5 Ways for the Scottish Government to stop missing climate targets

The INEOS oil refinery at Grangemouth. Grangemouth Refinery today employs over 1300 people over a 700 hectare site. The Forties Pipeline System terminates at the Grangemouth refinery, where the crude oil stabilisation plant is situated. Some crude oil is refined in Grangemouth and the remainder flows via another pipeline to a storage tank area, and onwards to tanker loading terminals in the River Forth downstream of the Forth Bridges. Other crude oil for the refinery is landed at Finnart Ocean terminal on Loch Long, which can receive tankers up to the 324,000 dwt class. The oil is then pumped to the refinery through a 58-mile pipeline system across Scotland. The refinery provides feedstock to an important group of chemical factories on an adjoining site. Scotland, UK 24/2/2015 © COPYRIGHT PHOTO BY MURDO MACLEOD All Rights Reserved Tel + 44 131 669 9659 Mobile +44 7831 504 531 Email:  m@murdophoto.com STANDARD TERMS AND CONDITIONS APPLY  see for details: http://www.murdophoto.com/T%26Cs.html No syndication, no redistrubution, Murdo Macleod's repro fees apply. A22CGMGary Dunion on Scotland’s missed targets.

Taking a lap of honour at the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, Alex Salmond trumpeted his government’s newly-minted Climate Change Act as “the most ambitious climate change legislation in the world.” That description may have been characteristically bombastic but it was not unjustified.

Six years later, SNP ministers continue to parade the Climate Change Act, but their actions have made it a somewhat tattered banner. The government has failed to meet every one of its “legally binding” annual targets in the four years since the legislation, with no apparent judicial repercussions.

With it becoming ever-more apparent that the UK Government is determined to do all it can to wreck our hopes for a liveable climate, the Scottish Government will need to think and act much more decisively if it is to turn around its record of failure.

To that end, here are 5 ways for the Scottish Government to stop missing climate targets:

1. Ban Fracking

The SNP has won a lot of plaudits for its moratorium on unconventional oil and gas extraction, but it is only a temporary measure pending a “public consultation” and a “public health assessment”. Industry sources seem confident that, notwithstanding the delay, they will bring fracking and other unconventional extraction to Scotland.

Currently-explored oil and gas reserves add up to much more than is required to thoroughly cook the planet. We can’t even burn what we already have, so there’s clearly no need to discover any more.

The Scottish Government could put a lot of worried minds at rest, particularly in Falkirk and Lanarkshire, and send a clear signal about the future of energy. They should scrap the festival of lobbying that is their planned ‘assessment’, and announce an immediate and permanent ban on unconventional oil and gas.

2. Cancel the Airline Tax Giveaway

One of the SNP priorities in the Smith Commission discussions was the devolution of the power to cut Air Passenger Duty, the tax that’s applied to every plane ticket, by 50%.

The cost of this handout will be borne by everyone either in raises taxes elsewhere or in cuts, while the benefits go to those who fly most often. It would increase greenhouse gas emissions by 60,000 tonnes per year.

Airlines already enjoy tax-free fuel; they don’t need another tax giveaway. The Scottish Government should cancel its APD cut or, better still, replace APD with a landing charge so half-empty planes don’t dodge tax and airlines are encouraged to run fewer but fuller flights.

3. Insulate Everything

The announcement this month that retrofitting buildings to improve energy efficiency will be a ‘national infrastructure priority’ is very welcome. Insulation programmes cut carbon, cut bills, improve health, and create skilled jobs and training opportunities.

But we haven’t had the detail of the scheme yet and it needs to be big. Really big.

WWF Scotland calculated that meeting the Scottish Government’s target of 36% emission reductions from the housing sector by 2020 will take £4.6bn. Meeting their commitment to eradicate fuel poverty increases the required investment to £6.3bn.

The good news is that retrofitting is exactly the sort of high-return public works project our economy needs. It will pay for itself: according to the IPPR, £1 spent on retrofitting returns a £3 increase in GDP.

That means that the Scottish Government can and should use the new borrowing powers that are on their way, and release local authorities to use existing borrowing powers, to meet this urgent need for investment.

