Greenhouse Gas Emissions Statistics 2019

– in the Scottish Parliament on 15th June 2021.

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Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

I remind members that social distancing measures are in place in the chamber and across the Holyrood campus. I ask that members take care to observe those measures, including when entering and exiting the chamber. Please only use the aisles and walkways to access your seat and when moving around the chamber. Those members who are leaving the chamber should do so or stay.

The next item of business is a statement by Michael Matheson on greenhouse gas emissions statistics 2019. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

Last week, we debated one of the defining issues of our time: the global climate emergency. Scotland can rightly be proud of the progress that we have already made and of our plans to achieve a net zero and climate-resilient future. The next decade is crucial and the time to act is now. However, it is and will continue to be a very challenging journey.

The purpose of my statement is to further update members on progress towards the world-leading targets that the Parliament agreed during session 5, which shape the pathway for Scotland’s just transition to a net zero society by 2045. Official statistics on Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions during 2019 were published this morning. It is crucial that we remember that that data is always historical in nature. The new figures cover only the period to the end of 2019 and do not reflect the step change in action since then; in particular, the update to our climate change plan was published in December 2020. In addition, the figures do not yet tell us anything about the impacts of Covid-19 on emissions.

On the statutory reporting basis that was set out by Parliament through the recent Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019, Scotland’s emissions during 2019 were down by 51.5 per cent from the 1990 baseline. That clearly falls short of the annual target for 2019 of a 55 per cent reduction. Although it is undoubtedly disappointing that the annual target has not been met, the figures still show good progress. Emissions fell by 2.3 per cent between 2018 and 2019. We continue to outperform the United Kingdom as a whole on delivering long-term reductions and, crucially, we are now over halfway to becoming a net zero society.

We should be proud of the steps that we have taken so far but also recognise that there is a long way to go. Our Parliament has, quite rightly, set truly world-leading climate change targets. It is easy to overlook the fact that our economy-wide targets for every year in the 2020s and 2030s are the most stretching of any country in the world. There can be no question over Scotland’s ambition here and the Government is fully committed to rising to that challenge.

Our updated climate change plan, the effects of which, as I have said, are not reflected in today’s figures, includes more than 100 new policies to accelerate progress. It is supported by a record £1.9 billion of capital funding in 2021-22 to tackle climate change and create good, green jobs. The policy package reflects our understanding that more needs to be done and represents a credible pathway to meeting the increased ambition of Scotland’s targets over the period to 2032.

Our attention is firmly on implementing and delivering those policies to achieve real, on-the-ground changes in emissions, as well as wider benefits for our economy through green jobs, for our society through improved health and wellbeing outcomes and for our environment. That will be vital to delivering the green recovery from Covid-19 that we want.

We are already making progress. Provisional figures indicate that the equivalent of 97.4 per cent of gross electricity consumption was from renewable sources in 2020. In 2019, the whole-life carbon impact of Scotland’s household waste reached its lowest level since official records began. We now have hydrogen buses on the streets of Aberdeen and Dundee, and we are building the UK’s largest electric vehicle charging hub in Glasgow. There is an influx of young talent to Scotland’s forestry sector through the growing rural talent initiative; farmer-led groups are looking at low-carbon farming practices; and we are providing long-term investment in peatland restoration. We are giving 75 per cent cashback to households for zero-emission heating, as well as interest-free loans to purchase a new electric car or motorcycle.

We want to go further. By 2030, we will phase out the need for new petrol and diesel cars and vans, and we will heat a million homes with zero-emission technologies.

Meeting Scotland’s world-leading emissions targets to reach net zero by 2045 lies at the heart of our response to the global climate emergency. However, as we debated last week, the response is much more than that. The manner in which emissions reductions are achieved is every bit as important as the reductions themselves. We have committed to implementing the recommendations of the just transition commission and will respond to them fully later in the summer. Our recognition that climate change is a social justice issue is reflected in the doubling of our pioneering international climate justice fund and our position as co-chair of the global Under2 Coalition.

