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Scottish Government has dropped the ball on climate targets - and it can’t happen again

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The Liberal Democrat's candidate David Green
The Liberal Democrat's candidate David Green

Nobody would want to sit down with their boss to answer to why they have dropped the ball and missed key targets. Uncomfortable, to say the least. But that was the music the SNP/Green Government in Edinburgh faced this week.

Despite witnessing increasing climate disasters across the globe and living through the hottest year on record, the Scottish Government has missed eight of the past twelve annual targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. So bad has this run been, Ministers stopped submitting their homework. That's right, last year they didn’t even publish their promised climate plan.


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But I shouldn’t be surprised. When I worked on climate policy in the Scottish Parliament, over eight years ago, the climate movement was sounding the alarm that there wasn't the detailed route map needed to achieve our targets. Then in 2022, the Climate Change Committee - which provides independent advice to government - warned Scotland had fallen behind the rest of the UK. What a stark SNP/Green record and no pointing the finger can excuse it.

How have Scottish Ministers responded? With plans to abolish both the annual target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and the 2030 net-zero targets. Friends of the Earth Scotland branded it as "the worst environmental decision in the history of the Scottish Parliament" while Oxfam Scotland attributed it to “recklessly inadequate level of action to date.”

As the news unfolded, I found myself reflecting on my time at COP28 last year. I was at the UN climate conference to scrutinise the negotiations and meet with vulnerable communities living on the sharp end of the climate crisis. For many I met, Scotland was perceived as a world leader. That credibility has now been shot to pieces and our influence alongside it.

Be in no doubt, this is a national embarrassment. But it is also a sliding doors moment too. A moment that matters not just globally, but locally.

Delivering on our emissions targets will require meeting increasing electricity demand through scaling up investment in renewables. With the potential to harness our natural resources, the Highlands is primed for economic opportunities. To make the most of this, we need investment but I worry the Scottish Government’s mixed messages and failure to provide long-term certainty jeopardises that. We cannot forget that to be a world-leading capital for green energy, we must also be a world leader in tackling climate change too.

We therefore need urgent clarity on what any new targets might be, but also government action to deliver them. While emissions have reduced in some sectors, transport and buildings have proven difficult.

For the Highlands, where we know fuel poverty all too well, a national insulation programme and scaling up the rollout of heat pumps could have the double benefit of heating our homes and meeting our targets. Plans to tackle transport emissions, meanwhile, must respect the needs of rural communities. That means, for example, restoring help for households to switch to electric vehicles.

The ball has been dropped and we cannot afford to see it happen again. We must therefore take a collaborative approach and, crucially, have politicians in Holyrood that will take the public with them.

David Green

Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross

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