4. End Car Culture

This government has shown a remarkable enthusiasm for building as many roads as humanly possible. They’ve greenlit billions of pounds in roadbuilding including the Aberdeen Peripheral, dualling the A9, and new motorways from Baillieston to Newhouse and across the Forth, among many other schemes.

Decades of experience have shown that new roads generate new traffic. We need to be bringing the age of the car to a close, and developing a transport system that is offers more efficient, accessible, affordable and socially-inclusive travel without the environmental cost. Instead we are pursuing an infrastructure policy based on locking in the dominance of the private car for at least another generation.

The Scottish Government should cancel its planned road building except for safety improvements, and put the money into public transport, cycling and walking. The huge roads budget could fund dramatic transformations like reopening long-lost railway lines, extending free public transport for young people to delay car-buying decisions, increasing public transport frequency in car-dependent rural areas, and making cycling as safe and easy in Coatbridge and Aberdeen as in Copenhagen or Amsterdam.

5. Stop Putting Big Oil First

Despite the cast-iron knowledge that we cannot burn all of our oil reserves (and if we do, they will run out), we have no credible strategy for transitioning the Scottish economy from fossil fuels to renewables. Instead the Scottish Government repeatedly puts the short-term needs of oil companies first.

They have lobbied at the very highest level for UK subsidies and tax breaks for oil and gas corporations, contributing to the $10m of Big Oil handouts the world’s governments make every minute (more than they spend on healthcare). When Jim “JR” Ratcliffe threatened to take Ineos out of Grangemouth, the Scottish Government scrambled to lavish grants and low-cost loans on the firm. A year later, the government stood by while innovative Scottish wave power firms Pelamis and Aquamarine went to the wall.

A new Energy Jobs Taskforce has been established, with an “initial focus on oil and gas”. That “initial focus” includes subsidies for the re-employment of apprentices that have been laid off – subsidies that are only available to oil and gas companies.

If we play our cards right, Scotland’s natural gifts in renewable energy could dwarf the discovery of North Sea Oil. But if the Scottish Government persist in putting the energy of the past ahead of the energy of the future, we will miss out.

Placating rapacious oil corporations who we know can’t offer us a long-term energy future is merely denying the inevitable. The government need to offer a clear plan for how and when we’re going to proactively redeploy the immense skill and experience of our oil workers and universities to make the switch from fossil fuels to clean energy.

In energy, as in everything else, the Scottish Government has to recognise that the free market has proven itself incapable of addressing the catastrophe of climate change, and as such a strategy based on trimming and nudging the status quo cannot succeed.

To meet the great challenges our country faces, from climate change to inequality, only bold, decisive, transformational leadership will do.

Comments (31)

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  1. Kenny Smith says:

    I totally agree with a lot that is said on here and think it is well presented. I understand that when it comes to time we may not have as much as we would like to move over completely to the steps above but I think there has to be a realisation that these moves do take longer. I am glad that at least they are trying and I hope there is a big Green presence in Holyrood to keep focus on these important issues. I must admit I agree with the ban on fracking but we should try and support the oil and gas industry for now, that doesn’t mean blowing smoke up Ratcliffe’s arse though.

  2. Stuart Vallis says:

    I don’t think it has been proved that energy efficiency programs actually reduce consumption, there are indirect and direct effects of efficiency which may completely use up the environmental benefits. Energy efficiency is of course good for the economy, against fuel poverty etc and something that i agree needs to be done, but it would not be correct to say that it will help Scotland meet emission targets. Countries that have much more stringent energy efficiency regulations still show increases in energy consumption. This is a discussion that has been going on since Stanley Jevons published his “The coal question” in 1865 “It is wholly a confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuel is equivalent to a diminished consumption. The very contrary is the truth.”
    I would put the emphasis on substitution (e.g. heat pumps for building heating instead of gas, electrical cars). These replacements then need more clean electrical energy, so the governments “enough for now” comment as regards onshore wind is pretty daft.

