SNP ministers have been warned that “Scotland needs to do more on climate change” after official statistics showed the Government has failed to meet legally-set greenhouse gas reduction targets for the third straight year.

The data shows that Scotland has now lost benefit from its ‘carbon sink’ where trees and grassland sequester harmful carbon with land use and forestry now shown to be a "net source” of Scotland’s emissions for the first time, rather than help mitigate emissions in other areas.

Source emissions have been cut in Scotland by 43.8% from 1990 to 2019 but have only dropped by 2.3% between 2018 and 2019 - mainly from business, energy supply and domestic transport sectors.

Last year, it was announced that Scotland had failed to hit emissions reduction targets from 2017 to 2018 – blamed on the bad weather by then environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham.

The Scottish Government has been accused of having "scored a hattrick of own goals" with a failure to meet targets three years in a row ahead of the COP26 global climate conference to be held in Glasgow later this year.

READ MORE: Scottish Government's failure to meet carbon emission target blamed on cold weather

The official data to judge targets, the Greenhouse Gas Account, has been adjusted to remove the effect of successive revisions to the data over time. Of a 55% target to reduce emissions by 2019, Scotland has only cut harmful emissions by 51.5%.

Scotland has pledged to become a net zero country by 2045 and to cut 1990 levels of emissions by 75% in just nine years' time.

But failures to reduce emissions sharply enough in domestic transport and agriculture have slowed progress.

Campaigners have warned that “transformative action” is needed to get Scotland’s progress back on track.

Fabrice Leveque, head of policy at WWF Scotland, said: “Today’s climate target result makes clear that Scotland needs to do more on climate change.

“Despite some positive progress in key sectors including transport and heat, the pace continues to fall short of where we need to be if we’re to meet our net zero ambitions.

“Scientists have told us that we need to move faster, and with world leaders heading to Glasgow in November for the COP26 climate talks, it’s more crucial than ever that Scotland leads by example to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees.

The Herald:

“It’s critical that transformative action is taken, especially in agriculture, where emissions are flatlining. Peatlands have the potential to lock away huge amounts of carbon but due to their degraded state, they’re releasing this back to the atmosphere.

"Increased effort in these areas could revitalise rural economies and restore our precious nature, helping to ensure a fair and green recovery from the Covid pandemic.”

Jamie Livingstone, head of Oxfam Scotland, aded: “On the eve of the most significant global climate talks for years being hosted in Glasgow, the Scottish Government has scored a hattrick of own goals by missing its annual emissions targets three years in a row. 
“Climate change is wrecking lives, homes and communities, and pushing people deeper into poverty. While emissions fell year on year, we can afford no more excuses, no more empty promises and no more missed targets.

"Countries around the world, including Scotland, must deliver on their pledges to slash their own emissions while putting their hands in their pockets to help those least able to cope with the unfolding climate devastation which Scotland helped cause and continues to make worse.” 

Between 2018 and 2019, business, energy supply and domestic transport emissions all experienced small decreases – while the agriculture, aviation and shipping sectors “showed essentially no change”, according to the statistics.

In 2019, domestic transport was the largest source of net emissions in Scotland with 12MtCO2e, followed by businesses on 7.9MtCO2e, agriculture on 7.5MtCo2 and energy supply on 6.4MtCO2e.

An official report accompanying the statistics warns that “domestic transport has consistently been a large part of Scotland’s emissions” adding there has been a “relatively small decrease” of 11.3% between 1990 and 2019.

Domestic transport has been Scotland’s leading emitter since 2016 after the electricity grid was largely decarbonised and transport emissions only decreased by 0.3MtCO2e between 2018 and 2019.

Scotland’s agriculture sector, which has been previously criticised by campaigners for a lack of a contribution to climate targets under former rural affairs secretary Fergus Ewing, saw “essentially no change in net emissions of overall greenhouse gases” between 2018 and 2019.

READ MORE: SNP 'cannot afford to start war with farmers' over carbon targets

Following revised data, land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) emissions “are now shown to be a net-source of greenhouse gas emissions”. The report adds that “previously this category has been show to be a net-sink of greenhouse gas emissions”.

It states: “The reason for this revision is the inclusion of the effect of historical drainage and rewetting of peatlands that previously were not included in the data.

“LULUCF is now a net source of greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland, emitting 2.7MtCo2e of emissions in 2019. In 1990, emissions were 9.1MtCO2e.”

Scottish Labour spokesperson for net zero, energy and transport, Monica Lennon, said: “Scotland’s climate targets were hailed as world-leading when they were introduced, however, the SNP has again missed its targets for reducing greenhouse gases.

The Herald:

“The Scottish Government’s rhetoric on climate emergency is not being matched by action, and time is running out to protect people and planet.”

She added: “It’s hugely worrying that Scotland’s carbon sink is shrinking, with the level of greenhouse gases soaked up by forestry and land use falling sharply since 2011.

“Empty promises and missed targets are not good enough in a climate emergency. In the year of COP26 when Scotland should be leading the world we are instead failing on the basics.

“We need bold action now to get us back on track to meet these crucial targets.”

The Scottish Greens have called for a "step change" in approach to reverse consistent failures to meet targets.

The party's environment spokesperson, Mark Ruskell, said: “These latest stats show that Scotland is not cutting emissions fast enough to meet our international obligations.

"While we have seen some progress in renewable energy, emissions from transport have seen no reduction at all, while emissions from land use has actually gone up.

“This is the third year in a row where Scotland has missed our emissions targets, and the Scottish Government need to wake up to the urgency required.

"Forests and peatlands are natural carbon sinks, and we are not protecting our wild places enough or supporting farmers to lower emissions."

He added: "If governments are serious about traffic reduction then there must be a safe return to public transport in the months ahead with longer term investment to switch from roadbuilding to public transport and safer streets for walking and cycling.

“There must be a step change in Scotland’s policies to cut emissions, before it becomes irreversible.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat energy spokesperson, Liam McArthur, added: “Once again, we’re nowhere near where we need to be in terms of reducing Scotland’s emissions. The Scottish Government’s warm words will make for an even warmer planet.

“It’s troubling to see emissions from domestic transport so stubbornly high. Progress has been made in other sectors, but transport hasn’t budged. If that doesn’t change soon, we’re in trouble. And with commitments to a third runway at Heathrow still on the table, we run the risk of making things even worse.

“At the moment, people just don’t have the confidence to make the switch to environmentally friendly options. Whether it’s an electric car or a bike, the infrastructure to support the switch just isn’t there.

“Parties across parliament came together to agree ambitious targets. At the moment, the SNP simply aren’t stepping up to that challenge.”

The Scottish Government will make a statement to Holyrood on the statistics this afternoon.