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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 07 June 2022 [Draft]

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Greenhouse Gas Emissions Statistics 2020, National Parks, UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Act 2021 (Statement of Policy), Business Motion, Decision Time, Medical Charities’ Research (Economic Value)


Greenhouse Gas Emissions Statistics 2020

The next item of business is a statement by Michael Matheson on greenhouse gas emissions statistics 2020. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.


Last autumn, Scotland was at the forefront of global climate action when we hosted the international community at the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26. We could not have imagined then today’s unprecedented cost of living and energy crisis, or the deeply concerning new landscape of international relations. However, we must not lose track of the threat that the climate crisis poses to all our futures, the facts around which are becoming even starker.

In April, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a warning that it is “now or never” to limit warming to 1.5°C. In response, John Kerry, US climate envoy, said:

“We have to still fight for the 1.5, as hard as it may be. But I remain an optimist, because I think that if we do what we've promised to do, we can have a 45% global cut globally between now and 2030.”

I, too, am optimistic, and I urge all countries to deliver on the Glasgow climate pact. Of course, that applies to us here in Scotland, too. The purpose of my statement is to update Parliament on progress on Scotland’s statutory climate targets and to set out our next steps.

Those steps are constrained by the current limits of devolved powers. We will continue to work with and, when needed, challenge the United Kingdom Government to ensure that urgent action is taken in key areas that remain reserved and in which a lack of pace impacts our ability to meet our more ambitious targets. However, it is clear that the contribution that Scotland could make to global climate action would be significantly enhanced if we had the normal powers of other independent states.

Official statistics that were published this morning show that the interim greenhouse gas emissions target for 2020 of a 56 per cent reduction from the 1990 baseline was met, with a 58.7 per cent reduction achieved. That outcome is welcome, as is the fact that the data shows continued underlying progress in reducing emissions across many key sectors of our economy, such as energy supply and waste management. The statistics also confirm that we continue to outperform the UK as a whole in delivering long-term emissions reductions.

However, it is clear that the largest changes in emissions during 2020 were significantly influenced by the public health measures that were taken in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. In particular, transport activity was limited because people were asked to stay at home to save lives. No satisfaction can be taken from emissions reductions that result from such economic and social harms, and we must be prepared for emissions from the transport sector to have substantially rebounded in 2021.

All that said, today’s data provides a valuable lesson regarding the scale of the transformational changes that are needed in response to the climate emergency and the centrality of the transport sector to achieving that aim. The challenge before us is to achieve those outcomes in sustainable and just ways.

Although the 2020 data reflects the impacts of the pandemic, it does not yet capture the step change in action that has arisen through the updating of Scotland’s climate change plan, which was finalised in March 2021. The updated plan is aimed at achieving, over the 2020s and early 2030s, our ambitious goals, which go beyond what is needed globally to achieve the 1.5°C goal, as part of a green recovery from Covid-19.

The latest set of annual monitoring reports on the plan—which were laid in Parliament last month, alongside our positive response to the Climate Change Committee’s latest progress report—contain more up-to-date information than today’s high-level emissions statistics. The reports show welcome early signs of progress on policy implementation and delivery across many sectors. The Scottish Government’s focus is on urgently delivering that comprehensive policy package to ensure that future targets can be met through sustainable, long-term reductions in emissions across all sectors.

On transport, in which the impacts of Covid-19 on emissions have been so pronounced, the updated plan contains actions across all modes, and we have already set out a positive route map for reducing overall car kilometres by 20 per cent over the longer term.

The resource spending review confirms our commitment to increase investment in active travel by over 200 per cent from 2024-25 onwards. Low-emission zones have been introduced in four of our cities as of last week, and we are supporting the electrification of public transport, including decarbonising Scotland’s railways by 2035.

Scotland’s shift to renewables and support for energy efficiency are also central to our plan, and they are the only real long-term solutions to the current crisis around energy costs. The resource spending review supports our climate actions and prioritises delivery of critical activities such as increased spend for our heat in buildings strategy and for nature restoration. Our national strategy for economic transformation has the journey to net zero at its heart.