  3. Fearchar says:

    Anyone advocating “increasing public transport frequency in car-dependent rural areas” is clearly out of touch with the rural environment. The reality is that we have vast stretches of countryside that will never have anything more than marginal service from public transport.

    If we want to be guided by generalisations such as “Decades of experience have shown that new roads generate new traffic” (without any data or references to back up the assertion), then we could equally validly add: “Improving access to main roads and lowering journey times saves lives as well as cutting back on fuel consumption.”

    Similarly, in relation to air travel, a publicly funded airbus network would be of great benefit to our travel and transport. It might even cut carbon output, as the fuel consumption for a 100-mile journey by plane is lower than that for travel by road.

    In short, there is a reason why Green Party support is largely urban-based, and this article suggests why.

    1. Anton says:

      Fearchar – You cast doubt on Gary Dunion’s assertion that “Decades of experience have shown that new roads generate new traffic” by noting that he doesn’t provide “any data or references to back up the assertion”.

      Let me correct that omission by pointing you towards the SACTRA report ‘Trunk Roads and the Generation of Traffic’; to the 2006 report ‘Beyond Transport Infrastructure’ by independent consultants for the Countryside Agency and CPRE; to the Downs-Thomson Paradox, The Pigou-Knight-Downs Paradox or the Lewis-Mogridge Position; and to research by Matthew Turner of the University of Toronto and Gilles Duranton of the University of Pennsylvania. And that’s just for starters.

      In return, perhaps you could point to similar research data in support of your claim to the contrary that “improving access to main roads and lowering journey times saves lives as well as cutting back on fuel consumption.”

      1. Sam Mitchell says:

        OK… I stay in a rural backwater…. D & G….not through choice… we have a CRAP road A 75…. we have a railway line which runs nowhere near our village…. our nearest supermarket involves a round trip of 35 miles… however the landowners in this area receive MASSIVE subsidies… new subsidised factory sized buildings to accommodate larger & larger amounts of cattle who produce methane that heavily contributes to the omissions problem… & yet you seem to be suggesting that because our vehicle produces an infinitesimal amount of pollutant… then we have to bear the brunt of your diatribe…. Over & above …those of our neighbours who can afford to FLY are put in the position of travelling by ..car… to airports in England in order to catch a flight… so… I am concerned about the climate change situation…. but your solutions fall FAR short of reason. & in case you think I am being negative…. why not push for every roof in Scotland that can hold solar panels to be given this non subsidised green energy chance… as this is a seriously wasted asset…
        Last part….. I NEED to use the A 75… there is NO substitute… a most dangerous road …. which not only inhibits development… it keeps this area in the backward tourist driven economy that means our most able gifted academic children have to leave for employment to more forward thinking pastures… & this means our villages are slowly dying by turning the housing stock into holiday homes which once again benefit the mostly incomer few….. BUT… is it your suggestion that we stay this way… NO improvements ..upgrading with added safety rather than the tarred drovers track we use now?…

        1. I don’t think that’s what Gary is suggesting at all. Moving away from a car economy does not mean nobody using cars. Clearly people in rural Scotland need a host of improved transport links and cars will be probably always be part of this.

  4. Peter A Bell says:

    I have two problems with this article. The first may be dismissed as mere semantics, but since perception is crucial in politics I feel it is important. The Scottish Government SHOULD be missing its emissions reduction targets. By rights, it will ALWAYS miss those targets. It is not the targets themselves which matter but the striving to meet them. The targets should always be just out of reach. And if the government ever comes close, the targets should be moved.

    The use of the word “target” here is unfortunate, because people naturally think of a target as something which should be hit. It creates an entirely inappropriate dichotomy in which there is either a hit, or a miss – either total success, or complete failure. Rather than describing it as a “target” it would be better to speak in terms of “objectives”, and measure progress towards those objectives. Success breeds success. Nothing is better designed to induce apathy and antipathy towards the whole climate change debate than constant talk of failure.

    The second problem I have with the article is the failure to to recognise that the Scottish Government, like any other government, is required to balance a multitude of interests. They do not enjoy the luxury of being able to focus entirely on a single issue, as Gary Dunion does. As they strive to hit those targets – or work towards those objectives – they have to take account of the implications for the wider economy and for particular groups within society.

