The government’s climate targets are a gamble | Gregor Gall

Friday 8 December was Scotland’s climate announcement day. A year ago Alex Salmond, then first minister, declared Scotland would try to achieve its goal of a 0.2°C cut from 1990 levels by 2030. The…

The government’s climate targets are a gamble | Gregor Gall

Friday 8 December was Scotland’s climate announcement day. A year ago Alex Salmond, then first minister, declared Scotland would try to achieve its goal of a 0.2°C cut from 1990 levels by 2030. The announcement was pitched as a major one –- as the first minister had the public and the Westminster parliament on board.

That brief news cycle became a target for the opposition parties and elsewhere who reacted angrily, demonstrating the immense difficulties of achieving even the unattainable. The response to the announcement further undermined public confidence in Alex Salmond’s leadership – as he stood in the crosshairs of questioning by the Scottish parliament.

The difficulty of achieving even the unattainable

How Scotland will meet emissions reduction targets by 2030 isn’t clear. Previous targets have already been set and in Scotland it’s already about twice as costly as elsewhere in the UK.

Environment minister Roseanna Cunningham was asked by a member of the Scottish parliament for constituency Midlothian if the “highly ambitious” target of a cut in 2030 emissions from 1990 levels would mean more green taxes. The member said: “I’m now worried. When you’re talking about the £1bn extra every year I am afraid, £1bn for somebody else that it means rises in green levies, when you’re talking about £1bn to the wider economy it gets more difficult to say we’re just going to impose more taxes.”

Scotland’s proposed climate goals – interactive Read more

With consequent fury from Tory and Labour MPs, Cunningham said: “We will be talking to the chief secretary of state and Treasury. If he can make the cost to the economy as low as possible he will make as much room as possible to make the cuts.”

There will be political questions about whether the proposed targets could be achieved without being more climate fair. In particular there will be fierce criticism about the fact that the news came from a government who is defending key fossil fuel sectors.

David Mundell MP, the minister of state for energy and climate change, made the case for the continued expansion of Scotland’s gas and oil and gas industries at a meeting last week, arguing that renewable sources of power are so much more expensive than fossil fuels: “For the long term, we need continued fossil fuel production.”

Making the case to support gas and oil, emphasised the need to secure supplies. This is a damaging fallacy, not just because gas and oil are unsuitable as climate fuels, but also because they are integral to the energy supply needed to drive Scotland on to a lower carbon path. Without those supplies – like Scotland’s supply of gas from its largest LNG terminal on Shetland – we would run a greater risk of shortages and the further we reduce our reliance on oil and gas the more we will need to rely on it, and it’s not clear how Scotland would do so without a domestic market.

When Labour wrote to Alex Salmond not to use the announcement as an opportunity to “force through fuel tax rises, bonfire of subsidies, or a tinker’s with the climate.” The environment minister was explicit: “Why this not more green taxes for all, means more cuts, along with rising energy bills?” She also repeated the oft-cited and very misleading claim by Nicola Sturgeon’s administration that the same amount of climate funding as the UK would go to Scotland. That is simply not true.

There are plenty of other reasons to be sceptical about Scotland’s targets. We need to see what the Scottish government will actually make with the additional climate funding. We also need to look at a plausible way to fund the target, in part because Scotland simply can’t afford it. None of that was discussed during the news cycle and the danger is that public trust in the announcement may well be further eroded. With the Conservatives staunchly committed to challenging climate targets in England and Wales, there is less certainty and planning and decision-making that the target could succeed.

The other problem – and the one that threatens to sink the Scottish government’s vision for the country – is a strange reluctance to engage with the science. Labour and Liberal Democrat members pointed out that there is a much greater urgency to act if we are to slow down the effects of global warming. They also highlighted the significant technical and political issues around how countries are going to meet the European commission’s new target of a 40% cut from 1990 levels by 2030.

There is no doubt that the stakes are very high. By 2030 Scotland must cut emissions by 40% and

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