Scotland’s independent think tank
Scotland’s independent think tank

Net Zero – Moving the Target

Stuart Paton

The political impact of the Scottish Government’s decision last week to drop its 2030 climate change target hit home yesterday with the SNP Government pre-emptively terminating their power sharing agreement with the Greens. However, the policy decision was almost inevitable. The trigger seemed to be the UK wide Climate Change Committee (CCC) stating that the level of reductions required were ‘beyond what is credible’ and there was “no comprehensive delivery strategy for meeting future emissions targets”. The CCC also noted the publication of Scotland’s new draft Climate Change Plan which was due late in 2023, had been “delayed” and that Scotland had missed its legally binding annual targets in 8 of the last 12 years.

Although Maire McAllan, the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Just Transition, described the CCC report as being ‘insightful’ and that the government has an ‘unwavering commitment’ to ending our contribution to global emissions the dropping of the 2030 target is a damning indictment on the Scottish Government’s approach to Net Zero.

Various informed commentators, including Professor Paul De Leuuw of Robert Gordon’s University and Professor John Underhill of the University of Aberdeen, both stated that the decision was disappointing but inevitable. Professor De Leuuw stressed, as have Reform Scotland, that delivery of the goals “needs direction, a sense of urgency, accountability for delivery and transparency on progress, all underpinned by credible, coordinated and actionable transition plans’. Various groups, including Oxfam Scotland and Friends of the Earth Scotland  (FoES) have condemned the decision, with FoES calling it the ‘worst environmental decision in the history of the Scottish Parliament’. A view echoed by the Green Party.

In making the announcement, the Net Zero minister announced a set of new goals and targets. These included multi-year carbon budgets rather than annual targets, the publication of a new route map this year for the delivery of approximately 24,000 additional electric vehicle charge points by 2030, an integrated ticketing system that can be used across all public transport, a pilot scheme to support the roll out of methane suppressing food products to reduce emissions from livestock working, consulting on a new carbon tax on the largest estates to encourage peatland restoration, tree planting and renewable energy generation, helping people reduce their reliance on cars with a 20% fall in their use by 2030, the creation of a Just Transition plan for the Mossmorran industrial site developed in partnership with the operators of the plant, workforce and local community.

However, as Reform Scotland have pointed out previously, the issue is not about setting goals and targets, but actually having clearly defined plans to deliver. The Draft Strategy published last year referenced at least 18 visions and strategies creating a messy policy landscape that is both confusing and near impossible to track. The demand side read more like a wish list, as opposed to a route map detailing how important goals are to be reached. The proposals made by the Net Zero minister on 18th April add more complexity to an already complicated set of visions and strategies.

In the Reform Scotland response to the Government’s call for comments on their energy strategy in May 2023, we proposed:

  • Creating a public timeline indicating all of the government’s targets and policies alongside the progress being made towards each of them. The announcement last week defined some specific aims but little detail on how to achieve these and there is still no overall picture of all the targets.
  • An openness about the potential upfront costs that consumers and the public purse could face. This is the greatest risk to the entire Net Zero target- without clarity and honesty on the costs and hopefully longer term benefits there is an opening  for populist politicians to completely undermine all of the efforts being made to achieve Net Zero. 
  • Public awareness campaign advising people how to make their homes fit for the 21st century, alongside clarity of when changes will be enforced. Such transparency would also offer clarity to industry. 
  • Exploring the opportunity to make other more immediate changes, within the remit of the Scottish Government, such as banning new gas boilers in new buildings or new gas cookers in homes. The announcement last week made no mention of home heating which accounts for 20% of Scotland’s carbon emissions.
  • Scrapping Vehicle Excise Duty and Fuel Duty and replacing them with a pay-as-you-drive form of road pricing. Making the necessary changes to car taxes would require action from the UK government as the powers are reserved. However, the UK Government also has legally binding commitments to cut emissions and working together on a policy such as road pricing offers an opportunity to improve outcomes for all.

Unfortunately, as highlighted by last week’s announcement, we are falling far short of the ‘world leading’ aspirations of the Scottish Government on Net Zero. And there is no evidence, with or without the Scottish Greens, that the current administration will actually implement the challenging and far reaching policies required.

Stuart Paton is an energy industry advisor and former Chief Executive of Dana Petroleum. He is also an associate of Reform Scotland