SCOTLAND thinks of itself as a world leader in terms of carbon emissions policy. Environment minister Roseanna Cunningham last week described the the targets set in the Climate Bill passing through Scottish parliament as “the most ambitious statutory emissions reduction targets of any country in the world”. They include a 90 per cent reduction on 1990 levels by 2050, a 66 per cent reduction by 2030. Does that mean we should give ourselves a pat on the back? Not yet, say some experts, scientists and activists. In fact, they point out that the targets do not go far enough. Rather than 90 percent reduction by 2050, some call for net zero by 2040 or even, fast-looming ,2025.

These more extreme suggested targets reflect a wider climate of urgency, triggered by last year’s International Panel On Climate Change (IPCC) report which warned, terrifyingly, that the world needed to keep within 1.5 degrees of global warming in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. The report advised that to do this a global target of net zero carbon emissions be met by 2050. In its current form, Scotland’s bill does not satisfy that. However, its targets do look already set to tighten, altering to incorporate advice due soon from the UK Commission on Climate Change.

Christiana Figueres, the Costa Rican diplomat whose work as Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention On Climate Change was instrumental in bringing off the 2015 Paris agreement, was in Scotland last week to receive the Edinburgh Science Festival’s Edinburgh Medal. Speaking before the award, she described Scotland as “absolutely a leader in taking the long-term target”. “There’s no doubt that, at least with respect to the ambitions it is adopting, it is a leader. But the next step is we actually have to go and implement it and that’s where everyone else comes in – private sector, investment, leaders in all other areas.”

Of the Scottish targets, she said, “The new Scottish bill would take us to 90 per cent by 2050 which is fantastic. And, I think, importantly it also holds the zero net target under constant review. It’s important to realise that 90 per cent is good, but not enough. Everyone needs to go to zero net by 2050. So, by holding the zero net under review, I’m expecting that Scotland will discover they can go to zero net before 2050 – and that’s an important lesson that many countries are learning, that by setting bold targets it actually unleashes huge ingenuity.”

There are, she noted, already examples of this. “India is my favourite. Under the Paris Agreement they put out a commitment to have 40 percent renewable energy on their grid by 2030, but today, four years later, they’re so far advanced and solar energy has so taken off that they now actually can go to 60 per cent, not 40 percent and not by 2030 but 2027.”

Amongst some pressure groups and experts in Scotland, there is a fear the bill going through parliament will not push hard enough over the crucial short-term of the next decade. For some the real issue is not the 2050 target, which still seems distant and symbolic, but the need to set stronger, nearer targets, which might really galvanise change now. As Richard Dixon of Friends of the Earth Scotland puts it, “2030 is more important because it is asks what policies do you need to enact tomorrow to reduce emissions over the next decade?”

One of the big debates is how we create global and local climate justice? Should Scotland take on proportionately more of the burden – by comparison with less developed countries? For Christiana Figueres, “burden” is the wrong word. “The problem," she said, "is that it assumes that there is a sacrifice to be made here. But it’s not about sacrificing. This is actually about modernising the economy to meet 21st century demands. It’s not about decreasing our quality of life. It’s about increasing it, making it safer for ourselves, and certainly for others, without the carbon footprint. For 150 years we’ve been growing GDP and growing greenhouse gases, as though they were inextricably linked. They are no longer. We have to bring down the greenhouse gases, and in some countries there won't be a need to reduce your GDP – you could maintain it or it could increase – because you will be more efficient with your natural resources."

For Figueres, justice is nevertheless key. "We have to make sure that we’re not leaving the bottom of the pyramid behind. This is the energy revolution of this century. When we had the industrial revolution, we did leave many people behind. We can’t make that mistake again. We have to make sure we intentionally bring those people who are disproportionately affected by climate change – who are on the bottom rung – the benefits of the revolution."

Professor Jim Skea, the Scottish sustainability expert who co-chairs the IPCC, was also in Edinburgh last week. He said that target-setting is, on some level, a "philosophical question”.” Do you do what you feel absolutely comfortable that you can achieve with the approaches you have already? Or do you go for a stretch target, where you don’t know what you’re going to achieve, but you’re counting on the fact that the target induces new innovation, and you trust a little bit on human ingenuity?”

The philosophy of carbon target setting is, he observed, “quite different in Scotland than the UK”. “The UK approach is very much, 'What can we do on the basis of current knowledge?' But there appears to be a much bigger appetite in Scotland for stretch-targets, in which you cross the fingers and trust the ingenuity.”

