#2045StartsNow: Scottish Government to set new world-leading climate change target

May 2nd, 2019 Posted by Blogs, Policy No Comment yet
Image credit: Gair Brisbane Photography

In this blog post, our Policy Team volunteer Jamie Wylie provides an update on the Scottish Government’s new climate change target.

In today’s world, the news isn’t often a source of positivity. But today, things feel a lot more hopeful.

Today saw the fantastic announcement that the Scottish Government intends to set a target for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. 2050 Climate Group strongly welcomes this announcement. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s special report highlighted last year, urgent action and ambition is needed if we are to avoid a climate catastrophe.

This comes following new advice from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), an independent body providing guidance to the UK Government and the devolved governments on climate change. After considering new information on climate science, policy and market trends, the CCC has indicated that Scotland could achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. The CCC has also recommended that the UK as a whole can achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, whilst Wales can achieve a 95% reduction by 2050.

Stronger targets, faster action

The Scottish Government had previously committed to becoming “carbon neutral” by 2050, with an aim to set a date for phasing out all fossil fuel use at a later time. Whilst this was a step in the right direction, many felt that this did not go far enough, as this target didn’t cover all greenhouse gas emissions and did not set a clear date for net-zero emissions. In our response to the Government’s Climate Change Bill consultation in 2018, we explained how young people that took part in our consultation survey and workshops wanted to see much stronger targets for reducing emissions.

However, the new target for net-zero emissions by 2045 puts Scotland firmly as a leader on climate change. Only Sweden has set a legally-binding climate change target of this strength to date. This is excellent news for Scotland’s action on climate change. Just a few years ago, not many thought that there would be the political will for such action, or indeed that net-zero by 2045 would even be achievable.

So what does this mean?

Let’s unpack this target in a little more detail. To become “net-zero” by 2045 would mean that some greenhouse gas emissions would continue, but activities like large-scale tree planting and Carbon Capture and Storage technologies (when they’re feasible), would soak up the equivalent of these emissions. The CCC says that tree planting across the UK would have to increase in order to meet these new net-zero targets. The new commitment from the Scottish Government also includes the target of becoming “carbon neutral” by 2040, which would mean most, but not all, greenhouse gas emissions would end by 2040. Nitrogen emissions, from sectors like agriculture, would not be covered in this 2040 target. However, the target does appear to cover emissions from aviation and shipping, something which other countries’ targets often don’t include.

So what happens now?

Whilst the Scottish Government has committed to this new target, it still needs to be passed in the Scottish Parliament to become set in law. It will be included as an amendment to the Climate Change Bill currently being considered by Parliament, and will be voted on by MSPs. However, this should hopefully be a formality and there shouldn’t be any serious opposition. In the last Climate Change Act (in 2009), all political parties came together to back a target of 80% greenhouse gas reduction by 2050. Hopefully we’ll see the same this time with this new, stronger target.

The power of youth

For those of us who work on and study climate change and sustainability, it’s been promising to see these issues receiving more and more attention in the media in recent months. Whether it’s young people going on school strikes, the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg giving brutally honest speeches in front of world leaders, David Attenborough’s new climate change documentary, or Extinction Rebellion protesting on the streets, there’s been a lot of focus on climate change recently.

Whilst some have questioned the value of actions such as young people striking, there’s no denying the power of the message that this sends. Young people have more to lose than anyone from climate change; after all, we will be the ones to feel the force of changes to our planet in the decades to come should we fail to take action now. Let’s not underestimate the influence that young people can have in this situation – Chris Stark, the Chief Executive of the CCC, noted how activities like the recent school strikes have brought climate change to the forefront of the public mind.

2050 starts now

If enacted, these new targets would pave the way for Scotland and the UK to become true leaders on climate change and the transition to a post-carbon society. However, the hard work starts now to build on the good progress made to date in cutting emissions in areas like waste and electricity generation. We need to see a strong plan from the UK and Scottish governments to tackle all sources of emissions and face up to some of the most problematic areas, like transport, land use, agriculture, and heat generation. Roseanna Cunningham MSP, the Climate Change Secretary, is right when she says that “every single one of us now needs to take more action – not just the Scottish Government but also all businesses, schools, communities, individuals and organisations.” And that’s why we are launching our new 3-year strategy this summer to galvanise action. We will continue to engage young leaders from the private, public and third sectors, empowering them to take a lead on climate change, and collaborate to make the change we need. Together, 2050 starts now.

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