Civil servants threatened to block publication of a report exposing flaws in the Scottish Executive's attempts to cut the pollution that is wrecking the climate.
Housing, enterprise and transport officials all expressed alarm at the contents of a report commissioned by the previous Executive to identify "policy gaps" on climate change.
Now environmental groups fear that civil servants have also succeeded in watering down a manifesto promise by the Scottish National Party to make mandatory cuts of three per cent a year in greenhouse gas emissions. Last week the Executive faced fierce criticism for announcing targets based only on "average annual reductions over a five year period".
The policy gap report, written by experts from the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Management, was published after more than a year's delay on 30 March. But it was released late on a Friday afternoon in the dying minutes of the last Parliament, prompting accusations that it was being "buried".
Unnoticed by most of the media, the report listed a series of "major gaps and weaknesses" in the policies aimed at combating global warming. Failures on aviation, roads, farming, energy and jobs were all highlighted, along with 35 recommendations for change.
A long series of internal emails reveals that early drafts of the report engendered high anxiety within the Executive. The emails were released to the Sunday Herald last week under freedom of information legislation.
A draft was described by Gavin Peart from the Scottish Building Standards Agency as "unbalanced and lacking quality". Unless it was changed, he said, "we would strongly advise against publication".
An official from the enterprise networks division, Elisabeth Stark, said she would be "extremely unhappy" if changes were not made. Transport officials complained that some of the report's assertions were unjustified and "throwaway".
In January this year, one official said that the report had been "stalled" because of opposition from colleagues in the housing division. "Taking forward the publication of this report has been a real hassle," commented another.
There was particular concern about the negative publicity the report could provoke, and much agonising over how to respond. "The positive story to accompany publication is not immediately obvious to me yet!" wrote a senior official.
There was even a suggestion that payment was being withheld until changes required by the Executive were made. "We are currently holding back 20% of the contract costs," said a climate change official in February 2006.
Dan Barlow, head of policy at WWF Scotland, pointed out that the report had been an important component of the battle to tackle climate change. "We are disappointed at what appears to be a deliberate obstruction from certain parts of the Executive towards the release of this report," he said.
"We are concerned that the SNP decision to abandon a clear manifesto commitment to mandatory annual emissions targets may in part have been influenced by the attitude of sections of the Executive."
According to the Green MSP Patrick Harvie, tackling global warming would require profound economic and political change. "It won't be cheap, it won't be easy," he said.
"Civil servants' apparent attempts to block an honest assessment on climate change, and Ministers' decision to ditch the commitment to annual emissions targets, both tell us one thing. Those in government are yet to come to terms with the scale of the challenge."
The main author of the climate change report, Richard Tipper from the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Management, agreed that its publication "was strung out over a long time". But he did not think that this amounted to "burying".
Officials responsible for energy efficiency had had "valid concerns", Tipper said. And the report had been fully paid for, though there was a delay due to "miscommunication", he added.
The Scottish Executive also denied that the report had been buried. "We strongly refute any accusation that we pressurise research contractors into altering research findings," said an Executive spokesman.
"It is normal contract management practice for draft research reports to undergo a quality review process and for us to enter into constructive dialogue with research contractors during the review process."
Read an earlier story about the 'buried' climate change report here.