Scotland hits 2020 emissions cut target, but warns of 'rebound' as Covid restrictions lift

Scotland cannot afford to be complacent on climate action, ministers are being warned, as Covid-19 restrictions push greenhouse gas emissions cuts over the line to hit the 2020 national target.

By Ilona Amos
Tuesday, 7th June 2022, 11:34 am
Updated Tuesday, 7th June 2022, 5:39 pm

The latest official figures show Scotland has achieved its greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for 2020.

The Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019 required a reduction of 56 per cent compared to 1990 levels.

Scottish Government statistics show emissions have fallen by 58.7 per cent over the period.

Total emissions for 2020 amounted to 40 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) – 12 per cent down on the previous year and a 51 per cent drop from the baseline.

According to the report, the drop in emissions between 2019 and 2020 was mainly down to lower emissions from domestic transport, international flights and shipping and energy supply. All other sectors demonstrated modest reductions over this period, except the housing sector.

Coronavirus restrictions were responsible for the large drop in emissions from transport, while residential emissions increased by 0.1 MtCO2e as more people worked from home during the pandemic.

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Scotland's greenhouse gas emissions fell by 12 per cent from 2019 to 2020, mainly driven by restrictions on travel during the Covid-19 pandemic. Picture: Getty Images

No significant changes were recorded in the business and public sectors over the 12-month period.

The long-term reductions have come largely through moves away from fossil fuels for energy generation, changes to land use such as increasing tree-planting, cuts in emissions from businesses, better waste management and greener transport.

Scotland has set a target to reach net zero – neutral emissions – by 2045, five years ahead of the UK’s aim to do the same.

But ministers have warned the most recent reductions are likely to jump back up as behaviour returns to pre-pandemic ‘normality’.

“These annual figures show Scotland has met our 2020 climate target and continues to outperform the UK as a whole in delivering long-term emissions reductions,” Scottish net zero secretary Michael Matheson said.

“Nonetheless, the most significant changes are in the transport sector and are associated with the temporary measures taken in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We must be prepared for these figures to substantially rebound in 2021.

“There can be no satisfaction taken in emissions reductions resulting from the health, economic and social harms of the pandemic.

“However, the data does provide a valuable lesson regarding the scale of the transformational change needed in response to the climate emergency and shows that embedding habits such as working from home and using cars less can make a real impact on reducing emissions.”

Mike Robinson, chair of environmental coalition Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, said more ambitious action was needed across all sectors to continue lowering emissions.

He said: “Unless enhanced measures are taken to improve delivery, the post-Covid-19 rebound in emissions will ensure that we miss our targets for 2030 and 2045.

“That’s why we’re calling on the Scottish Government to seriously up its game.”

Scottish Labour’s net zero, energy and transport spokesperson Colin Smyth said: “Tumbling transport emissions were a saving grace this year, but this will be undone if the SNP keep running public transport into the ground and slashing rail services.

“The SNP must not waste the reprieve they’ve been gifted. We need to build on this progress, so that we can meet our targets without the country grinding to a halt.”