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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) [Draft]

Meeting date: Thursday, December 22, 2022

Agenda: Presiding Officer’s Rulings, General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Point of Order, Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, Business Motion, Portfolio Question Time, Point of Order, Climate Change Committee Reports, Decision Time, Maternity Services in Moray


Climate Change Committee Reports

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

The next item of business is a statement by Michael Matheson on the Climate Change Committee’s review of Scottish emissions targets and its progress report for 2022. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.


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

I thank the Climate Change Committee for the two documents published on 7 December: its latest annual Scottish progress report and its first five-yearly review of Scotland’s emissions targets, as set out by Parliament in the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019.

The reports recognise many areas of progress and welcome Scotland’s extraordinary ambition regarding climate change. However, we cannot ignore the fact that elements of the committee’s advice make for difficult reading. It is evident that we are entering a very challenging part of our journey to net zero and that deep cuts to our emissions will be required over the course of this decade. We are committed to rising to that challenge and ending Scotland’s contribution to climate change by 2045.

Members are aware of the scale and urgency of the climate emergency. That was why the Scottish Parliament rightly passed extremely ambitious targets for Scotland to reduce emissions by 75 per cent by 2030—going beyond the target level proposed by the Climate Change Committee—and to reach net zero by 2045. Today, we are more than halfway to net zero. That is a record that we should take pride in, especially as we are ahead of the United Kingdom as a whole in delivering long-term emissions reductions.

However, we must be prepared for the possibility that the 2021 emissions statistics, due to be published next June, will show a rebound caused by the lifting of Covid restrictions in 2021. Significant sources of peatland emissions will also be brought within the scope of the report for the first time when next year’s report uses the most up-to-date set of inventory methods. As recognised by the Climate Change Committee, that will create significant challenges in meeting already ambitious statutory targets during the 2020s.

The emissions cuts required to meet future targets will involve genuinely transformative decisions for Scotland. Significant long-term investment, demand management and behavioural change will all be required. Similar decisions are being faced across the world. It is our responsibility to help Scotland make that transition and to continue demonstrating our well-respected global reputation for action on climate change.

The transition to net zero is not only an environmental imperative but an economic opportunity. We have seen great successes in our renewables sector. ScotWind, for example, represents the world’s largest commercial round for floating offshore wind. Yesterday, we published our final onshore wind policy statement, setting out our ambition to deploy 20GW of onshore wind by 2030. Those successes must be replicated in other sectors as we harness the opportunities that the transition will bring to Scotland. In January, we will publish our energy strategy just transition plan and our renewables sector export plan.

We agree with the Climate Change Committee that co-operation with the UK Government is key to realising both Scotland’s ambitions and the full potential of Scotland’s contribution to the UK-wide decarbonisation plans. Given the significant powers reserved to Westminster, including on energy infrastructure, taxation and borrowing, Scottish ministers will continue discussing with UK Government ministers how we can ensure that our plans progress at the speed that we all require.

Turning back to the report, I note that the CCC has highlighted areas where we are making significant progress but we clearly need to go further, including buildings, peatland restoration and transport.

I am pleased that the CCC recognises Scotland’s ambition to decarbonise buildings much faster than the UK as a whole, as well as our substantial funding commitments and progress on enabling measures. Heating our homes and workplaces causes 20 per cent of Scotland’s emissions. We will not achieve our net zero target without ending our use of gas boilers. We are therefore stepping up our investment to accelerate deployment of heat and energy efficiency measures and support those who are least able to pay. We will allocate at least £1.8 billion over the current session of Parliament.

That funding is supporting a range of alternatives to fossil fuel heating, such as heat pumps, and measures to install better insulation. That is making homes easier and more affordable to heat, especially for those who need that help the most. The funding will also support investment in heat networks and ensuring that all our public sector buildings can move to zero emission heat.

Next year, we will consult on a heat in buildings bill that will require all homes and buildings across Scotland to use net zero emission heating systems by 2045. Next year will also see the launch of our public engagement strategy to make people aware of what we are proposing to do, why it matters so much and what it will mean in practice.

On transport, our second strategic transport projects review, which was published just two weeks ago, confirms that the era of catering for unconstrained growth in private car use is well and truly over. The review follows the sustainable investment hierarchy, which aims to reduce the need to travel unsustainably and prioritises making best use of and enhancing existing infrastructure before we invest in new capacity.

Furthermore, in our draft route map, we have set out how we will reduce car kilometres by 20 per cent by 2030—a truly world-leading commitment that demonstrates our level of ambition in meeting Scotland’s statutory targets. The Scottish Government has commissioned research to explore demand management options to discourage car use. Using the research findings, we will work with local and regional partners to develop a demand management framework by 2025.