It cannot go unnoticed that Scotland’s ability to deliver a green recovery and reach our targets is very much dependent on action from the UK Government in areas that, unfortunately, remain reserved. The independent Climate Change Committee has been clear on that.

As well as reducing our emissions, we are preparing for the locked-in impacts of climate change here in Scotland, including risks to our precious biodiversity. We are investing in climate resilience as part of our green recovery from Covid-19, with an extra £150 million for flood risk management over this parliamentary session.

That all forms part of our integrated response to the global climate emergency. Of course, a global challenge also requires international collaboration. It is now less than five months until the United Nations landmark climate conference in Scotland. The 26th UN climate change conference of the parties—COP26—represents the world’s best chance to deliver a global deal that supports the goals of the Paris agreement and delivers lasting action towards net zero and a climate-resilient future in a way that is fair and just. The eyes of the world will be on Glasgow, providing a unique opportunity to demonstrate the world-leading climate action that Scotland is already taking, which has people and wellbeing at the centre of all that we do and is underpinned by our global values.

We will also listen to, and learn from, others, as we all work to turn commitments into local and national action. We know that we have taken on a huge challenge with such ambitious emissions targets. It is imperative that we in the Government, and all of us in the chamber, continue to challenge ourselves to do even more in order to meet them.

Even when we fall a little short, as is unfortunately the case today, Scotland’s climate legislation ensures that even deeper reductions will be achieved. The implementation and delivery of the update to the climate change plan must remain our priority, but we will also urgently develop a catch-up report on the missed 2019 target and aim to publish it in six months at the very latest. Looking further ahead into the session, we agreed during last week’s debate that the next full climate change plan should also be brought forward as soon as possible. That approach reflects the urgency that the climate emergency demands.

I will be proud to present Scotland’s story and leadership on climate change ambition and delivery to the international community at COP26. I am sure that the Glasgow COP will inspire all of us to accelerate our efforts to achieve our shared goal of a just and fair net zero future.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The cabinet secretary will now take questions on the issues that were raised in his statement. I will allow 20 minutes for questions. It would be helpful if members who wish to ask a question could press their request-to-speak buttons now. I remind members that we are really tight for time, so questions and answers should be succinct, because we will not get everybody in otherwise.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

The Scottish Conservatives believe that few things are as urgent as tackling the climate emergency and preventing its disastrous consequences for people all over the world, which is why the figures on the latest greenhouse gas emissions targets that were published today are “disappointing”, to use the cabinet secretary’s word.

However, the issue is much more serious than that. Yet again, the Scottish National Party Government has missed its own statutory targets for the reduction of emissions. The cabinet secretary mentioned the numerous actions that the Government is taking, but schemes are already failing. There are reports this week that retrofitted eco-buses could still be banned from low-emission zones for breaching pollution laws, which could mean a waste of £10 million of public money. What is the Scottish Government’s response to those reports and how will that situation be rectified?

Secondly, time and again, in portfolio after portfolio—be it health, justice or education, and now this one—the SNP Government puts statutory targets in place, which it then misses, and blames others for that failure. Despite what the cabinet secretary says, the legislation clearly does not ensure reductions. What sanction or penalty is applied, and to whom, for failing to hit statutory targets, and how will the Government not just promise to hit those targets but ensure that they are achieved?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I am grateful to Liam Kerr for his question. I am particularly pleased to hear that the Conservatives place such importance on the issue of tackling climate change. When it comes to tackling such issues, it is always important to show the right type of leadership—something that is put in question when the Prime Minister gets a flight from London to Cornwall to discuss issues such as climate change. I would have thought that the Conservatives would not want to show that type of leadership on such important issues—[



The Deputy Presiding Officer:

C an we have less chat from a sedentary position, please?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I t is important that we all show the right type of leadership on those issues, and that includes Liam Kerr’s colleagues in Westminster.

I turned to his point on the retrofitting of buses and the technical issue that has been identified through the bus emissions abatement retrofit—BEAR—programme. An investigation of some of the equipment that was deployed in some of the Glasgow buses in particular is taking place in order to address the issue.

