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Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon just announced the new Programme for Government — and it puts a lot of emphasis on ending Scotland’s contribution to climate change. 

Scotland led the world in becoming the first nation to declare a climate emergency in April, closely followed by Wales and then the whole of the UK. 

Just days later, Scotland then set a national target of hitting zero emissions by 2045 — five years ahead of the legally-binding UK-wide target of 2050

Now, Sturgeon has outlined the plans for how Scotland’s going to hit that target, and “consolidate Scotland’s reputation as a leader on climate change.” 

“Earlier this year I acknowledged that Scotland, alongside the rest of the world, faces a climate emergency,” said Sturgeon in her speech. “We have now committed to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 at the latest. That’s earlier than any other UK nation.” 

She described the Programme for Government as “an important part of our response to the climate emergency, containing measures which will reduce emissions while supporting sustainable and inclusive growth.” 

“It sets out actions which will make a difference for years to come,” she added. “It details measures which can help make our country the best in the world to grow up, learn, work, and live. It meets the challenges of the future, while staying true to our enduring values.” 

Sturgeon highlighted in her speech that while the measures are “significant”, they also “should not be viewed as the sum total of our efforts.” 

She said that in the next year, the government would also be receiving the recommendations of the Infrastructure Commission, publish a finalised Transport Strategy, complete its Capital Spending Review, renew the National Planning Framework, and publish and updated Climate Change Plan. 

“All of this work is vital in ensuring that Scotland becomes a net-zero emissions nation,” she added. 

Here are the key points on tackling climate change from the Programme for Government that you should know about: 

1. To make the Scottish Highlands and Islands the world’s first zero mission aviation region 

Sturgeon announced that testing of zero emission flight technology would begin in 2021, “quite literally piloting new technology here in Scotland,” she said. 

Meanwhile, the target is to decarbonise all flights within Scotland by 2040. 

2. To make buses a more attractive travel option 

Sturgeon announced a “transformational” £500 million in funding for Scotland’s bus network, to both improve the bus infrastructure and help encourage use of public transport. 

The transport sector currently accounts for more than a third of Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions — making it Scotland’s largest greenhouse gas emitting sector, and meaning that tackling transport emissions is essential to hitting the national net-zero target of 2045. 

3. To decarbonise Scotland’s railways by 2035 

That’s a whole five years before the UK government’s target. The Scottish government has also said it will be publishing a new National Transport Strategy later this year, which will aim to redefine investment priorities and put sustainable transport “at the heart of decision-making.” 

4. Electric cars 

Scotland has already committed to phasing out new petrol and diesel cars by 2032 — again ahead of the UK-wide deadline of 2040

The new programme also includes an additional £17 million to “support the demand” for ultra-low emissions vehicles through its Low Carbon Transport Loan scheme, while also expanding the scheme to include used electric vehicles. 

It’s also said it will work with electricity network companies to improve the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles across Scotland. 

5. To decarbonise heating 

The programme includes plans to ban fossil fuel heating in new build houses and develop regulations so new build homes in Scotland must use renewable sources of low carbon heat by 2024 — just five years away, and a year before Westminster. 

6. A “Green New Deal” 

The plan it to make hitting net-zero a primary mission of the Scottish National Investment Bank, and create a £3 billion package of investments to attract green finance to Scotland. 

7. Scottish Water

State-owned Scottish Water will commit to being net-zero by 2040, and by 2030 it will host or produce three times more renewable energy than it consumes. 

The government appears pretty confident in its plan. But what do environmental activists think?

Two of the leading environmental organisations in Scotland — WWF Scotland and Friends of the Earth Scotland — have both made their thoughts clear following the announcement. But they don’t agree on all the points. 

Gina Hanrahan, head of policy at WWF Scotland, said that it’s “great to see climate take centre stage” in the programme, and that it shows “real leadership on the climate emergency, with the kind of ambition and serious actions needed in response to the climate crisis.”

“If carried through, these commitments will slash emissions and deliver benefits to people and the Scottish environment now and for years to come,” she added. “At a time when all eyes are likely to turn to Scotland ahead of UN Climate talks in Glasgow, it’s vital we implement and build on these policies in the next Budget and Climate Plan.” 

Glasgow has been chosen as the host city for the UK and Italy’s joint bid to host the 26th Conference of the Parties next year. 

Known as COP26, the summit is a major United Nation summit on climate change — and the 2020 summit has been described as the most important gathering of world leaders against climate change since the Paris agreement was signed in 2015. 

The winning bid to host the summit hasn’t yet been announced, but the UK is reportedly considered to be the clear favourite to win. 

But it means that the pressure is really on Scotland to show that it’s a world leader in tackling climate change and its impacts. 

Friends of the Earth Scotland agrees with WWF Scotland that these announcements are welcome commitments, but it still says that Scotland isn’t yet going far enough — mainly because of the offshore oil and gas industry.

“This package includes some very welcome commitments but it not nearly enough to address the desperate climate emergency the world is facing,” said the organisation’s director, Dr. Richard Dixon. 

Dixon added that the “obvious contradiction at the heart of this programme is its commitment to some new measures in transport, heating, and agriculture while continuing to back the offshore oil and gas industry to keep on drilling and destroying our climate.” 

“The climate emergency should signal a radical change of direction, especially when it comes to planning the end of oil and gas extraction from the North Sea,” he said. “Instead we heard of an increased focus on carbon capture and storage and hydrogen, both dangerous distractions, which risk prolonging that industry and taking the focus away from real, sustainable solutions to the climate crisis.” 

In general, FOE Scotland said that the programme has “lots of headline long-term commitments but an overall failure to deliver radical emissions cuts in the short term.” 

A resonating message with the Scottish government’s programme, however, is that the plans it has laid out are “only achievable with partnership and collaboration.” 

It highlights that it will take “the shared ambition of individuals, communities, businesses, local government, the public and third sectors to make Scotland a fairer, more equal, and successful country” — and added that this collaboration “is vital to realise our potential.” 


Defend the Planet

Scotland Just Quietly Announced Some ‘Landmark’ Climate Policies. Here’s What You Need to Know.

By Imogen Calderwood