Target Practice

45537-wind-farms-jackson-carlaw-has-outlined-his-concerns-over-the-governments-attitude-to-wind-farmsScotland has achieved its 2020 emissions reductions target six years early. The figures for 2014 are now published, emissions have fallen 45.8% from their 1990 level and by 12.5% from the previous year. This is the first time that the annual targets have been met.

In the previous few days and over the last number of years there have been attacks from opposition parties that the targets have been too ambitious- particularly given Scotland has struggled to meet annual targets. Attacks have also come based on the notion that the targets are not ambitious enough.

What’s interesting about these attacks on emissions targets is that these targets were agreed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament in June of 2009 for the Climate Change Act. Were the targets too ambitious, or not ambitious enough, they wouldn’t have been voted through by all parties.

That’s not to say the Scottish Government comes out shining. Roseanna Cunningham, the new Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, has stated that a reduction in emissions may be due to small measures taken by many such as turning down heating: “this underlines that small individual actions, if repeated on a large scale, can have a big impact in tackling climate change.”

The fact is, people turned down their heating because we had a warm winter. Comments such as these trivialising the efforts that need to be made are good politics but don’t reveal the full scale of the challenges that we actually face. One of the late Professor David Mackay’s most famous and best quotes is worth noting in response: “if everyone does a little, we’ll achieve only a little”.

Some politicians, such as Patrick Harvie of the Greens, say that much of the reduction is due to changes in the European Union Emission Trading Scheme. It’s worth noting here that failed annual targets in previous years have been due to revisions and improvements in baseline statistics and methodology used in attributing Scottish emissions to UK baseline data. Last year’s announcement would have met the targets had we not seen some of these changes. Picking and choosing revisions from year to year to score political points ignores the general trend of lower emissions.

Revisions in how we handle emissions accounting are a good thing, and naturally this is going to lead to small changes here and there, and missed or met targets here or there. Parties and individuals can bicker over this but it’s hard to argue that achieving very ambitious targets early isn’t a laudable achievement.

What can be agreed on is that reducing the remaining 34.2% by 2050 is going to be a much bigger challenge, particularly given the challenges facing the heat and transport sectors. Electrification of more of our energy needs will also put more pressure on a system that the Scottish Government has put much effort into decarbonising.

The future of Scotland’s renewable electricity sector remains promising. In 2018 we will see the emissions targets for 2016, the year Longannet closed. The following year we might see the effect of electricity exported from the Beatrice offshore wind farm and Atlantis Resources MeyGen tidal stream project together with continued onshore wind capacity.

The positive stories also do not hide the setbacks: subsidy cuts across the renewable sectors, the RSPB’s scuppering of the Neart na Gaoithe offshore wind farm; and a wave energy industry struggling to meet expectations. In some of these respects the Scottish Government can claim to be helping to drive down emissions.

Wave Energy Scotland continues to work away in the background, and Moray Firth Renewables Ltd are just waiting for a contract for difference from the UK Government which will hopefully keep momentum going.

What can be agreed on is that reducing the rest of the emissions is going to be a much bigger challenge, particularly given the challenges facing the energy sector. There will come a point where the “easy gains” from energy – the closing down of Longannet comes to mind – have been used up and much more difficult emissions vectors have to be tackled – namely heating and transport.

Because of the nature of Scotland’s population and rural development, much of the Highlands and Islands, in particular, already has electrified heating because there is sparse mains gas infrastructure. To reduce CO2 more widely, heating will have to be electrified across Scotland, and the generation used to provide heating decarbonised: but with the loss of carbon-intensive, controllable generation plant like Longannet this presents a major challenge to power distributors and suppliers. Imagine the network going from being a lump of clay you could mould and shape slowly transforming into a heap of jelly and trying to attach it to a wall while the floor’s spinning beneath you.

As with any positive news concerning the environment, each victory comes with dozens of caveats; but this doesn’t mean those victories aren’t worth celebrating. Scotland’s renewable energy sector and environmental progress are laudable successes, though harder work is still to come.