I now want to look ahead to the key steps in the remainder of this parliamentary session. We are developing just transition plans for Scotland’s sectors and regions, beginning with a refreshed energy strategy and just transition plan later this year, which includes detailed work to assess the pace of transition in the oil and gas sector. Those plans will form part of our economy-wide emissions reduction plans, ensuring that future targets can be met in ways that are fair to all, support green jobs and seize opportunities for sustainable economic growth through leading the global energy transition. We have recently announced the first £20 million of the just transition fund to support those efforts.

We have committed to setting out, by November 2023, a draft for Parliament’s scrutiny of Scotland’s next full climate change plan. That plan will extend the emissions reduction pathway towards the ambitious 2040 target of a 90 per cent reduction and will include estimates of the costs and benefits of the policies to achieve that.

In line with the requirements of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, in April I wrote to the Climate Change Committee to request its next set of regular advice on Scotland’s statutory targets. That is expected in December and will help to ensure that our approach continues to reflect the rapidly evolving global landscape of economic circumstances and scientific evidence.

COP27, which will be in Egypt later this year, will need to build from the legacy of Glasgow. As set out in our new global affairs framework, and building from the trebling of our climate justice fund in this parliamentary session, Scotland will continue to play a full part on the international stage, helping to ensure that climate action supports the most vulnerable people and communities. As I have set out today, we are also working to ensure a track record of domestic delivery that matches the high ambition that the Parliament set in response to the Paris agreement.

The impact of the Covid pandemic on emissions during 2020 has further highlighted the transformational scale of action that is needed in response to the global climate emergency and has provided a terrible lesson in the imperative need for that transition to be a just one. In response, the Scottish Government’s commitment to building a net zero and climate-resilient nation, through planned approaches that are sustainable and positive for people and the economy, is unwavering.

The cabinet secretary will now take questions on the issues raised in his statement. I intend to allow around 20 minutes for questions, after which we will move on to the next item of business.

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

For the first time in four years, Scotland’s emissions targets have been met. It is bittersweet news, however, because it was accomplished only through a nationwide lockdown. Even the Scottish National Party has conceded that point and accepts that it cannot rely on lockdowns to meet climate targets, but that is exactly what it is doing. Before today, the SNP had missed its emissions targets for three years running.

In addition, it had failed to meet a whole series of important targets such as household recycling, biodiversity, green jobs and active travel, not forgetting its failure to deliver a promised ban on sending biodegradable waste to landfill in 2021. Add in the Green coalition partners’ failure to meet the renewable heat target and their abandonment of their manifesto promises on a deposit return scheme launch and a ban on new incineration capacity, it has been fail, fail, fail.

All that shows that the Scottish Government needs to be bolder and to implement its proposed policies on heating, agriculture and transport, in particular. Chris Stark, the head of the Climate Change Committee, predicted that the 2020 emissions target would be met but issued a warning that the 2021 target would “almost certainly be missed”. Does the cabinet secretary accept that expert view, or is Chris Stark wrong?

I suppose that time will tell, but the likelihood is that transport emissions, which were a sizeable component in the shift that we saw in the 2020 data during the pandemic, will rebound. That will have an impact on the figures next year, as I said in my statement.

I recognise and agree that it is bittersweet that we are in a situation in which we have met the targets. No one takes any pleasure from the fact that some of that has come about as a result of the lockdown. However, I say to the member that it is simply wrong to say that we are depending on lockdowns to progress our climate change policy. That is not what we have set out in our “Update to the Climate Change Plan 2018—2032”, which we published back in March last year, and which sets out almost 200 different policies that we are putting in place to ensure that we meet our climate change targets.

Alongside that, I have no doubt that the member will take the opportunity to consider the underlying data in some of the information that has been published today. That shows that we continue to move in the right direction in reducing our emissions overall and that, in the long term, we continue to be ahead of other parts of the UK. I want all parts of the UK to be on a similar trajectory and working towards to reducing emissions, but it is important that we continue to make the progress that we have been making.

