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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Urgent Question, Scottish Education System, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, #IWill Week 2022


Urgent Question

United Kingdom Climate Change Committee Reports

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the Climate Change Committee’s reports, “Progress in reducing emissions in Scotland: 2022 Report to Parliament” and “Scottish Emission Targets—first five-yearly review.”

The Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport (Michael Matheson)

The reports that the Climate Change Committee published earlier today were produced under the provisions of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, and both were laid in the Scottish Parliament today.

I am grateful to the CCC for its latest advice, which makes clear the scale of the challenge of meeting the emissions reduction targets that have been set by the Scottish Parliament. As recognised by the committee, those targets are among the most stretching in the world, but it is right that we continually act in an ambitious way to ensure that we are effective in reducing our overall emissions.

The provisions of the act require the Scottish ministers to respond to the Climate Change Committee as soon as reasonably practicable. As soon as possible after we have considered the advice fully, I will lay a copy of our response before the Parliament.

Liam Kerr

Since the 2009 act became law, the Scottish Government has failed to achieve seven out of 11 interim targets. In 2018, the Scottish Government put more than 200 policies and proposals into a climate change plan, which it updated in 2020. However, when I asked whether it had costed achieving its net zero ambitions by 2045, the cabinet secretary told me that it had not and would not until a new plan was published at an undisclosed date.

I and many colleagues around the chamber have been warning the Government for years about the lack of evidence, data and financial planning around this issue. What has the cabinet secretary done prior to this devastating report, and what will he do now, to ensure that the Government’s targets are realistic, backed by clear delivery plans and fully costed prior to launch?

Michael Matheson

I will set out the process that is already in place. The member made reference to an unspecified timeline. He might be aware that, legally, we are bound to publish an updated climate change plan by the end of next year. That work has already started. It will set out in detail the policies that will be taken forward, taking into account the advice that we have received from the CCC today, and will clearly demonstrate the link between the policy and the outcome that it will achieve in helping to reduce overall emission levels.

The member will be aware that the CCC has also been challenging Governments across the UK. The report that he mentions is similar to the report that the committee issued with regard to the UK Government’s climate change plans, which asked for much more detail on delivery.

I will give the member a practical example of our efforts to put those delivery mechanisms in place. In October 2021, we published our heat in buildings strategy for the decarbonisation of domestic heating, and, in the past few months, we have published a delivery plan that is directly associated with that, so that we can demonstrate the measures that we will take forward.

The member asks about overall costs. The overall cost of decarbonising domestic heating could be more than £30 billion, some of which will come from the public purse and some of which will come from the private sector. Work is developing in all those areas, and actions are being taken forward to deliver that.

I assure the member that the work that we take forward to deliver the new updated climate plan, as we are required to do, will take into account the Climate Change Committee’s advice, and we will provide the level of detail that it is looking for.

Liam Kerr

I thank the cabinet secretary for his answer, but I noted the inevitable and rather predictable pivot to blaming the UK Government. The Climate Change Committee is clear that the Scottish Government has the powers to take action on decarbonising buildings, transport and farming, but it has not used them, so responsibility for the failures lies squarely at its door, no matter how much the cabinet secretary tries to suggest otherwise.

Given that the cabinet secretary brought up the issue, let us examine decarbonising heat in buildings. In the context of a £2 billion underspend and the biggest financial settlement in the history of devolution, will he tell us how cutting £37 million from the energy efficiency capital grants budget and £45 million from the heat in buildings capital grants budget will help to achieve the targets that have been missed so catastrophically?

Michael Matheson

The member might want to reflect on the comments that I have made. In my comments about the CCC’s assessment of the UK Government, I was not blaming the UK Government; I was pointing out that the CCC issued a similarly critical report about the lack of detail in the UK Government’s strategy. That reflects the approach that the CCC has taken in pushing Governments to be much clearer about the delivery work that they are taking forward to meet their statutory targets. I have given a commitment to do exactly that, and that work has already started and is being taken forward.

