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The road ahead: Scotland’s net zero rollback

Road Ahead Purpose on Payday
By Imogen Shaw
26 April 2024
Green & Good (ESG and Impact)
Public Affairs

In what has been a challenging week for the Scottish Government, climate activists have widely denounced their decision to abandon Scotland's objective of reducing carbon emissions by 75% by 2030.

In a situation which has escalated rapidly, Scottish Net Zero Secretary Màiri McAllan’s announcement has led to the breakdown of the Bute House coalition agreement between the SNP and the Scottish Greens, throwing Humza Yousaf’s future as first minister into doubt.

The Scottish Government’s decision to row back on its once ambitious 2030 climate target followed some sharp criticism from the UK Climate Change Committee (CCC). The CCC recently deemed Scotland’s emissions reductions targets to no longer be feasible, following years of insufficient action from the Scottish Government on harder to decarbonise areas like domestic heating, agriculture and transport.

Opposition leaders in Scotland have jumped on the policy retreat, and the SNP is facing significant criticism from across the political spectrum. While McAllan has explicitly linked the decision to abandon the target to the influence of the CCC, Professor Piers Forster, the CCC’s interim chair, has also criticised the decision to scrap the target and publicly urged the SNP to set new targets as soon as possible, warning that not to do so would have a hugely detrimental impact on climate action.

This comes as Humza Yousaf could be forced to resign as Scotland’s first minister after the Scottish Greens announced they would support a motion of no confidence against him, following his decision to unilaterally end the Bute House coalition agreement.

The catalyst for this was the roll back of the 2030 target, which was predictably met with strong disagreement and a sense of betrayal on the part of Scottish Green Party members and led to an emergency vote by the Scottish Greens on staying in government – a move which severely dented Yousaf’s confidence in the ongoing viability of the coalition.

What does this mean long term for reaching net zero, in Scotland and across the UK? Scotland is the UK nation with the best natural resources to take advantage of some of the most well-established green energy technologies – especially onshore and offshore wind – and has a vital role to play as the UK looks to achieve net zero emissions.

This week’s uncertainty is challenging both for the green energy sector in Scotland, and across the whole of the UK. It’s also challenging for the UK Labour Party. As things stand, Labour still has a pledge that it will achieve net zero emissions from electricity by 2030. This goal has already been criticised by some as too ambitious, and the party has come under some media pressure to abandon or delay the target. What has happened over the last week in Scotland will only increase that pressure – and it remains to be seen whether Labour’s pledge will be able to withstand it.