ALMOST three quarters of Scottish businesses have no plans to cut their carbon emissions in the next year despite the country hosting global efforts in just 16 weeks' time to tackle the climate emergency.

The admission was revealed in research undertaken by the Office for National Statistics ahead of the COP26 climate conference being held in Glasgow in November.

Business leaders want the attention on Scotland at COP26 to kickstart progress – warning it is “crucial” that traders take advance of the event.

Earlier this year, Finance Secretary Kate Forbes warned that Scotland will not be able to meet its ambitious climate targets without “leveraging in private investment” to help clean up the economy.

SNP ministers have been urged to offer more support to businesses to transform their operations to contribute to the Scottish Government’s world-leading climate targets – with firms struggling to invest as they attempt to recover from the pandemic.

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The SNP Government has pledged to transition Scotland into a carbon net zero nation by 2045, while MSPs have set an interim target of cutting 1990 level of emissions by 75% by 2030.

Ministers have announced millions of pounds of funding to help industries including the oil and gas, industrial and manufacturing sectors to transform their operations to net zero – but traders have told government officials that ambition is set to be curtailed over the next 12 months.

The latest Business Insights and Conditions Survey (BICS) interviewed 1,189 businesses in June.

The study found that 71.8% of firms have no plans to take any action in the next 12 months to cut their emissions including 20.7% who firmly said they will not make any changes to become more environmentally friendly.

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Only 13% of businesses taking part in the study said they planned to adjust heating and cooling systems in the next 12 months, 7% plan to electrify their vehicle fleet and only 4% have drawn up plans to insulate their buildings.

Scottish Conservative MSP, Maurice Golden, said the figures show that SNP ministers must do more to assist businesses into becoming more environmentally friendly and playing their part in the transition to net zero.

Mr Golden warned the problem lay with the 71.8% of firms who had no intention of making changes, or didn’t know what to do over the next 12 months.

Without the business community on board, Mr Golden warned that Scotland would struggle to hit its net zero ambitions.

He said: “We are facing a climate emergency and it won’t be addressed unless we can get businesses on board.

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“After the 15 months we’ve had, it’s totally understandable that introducing green measures isn’t necessarily a priority for firms right now.

“That’s why we need to see some action from the Scottish Government to help.”

He added: “Ministers need to find ways to help these businesses reduce their carbon emissions without damaging productivity or turnover and fully participate in the circular economy.

“With the correct approach, there could even be opportunities economically from ensuring Scottish employers are turning their minds to the environment.

“The Scottish Government hasn’t been slow in declaring a climate emergency – now it needs to come good on the actions that emergency will require.”

As the pandemic swept across Scotland last summer, the Scottish Government’s advisory group on economy recovery, led by former Tesco Bank chief, Benny Higgins, warned that “the green economic recovery is central to recovery overall”.

A report from the group added that the Scottish Government “needs to establish a priority on delivering transformational change with clear sector plans, where the coincidence of emissions reductions, the development of natural capital and job creation is the strongest”.

It said: “As businesses rethink their business models following the crisis, there is a real opportunity to use circular economy principles to promote new ways of reducing our use of scarce natural resources.”

But businesses have called for more support and help from the Scottish Government to enable firms struggling to recover from the pandemic, to make sustainable decisions.

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Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: “Scotland and its businesses will be at the beating heart of international action on climate change when Glasgow hosts COP26 later this year.

“This coming together of world leaders in the fields of politics and industry presents a significant opportunity for Scottish businesses and it’s crucial that they can take advantage of the event by not only showcasing the best of Scottish business, but also developing a better understanding of how they can contribute towards meeting the climate challenge.

“Scotland has the potential to lead the world when it comes to tackling climate change.”

She added: “The Scottish business community is ready and eager to play its part to enable our transition to net-zero.

“We need the Scottish and UK Government to facilitate practical policy measures including financial and investment initiatives as well as real engagement opportunities during COP26.

“With the event only sixteen weeks away, it is essential that Scottish businesses are able to take advantage of this and provide innovative solutions to one of the biggest challenges we face in the 21st century.”

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has stressed that despite traders holding ambitions to clean up their operations, many firms may not have the resources or devoted staff to seek out opportunities.

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Director of devolved nations for FSB Scotland, Colin Borland, said: “We’ve seen over the last year or so that there’s no shortage of innovation and flexibility in Scotland’s small business community. What we are short on, however, is clarity on the steps firms can take to reduce their carbon footprint.

“There are good resources out there, and plenty of organisations looking to help businesses decarbonise, but while some small businesses will be on top of this, others simply don’t have the resources to devote to tracking this information down, on top of all of the immediate challenges of survival and recovery.

“Government and other organisations need to make a co-ordinated effort to make advice and support easily accessible, so that small businesses who are focused on getting back on their feet can be assured that going green needn’t cost the earth.”

Scottish Labour has pointed to a failure of the Scottish Government to keep its emission reduction targets on track and has called for a blueprint to be drawn up to allow progress to be made.

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Labour’s spokesperson for net zero, energy and transport, Monica Lennon, said: “A green recovery should be a basic principle at the heart of our decision making, but under the SNP it has been reduced to an empty catch-phrase.

“We are already falling behind on our climate change targets, but this hasn’t spurred the government into action in the slightest.

“If we are to have a chance of getting back on track businesses will need to change – but even those who are desperate to do so are getting no support.

“We need a real strategy to build a green economy and embed the highest environmental standards into every sector.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Every part of our economy and society needs to pull together as part of the national effort to reach net zero.

“We are committed to helping businesses become more energy efficient and are providing funding through a number of schemes to support decarbonisation measures.

“The SME loan and cashback scheme provides interest free loans up to £100,000 to Scottish organisations for energy and resource efficiency projects. Our new offer launched in 2020 provides cashback up to £20,000 towards renewable heat and energy efficiency measures. 

“Advice and support for SME businesses can be accessed via our energy efficiency business support service.”