THE SCOTTISH Government has been accused of "going backwards" in meeting a key climate pledge to clean up its fleet of lifeline ferries.

The warning comes after Transport Secretary Michael Matheson admitted that the proportion of low emissions ferries "has fallen" despite a commitment for 30 per cent of the SNP's state-run ferries to be powered by environmentally-friendly technology by 2032.

As part of the Scottish Government's promise to become a carbon neutral nation by 2045, MSPs said they would cut 1990 levels of carbon emissions by a staggering 75% by 2030.

In response to that pledge, the Scottish Government was forced to draw up an update to its climate change plan, published in December, but the original 2018 strategy included the 30% low emissions target for ferries.

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The blueprint says that the Government will "commit to continue to examine the scope for utilising hybrid and low carbon energy sources in the public sector marine fleet as part of our vessel replacement programme".

It adds: “We also have a new commitment to work with the UK Government to support proposals at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to significantly lower shipping carbon emissions in the global sector, including the option of introducing a global levy on marine fuel to fund research in cleaner technologies and fuels.”

But in a letter send to the convener of Holyrood's Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, Edward Mountain, Mr Matheson has admitted that the percentage of low emission ferries has got worse - dropping from 10% to just 8% after the Government brought five additional vessels into operation since 2018.

The Scottish Government tendered three boats operating on Northern Isles routes in 2018 before two freight ferries for the Northern Isles were also brought into action in 2019.

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After the Scottish Tory rural economy spokesperson, Jamie Halcro Johnson raised the issue, Mr Matheson penned a letter, confirming the proportion of low-polluting ferries has decreased.

Mr Matheson said: “You are right that the purchase of the five ferries currently serving the Northern Isles has increased the size of ferry fleet owned by the Scottish Government.

“This makes the 2032 target more stretching but we have chosen to retain it.”

He added: “At this time 3/36 of the Scottish Government owned ferry fleet are low emission vessels.

HeraldScotland: Transport Secretary Michael MathesonTransport Secretary Michael Matheson

“The increase in the denominator, with the addition of the Northern Isles vessels, means that although the number of low emission ferries has remained constant, the proportion in the fleet has fallen.”

The Tories have called on the Scottish Government to back up their strong commitments on tackling the climate emergency with action.

Mr Halcro Johnston, said: “The SNP’s Transport Secretary has confirmed that his Government are going backwards on low emission ferries.

“They talk a good game when it comes to meeting their climate change targets but the reality is far different."

He added: “The SNP’s Transport Secretary knows that they are nowhere near delivering the number of low emission ferries required to hit the targets they put in place.

“The only way to stop an SNP majority and get the focus back on issues like infrastructure and climate change, not another divisive referendum, is to lend the Scottish Conservatives your vote on the party ballot in May’s election.”

A policy statement published by the Scottish Government in December warns that “the shipping and aviation sectors have limited low-carbon fuel options” adding that “hydrogen or hydrogen-based fuels may represent an opportunity alongside battery electric options”.

It added: “Fuels such as ammonia (derived of hydrogen), hydrogen or related synthetic fuels have the potential to help address environmental targets in shipping, longer haul aviation and in ferries.”

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The SNP’s updated climate change plans suggests that by 2032, “we will have begun to work to decarbonise challenging transport modes, such as HGVs, ferries and aviation”. The blueprint estimates that the current 11MtCO2e of carbon emitted by transport in Scotland each year will reduce to 6.8MtCO2e by 2028 where it is expected to flatline until at least 2032.

In a submission to MSPs examining the Scottish Government’s climate emergency strategy, Camille Dressler from the Scottish Islands Federation, has pointed to the EU commitment of reducing total annual emissions from shipping “by at least 50% by 2050 compared to 2008 levels”.

She added that the Scottish Government’s 30% aim for ferries “is not a very ambitious target”, warning that “this needs to be scaled up to effect a lasting change”.

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“Hydrogen strategies combined with on-island generation strategies would seem the way forward for the smaller ferries in any case”, Ms Dressler added.

A spokesperson from Stop Climate Chaos Scotland has pointed to her organisation’s suggestion that “all new ferries should be zero emission”.

She added: “The commitment that 30% of Scottish Government owned ferries will be low emission by 2032 is welcome but rather unambitious.”