We have committed to fully decarbonise passenger rail services in Scotland by 2035. We have pledged at least £320 million a year by 2024-25 for active travel infrastructure, access to bikes and behaviour change. We have awarded £25 million of bus priority funding to 11 partnerships covering 28 local authorities. We have also awarded £28 million of funding over the next four years to support innovation to decarbonise heavy vehicles, including through the use of battery and hydrogen technologies.

We have committed some £250 million to restoring 250,000 hectares of degraded peatlands by 2030, including £26 million for the next financial year. Through supporting good green jobs in the rural economy, that investment will also play a part in Scotland’s just transition to net zero by 2045. We have delivered around 57,000 hectares of restored peatland to date. That is good progress, but we know that we must go much further. We are working hard with delivery partners to tackle the barriers to upscaling peatland restoration. Our delivery forecast for this year estimates that we will achieve a 65 per cent increase in peatland restoration rates compared with last year.

I turn to the Climate Change Committee’s advice on targets. The committee has suggested that the annual targets throughout the 2020s should be changed for technical reasons to align with the revised greenhouse gas inventory. I advise Parliament that we will consider that advice in the round and respond to it as soon as possible.

In conclusion, Presiding Officer, we are making good and steady progress in what will be a very difficult journey, and we welcome the advice from the Climate Change Committee to help us along. As part of our continuous review of policy, we will work closely with the Climate Change Committee to ensure that we benefit fully from its expertise, while progressing delivery and considering possible new actions. The Climate Change Committee’s advice will also support the development of the next climate change plan, which we have committed to publishing in draft no later than November 2023.

The Scottish ministers will now take the appropriate time to consider the recommendations in the CCC’s advice, and we will respond in the spring of next year.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The cabinet secretary will now take questions on the issues that were raised in his statement. I intend to allow around 20 minutes for that, after which we will move to the next item of business. It will be helpful if members who wish to ask a question would press their request-to-speak buttons now.

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

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

I struggle to understand how, in the context of such a damning report—highlighting the missing of seven of 11 emissions targets, an increase in car use, minimal progress in reducing agricultural emissions and abject failures on peatland restoration and tree planting—he nonetheless delivers a statement of such breathtaking complacency that he suggests that

“That is a record that we should take pride in”

and that

“we are making good ... progress on what will be a very difficult journey”.

The cabinet secretary talks of “extremely ambitious targets”, but the committee said that

“It is currently very difficult to monitor progress against the necessary measures ... due to a lack of adequate and up-to-date data.”

When I asked about exactly that, last week, the cabinet secretary opened his response with

“I will set out the process that is already in place.”—[Official Report, 7 December 2022; c 24.]

The Climate Change Committee is clear that what is in place has failed. Since the committee’s report, what has been done to ensure proper data collection to collate the baseline data and measure progress on our journey to net zero?

On decarbonising buildings, the cabinet secretary has said that

“We are ... stepping up our investment”

and, in the next breath, has said that he is allocating

“at least £1.8 billion over the current session of Parliament.”

That figure was first announced about 18 months ago, and is way below the more than £33 billion that is required.

Lord Deben has said that the CCC wants to see the programme of how the Scottish National Party Government is going to deliver decarbonisation of heat. When will the SNP Government produce a detailed plan on decarbonising buildings, including how it intends to address that funding gap?

Michael Matheson

I do not know whether Liam Kerr was listening to the response that I gave to the recent urgent question, or to the part of my statement in which I accepted the criticisms and the challenges that are set out in the report. I am sure that he will also recognise that the report acknowledges the progress that has been made.

From listening to Liam Kerr, one could be forgiven for thinking that no progress has been made. The reality is that we are already more than halfway to achieving net zero. However, we need to do much more and we need to drive forward delivery much more effectively. That is the reality. There are stats and data out there right now, to which the member was making reference and of which he is calling for more. That is where we are in the journey.

Liam Kerr has talked about criticism of the Government. He will be aware of the significant report that the CCC issued about the United Kingdom Government, which offered very similar criticism of the lack of progress that it has been making. That is why Governments across the UK need to take more concerted action to address these matters.

For example, there have been challenges in scaling up the level of peatland restoration that we need to achieve. The target is to restore some 250,000 hectares of peatland between now and 2030. We have already restored some 57,000 hectares. That is progress, but we need to go further. Part of the challenge in doing that has, because of limitations, been in scaling up the industry to undertake that work.

As I have mentioned, we are already starting to see progress. That is happening with the uplift that we have seen in peatland restoration this year.

