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What's wrong with Scotland's 2030 climate plan?
Blog...What's wrong with Scotland's 2030 climate plan?

What's wrong with Scotland's 2030 climate plan?

Green News
Edinburgh city at night
In this article, we’ll explore the CCC's findings, examine the gaps in Scotland's climate plan, and discuss the implications of the government's decision to abandon its 2030 targets.
Green News
Edinburgh city at night

Scotland’s ambitious 2030 climate targets, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 75% compared to 1990 levels, have recently come under scrutiny. The Climate Change Committee (CCC) published a damning assessment in 2023, highlighting a series of delays and a lack of comprehensive strategies to meet these goals. With the Scottish government officially acknowledging that the targets are out of reach and the recent decision to scrap the 2030 goal altogether, the focus has now shifted to the urgent need for a revised climate action plan.

👉 In this article, we’ll explore the CCC's findings, examine the gaps in Scotland's climate plan, and discuss the implications of the government's decision to abandon its 2030 targets. We'll also look ahead to what should be included in the forthcoming climate plan and how it can realign Scotland’s environmental strategy with its long-term Net Zero ambitions.

Scotland’s climate action plan in context

Scotland's climate strategy was once praised for being one of the most ambitious in the world. Enshrined into law by the Scottish Climate Change (Emissions Reductions Targets) Act, the Scottish Government committed itself to a series of progressive targets, the most immediate being a 75% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels). This was part of a broader vision to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2045 - five years ahead of the UK's climate target.

Initially, this goal was supported by various actions, including enhancements in renewable energy infrastructure, improvements in energy efficiency across different sectors, and substantial investments in public transport and other green initiatives. The aim was not only to meet the stringent 2030 target but also to set a precedent for comprehensive climate action that other nations could follow.

However, this ambition has been tempered by a series of setbacks. In its latest report, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) determined that Scotland is not on track to meet its 2030 targets. The report also criticised the Scottish Government for its delayed response in updating its climate action plan, crucial for setting clear, actionable policies and ensuring that the targets are met. 

The Scottish Government recently acknowledged these findings, admitting that it has now missed eight of its annual targets, rendering its 2030 targets unattainable. This resulted in the controversial decision to formally scrap these goals altogether. This decision was made amidst growing concerns over the feasibility of the rapid changes needed and the tangible impacts of policies already implemented, which have fallen short of accelerating the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions at the required rate.

The Scottish Government however has insisted that it is still determined to reach its ambition of achieving net zero emissions by 2045. Its now-overdue revision of the climate action plan is expected to address these shortcomings. It is crucial for reestablishing Scotland’s leadership in climate action and for setting realistic, yet ambitious, pathways that align with global climate targets and Scotland’s long-term environmental and economic sustainability goals.

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Why has Scotland fallen behind on its climate action plan?

The Climate Change Committee's (CCC) recent progress report provides a critical analysis of Scotland's ongoing efforts and challenges in meeting its ambitious climate targets set for 2030. The findings from this report paint a concerning picture of the gaps between the targets set and the actual progress made, emphasising the need for drastic policy shifts and immediate action. Here are the key points from the CCC report that illustrate the current state of Scotland's climate strategy:

Missed targets

Scotland's track record with its climate goals has been disappointing, with the country missing its annual emissions reduction target yet again in 2021 (the eighth time it has fallen short in the last twelve years). Notably, emissions in 2021 saw an increase of 2.4% from the previous year, largely attributed to the economic rebound post-pandemic. This left Scotland's emissions 49.2% below the 1990 levels, far short of the targeted 75%, underscoring a continued struggle to meet set benchmarks.

Acceleration needs

One of the more concerning revelations from the CCC report is the required rate of emissions reduction to meet the 2030 targets. Scotland would need to increase its decarbonisation efforts nearly ninefold to achieve a 75% reduction from 1990 levels. The report concludes that given current trajectories and the slow pace at which supply chains and investments are developing, achieving this target by 2030 is not credible.

Policy and strategic gaps

The CCC criticises the Scottish Government’s existing policies and strategic plans for failing to achieve the legally binding targets specified under the Scottish Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) Act. There are significant risks and inefficiencies in sectors where Scotland has considerable policy autonomy, such as transport, buildings, agriculture, land use, and waste management. 

Delayed climate change plan

Another critical issue flagged by the CCC is the delay in updating the Scottish Climate Plan. Originally scheduled for publication in late 2023, its absence leaves a gaping hole in Scotland's climate strategy with less than six years left until the 2030 deadline. The CCC report stresses that the Scottish Government should publish this plan as soon as possible, ensuring it includes detailed and actionable policies that can mobilise the necessary sectors towards substantial emissions reductions.

