The New Climate Change Bill – A World Leading Ambition?

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Last week (23rd May) the Scottish Government brought forward a Bill to keep Scotland at the “forefront of global ambition” on climate change.  So, what is in the Bill, and what happens next?

The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 set targets for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions of at least 42% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. The Programme for Government 2017-18 signalled an intention to create new, more pressing climate change targets.


The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) provided advice on proposed legislation in March 2017, and updated this advice in light of scientific developments in December 2017.

Between April and September 2017 a programme of stakeholder engagement was undertaken, as well as a formal public consultation which generated 273 non-campaign responses. Key findings were published in December 2017.

The Bill

The Climate Change (Emissions Reduction) (Scotland) Bill 2018 was introduced in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday 23 May 2018.

The Bill contains three substantive parts and has, as its primary objective, to increase the GHG emissions reduction targets that were set out in the 2009 Act. The Government states in the Policy Memorandum:

“The 2009 Act established Scotland as a world leader in tackling climate change. In response to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Paris Agreement, the Bill reaffirms the Scottish Government’s commitment to remain at the forefront of global ambition. This is achieved by increasing the ambition of the emissions reduction targets in line with an appropriate contribution to limiting global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and incorporating provisions that will require the Scottish Ministers to regularly review whether the time is right to specify a net-zero target year.”

Part 1 relates to Emissions Reduction Targets, and commits Scottish Ministers to setting a net-zero (100%) emissions target as soon as there is sufficient credible evidence to indicate that this pathway is possible; this evidence must be regularly requested from the CCC, and published.

This Part increases the target levels for 2020 and 2050, and introduces interim targets for 2030 and 2040, as follows:

  • 56% reduction by 2020 (up from 42%)
  • 66% reduction by 2030 (new target)
  • 78% reduction by 2040 (new target)
  • 90% reduction by 2050 (up from 80%)

The Government states:

“These target levels are arguably the most ambitious legislative targets in the world given that they include international aviation and shipping and a default position that they must be achieved through domestic effort alone. The target levels are those that the CCC set out as a high ambition scenario. The CCC advise that a 2050 target of 90% emissions reduction “would require actions that are currently at the very limit of feasibility””.

A high number of campaign responses to the consultation called for a net-zero (100%) emissions reduction target to be set in this Bill. The PM states that there is a “strong moral imperative to achieve net-zero emissions as soon as possible”, and that there is a “clear aspiration to do so”; however, the Government’s view is that:

“the more responsible course of action is to set the 2050 statutory target at 90%. This is both ambitious and credible. Achieving this target, and the annual targets that lead to it, will require challenging actions across all sectors of the Scottish economy to reduce emissions, while avoiding risking Scotland’s credibility, economy and finances by putting a target into legislation without knowing how it can be achieved.”

Part 1 also provides for setting annual targets from 2020 to 2050; these are linear, and shown in the following figure:

Blog Image_Climate change targets

The Financial Memorandum indicates that the additional cost of moving from an 80% to 90% GHG reduction target is £13bn over the period 2030 – 2050, and states:

“The average additional cost of the new target level over the period 2030 to 2040 is estimated to be £300m per annum, increasing to an average additional cost of £1 billion per annum in the period 2041-2050. The average annual cost increases in the period after 2040 as the cost of abating the remaining greenhouse gases in the system become more challenging”.

Part 2 relates to Emissions Accounting, and sets a new rule to restrict the use of international carbon credits (e.g. from the EU-Emissions Trading Scheme) to offset domestic emissions when assessing progress. The Government states:

“The Bill proposals set a default limit of zero for all future years, unless Ministers bring forward regulations […] allowing for the possibility of credit use in specified future years.”

If regulations are brought forward, the Bill limits credit use to no more than 20% of planned emissions reductions for that year, and replaces provisions in the 2009 Act which allowed for no more than 20% of annual domestic emissions to be traded annually. This does not affect the operation of emissions trading schemes for industry, only accounting.

In relation to accounting, the Government states:

“Under the 2009 Act, target outcomes are assessed using emissions determined on the basis of the most up to date greenhouse gas inventory. The inventory is compiled in line with international guidance from the IPCC [International Panel onm Climate Change]. […]

The CCC proposes that the level of policy effort required to deliver targets should not be subject to significant fluctuations due to technical improvements in the greenhouse gas inventory. […]

Inventory revisions can have the effect of changing the level of policy effort needed to meet targets. This applies in both directions. Targets can be made easier or harder to meet. Assessing target compliance using methods that are consistent with the inventory that was current when the targets were last reviewed means that the decisions and actions of the Scottish Ministers can be assessed in an objective, consistent and transparent manner.”

This Part therefore alters existing emissions accounting to bring it into line with the CCC’s recommendations – it requires that performance against targets is assessed and reported on in line with “the most up-to-date international carbon reporting practice”.

Part 3 relates to reporting and planning duties, and rationalises annual reporting requirements so that only directly relevant information is included; it also requires supplementary reporting on progress towards implementing the Climate Change Plan (CCP). The Government states:

“Whilst the annual greenhouse gas emissions statistics are the ultimate measure of progress in meeting our overarching aim to reduce emissions, the implementation and output indicators in the Climate Change Plan’s monitoring framework will gauge how the implementation of policies is progressing and whether the Scottish Government is on track to achieve its policy outcomes.”

This Part also requires that future CCPs compensate for excess emissions that have occurred against targets to date, and that the first CCP under this Bill be introduced within 5 years of it coming into force. Subsequent CCPs must be produced at least every 5 years, and cover a period of 15 years. Part 3 also extends current 60 day Parliamentary consideration of the CCP to 90 days, including 60 days when Parliament is not dissolved or in recess.

Parliamentary Process

The Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee anticipates being designated as the lead Committee for consideration of the Bill.  On Tuesday 29 May 2018, the Committee agreed its approach, commencing with evidence from Scottish Government officials on 19 June and taking further evidence following the summer recess – further details are available on the Committee’s web page.

Alasdair Reid, Senior Researcher; Brexit, Environment and Rural Unit