    When it comes to the issue of climate change, words like “action” and “commitment” are undoubtedly important. But so to are terms such as “pragmatism” and “compromise”.

  5. Thanks for the comment Peter. But the targets aren’t some abstract thing, they are enshrined in the legislation because there was cross-party support for efforts to tackle the most pressing crisis we face.

    “The Act sets in statute the Government Economic Strategy target to reduce Scotland’s emissions of greenhouse gases by 80 per cent by 2050, one of the Sustainability Purpose Targets. This covers the basket of six greenhouse gases recognised by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (see sidebar), and includes Scotland’s share of emissions from international aviation and international shipping.

    The Act also establishes an interim target for 2020 of at least 42 per cent reductions in emissions.”

    Further, as the author suggests, the Scottish Government have on various occasions been very happy to extol these targets as something too be very proud of. They have – on the international stage – been explicit about boasting about these targets. For you now to say ‘these targets should be missed’ is just bizarre.

    We have had ‘pragmatism’ and ‘compromise’ in the environment for decades, to disastrous effect.

    Wouldn’t it be good to hear legitimate well constructed criticism of the Scottish Government welcomed from even its most ardent supporters? The ‘you can do no wrong’ approach is depressingly simplistic. They have failed to reach the targets year on year for four years. They set the targets, they wrote the legislation.

    1. Gary Dunion says:

      In a sense Peter is right that the word “targets” might be misleading, but for the exact opposite reason from the one he proposes. “Targets” might encourage people to think of these figures as ambitious stretch aspirations, never intended to be met. But in fact the legislation is quite clear that they are legal obligations, which might be a more accurate name for them. The law requires the government to meet these targets, and they are breaking the law by failing to do so.

      I don’t accept that I “focus entirely on a single issue”. Clearly this is an article about climate change – that is what I was invited to write – and unless you want to read tens of thousands of words it could not catalogue my views on every other subject. But I would hope even from this post alone you would be able to tell that I insist upon an approach to emissions reduction that also serves the ends of economic security, reduced inequality and social inclusion. Climate change is itself an attack by the rich on the lives and common property of everyone else – it would be intolerable to propose more of the same as a solution.

      1. Peter A Bell says:

        I missed form my earlier comment a point that I had intended to make. Namely, that if the Scottish Government made a mistake at all it was to make a legal obligation out of aspirational target. Strip away the inappropriate legal obligation and these targets can be seen for the aspirational objectives that they really are. The legal obligation purports to change the nature of the targets, but it cannot.

        I’m not sure where I proposed “more of the same as a solution”. Put that straw man away. It is just as tiresome as the one where even the most tenuous and conditional defence of the Scottish Government is portrayed as a “they can do no wrong approach”.

        1. I’m not sure how you retrospectively saying it was a mistake to make these targets legally binding makes any difference Peter. It won’t magic them away. They made commitments they’ve failed to match year on year. It’s really not very complicated.

          1. Peter A Bell says:

            Who’s being “simplistic” now?

            I am not denying the existence of these legal obligations. I am simply pointing out that, regardless of how stringent they might be, no legal obligations could ever change the essential nature of targets as a measure of failure. Particularly in a political environment where a powerful propaganda machine is looking for anything that might be spun into a stick with which to beat the hated SNP.

            Allow me to point out that the “they can do no wrong” approach of which you accuse me – with no justification whatever – is no less wrong-headed than a “they can do nothing but wrong” approach. There is an unfortunate tendency in certain quarters to run with any criticism of the Scottish Government as some kind of proof of some kind of credentials. Mindless condemnation of the SNP administration is no more constructive than uncritical support. If the Scottish Government is open to challenge then so too are those doing the challenging.

            Let me break it down for you. Regardless of any legalities, the effort to engage the public on the issue of climate change will take a great leap forward the day we see headlines proclaiming failure to meet targets that nobody comprehends or cares about replaced by headlines celebrating significant progress towards objectives that anybody can understand and be directly, personally concerned about.