I also want to emphasise another point. The member referred to the need for the Scottish Government to get on with delivering the policies that it has set out on heating, agriculture and transport, specifically. I will take that as an endorsement from the Conservative Party and that it will support us in those key policy areas. Often, when we propose such policies, we find that the Conservatives are in opposition to us on those issues. If the Conservative Party is serious about tackling the climate emergency that we face at domestic and international level, it means stepping up to the plate and demonstrating the leadership that is necessary on the policy ideas that will deliver on that, rather than just thinking about the next day’s headlines.

After years of environmental failures and missed targets, last year’s lockdown granted the SNP-Green Government a stay of execution. However, although the cabinet secretary claims that we outperform the rest of the UK, he knows that our per capita greenhouse gas emissions remain higher than those in other parts of the UK. If this year’s fall is not simply going to be a blip on the radar, we need a change of course. Transport emissions fell this year, but does the cabinet secretary really believe that we would have seen that fall had we not had the pandemic? What assessment has the Government made of the impact on transport emissions of the current cuts in rail services? Does the cabinet secretary really think that we will see a fall in transport emissions next year, compared with pre-pandemic levels, based on the current policy?

Let me deal with the three points that the member has raised.

On the first point, he is wrong. The baseline data that is used for assessing progress across the whole of the UK is that which is set out in the Climate Change Act 2008, which is informed by the methodology that is set out by the Climate Change Committee. That demonstrates very clearly that Scotland continues to be ahead of the rest of the UK on the basis of long-term policy, and it is significantly ahead of areas such as Wales, where the Labour Party happens to be in control. Notwithstanding that, I want to see Wales doing well in tackling climate change, as I want to be the case across the whole of the UK and at global level.

On whether we would have met our target had the pandemic not taken place, as the member will be aware, the statistics that I present today do not provide that information. Figures are not disaggregated on the basis of a pandemic not having taken place, so we do not have data that can demonstrate that either way.

I acknowledge and recognise that meeting our stretching statutory targets in Scotland is challenging, and rightly so. It is important that we put in place policies that will help us to achieve that.

On transport, in particular, the ambitious targets that we are setting—including a 20 per cent reduction in car kilometres—the range of measures that we are taking and the investment that we are putting into active travel and decarbonising our public transport network are all key contributors to ensuring that our transport emissions become a smaller part of the overall global climate challenge for Scotland. I believe that our policies will help to deliver the outcome that we seek to achieve.

The independent Climate Change Committee has been clear that Scotland’s ability to deliver a green recovery and reach our targets very much depends on action from the UK Government in areas that, unfortunately, as the cabinet secretary has indicated, remain reserved. What interventions at UK level are important to help us to achieve our climate ambitions in Scotland?

A number of important factors need to be taken into account. For example, on a number of occasions we have raised with the UK Government the fact that the approach that it took with its net zero strategy did not take account of policy decision making in Scotland. The UK Government did not consult us in that process to ensure that the strategy reflected the domestic policies that are necessary at UK level for us to meet our statutory 2045 target. The UK Government is of course working to a 2050 target.

There are a number of areas in which greater flexibility would allow us to make greater progress, including fiscal powers, taxation powers and carbon capture, utilisation and storage. For example, we have not been able to move forward with track 1 status for the Acorn project. Alongside that, it is important to ensure that we end the discriminatory charging that is applied to renewable energy projects in Scotland connecting to the Great Britain grid. Such policies actively make it more difficult for us to meet our statutory climate change targets, so the UK Government must work with us to ensure that it puts in place policies that support us to meet our 2045 target. To date, that approach has not been taken.

Before we move to the next question, I would be grateful if we could have more concise responses, because there is a great deal of interest in your statement, cabinet secretary.

The UK Climate Change Committee has expressed doubt about whether the Scottish Government’s 2030 climate targets can be met and it has called for much greater detail and transparency on policy delivery. One of the policies that will be critical in delivering the 2030 targets is the retrofitting and decarbonisation of heat in more than 1 million homes in Scotland. Will the Scottish Government accept the UK CCC recommendations, and will the cabinet secretary commit today to publishing annual targets for the retrofitting and decarbonisation of dwellings for each of the years between now and 2030, so that we have the necessary level of transparency for delivery of the targets?

