Scotland could confidently end its climate emissions to reach net zero by 2045 according to a new report published last week which highlights the country’s abundant natural resources and existing ambition.
The new report, “A Climate of Possibility: Harnessing Scotland’s natural resources to end our contribution to climate change,” was commissioned by WWF Scotland and conducted by Vivid Economics, and sets out pathways for Scotland to achieve net zero — the term given to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing carbon capture options to the point that the net balance is zero.
Scotland has a particularly unique opportunity to achieve this target faster than other countries. Sweden has already set a net zero target for 2045 and New Zealand by 2050, and Scotland’s political ambition to match their peers is stronger than in many other places. The country’s Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Climate Change has committed to legislating for net zero as soon as a pathway has been identified, stating that “If the UK Committee on Climate Change advises us that a net zero target is now feasible…we will do it.”
As part of the United Kingdom, Scotland can still act on its own, but that is not to say that the UK is not also considering net zero policies. The UK’s Secretary of State has said that “The UK will need to legislate for a net-zero emissions target at an appropriate point in the future to provide legal certainty on where the UK is heading” and, working with the Scottish Government, have asked — in the wake of the IPCC’s Special Report on 1.5°C — the UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) to analyze what the 1.5°C target might look like.
The new Vivid Economics report published by WWF Scotland, therefore, serves to provide insight into what achieving net zero for Scotland would mean, and finds that there exist multiple options for Scotland to deliver and exceed net zero by 2050 — even accounting for weaker development of greenhouse gas removal technologies. To reach net zero, according to the report, deep emissions reductions will be necessary across all sectors of the Scottish economy. This will require ramping up existing efforts in buildings, industry, and agriculture — sectors where Scottish emissions have been relatively slow. But there are also sectors where further action is possible and, therefore, necessary:
- The power sector, transport and buildings sectors can all reach zero or near-zero emissions.
- Emissions in industry can be reduced by at least 60% without reducing productive capacity.
- Agriculture can reduce emissions by around 35% while maintaining current production levels. Farms will have a growing and crucial role in deploying carbon sinks to help offset emissions.
- Carbon sinks have a critical role to play in balancing remaining emissions, and can even take us beyond net zero to -120% emissions reduction by 2050 with enough policy support and a strategic approach.
According to the report, if Scotland were to deploy all known emission reduction measures across its economy, it would emit around 13 MtCO2e per year in 2050. Compensating for these necessary emissions could be done through a range of greenhouse gas removal techniques which have a potential of not only delivering net zero, but net -31 MtCO2e of greenhouse gas reduction.
“We know that climate change is one of the biggest threats facing people and nature,” said Gina Hanrahan, head of policy at WWF Scotland. “To avoid the most dangerous consequences at home and abroad, we need to urgently cut our emissions and rapidly increase our carbon sinks through tree planting, restoring peatlands and improving the health of our soils.
“In the ten years since the previous Climate Change Bill we’ve already reduced emissions by nearly half and made truly incredible progress in cutting the carbon from our power sector. There’s still much to be done to ensure everyone in Scotland is living in a warm, low carbon home, can breathe clean air and that we are producing the best of low carbon food.”
“This report makes clear that there is a credible route-map for Scotland to achieve net zero in the 2040s,” Hanrahan continued. “We are laden with natural advantages for net zero. From our abundant renewable energy resource, to our large land area suitable for carbon sinks, to our history of innovation and skilled workforce, this new report shows we can hit net zero before other UK nations and be among the global leaders on this issue.”
“A strong long-term emission target can unlock low carbon opportunities for Scotland,” added Maarten Hage, Senior Economist, Vivid Economics. “In particular due to its large per capita land area, Scotland is well placed to pursue emissions reductions through afforestation and other low carbon land management practices. Although there is uncertainty as to the precise scope and scale of deployment, what is clear is that these options are vital to achieving net-zero and realising the ambitions of the Paris Agreement.”
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