Off-track indicators

The report also points to several off-track key performance indicators that are crucial for gauging Scotland's progress towards its climate targets. These include tree planting, peatland restoration, heat pump installations, and electric vehicle uptake - all lagging considerably behind their goals. 

The report did, however, acknowledge that there has been notable progress in the renewable electricity sector, especially with an increase in offshore wind capacity in 2022, showcasing some areas of progress amidst the challenges.

Edinburgh city view

Scotland’s climate plan - sector review

The Climate Change Committee report includes a detailed analysis of individual sectors, pinpointing where efforts are falling short and where acceleration is critically needed. The sector-specific challenges are central to understanding why Scotland is struggling to meet its climate targets, and also to determine what needs to be done to achieve its net zero targets. Key findings of the CCC's report include:


The CCC’s report on Scotland's transport sector highlights gaps in policy implementation and progress. As the primary contributor to emissions, generating 11.6 MtCO2e in 2021, the sector is under pressure to nearly quadruple its emissions reduction rate to meet the 2030 target of a 44% decrease from 2011 levels.

The report noted that electric vehicle (EV) adoption is significantly lagging, with only 10.5% of new car sales and 2.0% of new van sales in 2022 being electric (both trailing behind broader UK performance). This sluggish uptake underscores the need for enhanced incentives and support structures to accelerate EV adoption.

Although the rollout of charging infrastructure is progressing, with nearly 4,000 public charge points installed by 2022, the pace must dramatically increase to support a growing fleet of electric vehicles. The installation rate needs to nearly triple by the end of the decade, and significant improvements in reliability are also essential. 

The transport sector also faces challenges when it comes to car usage, which has significantly increased post-pandemic and is not far off 2019 levels. The absence of a clear strategy to achieve a 20% reduction in car-kilometres by 2030 highlights the need for more effective policies that promote sustainable transportation modes.

Furthermore, the CCC notes that efforts to decarbonise aviation and shipping are lacking. Key initiatives like the Air Departure Tax have not been implemented, and the crucial Islands Connectivity Plan (necessary for setting low-emission standards for government-managed ferries) is also delayed. These gaps point to a broader issue of inadequate strategic planning and urgency in tackling emissions from the transport sector.


In Scotland's buildings sector, the CCC identified numerous challenges in accelerating emissions reductions to meet the 2030 target of a 71% decrease from 2021 levels. Despite ambitious legislative frameworks like the Buildings (Scotland) Amendment Regulations and the proposed Heat in Buildings Bill, actual progress is lagging significantly behind the necessary pace. In 2023, domestic heat pump installations were critically low, with only 6,000 units installed - far short of the more than 80,000 annual installations needed by the decade's end.

Furthermore, the number of energy efficiency measures implemented in households has drastically declined, underscoring a severe drop in government-funded initiatives from over 71,600 in 2013 to just 7,600 in 2022. The CCC's report emphasises a pressing need for the Scottish Government to finalise and enforce comprehensive plans not only for residential but also for non-residential buildings to ensure these sectors contribute effectively to Scotland's 2030 emissions reduction targets. The current trajectory shows that without significant enhancements in policy implementation and technological adoption, Scotland will struggle to meet its climate goals.

Agriculture and land use

In Scotland's agriculture and land use sector, challenges persist in reversing recent increases in emissions, with an 11% reduction required by 2030 to meet climate targets. The sector, mostly governed by devolved policies, saw a 2021 emission level of 8.2 MtCO2e. Recent legislation, such as the proposed Agriculture and Rural Communities Bill, has been criticised for lacking detailed financial support plans for farmers and land managers, which are needed for facilitating the transition towards more sustainable practices.

Moreover, progress in environmental restoration activities like woodland creation and peatland restoration remains insufficient. In 2022/2023, only a little over eight thousand hectares of new woodland were created, far below the target of doubling this rate by the mid-2020s. Similarly, Scotland continues to fall short of its peatland restoration goals, with efforts needing to nearly triple to meet targets. These gaps highlight significant deficiencies in Scotland's strategic approach to managing agricultural and land use emissions.

field of wheat


Scotland’s waste sector faces an uphill battle to achieve a 55% reduction in emissions by 2030, with 2021 levels at 1.6 MtCO2e. The sector is markedly off course to meet the ambitious 70% recycling rate target by 2025, with no significant improvement in recycling rates over the last decade.

Moreover, waste incineration has more than doubled since 2011, contributing to emissions rather than reducing them. While the Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill introduced recently aims to set a legislative framework for future targets, the current measures fall short of the actions needed in recycling rates and the overall management of waste emissions. 


In Scotland's industrial sector, the CCC highlights that effective coordination with the UK Government is crucial due to the significant policy powers that are reserved at the national level. The sector, which emitted 9.7 MtCO2e in 2021, is tasked with reducing emissions by 25% by the year 2030. While there has been noteworthy progress in carbon capture, utilisation, and storage (CCUS), the CCC points out that efforts in other areas of industrial decarbonisation have been minimal.