  6. Fearchar – why will we always ‘have vast stretches of countryside that will never have anything more than marginal service from public transport’?

  7. deewal says:

    SNP Bad.

      1. Peter A Bell says:

        Has anybody ever suggested otherwise?

      2. punklin says:

        Yes and I agree with all 5 points in this original article. However under point 2, the Scottish Government is bound to weigh up effects, positive and negative, on travel industry and travellers – especially as Scotland is so disadvantaged by BA etc with their London hub/routing to other countries.

        Re the article and the follow-up comments on this thread I look forward to the Greens being the main opposition in Holyrood next year. I say this an active member of the SNP – the SG needs to be held hard to environmental concerns over conventional economics. But I also feel we have to cut the SG some slack in terms of implementation. They -WE! – are so hampered by you-know-who (Wastemonster).

        1. Peter A Bell says:

          As another active member of the SNP I heartily concur with your thoughts regarding having the Greens as the main opposition party. We have not had an opposition worthy of the name since the SNP stepped up to government in 2007. I want an end to the petty point-scoring of the British parties. I want an opposition that focuses on scrutiny and constructive criticism rather than puerile, tribalistic sniping.

          I also agree that we need to cut the current administration some slack. There is a danger that expectations may be too high. Especially as the British parties seek to raise expectations for their own malign purposes. We must bear in mind that this is still only a devolved administration. As the UK Governments announced intentions regarding onshore wind subsidies demonstrates, the best intentions and efforts of the Scottish Government can be thwarted with the stroke of a Westminster pen.

        2. There is nothing stopping the SG meeting its emissions targets. They set them, they boasted about them (quite rightly – they’re great!). Now they / we need to meet them.

          1. Peter A Bell says:

            That is a stunningly stupid statement! To say that there is nothing stopping the Scottish Government meeting its emissions targets is to imply that they are missing them intentionally or through lack of effort. Doubtless you will be deeply offended if anyone asks for evidence to support such a wild conjecture.

            This is NOT the simple matter that you evidently take it to be. So complex, in fact, that many governments are ducking the issue altogether. When I see the abuse that the SNP administration is subject to I can almost sympathise* with those governments which choose to sweep the issue under the carpet.

            * For the benefit of those carping pedants whose knees are even now going into spasm, this is a rhetorical device.

          2. Why are they missing them Peter?

          3. Can you explain what ‘abuse’ we have given this administration by, er, holding them to their own commitments? Would love to hear.

  8. Martina Weitsch says:

    Of course, all these 5 ways of not missing climate targets apply just as much south of the border. Down here we face an additional obstacle: a government that doesn’t actually want to do anything about climate change!

  9. Iain More says:

    Any Govt can legislate all it wants but the rich and affluent will do what the rich and affluent always do and that is shit on those beneath them. Excuse the grammar!

    Drove past my local primary school today in my wee Fiat Panda and was sorely tempted to scratch the eight 4×4 guzzlers parked on either side of the road outside that school. None of the kids have anything further than half a firkin mile to walk to get home. Come to think of it I suppose escorting the children on foot that short distance gets in the way of using their phones and there is always the threat of some peasant child engaging the little darlings in conversation and we cant have that, can one.

    Targets are just so much media and political BS.

  10. Stevie Anderson says:

    Could it be that there are fundamental problems with a manifesto for change based on not changing very much about our political economy and social reality?

    Surely not!

    1. douglas clark says:

      Could it be that there are fundamental problems with a manifesto for change based on not changing very much about our political economy and social reality?

      Surely not!>/i>

      The SNP are being accused of exactly the opposite.

      The SNP and all right thinking folk think climate change is a genuine threat. Aiming for a carbon neutral target is about giving you or your kids a future. It is very much about our political economy and social reality, perhaps over time scales you are unaccustomed to.

      Y’know, not thinking in a Westminster 24 news cycle?


  11. douglas clark says:

    It is all a bit like high jumping. You can come in at a low level and set a target for everyone else, or you can leave it later and set a good target, or you can leave it to the absolute end and jump once for gold.

