THE Scottish Government has agreed more needs to be done to encourage use of renewable heat following concerns it is falling short of its own climate crisis targets.

The Scottish Government has set a target for 11% of non-electrical heat demand in Scotland to come from renewable sources by 2020.

And energy minister Paul Wheelhouse has now said the country was currently at 6.3% leading to concerns that the Scottish Government will miss its target. That was a rise of 14% in a year.

Renewable heat technologies include solar and geothermal heating and heat pumps which tap into the energy which is permanently present underground. 

The development came as environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced it would establish an advisory panel to ensure Scotland's environmental standards aren't compromised in the event of a 'no deal' Brexit.

The panel is to be chaired by Jim Martin, the current chairman of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, who will help design the approach the panel will take.

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It came after the Herald revealed a report from by Professor Campbell Gemmell, former head of Scottish Environment Protection Agency, warned that Scotland's preparations to protect its world-renowned natural environment after Brexit remain “inadequate” and “urgent” action was needed to address gaps.

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Mr Wheelhouse admitted in a written answer that investment in renewable heat in Scotland had slowed down because of changes to incentive schemes by the UK Government.

And he added: "The Scottish Government recognises we must go further to support and encourage the uptake of renewable heat."

Scottish Green energy spokesperson Mark Ruskell said: "For a government that likes to talk up its eye-catching targets on climate, the SNP remain woefully incapable of actually meeting them.

"It looks very unlikely we will get to the modest ambition of 11% renewable heat by next year while Sweden is on course to reach 100%. We need to use the powers we have to make our homes more efficient and rapidly expand heat networks infrastructure.

"While it's been disappointing Westminster have cut the subsidy for green heating we have control over building standards and planning and must act now. These targets have been in place for nearly a decade and yet compared to renewable electricity we have seen glacial progress.

"Financial subsidy, even when it was set at more attractive levels, did not deliver a step change shift to renewable heating, this needs more regulation and sector planning from government."

Heating accounts for half of Scotland’s energy use – and most of that is powered by fossil fuels.

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Mr Ruskell added: "Four out of five Scottish households currently use gas central heating. Why on earth are newly built homes still being plugged into the gas grid when keeping Scotland's buildings warm accounts for around half of all energy consumption and climate emissions?

"We need a strong policy framework for warm, affordable and zero-carbon homes, such as we propose in the Scottish Green New Deal."

Mr Wheelhouse said that since 2013, the Scottish Government has invested around £40 million in renewable heat schemes through the Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Programme and the District Heating Loan Fund, helping to reduce emissions and tackle fuel poverty.

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He said: "It is encouraging to see that a number of projects have recently come on line and there are a number in the pipeline, which will contribute to an increasing proportion of our heat coming from renewable sources in the next few years."

The Scottish Government has also set a a target by 2032 of having 35% of heat for domestic buildings and 70% of heat and cooling for non-domestic buildings supplied using low carbon technologies, where technically feasible.

And Mr Wheelhouse said the Scottish Government had recently launched the £30 million Scottish Low Carbon Heat Funding Invitation for local and industrial heat projects and were "committed to working with stakeholders to develop regulations to ensure that new homes consented from 2024 use renewable or low carbon heat".

He said they were almost three quarters of the way towards an ambition to connect 40,000 homes to heat networks - which use a range of renewable energy sources - by 2020.

Mr Wheelhouse said next summer the Scottish Government is due to publish a Heat Decarbonisation Policy Statement setting out a "new pathway for reducing emissions associated with heating our buildings, in line with our climate change targets".

Scotland has been at the forefront of the climate change debate for many years and even more so in the last few months - having agreed to an ambitious target of net zero emission by 2045, five years ahead of the rest of the UK.

The progress report on non-electrical heat demand came as the World Wildlife Fund warned the country needs to double public spending on home energy efficiency to £250 million a year if it is to meet climate crisis targets, warning that the country is moving too slowly to wean itself from planet-destroying gas boilers.

The campaign group reckons Scotland needs to double its current level of energy efficiency updates to 80,000 a year.

The group hired Vivid Economics to calculate how much work needs to get done for Scotland to achieve zero-net carbon by 2045.

The economists worked out that, on average, 70,000 homes per year will need to have a renewable heating system installed annually between now and 2050. That compares with between 1,000 and 2,000 homes per year currently.

The WWF research echoes work done for ScottishPower, which said that some £16 billion will have to be spent by 2045 replacing two million gas boilers with electric heat pumps.

A study earlier this year by The Royal Society of Edinburgh, said that Scotland faces "substantial obstacles" in the drive to cut carbon while keeping energy supplies reliable and affordable. Tougher rules will need to be put in place making new housing and other buildings more energy efficient.

Charles Dundas, chair of Scottish Environment LINK, said of the new advisory panel:  “A No Deal Brexit would leave Scotland’s environment extremely vulnerable, and we’re delighted that the Scottish Government has made plans to prevent standards slipping. 

“We believe that in the longer term it is essential that Scotland has an independent, well-resourced environmental watchdog to uphold environmental protections and hold future governments to account.”