Climate change: Scottish Government policies

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Part 1 of a 2 part series by Professor Michael Collins


 United Nations Annual Climate Change Conferences

Later this year Glasgow will be hosting the next United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26). For the last 20 years the UN has convened an annual climate change conference to consider ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGS) in order to limit global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius above current levels. In 1997 a number of countries signed up to the Kyoto Protocol which concluded that global warming was occurring and that it was most likely due to CO2 emissions. Scientists don’t know why the climate change models which have successfully predicted global warming for half a century are now running ‘very hot’, this may reflect recent extreme global climate effects. The Bloomberg Green newsletter  suggests that banks and businesses are being pressured to pursue ‘responsible’ investments and push companies to reduce their carbon footprints. The recent flow of money into sustainable exchange traded funds rose 11% to $1.73 billion, the fifth weekly increase in a row.

Part 1 reviews the Scottish Government’s climate change policies and proposals, including the role of the National Planning system.

The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009

This Act established the statutory framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland and set an interim 42% reduction target by 2020 and an 80% reduction target by 2050. It sets out the powers and responsibilities of Ministers who are empowered to impose climate change duties on public bodies in respect of energy efficiency and the recycling of waste. They are required to report regularly on the progress that is being made to meet the above emission reduction targets; and to seek advice from the relevant bodies on the economic and societal impacts of these targets. Provision is made for the preparation of a land use strategy (see Part 5, Chapter 3 Section 57), the inclusion of greenhouse emission policies in development plans, and an annual report on the progress made (see Part 5, Chapter 3 Sections 72-3).


SEPA is responsible for protecting and improving Scotland’s environment, providing advice on the impact of major and minor development (see SEPA Guidance Note 8), regulating carbon capture sources (CCS), and preventing human-generated carbon dioxide from being released to the atmosphere. This entails the three stages of carbon capture, transport and storage. The Peterhead gas-fired power station in Aberdeenshire is one of the UK’s most developed CCS projects.

The Climate Change Plan (CCP) 2018-2032

This plan was updated in the light of the latest advice from the UK Committee on Climate Change and robust scientific advice. It recognises that meeting the net zero emissions target by 2045 will necessitate changes in the way that ‘we live, work and travel’.  An example of what this may entail is set out in the Twelve Point Plan to Tackle Scotland’s ‘Climate Emergency’ prepared by the Climate Emergency Response Group and published on 6th August 2019. The CCP sets out the policies and proposals needed to secure a 66% reduction in emissions by 2032. It confirms that the planning system will play an important role in facilitating provision of the infrastructure that will be required to assist low carbon choices. The Government’s 2019-2020 Programme Commitments includes the preparation of regional land use plans to maximise the potential contribution of all land to the fight against climate change. Independent advice on the options for changing future land use patterns and practices will be commissioned. By 2023 regional partnerships will have ‘emerged’ and prepared land use frameworks resources which can have the biggest impact on climate change (see Protecting Scotland’s Future, 3rd September 2019, Chapter 1).

The Scottish Budget 2020-2021

The budget includes a forward commitment to make available an additional £2 billion of infrastructure commitment over the next parliamentary term for measures to support delivery of the Climate Change plan.

Second Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme 2019- 2024

This programme lists a series of policies and proposals that are needed to enable Scotland’s people, communities, businesses and the public sector to adapt to climate change. It adopts an outcomes-based approach based on both the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and Scotland’s National Performance Framework. This cross-cutting approach has been adopted to facilitate the integration of adaptation into ‘wider Scottish government policy development and wider service delivery’.


The Scottish Government has adopted a wide range of statutory measures, policies and proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Good progress has been made in reducing  greenhouse gas emissions and increasing the amount of electricity that is generated from renewables. In 2014 Scotland had already reduced its emissions to 41% of the 1990 baseline, and in 2017 61% of its electricity requirements were generated from renewables. There is growing uncertainty about the impact of the Brexit trade negotiations upon future economic growth rates needed to meet the ambitious targets in the CCP.

Doubts have been expressed about the technical feasibility of the transportation proposals, given the short time allowed for their implementation and the provision of charging points throughout the country. An investigation into public charging networks across the UK found that motorists have to pay £10 for each 100 miles worth of ‘fuel’ compared to £2.67 for an overnight charge at home.  Some networks are charging upwards of £23. ‘Drivers won’t switch to electric cars if they can’t power them cheaply’ (Times leader 15th February 2020).

Michael  Collins

Picture by freefotouk is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 


















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