Scotland

Is Scotland leading the way on climate change?

Electric cars being charged in a street Image copyright Getty Images

The UK government has announced that a ban on the sale of new petrol, diesel or hybrid cars in the UK will be brought forward from 2040 to 2035.

And the Scottish government announced plans to "phase out the need" for new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2032 back in 2017.

While Holyrood does not have the power to ban them - that is reserved to Westminster - the Scottish government instead says it will "take the lead" in promoting the use of ultralow emission vehicles (ULEVs).

It says it will do this through actions like expanding the charging network for electric cars and offering incentives to encourage the public to move to ULEVs.

These actions are part of wider plans to tackle climate change.

Scotland's targets

So what are Scotland's climate change targets, and are they the most ambitious in the world?

The Scottish government has set itself a legally-binding target to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2045, five years ahead of the date set for the UK as a whole.

The Scottish government says its targets are "the toughest anywhere in the world".

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Media captionOur Planet Matters: Climate change explained

They are certainly among the most ambitious.

However, other countries - like Sweden - have passed legislation with the same goal. Sweden did so two years before Scotland, and it has also set milestones along the way. But Scotland's milestone targets are more ambitious and include emissions from aviation and shipping.

They also don't rely on international credits, which is where countries can pay for emissions to be reduced elsewhere instead of reducing their own.

How is Scotland doing?

Scottish greenhouse gas emissions

1990 to 2017

Source: Scottish government

Much progress has been made but the hardest changes are still to come.

Emissions of greenhouse gases - such as carbon dioxide - have been cut to about half of what they were 30 years ago.

However, experts say much of this progress has been accomplished by picking off the "low hanging fruit" - the most cost-effective or publicly acceptable changes to make.

The areas that need tackling are transport (about a third of all emissions), farming and land use (about a quarter), business and heavy industry (about a fifth) and how we heat our homes.

Tricky decisions will have to be made, especially with so much of Scotland's economy based around the oil and gas industry.

Over the next 18 months, a Scottish government-appointed commission will grapple with the question of how to protect the economy and ensure a "just transition" as the world makes the move away from fossil fuels.

Transport

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Media captionElectric vehicles account for more than 2% of all cars and vans on the road in Orkney

Transport accounts for about a third of Scotland's greenhouse gas emissions and some steps have been taken to reduce this but the overwhelming majority of vehicles on the road are still greenhouse gas-emitting petrol or diesel engines.

There are now more than 1,200 publicly available charge points in Scotland for electric vehicles and the number of new EV and hybrid cars registered in the UK was up nearly 40% on the same period last year.

But for many drivers an EV is prohibitively expensive and concerns over the range the cars can currently offer is a concern for some potential owners.

Their popularity is expected to increase significantly as the technology gets better but this will see demand for electricity generation rise too.

The UK government's Department for Transport says Scotland now has more than 1,500 charging devices, and across the UK there are now more charging locations than petrol stations.

Charge points per 100,000 people

Source: Department for Transport

In a bid to discourage commuters from taking their cars to work, the Scottish government has brought in the Workplace Parking Levy.

It will allow councils to tax businesses on staff parking spaces but, so far, none has committed to introducing the levy this year.

Low emissions zones that will see polluting vehicles banned from entering city centres (and receive a penalty notice if they don't comply) are planned for Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Dundee but so far only Glasgow has introduced any measures and, in its first phase, this only applies to 20% of buses that enter the zone.

Image copyright Glasgow City Council

As well as cutting road transport emissions, the government needs to find a way to stop the growth in emissions from air travel.

Since 1990, emissions from international aviation from Scotland have increased by 181% and they are still increasing.

The Scottish government scrapped plans to cut the amount of tax paid by passengers flying from Scottish airports after facing a backlash over the environmental impact.

Electric-powered planes could be a solution but they are still at an early stage.

Plans for the shortest scheduled flight in the world - the 1.7 mile jump between the Orkney islands of Westray and Papa Westray - to use an electric-powered plane could happen soon.

Farming methods

Image copyright Getty Images

The UN says high consumption of meat and dairy produce is fuelling global warming, and researchers based in Scotland have been investigating ways of reducing the environmental impact of farming.

For example, one group of scientists have found a way of reducing the methane produced by cattle.

Heating homes

Image copyright Getty Images

About 15% of Scotland's emissions come from domestic housing, with most homes (about 80%) still relying on gas central heating systems.

But new rules say that by 2024 all new homes built in Scotland will have to use renewable or low-carbon heating.

Instead of gas, heating systems should use renewable energy, or rely on low-carbon alternatives such as heat pumps.

And 16,000 households have benefitted from better insulation and new, more efficient - although still often gas - heating systems, funded by the Scottish government.

Planting trees

Image copyright Getty Images

Trees are still the most effective way of absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere.

To meet targets, the UK needs a net increase of 32,000 hectares of woodland planted every year for the next 30 years - equating to about 1.5bn trees.

The most recent figures say most of the trees planted in the UK were planted in Scotland - 11,200 of the 13,400 hectares planted in the year to March 2019.

But there's more to it than just planting trees - it's important that the right trees are planted in the right places, taking into consideration factors such as soil type, water levels, temperatures and the surrounding landscape and tree species.

Renewable energy

Image copyright SSE Renewables
Image caption Beatrice Offshore Wind Farm is currently Scotland's single largest source of renewable energy

The Scottish government has set a target of having the equivalent of 100% of Scotland's electricity demand coming from renewable energy sources by the end of this year. The most recent official figure was 76.2%, based on 2018 data.

In order to achieve the target, Scotland has been moving away from burning fossil fuels, with the last coal-fired power station, Longannet, closing in 2016. The only remaining gas-fired power station is at Peterhead in Aberdeenshire.

Last year, wind power output hit a record high, with claims that the energy produced by turbines could power every home in Scotland and some in England.

Scotland's single largest source of renewable energy - the Beatrice Offshore Wind Farm - is capable of generating enough power for 450,000 homes.

The Seagreen Wind Farm, which is being built off Angus, will eventually be even bigger, being able to power one million homes when it is finished.

Setting tough ambitions is easy but the hardest task is achieving them.

This year the Scottish government will update its Climate Plan which should offer more of an insight into how it will be achieved.

Scotland might be streets ahead of most other countries in aiming for a 2045 "net-zero" target but it means the world is watching for progress.

The potential rewards could be high. Done well and we could end up with skills and an industry which helps the rest of the world follow our lead.

But already there has been evidence of strain in the unity achieved at Holyrood when the target was set.

The Workplace Parking Levy - meant to get people out of cars and onto public transport - was described by the Tories as a tax that would "fleece" workers; Labour added that it was "regressive".

The Scottish Greens will be pushing hard for more policies like this when ministers come knocking for their votes to get the budget through next month.

A "Just Transition" commission has been asked to report to ministers on how oil workers and farmers don't lose out.

But inevitably there will be winners and losers in that transition and charting a path will not be easy.

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