Attempts by ministers to cut the pollution that is wrecking the climate are shot full of gaping holes, according to an expert assessment for the Scottish Executive.
A damning report released in the dying minutes of the Scottish Parliament on Friday exposes a long list of "major gaps and weaknesses" in the policies aimed at combating global warming.
Failures on aviation, roads, farming, energy and jobs are all highlighted in the report, which makes 35 major recommendations for change. It also takes ministers to task for failing to control pollution from the public sector.
The report's conclusions - and the long delay in publishing it - have provoked a furious reaction from environmentalists. Ministers have been accused of trying to "bury" bad news, and of preventing parliamentary scrutiny of their policies.
Experts at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Management were commissioned by ministers in early 2005 to assess "policy gaps" in measures to combat climate change. Their report was originally meant to have been published at the same time as the revamped climate change programme in March 2006.
But the Executive, concerned about the content of the report, asked for it to be redrafted. Although the redraft was completed on 17 July 2006, it wasn't published until more than eight months later at 4.26 on Friday afternoon (see timeline below).
The 80-page report is one of the most comprehensive, and most critical, ever produced on climate change policy in Scotland. It is bound to be seized upon by opposition parties keen to undermine the environmental record of the ruling Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition in the forthcoming election campaign.
"It's no wonder the Executive have spent months trying to bury this report because it points to the very failures Greens have been levelling at ministers for the last four years," the Green Party's election campaign director, Mark Ruskell, said yesterday.
"With emissions from transport and energy going up not down, it's clear that there is a contradictory and confused approach coming from the LibDems and Labour which will make tackling climate change impossible if they are allowed to continue."
The report highlights air travel as one of the major gaps in policy. "Emissions are rising fast," it says. "There are currently no mechanisms governing the combustion of aviation fuels."
Road and rail policies also come under fire for failing to consider pollution. "None of the environmental impact considerations found on the Transport Scotland website for major road developments mentioned greenhouse gas implications," the report says. "There is no evidence that rail service improvements have taken into consideration the potential for shifting passengers from air to rail."
The biggest policy gap identified is the failure to reduce pollution from land use like farming and forestry, which make up a fifth of Scotland's emissions. This has been "largely overlooked", the report says, with only "very limited" measures applied.
The report is particularly scathing about the problems ministers have had with policies to promote renewable energy and other low-carbon technologies. There's been a "relatively poor track record on implementing successful pilot projects", it warns.
The Executive has also suffered from a "lack of joined-up thinking between government agencies and industrial sectors" and a "poor understanding of the specific technologies and areas where Scotland can develop real competitive advantage and international reputation."
Measures to support the use of wood to produce heat have been "weak". And the use of low-carbon materials in construction and manufacturing has not been encouraged.
Efforts to save energy in homes are another "obvious gap", according to the report. "The domestic sector has not engaged fully enough in the reduction of greenhouse gases through voluntary or mandatory mechanisms," it concludes.
The Executive's much-vaunted 'Green jobs strategy' is also lambasted as inadequate. It suffers from "the lack of a structured and systematic assessment of the potential for economic growth in areas of low carbon technology", the report says.
Even the polluting emissions caused by the activities of the Executive and the rest of the public sector come in for criticism. "There is a need for the Scottish Executive to not only lead by example in the control of greenhouse gases but also to provide an overarching strategy," the report says.
A second report by the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Management, also put out late on Friday, provides the first comprehensive assessment of all the Executive's greenhouse gas emissions (see table below). It shows that two of the most polluting activities of civil servants are their heavy use of cars and short-haul flights.
THE POLLUTION THE EXECUTIVE PRODUCES
Scottish Executive activity / carbon dioxide emissions per year (tonnes) / proportion of total CO2 emissions
Commuting by car / 3,025 / 35%
Gas heating / 1,455 / 17%
Short-haul flights / 878 / 10%
Executive vehicles / 747 / 9%
Commuting by train / 725 / 8%
Commuting by bus / 360 / 4%
Other / 1,435/ 17%
TOTAL / 8,625 / 100%
source: Scottish Executive
The report concludes: "The Scottish Executive should encourage its employees to travel by train as opposed to by plane when on business, as this would lead to substantial emissions reductions."
Duncan McLaren, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, pointed out that the threat of climate chaos demanded rapid and dramatic cuts in pollution. "For these reports to sit unpublished for months on end is a sad indictment of the Executive's failure to treat the issue with all the urgency it requires," he said.
"That they were finally published late on the day Parliament was dissolved for the election compounds the matter - in effect avoiding proper parliamentary scrutiny of the policy failings they identify."
Although progress had been made in some areas, there were still "fundamental failings" on transport and energy, McLaren argued. "In some areas the policy gap has widened, with recent commitments to cutting bridge tolls just the latest signal that transport's contribution to damaging emissions will continue to grow."
He was backed by Dr Richard Dixon, director of WWF Scotland in Dunkeld. He suggested that the report on policy gaps had been "sat on" because of the failings it exposed on aviation, agriculture and jobs.
According to Dixon, the second report on the Executive's own emissions showed that officials seemed to have problems getting to work without cars. "The report also highlights the excessive use of short-haul flights by civil servants, which the Sunday Herald has already so effectively raised up the political agenda," he said.
The Scottish Executive pointed out that the policy gap analysis made it clear that the feasibility, scope and timing of its suggestions would need more detailed examination. "Much of this detailed work was carried out in developing Scotland’s Climate Change Programme," said an Executive spokesman.
"Many of the recommendations in the study were addressed in the programme whilst others are being taken forward or considered as we implement the programme."
The reports had been published so late on Friday "because of delays in getting them uploaded on to the web", the spokesman suggested. "We regret the delay in publishing the research but other work – including delivering the programme and working on the UK Climate Change Bill - has taken priority."
THE REPORT THEY TRIED TO BURY
Early 2005: report commissioned by Scottish Executive
November 2005: publication first expected
March 2006: plan to publish with climate change programme
April 2006: "in the final stages of development and will be published shortly," says Executive.
June 2006: redraft underway at Executive's request
July 2006: revised version completed
November 2006: still not available, says Executive
14 March 2007: "No firm indication on timing" says Executive
14 March 2007: Sunday Herald submits request under Freedom of Information Act
16.26 30 March 2007: 80-page report released, along with three others, in the dying minutes of the second session of the Scottish Parliament
WHAT THE REPORT SAYS IN SUMMARY
The report exposes a series of "gaps and weaknesses" in the Executive's policies to combat climate change:
Flying: "a major gap in the control of greenhouse gases"
Road transport: "lack of clarity" and "lack of consideration" of the impact of developments
Farming and forestry: "largely overlooked" and "a very significant gap in the current climate change programme"
Green jobs strategy: "lack of a structured and systematic assessment"
Renewable energy: "poor track record" on pilot projects, "lack of joined-up thinking" and "poor understanding"
Renewable heat from wood: "supporting policy measures are still weak"
Energy efficiency in homes: "Obvious gap" because domestic sector "not engaged fully enough"
Low-carbon materials: failure to promote their use in construction and manufacturing
Executive's own pollution: "significant gap that needs to be addressed"
source: Scottish Executive