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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 12 June 2019

Agenda: Lung Health, Portfolio Question Time, Scottish Greenhouse Gas Emissions 2017, Veterans Strategy (Update), Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Housing Co-operatives


Scottish Greenhouse Gas Emissions 2017

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The next item of business is a statement by Roseanna Cunningham on Scottish greenhouse gas emissions in 2017. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of her statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.


The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (Roseanna Cunningham)

The year 2019 is a significant one for Scotland’s response to climate change. It marks the 10th anniversary of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, with its world-leading targets, and it will be the year in which we collectively make a step change in our response to the global climate emergency. However, today’s statement requires us to look back a couple of years to Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions during 2017, for which statistics were published yesterday. That is the period prior to the current climate change plan, and it is worth remembering that those figures do not reflect recent action.

Scotland’s emissions are reported in two ways. First, they are reported as the actual quantity of greenhouse gases emitted from Scotland. On that basis, the picture is positive, with emissions continuing to fall year on year. They were down by more than 3 per cent from 2016 to 2017, and they have almost halved since 1990. Scotland continues to outperform the United Kingdom in delivering long-term reductions. In the EU15, we remain second only to Sweden.

As in previous years, reported progress has been influenced by technical revisions to the greenhouse gas inventory. This time, revisions to historical forestry data mean that long-term progress appears less positive than was reported in previous years. Even though Scotland’s emissions fell from 2016 to 2017, the long-term reduction of 47 per cent reported this year is less positive than the 49 per cent reported last year.

The statistics also include figures on the adjusted emissions basis used for reporting on targets under the 2009 act, which includes an accounting adjustment for the operation of the European Union emissions trading scheme. That adjustment is based on the assumption that Scottish industry uses a fair share of the permits that are available through the scheme. In recent years, the number of permits made available across the EU has increased, so the assumed number that have been used in Scotland has increased. Although that does not reflect reality on the ground, on that adjusted reporting basis Scottish emissions rose by 3.7 per cent between 2016 and 2017.

Partly as a result of the EU ETS accounting adjustment and partly because of the inventory revisions, the fixed annual target for 2017 under the 2009 act of 43.946 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent has been missed by around 2.5 million tonnes. That is, of course, disappointing. However, the position in respect of year-on-year changes in actual Scottish emissions remains positive.

I want to correct some media reports that suggest that the target for 2016 was also missed. That is simply untrue. Scotland’s statutory annual targets for 2014, 2015 and 2016 were all met, and progress remains consistent with meeting the current interim target for 2020.

Our new Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill includes changes to the target framework in order to improve transparency and allow for clearer scrutiny of progress. The bill proposes targets that are based on actual, rather than adjusted, emissions, and it includes mechanisms to manage the year-to-year effects of inventory revisions.

Looking at the statistics in detail shows that there have been reductions in emissions across most sectors since 1990. Emissions from energy supply and waste are down by almost three quarters; industrial emissions are down by almost 40 per cent; residential emissions are down by almost a quarter and those from public sector buildings are down by more than a third; and agricultural emissions are down by almost 30 per cent. It will not be easy to continue to drive down emissions in those sectors, and to tackle the sectors in which achieving reductions is more challenging, but we have to meet that challenge.

Transport remains Scotland’s largest source of emissions, and we recognise that emissions from transport have been rising. Scotland already has the most ambitious agenda in the UK for decarbonising transport, which includes our commitment to phase out the need for new petrol and diesel cars by 2032. We continue to prioritise investment in active travel, the budget for which has been maintained at £80 million for 2019-20. We are taking steps to further strengthen our policy framework through the review of the national transport strategy, of which tackling climate change will be a core theme.

The Transport (Scotland) Bill includes provisions to support low-emission zones and improve bus services. In addition, we are supporting amendments from the Green Party on the workplace parking levy, which will be an additional tool that local authorities will be able to use to tackle transport emissions.

I visited Glasgow City Council this morning. Glasgow has pledged to become the first carbon-neutral city in the UK. During my visit, I heard more about the Rotterdam, Umea, Glasgow: generating exemplar demonstrations in sustainable energy districts—RUGGEDISED—project, which involves the council, Transport Scotland and Scottish Power working together to deploy rapid electric vehicle chargers and to support the development of electric taxis in the city. I hope that other parts of Scotland will follow Glasgow’s example.