On heat in buildings, which is a critical area, we have already set out our intention to introduce primary legislation to put in statute the requirement to speed up deployment of decarbonisation of homes and drive forward that agenda.

As I also stated in response to the urgent question, our climate change plan update, which we published this year, sets out in much greater detail the link between policy choices and impact, and the data that underpins that link. That will provide the CCC with the transparency that it is looking for and will demonstrate the progress that we are making in key policy areas—not only in delivering our climate targets but in the economic opportunities that go with that, and the costs that are associated with it.

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

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

Listening to him, we could be forgiven for thinking that the Climate Change Committee’s review is not utterly scathing about the Government’s failure. However, it is utterly scathing—the cabinet secretary is clearly in denial. Seven out of 11 of our increasingly at-risk legal targets are missed—targets that the CCC says

“are in danger of becoming meaningless”.

It also says that

“progress in cutting emissions ... has largely stalled”.

On the three big emitters—transport, heat in buildings and land use—this report card is a clear fail, fail, fail.

A year ago, the chairman of the CCC, Lord Deben, called for more clarity and transparency on Scottish climate policy and delivery. Why did that plea, in the words of Lord Deben, go “unanswered”?

The cabinet secretary has said that there will be another draft plan along soon—in November next year—but we had a so-called plan in 2018 and another plan in 2020, and the Climate Change Committee says that there is still no “clear delivery plan”, no “coherent explanation” and no clue how Scotland will get to net zero. Does the cabinet secretary think that the CCC is right? What specifically will he do differently in next year’s plan to ensure that it is third time lucky, or will we be back here next year, debating how much further Scotland is falling behind in meeting its climate targets?

Michael Matheson

We are already starting to make progress in a number of key areas. For example, on transport, we have already set out our plan to reduce car kilometres by 20 per cent. Given that the member is such an enthusiastic supporter of the targets that the CCC has set, I hope that he will support policies that will deliver those outcomes.

We often find that, when it comes to such policy matters, Opposition members like to set targets but come up very short when it comes to detailing the policy actions that should be implemented to deliver them or, when such actions are introduced, they think that they are a bit controversial and back off from them. It is a bit like what happened with support for parking charges, when Colin Smyth did not want to give powers to councils—[Interruption.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Cabinet secretary, please resume your seat for a second. Mr Smyth, I appreciate that you asked a number of questions. It would be helpful if we could all—including the member who asked the questions—hear how the cabinet secretary responds.

Michael Matheson

I am sure that Mr Smyth would like to hear my answers, and my challenge to him to step up and show some leadership on the policies that he thinks should be pursued. That has been missing for some time.

The member asks, from a sedentary position, what we are doing about buses. We are now at the point in Scotland where 2.3 million people—almost half the population—can travel on buses for free because of actions that we have taken. No other part of the UK provides that, including Labour-led Wales.

I have invited Colin Smyth to join the group that will be responsible for helping to shape the future climate change plan. The group, which will include members from across the chamber, will influence the policy options going forward, ensure that the data is there and set out clearly what the pathway will be in the next climate change plan. We are inviting members to join that group because, although it is fine for Parliament to set targets—that is the right thing to do—we have a collective responsibility, as the chair of the Climate Change Committee has pointed out, to set out the policy options that will deliver the targets. I hope that members who are invited on to that group will join me in helping to shape the policy programme in the next climate change plan.

Fiona Hyslop (Linlithgow) (SNP)

On Tuesday, Lord Deben, the chair of the UK Climate Change Committee, told the Parliament’s Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee that there is not

“a sufficiently good partnership in Scotland between Government and local government”

and that a better planning and co-ordination relationship is needed to deliver our net zero targets. They were, I remind members, set by all the parties in Parliament.

Lord Deben also referenced Wales as an example for us to consider. Will the cabinet secretary do so? Will he also commit to giving serious consideration to the soon-to-be published inquiry report of the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee into the role of local government and its partners in delivering the net zero targets?

Michael Matheson

On Fiona Hyslop’s final question, I will be more than happy to consider that committee’s report, which I would do as a matter of course. I have no doubt that it will be useful in shaping the actions and measures that we need to implement in order to grow and develop our partnership with local authorities.

We are currently undertaking work with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Improvement Service to identify more measures that we can take to support them in developing their climate change plans and implementing them at local level. There is no doubt that our local authority partners have a key role to play in helping to meet our climate change targets. I am keen to ensure that we build on that progress and that where there is good practice—whether it be in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland or anywhere else—that we can learn from, we utilise it in shaping our approach.