The member specifically referenced decarbonisation of domestic premises. A number of factors are important in that regard. One is the decarbonisation of our natural gas system, and, given that the UK Government controls that system, it is as yet unclear when that will happen. [Interruption.] No, that is an important issue, and we are keen to resolve it with the UK Government so that we have clarity. That will inform the investment that we make in supporting the decarbonisation of people’s domestic heating systems, so we need to have that alignment.

As the member will recognise, one of the report’s key recommendations is the need for greater co-operation between the UK and Scottish Governments. We have been asking for clarity on the issue so that we can ensure that the £1.8 billion that we are investing in this parliamentary session in decarbonising domestic premises—a record investment—is used in the most efficient and effective way. That is why we need clarity on when we will switch to a decarbonised natural gas energy system. That type of approach will allow us to make the right informed decisions, so that we can make the progress that we—and, I am sure, the member—want to make in reducing our overall greenhouse gas emissions.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

Before I call members for supplementary questions, I note that we have spent six minutes and 53 seconds on three questions and answers. I have received a number of requests for supplementary questions, and whether I manage to take many of them is entirely dependent on there being brief one-question supplementaries and brief answers to match.

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

The report is utterly damning. Progress has stalled, seven out of 11 legal targets have been missed and a plea that was made a year ago for clarity and transparency has gone completely unanswered by the Government.

Let us take just one of many examples of failure: transport. The Climate Change Committee says that we will need 24,000 public charging points for electric vehicles by 2030. The cabinet secretary is proposing to provide just over 4,000 in total in the next few years. Does the Government even have a target for 2030, which is the date on which it says that Scotland will transition to 100 per cent electric car and van sales? When will the Government set out a clear plan to meet that target for public EV charging points?

Michael Matheson

I am sure that the member will recognise that the Climate Change Committee acknowledged that, if we exclude central London, Scotland has one of the most extensive public EV charging infrastructures in the whole of the UK. As we have set out, we are investing more than £60 million—£30 million from the Scottish Government and £30 million from the private sector—on extending the EV charging network even further in Scotland to ensure that we build on the good progress that we have made in recent years.

Fiona Hyslop (Linlithgow) (SNP)

It is a hard and critical report, which assesses performance against hard targets that were set under pressure from, and supported by, all political parties in this Parliament. Will the Scottish Government set out which key priority decisions in reserved areas by the UK Government to reduce emissions in Scotland, together with its own required improvements in delivery, are needed to address the Climate Change Committee’s concerns?

Michael Matheson

I can think of three immediate areas on which we need urgent clarity. The first is carbon capture, utilisation and storage—the Acorn Project needs to progress urgently. Not only is significant investment being put into that project now, it is mission critical that we meet our climate change targets here by 2030 and that the UK targets are met. Therefore, more dithering by the UK Government on that matter is not acceptable.

We also need further investment in areas that will support and ensure that we have in place the systems that will roll out our renewable energy programme much more effectively. That is why we need reform of the consenting regime, a key part of which is reserved to the UK Government, and why we also must ensure that changes are made to the way in which regulatory costs are applied to aspects of our renewables, which is acting as an inhibitor to further development.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

Although the promises might be world leading, the report exposes glaring gaps in plans and progress being jeopardised by ministers’ failure to co-operate at UK level or to give local councils a fair deal.

In the light of the CCC stating that aviation policy runs “counter” to targets, will the Scottish National Party-Green Government now revisit its support for Heathrow expansion?

We are developing an aviation strategy that will look at both domestic and international aviation. It will be published next year and will set out our approach to aviation policy.

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

In the previous session of the Parliament, four parliamentary committees raised serious concerns that the climate change plan was not fit for purpose, so it was good to hear the CCC finally reflect many of those concerns in its report.

Undoubtedly, the new climate change plan must do better, so will the cabinet secretary accept that we urgently need to drive down the growth in aviation mileage and that no options should be off the table to do that?

Michael Matheson

Issues relating to aviation will be covered in the aviation strategy, which I have just referred to. I assure the member that the climate change update plan, which we have already started work on and which will be published next year in draft form, will make a much clearer link between policy and delivery outcomes and how that will impact our climate change policy overall.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That concludes the urgent question. I apologise to those members whom I was not able to call for the reasons that I made clear earlier. Before we move on to the next item of business, there will be a short pause to allow front-bench teams to change positions.