The second largest source of Scottish emissions is agriculture. The UK Committee on Climate Change’s scenario for net zero emissions recognises that the agriculture sector will remain the most substantial source of emissions, because the vast bulk of the sector’s emissions are from biological sources that are inherent to food production. We are continuing to explore the potential for reducing emissions with the agriculture industry and our renowned scientific community in order to find solutions that are beneficial for the environment, Scotland’s farmers and our wider food and drink industry. We should, of course, recognise that our farmers also contribute to emissions reduction through measures relating to forestry, land use and electricity generation, for which they must be given due credit.

Buildings also represent a significant source of emissions, which is why we are transforming Scotland’s homes, businesses and public buildings so that they are warmer, greener and more efficient. By the end of 2021, we will have allocated more than £1 billion to tackling fuel poverty and improving energy efficiency to make homes warmer and cheaper to heat. We are seeking views on the potential impacts of accelerating the energy efficient Scotland programme. Where we can move faster on our targets and continue to support a just transition to a net zero economy across rural and urban Scotland, we will do so.

The Committee on Climate Change acknowledges that

“Higher overall levels of ambition require more expensive and harder to implement options”.

That is not a reason to avoid taking action, but it means that difficult choices will need to be made by not just Government, but Parliament and society as a whole. It also means that the UK Government will need to play its part, so I welcome the fact that the UK Government, following our lead and acting on the advice from the Committee on Climate Change, has announced that it will legislate for a net zero target. The CCC was explicit in its advice that Scotland cannot achieve net zero emissions by 2045 unless the UK does so by 2050, given the number of levers that are still reserved to Westminster.

The CCC’s advice that Scotland should aim to achieve net zero emissions by 2045, and that the UK should aim to do so by 2050, was published on 2 May. The Scottish Government immediately lodged appropriate amendments to the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill, and I wrote to the UK Government to encourage it to amend its own legislation. In my letter, I also asked for an urgent meeting to discuss the collaborative action that is needed. I called on the UK Government to act by working on carbon capture, use and storage deployment; decarbonising the gas grid; redesigning vehicle and tax incentives to support zero emissions and sustainable transport choices; committing to adherence to future EU emission standards; reducing VAT on energy efficiency improvements in homes; and ensuring continued support for the renewables industry. I received a response yesterday, which was welcome, but, unlike the UK Government, I think that the issue is too important to discuss simply in the margins of a meeting on Brexit.

The response also fails to offer substantial updates on the specific areas of reserved policy action that I raised. I would have hoped that, now that UK Government ministers have finally decided to amend the legislation, they would be prepared to meet as a priority to discuss how reserved levers can be applied to achieve net zero emissions in Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Delivering the transformative change that is associated with more ambitious targets means ramping up our own action, too. I have previously confirmed that climate change will be at the core of our next programme for government and spending review, and we will update the climate change plan within six months of the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill receiving royal assent.

In my statement to Parliament last month, I outlined the specific steps that we had taken to strengthen our response since receiving the Committee on Climate Change advice, such as new and ambitious action on deposit return, agriculture and renewables and a change in our policy on air departure tax. That will continue as all cabinet secretaries look across the full range of policy areas to identify where we can go further, faster.

While Scotland is demonstrating strong leadership and making strong progress, to achieve the transformative changes that are needed in response to the global climate emergency requires us as a country to go further, faster. That will be hard, and there will be risks and challenges to overcome. However, there will also be tremendous opportunities, not only in reducing emissions but in growing and diversifying our economy, improving the wellbeing of our people and protecting and enhancing our natural environment. When the First Minister declared that there is a global climate emergency, she said:

“Scotland will live up to our responsibility to tackle it.”

That is exactly what we will do.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The cabinet secretary will now take questions on the issues that were raised in her statement. I intend to allow 20 minutes for that.

Maurice Golden (West Scotland) (Con)

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

There is much to welcome today in the fight against climate breakdown. The UK Government has announced that the UK will be the first major country on earth to commit to net zero emissions, which is a game-changing decision that challenges the rest of the world to follow our lead.

In Scotland, we welcome the news that source emissions have declined. Unfortunately, when we factor in the EU emissions trading scheme, Scotland’s emissions have increased by 3.7 per cent. A large part of the reason is that little has been done to tackle domestic transport emissions, which increased in the latest round of figures. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the time has come for this Government to replace words with action and mandate that public procurement defaults to electric vehicles where possible?

