SNP ministers are poised to delay their crucial updated climate change plan – adding to fears that Scotland is off track in hitting its ambitious legal emissions reduction targets.

The Scottish Government is due to publish its updated blueprint to reduce harmful emissions by the end of the month, but ministers are set to delay the publication of the plan into next year amid Rishi Sunak rolling back a series of UK-wide net zero policies.

In September, the Prime Minister announced he was delaying several key 2030 targets for decarbonising transport and heat in buildings to 2035 or watering them down altogether.

The PM said he was still committed to the UK’s 2050 net zero pledge, but his strategy means that more drastic action will be needed in the coming decades to keep aims on track.

A Scottish Government source said that it was “inevitable” that the plan will be delayed.

Read more: Net zero U-turn: Rishi Sunak has 'thrown in towel' on climate crisis

They added: “It is important that this plan delivers, so the Scottish Government needs to get it right.

“The UK Government has forced the hand with Rishi Sunak trying to create some distance with Labour and rolling back policies, so it’s no surprise that the strategy will need tweaking to take account of this.”

The Scottish Government has missed eight out of its last 12 annual greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets – leading to ministers admitting that more work was required for progress to catch up.

Read more: SNP to target cleaning up housing and transport in new climate plan

The move to delay the strategy would also likely anger the Climate Change Committee, which usually publishes its annual report in December – but has delayed the document so the updated climate change plan can be assessed as part of that work.

MSPs have pledged to become net zero, when Scotland’s contribution to the climate crisis will end, by 2045, five years ahead of the UK-wide 2050 aim.

Holyrood also agreed tough interim targets including a legally-binding commitment to cut 1990 levels of emissions by 75% by 2030.

The last climate change plan update, published in December 2020, set out how each sector such as transport, industry, heating, will decarbonise over the coming decades.

It highlighted that progress had stalled in cutting transport emissions, while agriculture and heat in building emissions were not making enough progress.

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The latest monitoring report of the last climate change plans revealed that many aims are off target or it is “too early to tell”.

SNP Net Zero Secretary, Mairi McAllan, told The Herald that the Scottish Government was “still in the midst of making sure that we understand all of the implications of the UK Government’s changes”.

She added: “Once I have a firm view on that, I’ll update parliament.

“What the UK Government has done is a derailing of progress.

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“I’m still trying to consider all the implications on it. I want to remain on course but we have to be realistic.

“We’re not finished with the assessment of it yet.”

The prospect of delaying the climate change plan comes after SNP Energy Minister Gillian Martin announced that the Scottish Government’s energy strategy, which was due to be published in the spring of 2022 will now not be finalised until the summer of 2024.

In May, Ms McAllan exclusively told The Herald that the updated climate change plan will prioritise cleaning up heat in buildings and transport emissions.

Read more: SNP Energy minister at odds with Humza Yousaf over oil and gas transition

Concerns have been raised about the Scottish Government’s key waste targets being off track, including a 2025 ban on landfill waste, with the delayed deposit return scheme potentially making matters worse.

The Scottish Government remains significantly behind a target due to be met in 2020 for 11% of homes to have renewable heating systems installed – with the initial target due to double to 22% by 2030.

Ministers are “considering alternative approaches and metrics” to measure success amid the lack of progress and “will publish an updated target for renewable heat” later this year.

Read more: Council bosses demand net zero 'roadmap' amid fears over 2030 targets

Edward Mountain, convener of Holyrood’s Net Zero Committee, has written to Ms McAllan, asking for “clarity” over the plan being published.

In a letter, Mr Mountain has asked Ms McAllan for “an update as to when you intend to lay the draft” climate plan, and has set a deadline of Thursday for a response.

Gina Hanrahan, head of policy at WWF Scotland, said: “It’s now almost certain that 2023 will be the hottest year on record with accelerating climate impacts and extreme weather being felt everywhere.

"We need the Scottish Government to be treating this like the emergency that it is – and delaying the climate change plan is not the answer.

“Early action helps build resilience, reduce the costs of the transition and protect the vulnerable – that’s why we need a sense of urgency from the climate change plan alongside transformational policies to slash emissions and energy bills – like the long-awaited heat in buildings bill.”

Mike Robinson, the chairman of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, warned "there is no time to delay action to reduce emissions and deliver a transition to a greener, healthier, fairer world".

He added: "Scotland has been a climate leader, with relatively ambitious climate targets but, having missed 8 of the last 12 annual targets, a huge step up in action is needed.

"The new climate change plan is a crucial document that must contain bold, ambitious new policies across all sectors, including agriculture, transport and heating, and the Scottish Government must do as much as it can, as quickly and fairly as it can, if we are to have any chance of reducing our impact and showing true climate leadership. 

"Clearly, the UK Government is responsible for some reserved matters that influence emissions and recent changes in UK policy have been incredibly disappointing.

"Both governments should more clearly set out what their policies mean for emissions – and how they interact. Both the UK and Scottish Governments can, and should, be more ambitious and act like we are in the emergency situation they have both declared."

Scottish Conservative shadow net zero secretary, Douglas Lumsden, said: “If the SNP do delay their climate change update, it will be no great surprise. They have continually missed the targets that they set for themselves and concentrated on rhetoric rather than action.

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“Achieving real net zero targets will need a serious government that implements practical and sensible measures, not the SNP’s grandstanding and failure to deliver.”

Scottish Labour’s net zero spokesperson, Sarah Boyack, said: "This is just the latest in a series of missed deadlines and broken promises from the SNP.

"The SNP has been dragging its heels on its climate change plan for far too long. We don't need any further delay, we need real action and leadership so Scotland can reach its net zero targets.”