The Circular Economy Bill, designed to facilitate reductions in industrial emissions, acknowledges the need for enhanced efficiency in resource use, especially in construction materials. Yet, the current measures do not sufficiently drive the needed pace of decarbonisation across the broader industrial sector. More robust and comprehensive strategies are required not only to harness the potential of CCUS technologies but also to significantly scale up efforts across all aspects of industrial emissions reduction.

Electricity supply

In the electricity supply sector, the Climate Change Committee notes that the Scottish Government has made progress, mainly driven by the phase-out of coal and increased renewable energy production. 

The report highlights that while Scotland is on track with its offshore wind capacity development, aiming for 8-11 GW by 2030, the expansion of onshore wind capacity is flagging and requires a significant acceleration. This sector’s progress is vital as it heavily influences the feasibility of reaching the zero emissions target. 

The Scottish Government's draft Energy Strategy includes ambitious plans to increase renewable capacity, but according to the CCC, a comprehensive and executable delivery plan is essential. 

Cross-cutting issues

The Climate Change Committee’s report also outlines critical cross-cutting issues that span multiple sectors. They note that governance has seen some improvement, with better relationships between central and local government. However, there's still a need for clearer roles and responsibilities and enhanced coordination across Scottish and UK governments and local authorities to effectively deliver climate targets.

The report also emphasises the importance of public engagement and calls for more proactive communication and support for businesses and individuals to adopt greener practices. The CCC also emphasises the importance of meaningful dialogue and strategic planning when it comes to the handling of industrial transitions, like the Grangemouth refinery.

Forth Rail bridge in Scotland

How can Scotland get its climate plan back on track?

Despite Scotland's decision to abandon its 2030 climate targets, its commitment to achieving Net Zero by 2045 remains intact. To align with these enduring goals, Scotland must implement significant changes across various sectors. 

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has laid out a series of recommendations in its report, which are vital to steer Scotland back on course. These recommendations highlight the urgent need for comprehensive strategies and robust policy implementations to close the significant gaps in current climate actions and ensure Scotland can meet its long-term environmental commitments.

Immediate publication of Scotland’s climate plan

A major recommendation from the CCC is the urgent publication of the revised Climate Change Plan. This plan is crucial as it should detail the specific policies and actions that Scotland will implement to meet its climate targets. The delay in its publication not only hampers progress but also leaves sectors without a clear direction.

Enhancing policy measures across key sectors

  • Transport - The Scottish Government needs to deliver comprehensive plans that include expanding electric vehicle infrastructure, reducing vehicle kilometres, and enhancing public transport options. Clear and practical strategies are required to manage demand and shift travel modes, which are currently lacking.
  • Buildings - For the buildings sector, accelerating the implementation of the Heat in Buildings Bill is crucial. This includes setting enforceable timelines for transitioning to low-carbon heating systems and improving the energy efficiency of both residential and commercial properties.
  • Agriculture and land use - The Scottish government should provide detailed financial support mechanisms and clear guidelines that align with climate objectives. Increasing the rate of woodland creation and tripling peatland restoration efforts are necessary to meet the targets set.
  • Waste management - Stronger policies are needed to reverse the trend of increasing waste incineration and to boost recycling rates significantly. The enactment of the Circular Economy Bill should be expedited, and it must contain robust measures to achieve the 70% recycling target by 2025.
  • Industry and electricity supply - Continued support and investment in carbon capture and storage (CCUS) technologies are vital. Additionally, the government should focus on increasing the capacity for both offshore and onshore wind as part of the broader strategy to decarbonise the electricity supply.

Cross-sectoral coordination and governance

The CCC’s report also highlights the need for improved coordination between different government bodies and clearer governance structures to ensure that climate policies are effectively implemented. This includes setting precise roles and responsibilities and enhancing the dialogue between the Scottish Government and local authorities to align actions towards common goals.

Public engagement and just transition

A just transition that is fair to all sectors of society is essential. The Scottish Government must improve its public engagement strategies to ensure widespread support and participation in the transition process. This includes educating the public about the benefits of transitioning to a low-carbon economy.

Looking forward

The Climate Change Committee's (CCC) report on Scotland's climate progress is damning, highlighting the risk of not only failing to meet the 2030 climate targets but also the goal of achieving net zero by 2045. 

The recommendations outlined in the CCC's report are crucial and should be incorporated into Scotland’s updated climate plan - which is expected later this year. These recommendations are not just guidelines but necessitate immediate adoption to halt further lagging behind in climate action. Their implementation will be a key determinant in Scotland’s capacity to meet its climate commitments.

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