Comments (3)

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  1. Broadbield says:

    A well balanced article. Emissions from heating could be tackled in 2 ways: legacy built environment and new build. Although insulation standards in new build have improved there is much scope for improvement. Building Regs could stipulate Passivhaus standards for all new build. Existing homes are a bigger problem, but there is still scope for improvement, given an imaginative government programme of insulation and pv panel installation.

    Transport is also more intractable given how we are umbilically attached to our cars. Again imagination is required. We could start by developing a hydrogen solution, pricing ic vehicles off many of the roads for the short journeys which seem to comprise most car use, developing cheap, reliable, public (and publicly owned or controlled) transport and creating better infrastructure for cycling and walking.

    We know what most of the solutions to transport are, but we don’t have the political or social will to implement them.

  2. Daryl Philip says:

    Big reductions can also be made in farming,. Eat less meat for a start, improve health and reduce CO2 emission.

    A lot of the emission reduction to meet the 2020 target have came easy, basically achieved for deindustrialisation and exporting our emissions to China, challenge now is to reduce emissions from farming, transport and heating, while reducing our consumption of carbon per capita, no point in meeting ambitious targets if we continue to consume the same amount of carbon but just masking the figures by exporting the emissions abroad

  3. c rober says:

    Air to Air heating is imo the best solution for older post war properties , but this is expensive to do well , and of course somewhat noisier than a gas boiler , so perhaps there should be incentives towards it , or a thought towards pellet heating using organic waste – or god forbid hemp farmed on even our worst grade famland to provide pellets. The latter would also help with the beef farmer , now in decline with imports being able to use up fields for windfarms and hemp cultivation.

    The way forward however is a complete rethink of planning , super sip houses , preheating water via undersoil before it enters boilers and undefloor heating – saving 35 percent in our coldest days in fuel vs heating near ice cold incoming water. There is many ways to do this , but as long as its cheaper to continue the same way , then it will be the only way , higher taxation is both the punitive way and of course therefore the incentive way.

    Then of course we should also be heading towards an Eu supergrid of renewable energy creation , there is wind , sun and tide there somewhere. So much so that Costa rica nearly rana full year on renewables , Germany for a full day , Portugal for a few weeks. But that means the EU accepting nationalisation of energy again , not so hard with France and Germany whom still have state owned energy.

    We cannot let the big energy companies define their profits anymore , more so when we were told that opening up the market , selling off state assets , were all meant to mean lower bills. So where are these lower bills?

    We must forge them to accept that renewables are the way forward , oil wont be cheap or indeed allowed to be used past 2050. It is therefore in their interest to get in now before it is needed , and their shareholders need to accept it , as well as govts preventing their lies being exposed on the increase of energy prices being because of the green lobby. It wasnt so long ago that BP had many irons in the renewable fire.

    Norway , oil producer , similar population to Scotland , ironically has seen the future beyond oil. They are investing their soverign wealth fund in that area , among others , so much so that they are expected to vote on no more ICE cars being sold from 2020 onwards….but I expect they will be lobbied to accept 2020 for 100 percent hybrid sales , after all oil is what provides power to the car makers themselves , and Norways wealth. Fortunately though Norway is not a car producer , so can just say no , but may find itself the Iran of Northern European oil producers because of it.

    Personal transport , cars , delivery vehicles , buses are all now Scotlands highest pollution creators.

    However there is scope for forward thinking here with the autonomous electric vehicle , like personal taxis , which is where I think car makers want to go and along with energy producers hand in hand. Where range is that problem that still needs to be overcome , the reason for hybrids , then your leasing , and your changing cars rather than filling up at stations… and being charged per minutes use rather than buying a car at all.

    But I still have hope for a change to fuel cell , meaning a driver rather than a computer , vs bad drivers of ice on the road , I will pick me over a computer any day at the wheel , and I suspect so would most drivers today. The younger generation though may accept autonomous vehicles… their brains are used to having everything done for them already , ie assisted braking , power steering etc and wonder why they skid off the road in winter or a corner. These are the morons you want in autonomous vehicles.

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