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Is Scotland on track to meet its net zero target?

The latest emissions statistics show that bold measures are required to accelerate decarbonisation.

Is Scotland on track to meet its net zero target?

By Laurie Macfarlane

20 June 2023

Today the Scottish Government published new statistics on greenhouse gas emissions for 2021. The data shows that total emissions increased by 2.4% compared to 2020. Both years were heavily impacted by lockdowns and restrictions associated with the Covid-19 pandemic. What does this tell us about Scotland’s progress towards meeting its net zero target? 
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As the chart below shows, the main contributor to the increase in emissions was higher emissions in domestic transport, which rebounded after a sharp fall in 2020 due to the impact of the pandemic, and residential housing. Small reductions were seen in energy, business and aviation and shipping.
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How does this fit into the longer term picture? Since 1990 emissions in Scotland have fallen by 49.9%. The Scottish Government’s target for the year was a reduction of 51.1% over the same time period. As a result, climate targets have now been missed in four out of the past five years.

Not all parts of Scotland's economy have been reducing emissions at a similar pace, however. Progress to date has been mixed across different sectors. Strong progress in the energy sector has dominated, with smaller reductions in sectors such as buildings, agriculture and transport.
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What does this mean for Scotland's ability to meet its climate targets going forward? The Scottish Government has committed to becoming net zero by 2045, and to reduce emissions by 75% by 2030. In order to meet these targets, there will need to be an accelerated pace of decarbonisation – particularly in transport, agriculture, industry and buildings.

The chart below shows Scotland’s historic emissions alongside an illustrative net zero pathway.  Going forward, the Scottish Government will need to take bold steps to accelerate decarbonisation across the economy.
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As well as ensuring decarbonisation delivers justice at home, the Scottish Government must also ensure that this does not come at the expense of other countries. Both within Scotland and globally, the consequences of climate change fall hardest on communities and countries who are both least responsible for the problem, and least prepared for its increasingly severe effects. 

At present Scotland’s net zero target only covers territorial (or domestic) emissions. The target does not cover emissions created overseas that are embedded in the goods and services which we import – known as our ‘consumption emissions’. 

Because Scotland consumes lots of goods produced overseas, the gap between territorial emissions and consumption emissions is large. Data for 2021 is unavailable, but between 1998 and 2019 territorial emissions fell by 44%, while consumption emissions only fell by 24%. 

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To avoid meeting net zero targets while ‘offshoring’ emissions to other countries, it is important that the Scottish Government does not focus solely on reducing territorial emissions – but also aims to reduce consumption-based emissions.

Future Economy Scotland will shortly be launching our two-year project focused on accelerating a just transition in Scotland. The project will publish research and analysis to build the evidence base for bold but credible policies that can be implemented by the Scottish Parliament. In the meantime, stay up to date with our work by signing up to our newsletter

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