NET Zero Secretary Michael Matheson has admitted Scotland failing to hit legally-set carbon reduction targets for the third year running is a “wake-up call” to keep ambitious aims on track.

Mr Matheson has ordered a “catch-up plan” after new data revealed Scotland has only cut harmful emissions by 51.5% by 2019 of a 55% target.

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.

READ MORE: SNP fails to hit greenhouse gas targets for third straight year

Speaking in Holyrood, Mr Matheson admitted that it was “undoubtedly disappointing that the annual targets have not been met", adding that Scotland's route to net zero by 2045 is "a very challenging journey".

MSPs have pledged to cut 1990 levels of carbon emissions by 75% in just nine years time. Even before the latest blow to progress emerged, opponents had called for dozens of recommendations made by four Holyrood committees to the Scottish Government’s climate change plan update to be implemented.

Mr Matheson said: “Implementing and delivering the update to the climate change plan must remain our priority, but we will also now urgently develop a catch-up report from the missed 2019 target and aim to publish this within six months at the very latest.

“Looking further ahead into the session, we agreed during last week’s debate that the next full climate change plan should also then be brought forward as soon as possible. This approach reflects the urgency which the climate emergency demands.”

But the Cabinet Secretary stressed that “whilst it is undoubtedly disappointing that the annual target has not been met”, he pointed out that “we continue to out-perform the UK as a whole in delivering long-term reductions”.

He added: “Crucially, we are now over halfway to becoming a net zero society.

“We should be proud of the steps taken so far but also recognise that there is a long way to go.

READ MORE: MSPs agree to work with oil and gas sector in transition to net zero

“Even when we do fall a little short, as is unfortunately the case today, Scotland’s climate legislation ensures that even deeper reductions will be achieved in the future.”

But the Scottish Conservatives have highlighted that despite the legally-set targets, there are no guarantees that aims and promises will be met.

Conservative net zero, energy and transport spokesperson, Liam Kerr, said: “Yet again, this SNP Government has missed its own statutory target for reducing emissions.

“Time and time again, in portfolio after portfolio, be it health, justice, education, now this - we see this SNP Government put statutory targets in place which are then missed then blame others for that failure.

“Despite what the Cabinet Secretary says, the legislation clearly doesn’t ensure reductions.”

Labour’s net zero, energy and transport spokesperson, Monica Lennon, appealed for the ‘catch-up report’ to be published before Scotland hosts the COP26 conference.

She added: “It is disappointing that the Scottish Government has again missed its target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“With Glasgow hosting COP26 this year, we all want Scotland to live up to our ambitions and set a good example globally. Today is a wake-up call to get our own house in order.”

Mr Matheson recognised “the need for us to not only take this as a wake-up call but a commitment to work collectively together in order to make sure that we meet the statutory target”.

He said he was asked officials to ensure the catch-up plan is “completed in the next six months, not necessarily by six months”, adding it would help MPSs look at “what further policy measures we can take forward to act as a catch-up to the missing of the target”.