Equally, the member might recognise that a bus-charging infrastructure is being constructed in Glasgow in order to deploy the largest number of electric buses in any city in the country, as a result of the Scottish Government’s direct investment in its Scottish ultra-low-emission bus fund. That is not only helping to get more zero-emission buses on the road, but is supporting vital companies—such as Alexander Dennis Ltd, which is based in my constituency and is a world leader in such technology—during a very difficult time. That commitment has not yet been matched by Liam Kerr’s counterparts in Westminster, which has disappointed the bus industry as a whole.

In relation to the statutory targets that were set by the Parliament, I have set out our clear commitment to produce, in the next six months, a catch-up plan that will identify the measures that will take place. I know that Liam Kerr is new to the portfolio, but he will be aware that, in December last year, we published our climate change plan update, which sets out 100 additional measures and actions that we will take in order to drive forward our commitment to meeting the targets. We are determined to take that action to ensure that Scotland becomes a net zero country by 2045.

Photo of Monica Lennon Monica Lennon Labour

I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of his statement.

It is disappointing that the Scottish Government has again missed its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. With Glasgow hosting COP26 this year, we all want Scotland to live up to our ambitions and to set a good example globally, so today is a wake-up call to get our house in order.

We are all new to the portfolio, and I hope that we can work together on that.

We welcome the commitment to produce a catch-up plan. Indeed, section 36 of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 requires the Government to produce such a report and lay it before Parliament so that MSPs can scrutinise policy proposals. I gently suggest to the cabinet secretary that six months is quite a long time—that could take us up to Christmas and after COP26—so will he commit to producing the plan by an earlier date?

Will the Scottish Government, after failing to prevent the loss of blue carbon habitats during the past 10 years, commit to developing a strategy for Scottish fisheries to contribute to net zero, including through the protection of blue carbon?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I will come back to Monica Lennon on her final point once I have engaged with my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, who leads on such matters. I can then give her a much more detailed response.

I welcome the tone and nature of Monica Lennon’s contribution and what she said about taking this as not only a wake-up call but an opportunity to work together collectively to ensure that we meet the statutory targets that have been set by the Parliament. They are the most stretching targets of any country in the world. The Climate Change Committee has said that reaching them is beyond the present technical capabilities but, nevertheless, the Parliament has set the target of reducing emissions by 75 per cent, and we need to stretch ourselves in order to do that.

I assure Monica Lennon that I have asked officials for the catch-up plan to be completed in the next six months—not necessarily after six months but as soon as possible in the next six months—to ensure that we look at what further policy measures we can take to help us to catch up, following the 2019 target being missed.

As I mentioned in my statement, last week, we accepted the Green Party amendment to bring forward publication of our climate change plan update to earlier in the parliamentary session. I am committed to doing that to ensure that we continue to look at what further measures we can implement in order to meet the challenge both nationally and globally.

I assure Monica Lennon that I will move forward as quickly as I can. I will, of course, engage with members if they have views on what they think should be in the catch-up plan. I know that I have a meeting with her fairly soon, and I will take the opportunity to have that discussion with her at that point.

Photo of Audrey Nicoll Audrey Nicoll Scottish National Party

What does the cabinet secretary expect to see in the UK Government’s net zero strategy, given that, as he highlighted, our ability to reach our targets is dependent on action from the UK Government, because we do not yet have all the levers at our disposal?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

Our ambitious climate change plan update contains a number of asks of the UK Government, including on fiscal levers, the future of the gas grid and hydrogen. Those are particularly important issues because responsibility for the development of the electricity system is reserved to the UK Government. It is critical that the UK Government takes the opportunity to support the development of a fully sustainable and secure net zero carbon energy system and takes forward the necessary measures that we have set out in our climate change plan.