Roseanna Cunningham

I thank Maurice Golden for the welcome for a significant part of the figures that have been published. I would want to say, as he might expect, that I think that Scotland is a major country and that, while the UK seeks to reach net zero emissions by 2050, Scotland doing so by 2045 puts us in the vanguard.

I also caution the member on the point about the EU ETS. In a sense, they are notional emissions. The number of permits has been increased and Scotland is presumed to have taken up a percentage, but in fact we have not done that. The reality is that that aspect of emissions is presumed, or assumed. That is why we are moving to look straightforwardly at actual emissions.

The member mentioned transport, which I have acknowledged is a serious challenge. It is not a challenge that is unique to Scotland, but one that most countries are having to face, and some are managing to do so better than others. I think that we all recognise that the work that is happening in Norway is first class, but of course, Norway is able to look right across the range of policy levers, which allows it to make some of the decisions that it is making on electric vehicles. I hope that the member will add his voice to mine in asking the Westminster Government to think seriously about that. He asked about public procurement in particular. He knows that there are issues around that that are not simple and straightforward, but he also knows that, where we are able to do things, we will do them.

Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab)

As the cabinet secretary says, we face a climate emergency. Some of the sectoral emissions figures are uncomfortable and they are a stark reminder that we have significant challenges in meeting our net zero target. However, we know that it is possible with concerted and urgent policy action and Scottish Labour commits to making sure, along with members from across the chamber, that the reassessment of the climate change plan will be held to the highest standards.

It is completely unacceptable that transport emissions are rising year on year, yet the Government has blocked Scottish Labour amendments to the Transport (Scotland) Bill that would strengthen the low-emission zone proposals. Can the cabinet secretary explain that Cabinet contradiction?

Will the cabinet secretary meet me to discuss my amendments to set the just transition commission in statute in the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill, to ensure that affected workers and communities are supported in a fair way throughout the shift to net zero?

Roseanna Cunningham

I am aware that vigorous discussion is going on in connection with the Transport (Scotland) Bill but, as the member is aware, I am not absolutely directly involved in that. Although I have frequent conversations with the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, at the end of the day, he will make the decisions that he considers to be right.

I am always available to speak to the member about just transition or any other subject. She knows that we have undertaken to look again at how we might go some way towards meeting what she wants. If she wishes a formal meeting, I am happy to oblige.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We move to questions. Concise questions and answers will allow everyone to make their contribution.

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

The statement attempts to explain a missed climate target and restates existing climate policies, but, under section 36 of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, when the Government misses targets, it is required to lay a report that sets out policies that will compensate. When can the Parliament expect that report, and will it cover public transport, which is missing from the statement?

Roseanna Cunningham

Once again, I am being asked about a transport aspect, about which I am not 100 per cent certain. I am aware of the member’s particular interest in section 36 of the 2009 act, and I undertake to have a conversation with him separately about that.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

As the cabinet secretary acknowledged, transport is the largest source of net emissions. Yesterday’s figures confirmed that emissions from international aviation have increased by 181 per cent since 1990, yet the Government stubbornly continues its support for the Heathrow expansion. Will the cabinet secretary now accept that that position is incompatible with the climate emergency? Will she support my amendments to the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill that aim to ensure that the added impact of emissions at high altitudes is properly taken into account?

Roseanna Cunningham

Of course, Scotland already includes a share of international aviation and shipping emissions in its reporting, unlike virtually every other country that reports on emissions. I understand that the Welsh Government has now decided to include those emissions, although I may be wrong about that. The member rightly draws attention to aviation increases, but Scotland is not alone in that regard. Aviation emissions have increased fairly rapidly in a large number of countries, and that needs to be worked on. However, by including a fair share of international aviation and shipping emissions in its reporting, Scotland is being much more transparent on the issue.

I am not aware of the amendments that Liam McArthur has lodged to the bill, but, as always, I am happy to discuss those with him. It needs to be said, however, that good international connectivity is vital for Scotland’s economic prosperity, so a real balancing act has to be brought into play. The CCC advises that net zero emissions can be achieved by 2045 with emissions from international aviation and agriculture being offset through carbon sinks, so there is work to be done on that.

