‘Laden with natural advantages’: Report finds Scotland has ‘multiple options’ to be zero-carbon by 2045

Ben Wray

The IPCC found keeping emission reductions to 1.5C would require 45 per cent emissions reduction by 2030, and net zero by 2050

  • ‘A climate of possibility’  report finds Scotland has the economic and technical capability to have net zero emissions by 2045, with space for further reductions
  • This would be “achievable while maintaining economic growth, and without reducing production of carbon intensive products.”
  • Changing land use to increase greenhouse gas removal must be an essential part of government climate strategy 
  • The Scottish Government’s new target of 90 per cent emissions reduction by 2050 could be altered if the Committee on Climate Change changes its recommendations

A NEW report has found that Scotland has “multiple options” to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2045, with room for even greater emissions reductions.

Commissioned by WWF Scotland and authored by VividEconomics, ‘A climate of possibility’ is a bottom-up study which builds on the work of the Committee for Climate Change (CCC), the body on which the Scottish Government has based its targets in the draft Climate Change Bill for emissions reductions of 90 per cent by 2050. 

Roseanna Cunningham MSP, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Climate Change, has said: “if the UK Committee on Climate Change advises us that a net zero target is now feasible…we will do it.”

The VividEconomics report finds that Scotland is “pivotal” to the UK as a whole achieving net zero emissions by 2050, with the size of Scotland’s land and green energy potential giving the country the capacity to run ahead of the field in emissions reduction, and beyond the CCC’s ‘high ambition’ scenario.

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“There are multiple options for Scotland to deliver and exceed net zero by 2050,” the report states, adding that a 2045 target is “achievable while maintaining economic growth, and without reducing production of carbon intensive products.”

Meeting a 2045 target will mean “deep emissions cuts are necessary across all sectors”, with the potential for power, transport and buildings to be zero or near zero, industry to reduce emissions by 60 per cent without reducing productive capacity, and agriculture to reduce emissions by 35 per cent without reducing capacity. 

Buildings, transport, industry and agriculture are the four areas which the CCC’s update report in October 2018 found little progress had been made in over the past five years in Scotland. 

A crucial area for emissions reduction, the report states, would be greenhouse gas removal (GGR), which would see changing land use to increase the ability of the natural world to absorb carbon, known as carbon sinks, which includes afforestation and the restoration of peatlands.

The development of carbon sinks could see Scotland achieve net emissions of -120 per cent relative to 1990 levels. To achieve this, nearly every farm in Scotland will have to deploy some form of GGR by 2050, for example biomass.

READ MORE: Scottish climate minister fails to pledge new action, despite environmentalist criticisms

“Scotland can leverage its greater land area per person to achieve higher negative emissions,” the report states, adding that this would represent “a large shift” in land use patterns and “incentives” should be developed now for farmers in particular to make this shift.

The report states that the extent of GGR will be a key determinant in emissions reduction, but if it were to fall short of the ambitions in the report other areas, such as changing dietary patterns, could make up the shortfall. 

There are opportunities to reduce emissions beyond the emission reductions already captured in the CCC’s ‘high ambition’ scenario, the report found. If Scots were to swap 50 per cent of meat based diet for plants, as recommended by the World Health Organisation, this would see a significant emissions reduction and free up land currently used for livestock on carbon mitigation efforts. 

Meeting the net zero target would not have to be the end of Scotland’s ambitions to support global emissions reduction efforts, “with options to further reduce emissions” so that they are net negative above 1990 levels – a possibility, as envisioned in the graph below.

Scottish Greens climate spokesperson Mark Ruskell MSP said of the report: “The expert warnings of climate emergency could not be any starker so this new report for WWF is a welcome contribution to an increasingly urgent debate. 

“We have just over a decade to change course but SNP ministers show no increased ambition. By embracing an early target for net-zero we can protect our communities from climate catastrophe and drive the innovation needed to create new jobs, warm homes, sustainable food production and better public transport.”

Fabrice Leveque, Senior Policy Manager at Scottish Renewables, said: “WWF Scotland is right to say we are ‘laden with natural advantages’ for achieving net zero carbon emissions.

“Setting new target would affirm Scotland’s place at the forefront of climate change action and send a strong signal to business that we need to cut emissions more quickly and deeply than ever before across Scotland’s energy system.  

READ MORE: #ClimateWeek: Is Scotland still an international leader in tackling climate change?

“New evidence from the IPCC last year on the timeline we have available to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change explains why we need to act now. 

“The falling cost of renewables, coupled with Government support and a focus on innovation, are the tools we need to hit a net zero emission target which would build on the successes of Scotland’s world-leading renewables industry.”

Claudia Beamish MSP, Labour environment spokesperson, stated: ”Scottish Labour is pushing for a target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions for Scotland by 2050 at the latest, because we understand there is both an opportunity to be seized, and a moral responsibility to be upheld in a global context.

READ MORE: Scientists: State-led planning, not markets, is the only hope for preventing a planetary climate catastrophe

“I welcome this fantastic report from WWF Scotland  and Vivid Economics, setting out robust policies for decarbonisation and demonstrating how fortunate Scotland really is due to its natural resources.  It is exciting to see the potential for greenhouse gas reduction capabilities through the analysis of new research. A coherent land use strategy and robust support for farmers would be vital for these scenarios.”

She added: “The Scottish Government is burying its head in the sand if it doesn’t accept the indisputable need for greater climate action than its current Climate Change Bill proposes.

“For the sake of those on the front-line of climate change around the world, for our beautiful planet, for workers and communities in Scotland, and for our children; no more complacency – now for real ambition.”

Picture courtesy of Statkraft

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