We hope that the UK Government will work with us and that its UK net zero strategy will match the ambitions that we have announced. I believe that the strategy is due to be published later this year, and we have not seen it yet. We will certainly continue to engage with the UK Government to ensure that it treats the need to move those matters forward with the same urgency that we do.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

I spoke to the Woodland Trust yesterday. The trust, Scottish Environment LINK and other stakeholders are concerned that Scottish Forestry is holding back publication of the guidance for soil cultivation in forestry operations. They feel that there will be consequences for Scotland’s net zero pathway, and that carbon released from soil disturbance in ploughing peaty soil could make some forestry a source of emissions.

Will the cabinet secretary commit the Scottish Government to pushing Forestry Scotland to publish that report, as the two-year consultation period has finished?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I am not aware of the report that the member refers to but I am happy to look into the matter and to respond directly to the member.

Photo of Gillian Martin Gillian Martin Scottish National Party

The published figures show significant revisions to peatland data. Can the cabinet secretary outline the impact of those changes on our emissions levels, given Scotland’s vast peatland resources?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

Changes to international scientific guidelines on the compilation of emissions data have led to a fundamental change in the scope of the UK-wide greenhouse gas inventory. Technical decisions on those matters are made solely by the UK Government. The latest data includes, for the first time, the impact of the historical drainage and rewetting of peatlands. That is particularly important for Scotland and has resulted in a significant increase in our reported levels of emissions across all time periods. An additional 9.4 megatonnes of emissions have been added to our 1990 baseline.

Improvements in the science of emissions measurement are welcome. The current changes further emphasise the importance of taking ambitious action to restore Scotland’s peatlands, which we have already committed to doing.

Photo of Mercedes Villalba Mercedes Villalba Labour

Today’s report shows that domestic transport was the largest source of net emissions in Scotland in 2019. More must be done to create sustainable public transport for all. It is Scottish Labour’s ambition to create a net zero, publicly owned, universal and free bus service for all, which is why we led on legislative change to lift the ban on local councils running their own bus services. More than 18 months since it was passed, the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 has still not been fully implemented by the Scottish Government. Will the cabinet secretary tell us when that act will be fully implemented?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I was the minister who took that bill through the Parliament. The 2019 act covers a multitude of topics and makes a range of different transport provisions—the member has referred to one specific element


The member will recognise that, over the past 14 months, staff who were dealing with the regulations that had to be developed in line with the various elements of the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 have had to pivot to deal with matters relating to Covid, which has caused a delay in that work. I assure the member that that work is now on-going and that, towards the end of last year, officials moved into those areas of policy and now have a programme of work to implement all the various provisions of the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019.

I assure the member that attention is being given to that work and that progress will be made as quickly as possible. The member will recognise that staff have limited capacity to deal with issues arising from the pandemic while dealing with some of the regulatory aspects of the legislation. I assure her that we are now making progress on the issues that she has raised.

Photo of Emma Harper Emma Harper Scottish National Party

Will the cabinet secretary expand a bit on how people across Scottish communities, particularly in rural areas such as Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders, can use the advice from the Climate Change Committee and on how action can be taken from that advice?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

It is important to recognise that tackling climate change is not for the Government alone; it requires everyone to play their part on an individual and organisational basis, as well as on a national basis where the Government has a role. I encourage anyone who has an interest in tackling climate change to consider the measures that the Climate Change Committee has set out in its report. Later this week, we expect to receive the CCC’s adaptation report as well, which will set out further work that will be necessary to adapt to the challenges that are associated with the locked-in elements of climate change.

I encourage those to whom Emma Harper referred to look at the measures that we set out in our climate change plan update, which was published last December. The update set out a range of policies and actions that will be taken forward by the Government. I encourage organisations and individuals who can play a role in helping to implement and promote them to do so in a way that encourages more people to play their part in tackling climate change.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

The cabinet secretary says that he wants to phase out new petrol and diesel cars by 2030. Can he say how he plans to do that? In doing so, will he tell the chamber what progress has been made in delivering a hydrogen highway in the north-east?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

Mr Simpson will be aware of our ambitious programme, which includes the most extensive electrical charging infrastructure programme of any part of the UK to support people moving to zero emission vehicles, particularly electric vehicles. That is a key part of our strategy to support both businesses and individuals to move towards zero emission vehicles. It is why we have provided the interest-free loan to support people and businesses to move to electric and zero emission vehicles. That is all part of the programme to help us to achieve our target.