Tom Arthur (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)

It is very welcome that the UK Government has finally followed Scotland’s lead and acted on the advice of the Committee on Climate Change to adopt a net zero emissions target date. Does the cabinet secretary agree, however, that, given that the CCC was clear on the need for action in reserved areas to meet our 2045 target, there is now an urgent need for the UK Government to engage seriously with the Scottish Government?

Roseanna Cunningham

The CCC made it clear that achieving our ambitions is contingent on UK-wide policies ramping up significantly. That is critical. I wrote to the UK Government on 2 May and again on 20 May, requesting an urgent meeting. We have not yet been able to organise that meeting, but we need to discuss the collaborative action that is needed. Although many levers are still reserved, the UK Government has an essential role to play in decarbonising Scotland, and it needs to accept that responsibility. Given the climate emergency, it is crucial that meaningful engagement takes place as a matter of urgency, and I hope to ensure that it does.

John Scott (Ayr) (Con)

I declare an interest as a farmer. I welcome the cabinet secretary’s acknowledgement of the contribution that farmers, crofters and land managers have made since 1990 and during 2017, but what additional support can she and the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, Fergus Ewing, give to agriculture in financial terms and by using whole-farm measurements to recognise individual farmers’ contributions to reducing emissions through peatland restoration, afforestation and decarbonised energy production on their land?

Roseanna Cunningham

That question contained an awful lot of detail. The member will understand that the range of issues that he has raised makes it difficult to answer it in a short space of time.

I would be among the first to recognise the contribution that farmers make, but the way in which the statistics are compiled makes it impossible to reflect that in the stats in the way that they want. Of course, we are not in control of that process and, until that changes, we are not able to address that. I am absolutely of the view, and I believe strongly, that we should understand and find a mechanism by which to reflect the real work that is done across the range of sectors, including forestry and energy—indeed, energy was one of the areas that the member missed out—in which farmers are significantly contributing to emissions reduction without being recognised for it. That is a very important point.

The member will be well aware that, while the current Brexit discussion is going on, there is simply no clarity around future economic support. I think that I have said to the member before that it would be very helpful if the shared prosperity fund, which the current Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has referred to, was fleshed out a bit more to become something other than simply a phrase of three words.

Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

A target that has previously been touched on is the phasing out of new petrol and diesel cars by 2032. For many drivers, the cost of purchasing an electric car will be prohibitive. Can the cabinet secretary outline what she thinks needs to be done to make that a realistic proposition for people?

Roseanna Cunningham

We recognise that higher up-front costs can be a barrier to consumers and businesses that are thinking of making the switch to an electric vehicle and that many of the vehicles that are currently available are in the premium vehicle class. However, that will change over the next few years as the market develops and as technology changes.

To support the take-up of electric vehicles right now, our low-carbon transport loan fund offers interest-free loans for individuals and business. In 2018 we increased that fund from £8 million to £20 million, enabling more consumers and businesses to make the switch. We have also put in place our plugged-in households fund, which is helping housing associations to improve access to electric vehicles. Through our funding and with the work of local authorities, Scottish electric vehicle owners also benefit from one of Europe’s most comprehensive EV charging networks, ChargePlace Scotland.

If what I saw this morning regarding Glasgow City Council’s plans comes to fruition, some remarkable advances will be made, the evidence of which will be clear for all to see before the end of the year.

Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

Waste management emissions increased by 2.6 per cent in 2016-17, which is disappointing given the efforts of the Scottish Government, local government and, indeed, the private sector. Can the cabinet secretary shed light on the reasons for that increase?

Roseanna Cunningham

As the member would expect, on receipt of such statistics, we look very closely and carefully at what might lie behind them. Sometimes it is a fairly straightforward issue and sometimes it is not. I, too, was disappointed. Food waste easily converts to carbon emissions and is one of those linkages that people do not quite understand. I suspect that a fair bit of the increase lies there, which is one of the reasons why we are trying to drive down food waste. That will have a very significant positive impact on climate change emissions.

The work to look behind those statistics is now on-going, and I hope that the member will continue to take an interest in waste. We hope—I certainly do—that the introduction of a deposit return scheme will also make a big difference.

Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

As the cabinet secretary mentioned, the Committee on Climate Change focused on Scotland’s capacity for carbon sinks to help us to meet our ambitious net zero emissions target. Will she expand on that?

