emissions heating systems. Overall we are currently aiming for net-zero emissions by 2045, when many industrialised countries, including the UK, are aiming for 2050.
We are off track to meet our current target of a 75% reduction in emissions by 2030, so the first thing we should do is get every sector of the economy reducing emissions faster, but we should also set the right example by tightening up our long-term target to net-zero by 2040.
There is a new Climate Change Plan being written right now. It will show the actions in each sector which will add up to meeting out overall targets. It will cover plans out to the year 2037 in detail and also show the longer-term trajectory of emissions. This is the place to show how we can meet our existing targets, but also how we can go even further.
Changing the net-zero deadline requires Scottish Ministers to go back to parliament but, at the very least, the new Climate Change Plan should spell out how we will increase our ambition and aim to reach net zero by 2040 at the latest.
A version of this article appeared in the Scotsman newspaper on 2nd August 2023.