CLIMATE campaigners have warned a “gaping hole” has emerged in the SNP’s blueprint to hit legal targets after Government officials warned a reliance on a contested technology will not materialise in time.

Calls have been made for the Scottish Government to draw up an alternative strategy after an admission that negative emissions technologies (NETs) will not be ramped up quickly enough for Scotland to meet its legally binding 2030 emissions reduction target.

The Scottish Government has pledged to become net zero by 2045 when the country will essentially end its contribution to the climate crisis.

MSPs have also promised to cut 1990 levels of emissions by 75 per cent by 2030.

But a key part of the strategy involves embracing NETs, which include carbon capture and storage and developing hydrogen technology.

Under the plan, NETs are expected to reduce emissions by 3.8 MtCO2e by 2030, rising to 5.7 MtCO2e by 2032 – around a quarter of the reductions needed.

Carbon capture attempts to prevent carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere by halting its release and storing it under the seabed.

The effectiveness of the technology has been contested by some experts – and a project in the north east of Scotland has been set back after the UK Government did not give it priority status over two English projects.

The SNP’s Net Zero Secretary, Michael Matheson, has told the Herald on Sunday that carbon capture technology “is a vital part of our energy transition” and has accused the UK Government of a “serious mistake which shows a clear lack of ambition and leadership on climate change”.

Scottish Government officials have issued a warning that the 2030 target may be at risk due to the ambition in the strategy to cut emissions not matching reality.

In a monitoring report on the Scottish Government’s climate change plan update, officials have admitted that NETs in Scotland “can deliver at scale in due course” but “not at the pace assumed” in the SNP Government’s strategy.

Officials have ordered “an initial review of evidence” around NETs to investigate “challenges and uncertainties”.

In explanation for the review, officials pointed to the UK Government’s decision to not allocate the Scottish carbon capture project “as a track 1 cluster for delivery in the mid-2020s, impacting on when carbon storage underpinning NETs will be available, and industries’ appetite to invest in NETs technologies”.

Government officials have also pointed to “the availability of home-grown sustainable biomass” which would supply large scale power bioenergy with carbon capture technology.

Officials have highlighted “no public commitment to date by a commercial operator to employ a NETs model for a single large power station in Scotland”, adding that “it is unlikely that a new NETs power facility will be developed in the 2020s”.

The Scottish Government is expected to launch its hydrogen action plan later this year – that is likely to involve scaling up blue hydrogen initially – which splits natural gas into hydrogen and carbon, which is then stored.

Once that technology is scaled up, the strategy is likely to shift to prioritise green hydrogen which splits water into oxygen and hydrogen.

The Government admission comes after Holyrood witnesses and climate experts raised concerns about the NETs strategy and independent advisers, the Climate Change Committee, exclusively revealed to the Herald on Sunday last year that an alternative plan was needed.

Environmental campaigners have called for sustainable plans to be drawn up when the Scottish Government publishes its new climate change plan by the end of next year.

Friends of the Earth Scotland’s climate campaigner, Alex Lee, said: “The Scottish Government has accepted at last that its faith in carbon capture and storage and hydrogen was wildly misplaced.

“Ministers ignored repeated warnings about relying on these technologies which have a track record of over-promising and under-delivering, and now there is a gaping hole in the plan to meet climate targets.”

They added: “The Government must now go back to the drawing board and come up with a credible plan to make up for this vast shortfall, which amounts to a whopping quarter of emissions cuts in only ten years' time.

“Instead of throwing more money at fantasy techno-fixes, they should be ramping up support for reliable renewable power and energy efficiency measures which we know can deliver in the short term. “ “By the end of this decade, Scotland must have made real progress in a transformational plan that phases out fossil fuel extraction and use, while ensuring a just transition for workers and communities currently dependent on the industry."

As well as the 2030 and 2045 pledges, the Scottish Government has annual greenhouse gas reduction targets.

The latest figures released earlier this month revealed that Scotland is on track to meet its 2030 target after three years of below-par progress. But the Scottish Government has admitted it expects its figures for 2021 to rebound after travel bans and other public health measures during the pandemic were eased.

Scottish Conservatives shadow net zero secretary, Liam Kerr said: “The Scottish Conservatives support Scottish carbon capture and will continue to work with the UK Government to develop the Scottish cluster.

“However, that does not excuse the SNP from their responsibility to deliver on environmental targets and produce a robust strategy for reaching net zero, right now.

“Instead of trying to deflect from their own disastrous environmental record, the SNP should be looking at any and all measures to ensure that Scotland reaches its environmental goals and achieves the just transition to net zero we need.”

Mr Matheson, said: “As set out in our updated climate change plan, we have been conducting a review of negative emissions technologies and the role they might play in meeting Scotland’s economy-wide emissions targets from 2029 onwards.

“This review is ongoing, but our latest assessment now indicates that such technologies can deliver at scale in due course, but not at the pace previously anticipated.”

He added: “We will be publishing a new climate change plan next year.

“This plan will reflect the best available evidence, including in relation to the role of negative emissions technologies in contributing to overall emissions reductions in future years.

“It will set out policies and proposals to meet Scotland's emissions targets over the period to 2040 and will address any gaps left by changes to the current planning pathways for emergent technologies.

“Carbon capture and storage is a vital part of our energy transition, both as a mitigation approach and as a vital underpinning to negative emissions technologies.

“The UK Government’s decision not to award the Scottish cluster carbon capture project clear and definitive track 1 status is a serious mistake which shows a clear lack of ambition and leadership on climate change.

“This is a failure to sufficiently back the technology and therefore a just transition for our energy workforce in Scotland - while the Scottish Government has offered £80 million to help accelerate the Scottish cluster.”