I recognise the challenge that has been made by the Climate Change Committee, the independent advisers on these matters. It is important that the Government responds constructively to the challenge and, in particular, the challenge that we have around decarbonisation of domestic and non-domestic premises between now and 2030.

I assure Dean Lockhart that our heat in buildings strategy is an ambitious plan for achieving that target. It sits alongside a record investment of £1.8 billion. I assure him that the approach that we will take is focused on delivery, and we will go about it through an open and transparent process.

A recent report that was published by Met Office researchers indicates that climate change is having a significant impact on global rainfall patterns. Notably, Scotland, along with the majority of northern Europe, is anticipated to experience increasing rainfall during winter. Communities in my Stirling constituency already struggle with the impact of annual flooding. Given that that is anticipated to get worse, what investment is being made in flood defences and mitigations in Stirling?

There is no doubt that we are experiencing the locked-in effects of climate change, which is resulting in more intense weather patterns that are having a disruptive influence on communities and our transport network, not only in Scotland and in the UK but on a global scale. We have all witnessed that in the past couple of years.

That is why it is important that we take the right climate adaptation measures. We are increasing our investment to tackle flooding to around £150 million during this session of Parliament. We are also investing some £12 million in communities that have been impacted by coastal erosion. Off the top of my head—if I recall correctly—projects in Stirling, Bridge of Allan and Callander that focus on tackling flooding are being supported with funding. I hope that that reassures the member about the investment that we are making, along with local authorities, to tackle flooding in areas such as Stirling.

Thanks to the decline in emissions from the energy sector, statistics show that domestic transport is now the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland. The report notes a marked decline in those emissions due to the Covid lockdown, but that circumstance is now behind us. It is crucial for our climate targets that we keep those emissions as low as possible. That must include having a functional rail network and expanding the network into rapidly growing communities such as Winchburgh, which is in the Lothian region that I represent, to ensure that people have the choice of opting out of private transport.

Does the Scottish Government truly understand the importance of functional and widely available public transport in meeting our net zero targets? How will it get from the current chaos to that goal?

I recognise the importance of reducing transport emissions in helping us to achieve our statutory climate change targets. That is why we have been expanding, developing and decarbonising our rail network, with further electrification programmes being taken forward to support exactly the approach that the member is looking for.

I am also well aware of the issues in Winchburgh. I have visited the site. The member will be aware that developers have a stated interest in that matter and that it is clear where the financial responsibility rests.

I assure the member that investing in and decarbonising our public transport network are key parts of the strategy to meet our climate change targets.

The cabinet secretary will know of my deep concern about the frankly unbelievable decision by the UK Government not to give track 1 status to the Scottish Cluster carbon capture and storage project, which includes the Acorn project in the north-east. He referred to that in his answer to Alasdair Allan.

The economic and just transition issues are obvious and of great concern. Setting those aside, what discussions has the cabinet secretary had with his UK Government counterparts about the impact that that decision has had on our drive to meet our net zero targets, as set out in the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019?

I have repeatedly raised that issue with the UK Government, which I believe was badly wrong in not awarding track 1 status to the Acorn project. Many in the sector also recognise that the UK Government got that badly wrong.

I assure the member that I will continue to press the UK Government on that issue, particularly as it moves towards track 2, to get clarity about the timescale and process for the Acorn project in order to ensure that there is every possibility of it succeeding in achieving track 1 status. Negative emissions technologies such as CCUS are critical to meeting our climate change targets. That is why we must ensure that progress is being made.

The Scottish Government is fully behind the Acorn project. That it is why I have agreed to make £80 million available to support delivery of the project at a faster pace. We now need to see the UK Government giving the green light to allow the project to move forward so that we can reap not only the environmental but the economic and social benefits that will come from it.

I thank the cabinet secretary for early sight of his statement. I welcome his acknowledgement that our meeting the emissions target after three years of failure has more to do with the lockdown that was attributable to Covid than with the actions, perhaps, of the Scottish Government.

For all the discussion of constitutional grievance, we know that more than 50 per cent of the energy that is used in Scotland goes into heating buildings and that the SNP’s funding promises fall short of it achieving its retrofitting targets. Given that, and the on-going cost of the energy crisis, can the cabinet secretary explain how the Government plans to urgently scale up Scotland’s retrofitting activity and capacity to ensure that we meet our future targets on both emissions and fuel poverty?