I acknowledge the member’s suggestion about considering the committee’s report. Where there is good practice we will look to use it to address issues. I assure her that we are already taking action to improve the partnership between national Government and our colleagues in local government in order to deliver on climate change plans at local level.

Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I declare that I am part of a family farming partnership and that I own and manage land.

From the latest comments of the UK Climate Change Committee, it is clear that the lack of a coherent Scottish agriculture policy—something that falls totally within the remit of the Scottish Government—is of serious concern. The Government is clearly failing on its current peatland restoration targets, and, for more than 10 years, it has also failed on its tree-planting targets. If the Government is to meet its net zero targets, it will need to up its game. When will the cabinet secretary be able to meet the tree-planting targets?

Michael Matheson

Through the vision for agriculture, work is being done to outline a range of measures that will be introduced to support farming and food production in Scotland. It will ensure that those processes will be much more sustainable and that there will be a focus on regenerative agriculture. That work is currently being overseen by my colleague Mairi Gougeon.

I have already mentioned peatland restoration. We are already seeing the benefits of our work, with a ramping-up of capacity in the sector, which is now feeding through into this year’s figures.

On woodlands regeneration and new planting, the member will be aware that 75 per cent of all the UK’s new woodland planting takes place in Scotland, which demonstrates the scale of what we are doing and the dearth of ambition and lack of progress across the rest of the UK. We want to ramp up that percentage. To that end, we will continue to invest in and support skills development in those areas to allow our progress to continue in future.

Jackie Dunbar (Aberdeen Donside) (SNP)

At this week’s NZET Committee, Emily Nurse of the UK Climate Change Committee highlighted that the UK Government’s decision to put the Scottish Cluster on the reserve list has had a knock-on effect on hitting net zero targets in Scotland. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the Scottish Cluster, the Acorn carbon capture and storage project and the hydrogen project are important not only for the north-east but for the whole of Scotland and our ambitious net zero energy strategy? What on-going discussions is the Scottish Government having with the UK Government about supporting those critical projects?

Michael Matheson

The member raises an important point. Emily Nurse was correct to highlight the critical importance—or what I would describe as the mission-critical nature—of the Acorn project and the Scottish Cluster in supporting us in achieving our net zero targets. That is why, in the CCC’s view, negative-emission technologies of that nature are a necessity if we are to achieve those targets. The reality is that the UK Government’s failure to give the project track 1 status is a betrayal of the people of the north-east and of those who have been committed to taking forward key policy areas to achieve climate change within our energy-intensive industries.

That is why we need to stop the dithering and delay. The failure of leadership by the UK Government on this matter is creating uncertainty for the industry and, indeed, for jobs in the north-east and other parts of Scotland. We are continuing to press the Government on the issue. In recent weeks, I have been in correspondence with Grant Shapps, asking him for urgency, but we have as yet received no response that suggests that the position has changed.

I say again that the failure to take the project forward is a blatant betrayal of the north-east in particular. It is the most deliverable and the most ambitious in the whole of the UK, and it is critical not only to Scotland meeting its net zero targets, but to the rest of the UK. Any further delay is going to cost jobs and will undermine investment and our progress towards meeting our climate change targets.

Mercedes Villalba (North East Scotland) (Lab)

The Scottish Government is looking to scale up the rate of peatland restoration by increasing private sector investment through the peatland code. Dr Calum MacLeod, policy director at Community Land Scotland, has warned that such investment could prevent Scottish communities from securing

“significant and lasting community benefits from restoration work”.

What legal protections will be put in place through the upcoming land reform bill to ensure that it is the people of Scotland, not private investors, who benefit from peatland restoration work?

Michael Matheson

I am not aware of the individual case that the member is referring to, but if she wants to pass on information to me, I will be more than content to look into the matter. I will also ask my colleague Màiri McAllan to set out in more detail the exact measures that are being taken in the land reform bill, which will come before Parliament and will detail our response to supporting peatland restoration and land ownership in that regard. I hope that that is helpful to the member.

Jenni Minto (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)

The west of Scotland is home to one of the most important remaining temperate rainforest sites in Europe. The site is a key net carbon sink, and my Argyll and Bute constituency is home to more than 50 per cent of it. What support is the Scottish Government providing to ensure that Scotland’s rainforest, for which I am pleased to say I am nature champion, is restored and expanded as a natural solution to the climate emergency?

Michael Matheson

I think that everyone now recognises the importance of dealing with the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, and the outcome of the 15th United Nations biodiversity conference of the parties—COP15—helps by putting more of a focus on the need to address biodiversity loss much more effectively. Indeed, that is why, as a Government, we are very much committed to protecting our rainforests in Scotland.