Mr Simpson referred to our hydrogen programme in the north-east, where we have hydrogen buses operating. That is part of the hydrogen framework that was set out in the previous parliamentary session. We will also develop a hydrogen action plan that will set out in further detail not only our investment but the actions that we will take to develop and expand the capacity, capability and benefits that can come from green hydrogen, in particular. That plan will help to support more businesses and the development of new technology in that area in a way that allows us to deliver on our commitment to a just transition.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

Three years of missed targets shows that we need that transformative step change. We have already seen what is possible with renewable electricity, in which this country has taken a great lead in the UK.

On renewable heat, the statement talked about 1 million homes needing to switch over to green heating by 2030. That is 100,000 a year, but we saw only 3,000 installations in homes in Scotland last year. How will the cabinet secretary work across the Government and the Parliament to fill that huge gap between ambition and reality?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The interim report on a piece of work that we are developing was published in the past week by those involved in the heat industry who are looking at the measures that will be necessary if we are to deliver to the scale and nature of our ambition. If I recall correctly, the report was published yesterday. That work will be considered further and will be developed into a final report that will inform the approach and strategy that the Government will take in order to deliver the type of transition that we need to see, particularly in domestic heating.

I agree with Mr Ruskell that we have set a hugely ambitious target. However, the nature of the climate emergency that we face determines that it is critical that we drive this area of policy forward. If we fail to do so, we will not only not meet our targets; we will fail future generations because of the climate damage that will be caused as a result.

The work that we are progressing with the advisory group in considering the issues will inform the policy that we take forward. I am keen that we do everything that we can to support the sector by investing in and developing it as broadly and quickly as possible, so that we achieve our ambition. The work that we are doing with the sector is critical in helping us to do that.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I can get two more members in if questions and answers are brief.

Photo of Jim Fairlie Jim Fairlie Scottish National Party

I will be brief, Presiding Officer.

I understand that, given their historical nature, the statistics do not tell us about the effect of Covid on emissions. However, we know that lots of people have switched to active travel. What action is the Government taking to ensure that those changes get locked in?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The pandemic has created unprecedented pressure on our transport sector. However, there have also been encouraging shifts taking place, such as a reduction in commuter journeys and an increase in cycling. We want to maintain and support those changes.

One of the positive initiatives that we have taken during the pandemic has been our investment of almost £40 million in spaces for people, which has funded local authorities to deliver temporary walking and cycling routes. More generally, we are committed to investing £500 million in active travel infrastructure and £500 million in bus priority infrastructure over the next five years. As we support an increasing focus on localism through our commitment to 20-minute neighbourhoods, we want to build some of the benefits that we have gained during the pandemic into our future design of local communities, and we are progressing the work local challenge programme to support that.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

I welcome the cabinet secretary to his new post, but this is an inauspicious start. We are nowhere near where we need to be in reducing emissions, and the Government’s warm words are simply making for a warmer planet.

Given that transport is a particular challenge—emissions levels are high and have not budged—will the cabinet secretary take the opportunity to reverse the SNP’s support for a third runway at Heathrow?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I recognise the point that the member raises—it was debated last week and was roundly rejected by Parliament at the time.

I point out to him that the update report that has been published today demonstrates a decline in transport emissions. We want to build on that, and we have a hugely ambitious programme to support the decarbonisation of our public transport, regional aviation and rail networks. We are the only part of the UK to make such commitments. We are determined to make progress on decarbonising those sectors, to support us in achieving our climate change targets.

I assure the member that, although there has been a reduction in emissions this year, we want to build on that year in, year out. I am determined to work with colleagues across Government to do that and to ensure that transport plays its part in supporting us to achieve our climate change targets.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

That concludes the statement.