Even if ministers adopt all the measures they have currently proposed to cut carbon emissions, Scotland will still fall eight million tonnes short of the target reduction mandated by parliament for 2027.
The revelation, which comes as Scotland seeks to promote its “world-leading” climate targets on the world stage, has been greeted as “potentially disastrous” by environmentalists. They are demanding a “step change” in policy.
Next weekend the Scottish environment minister, Paul Wheelhouse MSP, is flying to Doha in Qatar for crucial international talks on combating climate change. Before he goes he is due to give a speech in Edinburgh about Scotland’s efforts to boost global “climate justice”, in place of the First Minister, Alex Salmond, who had to pull out for a funeral.
Yesterday, Wheelhouse pointed out that in the past Scotland had cut carbon emissions more than most other countries in the European Union. Between 1990 and 2010, Scottish emissions fell by 22.8%, compared to an average of 14.3% for 27 member states.
But an official presentation posted online last week from the Scottish government’s director of energy and climate change, David Wilson, exposes a large gap between Scotland’s planned and legally required carbon reductions. “We have some way to travel to close the gap,” he said.
A graph shows a gap opening up between polluting “business as usual” and the statutory reduction target of about 18m tonnes by 2027. If the Scottish government sticks to the policies it has already agreed, the gap decreases to about 13m tonnes.
If ministers adopt all the other pollution reduction policies that have so far been officially proposed, the gap comes down to eight million tonnes. But even in this scenario, the graph suggests that every annual target from 2014 onwards will be missed.
“Some of the scenarios we have been developing just show quite how difficult it is,” said Wilson. “The longer you go out, the more and more challenging it gets.”
Dr Richard Dixon, director of WWF Scotland, called on ministers to deliver a new package of measures to cut carbon pollution. “The news that the plans so far won't hit most of the targets in the next decade, and miss by a mile in the 2020s, is potentially disastrous,” he said.
“Scotland needs to be that beacon of hope that shows that world-leading targets are achievable. If the world fails to cut climate emissions, the storms, floods and droughts of catastrophic climate change will threaten global devastation.”
The Scottish government has delayed publishing a long-awaited report on the policies and proposals for cutting climate pollution until the new year. “The final plan must be a clear and credible package that acts on the advice of the government’s own official advisors to deliver a step change in policy effort,” said Dixon.
Some of the worst pollution comes from cars. “There is no prospect of the government meeting its climate targets unless it takes action to cut transport emissions,” said Colin Howden, the director of the transport campaign group, Transform Scotland.
“Unfortunately Alex Salmond's government appears entirely wedded to making things worse. The roads budget has risen by 40% in the past five years while the funds available for investment in sustainable transport has remained flat.”
Labour’s environment spokeswoman, Claire Baker MSP, was astonished by the Scottish government’s prediction. “This admission shows that their rhetoric is far from reality,” she said.
“This highlights the increasing incompetence of the Scottish government when it comes to environmental matters. I will be raising the issue at the earliest opportunity in parliament.”
The Scottish government has already admitted to missing the first annual climate target in 2010, though it is hoping to meet the targets for 2011 and 2012. “Scotland has world-leading climate change legislation, and we are half way to meeting our target of a 42 per cent cut in emissions by 2020,” Wheelhouse told the Sunday Herald.
“But we are not complacent and are very clear about the scale of the challenge ahead and we are taking action to deliver the emissions reductions within our powers.”
Wilson’s graph was designed to show the challenges ahead, and had been widely shared with stakeholders, Wheelhouse said. A new report on the proposals and policies that would help cut climate pollution, previously promised before Christmas, would not now be published until “early in the new year”.
At the Doha climate summit next week the minister promised to press for tougher action to cut emissions. “I hope that other countries will be encouraged to match Scotland’s level of ambition,” he said.
The fact that Scotland had reduced emissions in the past two decades more than most other countries in Europe, including Germany, Denmark and England, was “testament to our level of ambition and the work that has been undertaken so far,” Wheelhouse argued.
“This shows exactly what can be achieved with strong political commitment, ground breaking legislation and a comprehensive framework for action. Our commitment to Scotland's low carbon future has provided certainty and is delivering jobs and investment across Scotland.”
Three major reports last week flagged up the worldwide dangers of global warming in the run up to the Doha climate summit. The World Meteorological Organisation said that greenhouse gases had reached a record high, the United Nations Environment Programme called for urgent action to avoid disruptive temperature rises and the European Environment Agency warned that southern Europe was getting drier and northern Europe wetter.