SCOTLAND is leading the UK march towards becoming carbon zero – but ministers have come under fire for continuing to support “climate-wrecking” Heathrow expansion plans.

New research based on local authority data shows that from 2005 to 2017, Scotland cut its carbon output by 34.3 per cent, above the UK-wide average of 33.3 per cent – with England on 33.7 per cent, Wales on 25.3 per cent and Northern Ireland on 24.9 per cent.

Glasgow has cut carbon emissions over the same 12-year period by 36.4 per cent – but is behind Sheffield, Bristol, Cardiff, Liverpool, London and Liverpool, according to the analysis by Utility Bidder.

Edinburgh has cut its harmful emissions by 33.6 per cent, behind Manchester and Newcastle.

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The Scottish Government has pledged that the country will become carbon neutral by 2045, five years ahead of the UK Government’s promise. Edinburgh and Glasgow have both set ambitions to become net-zero carbon cities by 2030.

In Scotland as a whole, emissions fell from 43,930.4 tonnes of carbon in 2005 to 28,872.4 tonnes in 2017.

The UK Government’s commitment to become carbon neutral by 2050 does not include the aviation industry, while the Scottish Government’s pledge does.

But the Scottish Government has been criticised for confirming it will continue to support plans to build for a third Heathrow runway, amid claims it is “fundamentally incompatible” with a green recovery from Covid-19 - a strategy the SNP supports.

READ MORE: Scottish Government under fire for continuing support for 'climate-wrecking' Heathrow expansion

The agreement between the airport and the Scottish Government includes a pledge of up to 16,000 new jobs across Scotland as a result of the expansion.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, Willie Rennie, asked Transport Secretary Michael Matheson if he “remains committed” to the project and “what consideration it has given to withdrawing from it”.

Mr Matheson confirmed the Scottish Government continues to support the third runway project at Heathrow.

He said: “Yes, we remain committed to the memorandum of understanding between the Scottish Government and Heathrow. We are clear that expansion of the UK’s only global hub airport should deliver benefits for all the nations of the UK.

“Routes between Scotland and global hubs like Heathrow and Amsterdam are essential for Scotland’s international connectivity, supporting economic growth in Scotland and helping us deliver our trade and investment strategy. As these reasons remain valid we have not considered withdrawing from the memorandum of understanding.”

Mr Rennie has now demanded the First Minister withdraw support for the expansion of Heathrow.

He said: “I’m astonished that the Scottish Government is refusing to budge on its ill-judged support for Heathrow expansion.

“A third runway at Heathrow would result in hundreds of thousands of tonnes of extra emissions from additional flights. That will set us back on achieving our climate ambitions and is fundamentally incompatible with our desire for a green recovery from the coronavirus crisis.

“The Scottish Government’s stubborn support of this damaging venture is nonsensical and endangering the climate.”

He added: “It is really disappointing the First Minister did not look again at the support for Heathrow despite promising it to the Parliament that she would.

“People need to know the government is taking the climate threat seriously, and actions speak louder than words. The SNP must immediately heed the evidence, change their tune and withdraw their support for Heathrow’s expansion.”

Climate campaigners have also criticised ministers for continuing to pledge support to the project.

Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, Dr Richard Dixon, added: “It beggars belief that the Scottish Government have not even considered withdrawing from their backroom deal with Heathrow Airport. The High Court ruled in February 2020 that the UK Government’s decision to expand Heathrow was illegal on climate grounds.

“The Scottish Government cannot continue to support this climate-wrecking project which is opposed by those residents living nearby as well anyone who is serious about bringing down emissions in line with climate science.”

He added: “There were hopeful signs when SNP MPs abstained on the Westminster vote on a third runway, and the First Minister committed to looking at the third runway through a ‘lens of climate change’. But clearly, despite their fine words on climate change and the legal ruling, the Scottish Government have reverted to their previous unquestioning support for Heathrow expansion.

“Coronavirus has decimated the international air travel market so it is pure folly to believe that this project will ever get off the ground. We should instead be investing our time and resources into a green recovery that prioritises public transport and bringing down climate emissions from the most polluting sector of transport.”