A new Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) Bill has been published by the Scottish Government, with raised targets for emissions reduction that ministers claim are among the most ambitious across the globe – but which has still been criticised by campaigners as lacking in ambition.
The bill sets a target of a 90% reduction in emissions (in place of the current 80%), compared to 1990 levels, by 2050, with legally binding interim targets of 56% by 2020 (compared with 42% at present), 66% by 2030 and 78% by 2040, along with annual goals. Ministers quote the independent UK Committee on Climate Change as advising that the 90% by 2050 target is “at the very limit of feasibility” without further technology advances, and the bill contains a commitment to achieving a 100% reduction in emissions, known as "net zero", as soon as possible, with ministers being required to seek expert advice every five years and the net zero target date becoming legally binding, subject to Holyrood's consent, as soon as there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate the date is credible and achievable.
As well as increasing long term ambition, the new Bill also includes the most ambitious interim targets in the world, as well as stretching annual targets for every year between now and 2050. This means action will need to increase immediately, across every sector of the Scottish economy. It will also require action by individuals, communities and businesses – as well as government.
Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham commented: "Our 90% target will be tougher even than the 100% goal set by a handful of other countries, because our legislation will set more demanding, legally-binding, annual targets covering every sector of our economy. By 2030, we will cut emissions by two-thirds and, unlike other nations, we will not use carbon offsetting, where other countries are paid to cut emissions for us, to achieve our goal.
"The fight against climate change is a moral responsibility but Scotland’s academic and engineering expertise, coupled with our outstanding natural resources, mean it is also an economic opportunity."
However critics claimed the revised targets will not make a difference in practice, due to changes in the way emissions are accounted for. Tom Ballantine of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland claimed the Government had "failed to live up to its own rhetoric on global climate change leadership by failing to set a net zero emissions target", while the Scottish Greens claimed the new targets would actually result in slower progress towards the goals.