A DOZEN of the world’s leading climate scientists are urging Scotland to adopt an ambitious new target to cut polluting carbon emissions.

Professors from Cambridge, Oxford, London, Edinburgh and Aberdeen universities have written a letter to the Sunday Herald calling on the Scottish Government to aim for “net zero emissions for Scotland by 2050 at the latest”.

Ministers have long been committed to reducing emissions 80 per cent by 2050 and have published plans to increase that to 90 per cent. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has recently hinted that she may go further and an announcement is expected soon.

The scientists say that the world needs to limit the global average temperature increase to 1.5 degrees centigrade to avoid “large negative impacts”. Climate change is already having major impacts on people and wildlife around the world, they warn.

Meeting targets agreed internationally in Paris [in 2016, dealing with greenhouse gas emissions] “requires urgent, transformational global action to rapidly reduce emissions to achieve net zero emissions globally by the second half of the century,” they argue.

“In the interests of equity, richer nations like Scotland clearly need to achieve this goal much sooner than developing nations.”

One of the signatories, Dr James Hansen from Columbia University in the US, criticised big nations for failing to tackle climate change. “Demonstration of leadership by a nation such as Scotland would be a big help as we continue the fight to push laggard nations for the actions needed to stem climate change,” he said.

Pete Smith, Professor of Soils and Global Change at the University of Aberdeen, believes Scotland has an opportunity to lead the world. “We urge the Scottish Government to take up this challenge when it revisits its targets in the coming weeks,” he said.

Gabi Hegerl, Professor of Climate System Science at the University of Edinburgh, argued that humanity needed to stop burning fossil fuels. “Scotland is well placed to lead this transformation, as we have good resources of renewable energy,” she said.

“For the sake of ourselves, and our children, lets generate the energy we need from other sources now.”

The joint letter was initiated by the scientists and co-ordinated by WWF Scotland. Half the plant and animal species in the world’s key natural habitats could be wiped out by climate change, warned the environment group’s Gina Hanrahan.

“Wildlife and people here in Scotland, and around the world, are already feeling the impact of climate change,” she said. “Scotland’s politicians must use the upcoming climate change bill to send a clear message that we will secure the benefits of leading the global transition to a zero emissions economy.”

Last week communities from around the world also called on Scotland to up its game to help prevent droughts, storms and floods. Representatives from Africa, Asia and Alaska pressed Scottish ministers to aim for net zero carbon emissions.

According to the Scottish Government, Scotland was internationally acknowledged as a world leader in tackling greenhouse gas emissions. “We are on track to meet our 2020 target to reduce emissions by 42 per cent and have recently published a new climate change plan to ensure this progress continues over the coming decades,” said a spokesperson.

“We support the Paris Agreement aspiration for global emissions to reach net-zero levels during this century. We are considering responses to our consultation on the climate change bill and will shortly set out our proposals to increase our long-term ambition even further, in direct response to the Paris Agreement.”