Nevertheless, said Skea, the real problem is that we are not even, right now, globally and nationally, doing all that is feasible. “It would be wonderful if we just got a move on and went in the right direction, because we’re not. We need to do more. There are things that are feasible that we’re not doing at the moment.”

0 by 2050 or before, peak global emissions by 2020

Christiana Figueres, convener of Mission 2020

"We’re holding the anchor of the target of peak emissions by 2020. Last year the global greenhouse gas emissions went up again by 1.7 per cent which is unconscionable. We’re meant to be going down. But we are holding that anchor because it is absolutely fundamental for the world to place itself by 2020, only next year, in the position to begin the very sharp descent so that by 2030 we can be at the position of 50% of current emissions.

I do think that is possible. Think about it as though we were climbing a mountain. We’re almost at the top. We still have to push to get to the top, but then once you get there, the mountain descends at the other side. But we’re still at that last stretch, which is exhausting. Everyone says, 'I can’t do it. My legs are tired.' And that’s understandable. But we have to get to that top.

The only way we’re going to get to net zero by 2050 is by hitting targets before then, and that’s why we don’t give up on 2020, is to put ourselves in a position of bending that curve down in 2020 and by 2030 being at 50% of where we are now. ”

0 by 2050, globally, 45 per cent reduction on 2010 emissions by 2030

Professor Jim Skea, co-chair of the IPCC

“If we want to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees then globally emissions will need to reach net zero by around 2050. We pointed out in the 1.5 degrees report that in 2030 emissions would need to be about 45 per cent from 2010 levels to be on course to prevent 1.5 degree warming. But 2030 is awfully close, and it’s manifestly true that the pledges that governments made after Paris are putting us on a track for three degrees warming and we are on track for emissions in 2030 that would probably be slightly higher than they are now.”

Scotland: 0 by 2050 or earlier

Professor Dave Reay, Chair in Carbon Management, University of Edinburgh

“For most nations of the world the current targets in the Climate Change Bill would be something to crow about, but Scotland is not like most nations. To date we have shown leadership on climate change legislation, we have cut emissions from electricity generation at a rate few thought was possible. Now though, it gets much harder. If Scotland is serious about meeting the Paris Climate Goals, and about paying more than lip service to its 'world leading' climate tag, then our nation must commit to net zero emissions by the middle of the century. Whether by 2050 or earlier, it will mean huge upheavals in every sector and in all our lives. This transition to net zero must be rapid, it must also be just.”

Scotland: 0 by 2040, 80 per cent reduction by 2030

Richard Dixon, Friends of the Earth Scotland

“There are two targets that are being discussed in relation to the climate bill. One is what do we do in the long term? The government are saying 90 percent reduction by 2050, but these were figures created before the 1.5 degrees IPCC report, and now everybody is thinking more urgency is needed. Friends of the Earth has always said net zero by 2040 and that’s partly because we build in a bit more international equity. We consider that because we invented the industrial revolution in Scotland, we should be doing more than a country that is trying to catch up in technical terms.

Then there’s the short-term target which is 2030 and that’s the one which is more important. 2030 is about what you do in the next decade. But what the government have offered in their new climate bill is pretty much nothing other than what is required by the current Climate Act 2009 – and actually the Committee on Climate Change advised them on that. So that’s very frustrating when the IPCC have specifically said the next decade is crucial. If you do no more than you thought of in 2009, you’re not stopping climate change. At Friends of the Earth, we’re saying 80 percent by 2030.”

Scotland: 50 per cent reduction on current emissions by 2022

Finlay Pringle, age 11, climate striker

"I think we should set targets for the next two or three years, because that means that the politicians then will still be around to try and sort it out instead of just kicking the can down the road for when they won’t be there. 50% reduction in the next two to three years would be good."

Scotland: 0 by 2025

Robert Alcock, Extinction Rebellion Scotland

“Extinction Rebellion’s point of view on targets is that you can’t negotiate with science. Following the publication of the IPCC report last year, the UK Health Alliance called on the UK government to take the lead and become carbon net zero by 2030. Now Scotland is a country that has has the among the highest historical emissions, so we think that Scotland has a responsibility to do better than the average. And furthermore this 2030 target is actually quite conservative. So we’re calling for Scotland to go carbon neutral by 2025.”