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Scotland set to ‘bounce back’ after pandemic puts emissions cuts on track

Scotland’s Net Zero Secretary has warned that reductions in harmful emissions are set to “rebound significantly” after the pandemic helped the country meet a key climate target.

The Scottish Government has been urged to ‘seriously up its game’ on climate action despite figures using a revised method showing it has achieved a key emissions reduction target.

Ministers have been criticized for not meeting their annual greenhouse gas reduction targets for the past three years – but figures using an updated methodology from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) show that emissions in 2020 reduced by 58.7% compared to a target of 56%.

Data revised using the new method shows that reductions for 2018 and 2019 fell short of annual targets.

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Legislation approved by MSPs in 2019 requires the most recent CCC advice on which method to use.

Scotland has pledged to become net zero by 2045 and to cut emissions by 75% below 1990 levels by 2030 and has also set annual and interim targets.

The interim target for 2020 has been set at 56%, with statistics showing a reduction of 58.7%.

Annual reduction of harmful emissions in Scotland

But the return to progress for the 2020 figures is explained by the measures introduced during the pandemic.

According to the Scottish Government’s analysis, inland transport showed “dramatic declines in emissions associated with the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020” which officials say have “led to a reduction in the long-term average trend”.

Inland transport has been Scotland’s biggest emitter since 2016 due to the cleaning up of energy and electricity systems, in particular the end of coal burning. Between 2019 and 2020, the sector’s emissions were reduced by 20.9%, with car emissions reduced by 26.6% and domestic aviation falling by 61.5% due to the pandemic.

Between 2019 and 2020, emissions from energy supply decrease by 0.8 Mt or 13%, due to a reduction in CO2 emissions from power plants.

HeraldScotland: Domestic transport accounts for the biggest share of Scotland's emissionsDomestic transport accounts for the largest share of Scotland’s emissions

But over the same annual period, there was “essentially no change in corporate emissions”, while agriculture, a sector that has historically lagged in emissions reductions, saw a slight reduction. of 0.2 Mt or 2.9%.

Despite a “relatively warmer latter part of 2020 compared to 2019,” officials said “residential emissions increased very slightly” over the year-over-year period.

They added: “This marginal increase in emissions may have been driven by more people working from home during the Covid-19 lockdown.”

SNP Net Zero secretary Michael Matheson said the figures show Scotland ‘continues to outperform the UK as a whole in long-term emissions reductions’.

He said: “The new data shows underlying progress in reducing emissions in key sectors of the economy.

“Nevertheless, the most significant changes are in the transport sector and are linked to the temporary measures taken in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. We must be prepared for these numbers to rebound significantly in 2021.”

Mr Matheson added: “There can be no satisfaction in the emission reductions resulting from the health, economic and social damage of the pandemic.

“However, the data provides a valuable lesson regarding the scale of transformational change needed in response to the climate emergency and shows that integrating habits such as working from home and reduced car use can have an impact. real on reducing emissions.

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“With emissions down more than 50% since 1990, Scotland is making long-term progress towards net zero despite the constraints of delegated powers. We will continue to work with and, where appropriate, challenge the UK Government to ensure that urgent action is taken in the key areas which remain reserved.

“But it’s clear that Scotland could make a much greater contribution to global climate action if we weren’t dependent on decisions made elsewhere.”

Tory MP Maurice Golden warned that progress in 2020 was “bittersweet news”, adding that “it has only been achieved through a nationwide lockdown”.

He added: “Before today, they had missed their emissions targets three years in a row.

“Furthermore, they had failed to achieve a range of important goals such as household recycling, biodiversity, green jobs and active travel – not to mention their failure to ban the sending of biodegradable waste to landfill. in 2021 as promised.

“All of this shows that the Scottish Government needs to be bolder and deliver on the policies it puts forward, particularly in the areas of heating, agriculture and transport.”

In response, Mr Matheson said: “It is likely that emissions from transport, which are a large component of the change we have seen in the 2020 data during the pandemic, will probably rebound, which will have an impact on numbers next year. .”

But he added: ‘It is simply not true to say that we are advancing our climate change policy based on continued lockdowns.’

Campaigners have warned that more action will be needed to keep key 2030 and 2045 commitments on track.

Mike Robinson, Chairman of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland (SCCS), said: “Despite a record annual drop in emissions, these figures tell two stories.

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“The measures put in place to protect public health during the Covid-19 closures have undoubtedly played a role, with more people working from home and travel restricted. However, we also know that emissions will have rebounded as these temporary measures are relaxed. »

He added: “Crucially, we need the Scottish Government to address climate change as the emergency it has declared to be back in 2019, ensuring long-term reductions in emissions, while ensuring a green recovery. . To achieve this, we need to see more ambitious action across all sectors, especially transport, agriculture and housing.

“Unless enhanced action is taken to improve delivery, the post-Covid-19 emissions rebound will ensure we miss our 2030 and 2045 targets. That’s why we’re calling on the Scottish Government to seriously up their game.”