‘Reprehensible retreat’: fury as Scottish ministers scrap carbon emissions pledge | Greenhouse gas emissions

Climate campaigners have accused Scottish ministers of being “inept” and “short-termist” after they scrapped Scotland’s target to cut carbon emissions by 75% by 2030.

Màiri McAllan, the Scottish net zero secretary, confirmed her government had abandoned that target and would also drop legally binding annual targets on reducing carbon emissions, after damning criticism from a UK advisory committee.

In what opposition politicians labelled a “humiliating” climbdown, McAllan said Scotland would instead follow the lead of the UK and Welsh governments by adopting five-yearly “carbon budgets” aimed at meeting its zero emissions target date of 2045.

McAllan told MSPs this decision had been heavily influenced by the UK Climate Change Committee, which said last month the 2030 target was “no longer credible” because of inadequate action on home heating, transport, farming and nature restoration by Scottish ministers.

She said the 2030 target had always been stretching, and claimed the new approach was simply a pragmatic response, acknowledging the huge scale of the task that involved “minor legislative amendments”.

Màiri McAllan (right), with the Green party’s Lorna Slater and Patrick Harvie (left and centre), told MSPs the decision had been heavily influenced by the UK Climate Change Committee. Photograph: Ken Jack/Getty Images

But Prof Piers Forster, the CCC’s interim chair, said scrapping the 2030 target was “deeply disappointing” as it undermined effective climate action. He urged McAllan to set out the new commitments as soon as possible.

“Interim targets and plans to deliver against them are what makes any net zero commitment credible,” he said. “They are essential for enabling a stable transition. Long-term planning is vital for businesses, citizens and future parliaments. Today that has been undermined.”

Friends of the Earth Scotland, previously a supporter of Scotland’s efforts to be a “world leader” on climate action, said this reversal was “the worst environmental decision in the history of the Scottish parliament”.

Imogen Dow, its head of campaigns, said: “Instead of using the past decade to deliver warm homes, reliable public transport and a fair transition away from fossil fuels, inept, short-termist politicians have kept millions of people trapped in the broken status quo that only benefits big polluters.”

Jamie Livingstone, the head of Oxfam Scotland, said the decision was a “reprehensible retreat caused by [the Scottish government’s] recklessly inadequate level of action to date. With scientists linking deadly heatwaves in west Africa to climate change and Dubai drowning in a deluge of rain, the urgency of climate action couldn’t be clearer.”

The rollback is doubly difficult for Scottish ministers because Nicola Sturgeon, the previous first minister, had made the climate crisis one of her government’s top priorities. She was the first UK leader to acknowledge the planet faced a climate emergency.

Nicola Sturgeon, the then first minister, with the climate activists Greta Thunberg (left) and Vanessa Nakate (right) during the 2021 Cop26 conference in Glasgow. Photograph: Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images

Sturgeon signed a power-sharing deal with the Scottish Green party in 2021 which prioritised climate action, and then posed with Greta Thunberg at the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow later that year.

Graham Simpson, a Scottish Conservative MSP, said it was a surprise that Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater, the Scottish Green co-leaders who signed that agreement, had not resigned their ministerial posts in embarrassment. Harvie said the Greens were still driving change.

The Scottish government now has to table urgent legislation to scrap Holyrood’s current climate act, which sets annual targets, and instead use carbon budgets. Those five-yearly budgets set a ceiling for how much CO2 can be emitted in those time periods.

McAllan said the Scottish government would quadruple the number of electric vehicle chargers, “explore” a new integrated public transport ticket system, pilot emissions reduction schemes on livestock farms, consult on a new carbon tax for large rural estates, and use rates relief to subsidise green energy for businesses.

Livingstone said these “largely recycled measures represent baby steps forward rather than the giant leaps needed and are a thinly veiled distraction from ministers’ failure to deliver their existing climate commitments”.

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