Roseanna Cunningham

Carbon sinks and negative emissions solutions will be vital to achieving net zero emissions by 2045. However, some sectors will still be producing emissions then—most notably agriculture and international aviation. Those emissions will have to be offset through negative emissions solutions such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage and through what we choose to do with our land—for example, tree planting.

We must capitalise on Scotland’s huge advantage in this area, which the Committee for Climate Change has also spotted—that is why we have been given the target date of 2045 rather than 2050. First, we have large expanses of land that, through different treatment, could sequester rather than release greenhouse gases. I encourage all members to read the report from Vivid Economics that was published earlier this year, which is very optimistic about the potential land-use solutions to climate change. Secondly, the CCC’s analysis indicates that Scotland is capable of supporting up to 33 per cent of all UK bioenergy with carbon capture and storage. Scotland is the best-placed country in Europe to realise that commercial-scale deployment of carbon capture utilisation and storage technology, and we have the potential to repurpose our legacy oil and gas pipeline infrastructure. However, the UK Government is required to act on those matters—I have raised that as a specific issue with my Westminster counterpart.

Alexander Burnett (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)

The cabinet secretary talks about the significance of emissions from housing and is looking to move faster on her target. I note my interest in housing in the register of members’ interests. Will she now follow the will of this Parliament and support an energy performance certificate target of C or lower by 2030?

Roseanna Cunningham

I know that there is fairly vigorous on-going debate on that issue. I remind the member that we have passed the Fuel Poverty (Targets, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill and that we must ensure that the targets that we are achieving are aligned with that and not do anything on housing that will create a bigger fuel poverty problem. It is a complex interchange. We have to be certain that we do not disadvantage groups of people and cause an unjust transition. That is a danger if an unplanned target date that is not particularly well thought through is imposed in an area in which the negative consequences could be quite grave.

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

The cabinet secretary mentioned both transport and buildings in her statement. Sometimes the assumption is that electricity is the answer to everything, but does she think that hydrogen has a part to play—for example, in ferries, in trains and perhaps in the gas network?

Roseanna Cunningham

Hydrogen and fuel cell technology are expected to play a significant role in the mix of drivetrain options for decarbonising the wider Scottish fleet. Paul Wheelhouse advises me that there is to be a policy statement on hydrogen early next year—he is nodding as I say that.

As well as allowing renewable energy to be deployed across the transport, power and heating sectors, hydrogen has particular benefits in heavy-duty transport and intensively used vehicles, which we have already seen in the deployment of hydrogen fuel cell buses in Aberdeen, which are soon to be joined by additional vehicles and a new bus fleet in Dundee.

Other heavy-duty vehicles that use hydrogen fuel, such as refuse collection trucks and street sweepers, have been trialled in Scotland, and we expect to see a wider deployment of them once council and other fleet operators decarbonise their operations on our journey to the net zero carbon target.

The Scottish ministers are keen to support the hydrogen sector to play the role that it can play in reducing emissions, as well as in realising economic benefits for Scotland. This is one of those areas where that is distinctly possible.

Elaine Smith (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I see only one mention of poverty in the statement, but I presume that the cabinet secretary accepts that actions to address rising emissions levels are likely to affect those on the lowest incomes and in more deprived areas the most. Are emissions reduction policies currently being poverty proofed? If not, how and when will they be?

Roseanna Cunningham

We are constantly conscious of that, which is one of the reasons why we set up the just transition commission. We know how dangerous it can be if proposals are brought forward that are not thought through in terms of their impact on groups of people. We will continue to keep that under our eye.

Elaine Smith will have heard the exchange about the interplay between fuel poverty, housing standards and energy efficiency. We must be incredibly careful that we do things in the right way in order to avoid precisely what I know the member is concerned about.

Willie Coffey (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

Does the cabinet secretary think that the UK Government’s decision to carry forward overachievement from the second carbon budget was the right one, given that the unequivocal advice of the Committee on Climate Change in February was that surplus emissions should not be carried forward, as that would not be consistent with the Paris agreement?

Roseanna Cunningham

I wrote to the UK Government in March, saying that the Scottish Government would strongly oppose any carry-forward of emissions to future UK carbon budgets. I have to say that I am disappointed that it has decided to do so anyway. Although I note that the UK Government has said that the carry-over will be used only as a contingency against technical changes to the greenhouse gas inventory, the decision sends the wrong signals at an important time for domestic and international climate action. It is one of the things that I hope I will be able to discuss directly with my UK counterpart.