I think that the key to tackling the energy crisis that we are facing just now and which many households are suffering from is to help to reduce individual consumption through greater energy efficiency programmes. That is why we have record investment going into energy efficiency programmes and why we have committed to investing a record £1.8 billion in the current session of Parliament to support the decarbonisation of domestic premises. That is the type of ambition that will help to deliver the scale of change that is necessary. We are also working with private sector organisations to look at how we can lever in additional finance to support that transition so that it happens even more quickly.

The level of ambition that we have set out in our strategy, alongside the ambition to tackle emissions from properties in our heat and buildings strategy and the record level of investment that we are making with the £1.8 billion in the current session, is testament to this Government’s ambition and determination to reduce energy use in people’s homes.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has made many countries rethink their energy policies and focus on energy security. Does the cabinet secretary agree that energy security is best achieved through a focus on renewable and low-carbon energy?

The issue of energy security has become central in energy policy in a way that was not the case some six months ago. It is now very clear that, as recent publications from the European Union say, domestic renewable energy production is seen as the key way in which we can both reduce energy costs and deliver greater energy security. That certainly accords with the Scottish Government’s view and it is the approach that we will set out in our energy strategy later this year.

Although transport remains the biggest climate emitter, it is clear that the sharp rise in walking and cycling and the decline in aviation and private car use led to huge cuts in emissions in 2020. Transport Scotland’s research into travel trends during the pandemic show us that a new normal for domestic travel is within reach. Does the cabinet secretary believe that demand reduction is important for all polluting modes of travel, including aviation? What plans does the Scottish Government have to establish that new normal?

Demand reduction is an important part of trying to change behaviour. We know that the vast majority of the actions that we need to take in order to reduce our emissions involve behaviour change. That is why we have set out in our national transport strategy our investment hierarchy, which sees greater investment going into active travel and public transport before we look at single-car use. Alongside that, we have made a very clear commitment to work with the aviation sector to look at decarbonising aviation by 2040 while, at the same time, looking at the economic opportunities that exist in the production of sustainable aviation fuel here in Scotland.

We believe that the policies that we have set out through the NTS and the wider climate change strategy will deliver the types of reductions that we need to see in the years ahead.

One way of meeting our targets will be to support rural properties to transition to renewable heat. The Scottish Conservatives pledged in our manifesto to introduce a rural heat decarbonisation fund, which was also recommended by Scottish Renewables. The SNP and the Greens copied that into their manifestos and restated it in the Bute house agreement, yet nothing has come forward. Can the cabinet secretary show that this Government is serious about delivering against its targets by stating precisely when such a fund will be introduced?

The member will be aware that we are presently looking at a range of measures around our heat decarbonisation strategy and how we can help to support homes in both urban and rural areas to decarbonise. There are specific aspects and challenges around the decarbonisation of properties in rural areas, given that many of them are off grid and the costs that can be incurred by rural households are therefore much greater when it comes to decarbonisation.

However, I assure the member that we are giving consideration to that issue and to how funding is made available for it. I undertake to write to him to set out more details that he can share with his constituents, because I am aware that it is an on-going concern for him.

How we reduce our emissions is as important as the reduction itself, and Scotland is world renowned for having underpinned our net zero targets with a legislative commitment to a just transition. Will the cabinet secretary provide an update on the Scottish Government’s just transition fund, which is vital for my constituency, and on whether there has been any indication that the UK Government will match what is a £500 million investment over 10 years?

On the latter point, we have had no confirmation from the UK Government that it will match our £500 million just transition fund for the north-east and Moray. Just last week, we opened up the consultation process to ask for expressions of interest. We have allocated the initial £20 million to that, in order to start some of the initial work around the just transition fund. That process is now open, and I take the opportunity to encourage the member’s constituents and businesses in her constituency that have an interest in the just transition to engage in that consultation so that we shape the use of the fund in a way that delivers a just transition for the north-east and Moray.

That concludes the ministerial statement on greenhouse gas emissions. There will be a brief pause before the next item of business.