A project to restore Scotland’s rainforests that has already received more than £1.3 million aims to control invasive rhododendrons, restore ancient woodland that had previously been planted with non-native trees and manage the impact of wild deer on those new fragile forest ecosystems. It is part of our nature restoration fund, which this month has recommended funding for three projects to restore the Atlantic rainforest in western Scotland. The rainforest will play an important part in our supporting the development of the nature-based solutions to biodiversity loss that Jenni Minto has highlighted.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

This really is a bleak assessment of where Scotland is at in achieving its climate targets. Liberal Democrat research suggests that, at the current rate of progress, it will take 300 years just to insulate fuel-poor homes.

The cabinet secretary has talked about “stepping up” investment in retrofitting to improve on the £1.8 billion of allocated public funding, but the Government also estimates that it will require £33 billion to achieve the target. Given that the UKCCC’s chair has said that he sees no clear plan for drawing in the remaining private funds that are needed, where does the cabinet secretary expect to get that funding?

Michael Matheson

The member might be aware of the work that my colleague Patrick Harvie has done to draw in private sector investment in support of the work that will be necessary to decarbonise domestic premises. However, we will also require a different approach to the delivery of heating, which is why heat networks will be important in supporting the decarbonisation of a greater number of properties, rather than the work happening on an individual basis.

That combination of public and private sector investment, as well as change in the way that we provide heating, will play an important part in achieving targets. As I stated in response to, I think, Liam Kerr, we will also introduce legislation that will make statutory provision for driving forward the changes that will be necessary to install net zero heating systems in the years ahead.

Will the cabinet secretary consider pilot projects using our rivers and waterways to help move some freight, with carbon-neutral solutions at either end to help to reduce the impact on the environment?

Michael Matheson

We need to consider alternative methods of transportation. There is a modal shift grant that operators can access for transporting freight by rail and coastal waters to support alternative uses. If I recall correctly, we provide grant to support the transportation of wood used to make various products from the Argyll peninsula into Troon harbour in order to remove that freight from the main road network.

Funds exist to support such a transition to coastal waters or rail and get freight off our roads.

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

I welcome the tone of the cabinet secretary’s statement and his desire not only for a much more credible plan but to try to get a consensus in the Parliament on the really hard choices that we will have to make if we are to get any closer to meeting the targets.

The Mossmorran complex in Fife remains the third-largest climate polluter in Scotland. It is unthinkable that we could meet climate targets without slashing the plant’s emissions, but that must be achieved in a way that leaves no workers behind. Does the cabinet secretary agree that we now need a site-specific just transition plan for Mossmorran?

Michael Matheson

I am aware of the concerns that Mark Ruskell has previously raised on Mossmorran. The approach that we have taken with the Grangemouth future industry board could also be used at Mossmorran. That approach is helping to shape how some of our major industrial clusters can be reshaped in a way that meets our climate change ambitions and helps to deliver a just transition. Some of the work that we are doing, through the board, on just transition plans that are being developed for the sites and sectors in Grangemouth could equally be applied to Mossmorran. I am more than happy to engage with Mark Ruskell in considering how we can support that moving forward.

Maurice Golden (North East Scotland) (Con)

Scotland was ranked worst of all the countries surveyed in the recent circularity gap report. Our economy is just 1.3 per cent circular, which is well below the global average of 8.6 per cent.

The cabinet secretary was keen to talk up various plans and projects but the reality is that the SNP has made no progress in creating the sustainable economy that we need to reach net zero. To add to the problem, the circular economy bill consultation was flawed and unambitious. Does the cabinet secretary accept the need for urgent action to deliver a circular economy?

I do, which is why we are taking action such as introducing the deposit return scheme and will introduce an ambitious circular economy bill that will help to drive forward that change in the years ahead.

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

It is important that Scotland takes an international approach on climate change. We have a responsibility for developing countries. Will the cabinet secretary say something about loss and damage, particularly in relation to the 27th UN climate change conference of the parties—COP27?

Michael Matheson

There has been painfully slow progress on addressing loss and damage, which is an issue that was covered in the recent debate on COP27 in the Parliament. At COP27, there was more progress than was the case in previous years. We took clear leadership action at COP26, which has been a catalyst for further investment from other countries. Further progress is now being made.

There were some positive outcomes on loss and damage from COP27 but we need much more. The reality is that the people who bear the greatest brunt and experience the most negative impact of the climate change that is already locked in are those who have contributed the least to creating it. That is why we have a collective responsibility to support them in meeting the challenges that they face.

That concludes the ministerial statement.