    It is the preparation, the training you have to go through, that separates the high achievers from the low achievers.

    Mike, if I were to say to you, I am completely set on achieving say a high jump of four feet, would you clap and applaud when genuine athletes can do double that, and a quarter inch? (Full discosure, doubt I could so any sort of high jump at all)

    But if you don’t aim for a target, you are always going to miss, badly.

    This is no longer just an academic point. Our beloved masters in Westminster have made it even more difficult to achive these targets. Wind farm subsidies are so much worse than banking subsidies, after all. Who would have thought that trying to save the planet would release the planet killers and that they would get votes, and fees, for lying to us? And the banks roll on, immune to a dying planet. For that is the bind we are in.

    New Scientist posits a possible five metre rise in sea levels over the next couple of centuries, with, potentially much of that rise happening in our childrens lifetime.

    I’d far rather have a government that listens to evidence and responds by challenging itself to targets that matter. Like, what sort of world are we going to leave our children? It will not have it’s current sea level, nor climate if we pretend that we can go on as we are.

    So, all of that said, I’d rather have an aspirational government than the other sort.

    Frackers, the lot of them.

  12. C Rober says:

    IF co2 reduction is as important as the SNP and Hollyrood state , then why did Hollyrood and North Ayrshire Council choose to use farmland as housing land , when urban land was available , surely this defeats their mandate on carbon reduction too?


    1. Rural , no great public transport links to work and high schools.
    2.Removing a primary school , resiting in Ardrossan or Largs , increasing school runs.
    3.Increasing commutes to work , compared to suburban living nearer higher employment , the specified area is a village which has no major employer , apart from Hunterston , the biggest creator of Co2 in the West of Scotland.

    Then we can also add , unrelated to the above points on NAC LDP , proving that the SNP are unraveling on more than one key policy.

    Speed slow downs , reducing speed limits to 20mph ACTUALLY increases CO2 , as does speed bumps.
    Badly thought out road planning , including bus lanes , that mean cars are held up , which creates the most Co2 at traffic hotspots , when the bus lanes are always EMPTY!
    Badly thought out roundabouts , without a left turn lane continuance increases congestion.

    While the reduction of Co2 cannot be expected to be instant , you would think that if it was truly high on the priority list , that those that dictate it , should at least be ensuring that the thought , not just the lip service , is actually put into its practice.

  13. Thomas Hodgens says:

    Your contributor’s top 5 omitted the biggest single source of greenhouse gases in Europe.


    Longannet power station is the third largest coal-fired station in Europe and the twenty-first most polluting.

    It is due to close by March 2016.

    1. Thomas Hodgens says:

      A quick correction.

      I should have said it was the biggest single source of greenhouse gases in Scotland, and one of the biggest in Europe.

  14. David says:

    Could you please edit out the $10m a minute “subsidy” nonsense, you’ve zero credibility here:


    PS, it’s very strange to read about giving oil a back seat on a pro independence blog, it’s kind of a big deal, although no worthwhile mention of the impacts current exports have on our planet?

    As for banning cars, why not just promote and intensively subsidise hydrogen, all the way from Glasgow University, obviously there’s all that muck during their construction but with the US Navy looking to power it’s fleet it looks like importing things will be a dream come true soon – none of this miserable local diet guilt trip either.

    The gifts from nature in renewables are no gift to the environment, only to foreign owned energy firms and foreign manufacturers, maybe the foreign firms who own all North Sea reserves profited from fuel sales there? How many years of hundreds of thousands of pounds per turbine were subsidised to provide no prospects of creating our own (or anyone else’s for that matter) improved technology? The subsidies have been nipped in the bud just one year before their natural cycle and we’re back to square one, with as this article suggests, next to no effect. At maximum 30% efficiency our subsidy farms were hardly going to change the world – no country anywhere is looking to Scotland as an example that the SNP thought they’d parade us as whilst drooling in poverty. 40% are in fuel poverty right beneath the rotors of the green scam in the south west of Scotland, yet Alex Salmond has applauded his friends who increased bills by 300% on their retiral, what a legacy.

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