February 6, 2018

Graeme Dickson - 2020 Group board member

Keeping up the ambition: delivering Scotland’s world-leading climate change targets

In this blog, board member Graeme Dickson describes why the next stage of Scotland’s emissions reduction targets will be harder to meet, and what businesses and individuals – in addition to the government – must do to shape Scotland into a thriving low-carbon country.

Scotland has some of the most demanding climate change targets in the World. The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 set a world leading interim target of 42% reduction by 2020. That was, however, more demanding than the Scottish Government initially proposed, and resulted from pressure by NGOs such as Stop Climate Chaos Scotland (SCCS) and the business community. Nevertheless, Scotland met its net annual targets in 2014 and 2015, and is on target to meet the target net reduction of 42% by 2020.

In its progress report in 2017, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) commented that Scotland’s emissions reductions were largely driven by decarbonisation of the power sector. That was partly driven by considerable investment in renewables – with government backing – in addition to EU Regulation impacting on coal plants. Emissions will no doubt have fallen even further in 2016 following the closure of the last coal generation station at Longannet.  So, further reductions from this sector will be very limited.

Chart 1 below shows the source of Scotland’s emissions reductions until now and highlights the drop in power emissions. Waste has also made a good contribution as landfill has reduced. However, there has been little success in emissions reductions from transport, agriculture and heat, particularly from non-residential buildings. Indeed, emissions have risen in some areas. And, of course, it doesn’t take account of ‘Carbon Leakage’ as we have exported much of our manufacturing.

Chart 1. Source: Committee on Climate Change, 2017. Click image to enlarge.

This background will make the next stage of the target reductions much more demanding. And those targets themselves are likely to increase. The Scottish Government has consulted on a new Climate Change Bill that will increase the 2050 target to a 90% reduction. The responses to consultation show that many want a zero net greenhouse gas target to be set now. SCCS is seeking a net zero target by 2050 and a 77% reduction target for 2030. The history of the 2009 Bill suggests that Parliament may well vote for those higher targets.

So, with all of the easy gains already made, how will further demanding reductions be achieved?

Chart 2 below shows the government’s draft plans by sector until 2032. They envisage some radical changes. Electricity will be wholly decarbonised by 2030 with some negative emissions produced by biofuel with Carbon Capture and Storage. Domestic and non-domestic buildings will have near zero emissions by 2032 through either greater electric heating or a move to hydrogen fuelled heating. Transport emissions will be reduced by 32% compared to 2014. However, the First Minister announced after publication of these plans her aim that new petrol and diesel cars would be phased out by 2032. Food waste will also be reduced by 50% by 2030.

Agriculture makes a small contribution with most farmers merely implementing best practice in nutrient management and woodland cover is planned to increase from 18% to 21% of land area. Land Use and Forestry will become a net emitter of CO2e by 2027 having provided a carbon sink for many years.

Chart 2. Source: Scottish Government, 2017. Click image to enlarge.

The CCC has advised the Scottish Government to be more ambitious in its plans for ultra-low-emission vehicles matching the First Minister’s announcement. It also believes that 80% of heat being low carbon by 2032 is unlikely to be feasible. And it points out that the plan had very little in the way of new policies or commitments.

So how can we ensure that these ambitious plans are delivered? The key to much of it will be in how well local and national government engages with business.

A simple starting point is the support regime for agriculture, forestry and land use. The subsidy regime needs to be updated to take account of climate change impact as well as rural sustainability, and support for food and timber production. Serious and well moderated discussion between rural businesses, communities and the government will be required. No forum, however, yet exists to allow that to happen.

The decarbonisation of heating is the greatest challenge. Moving the national gas grid from natural gas (methane) to hydrogen is technically feasible albeit expensive in terms of cost and energy. There have been trials, and the technology to strip CO2 from methane exists. We also have many proven reservoirs in the North Sea to store the resulting waste CO2. However, both the change in infrastructure and producing new, cleaner gas will cost more. Who will pay for that bearing in mind that fuel poverty is still a great problem in Scotland?

One route could be a deal where energy providers are incentivised to improve energy efficiency for consumers so they are delivering better heated premises, not higher cost gas. We need to find a way for that engagement with business and consumers to begin. Changing consumer behaviour will be key.

The other route envisaged by the Scottish Government is through electrifying the majority of our energy consumption. It therefore also ties in with it plans for electric vehicles. The challenge behind that is illustrated by Chart 3 which is taken from the government’s 2017 Energy Strategy, “The Future of Energy in Scotland”.

Chart 3. Source: Scottish Government, 2017. Click image to enlarge.

The bottom blue line shows our current electricity consumption over a three-year period. The light blue line above it shows the equivalent energy required by transport: it is about 1.5 times our current electricity use. If we are to electrify all of our cars and light vehicles, it will require both substantial additional carbon-free generation capacity, and considerable strengthening of local distribution networks to power electric vehicle charging.

It is clear that an undertaking of that nature will be a very challenging technical project. It will require both large scale investment by businesses, and coordination with local government planners and utilities. The recent rollout of high speed broadband – which still is incomplete – will look fairly modest in comparison to this project.

The electrification of heating, perhaps through widespread use of air source heat pumps takes the delivery challenge to a further level. As the chart shows, energy demand for heat (in green) ranges from about 3.5 times our present electrical demand in Winter to roughly the same demand on a warm summer day. Taking that course will require even greater additional capacity – over three times current – and considerable redundancy of supply over summer periods. Countries with a great use of district heating systems have looked at building seasonal storage to even out demand. Scotland currently has very little district heating, and the idea of demand management or storage at a household level looks limited in its capacity.

The low carbon energy transition described under both scenarios will result in transformation on a massive scale with new services and products developed covering transport heating and electrical power. It will not be delivered merely by government strategies or by consumer choice and it will require massive private investment. If that is to be attracted to Scotland, we require a planning and regulatory regime that facilitates the change to low carbon.

The Scottish Government previously showed great foresight in improving the regime for renewable energy through initiatives such as a marine ‘one stop shop’ and a clear process for CCS approvals. Similar initiatives to help the spread of electric vehicle charging or the retrofit of heat pumps would be a good place to start. As set out earlier, we also need an initiative for the rural economy to work for the climate, not against it.

There has been very little interest so far from the business organisations or consumers in this challenging but exciting change. That is understandable since their focus is often on short term problems. Larger corporates may make changes in their own supply chain but cannot influence the broader economy around them. Many Scottish business – largely SMEs – do not yet see low carbon energy as an opportunity. Those who do have to engage every part of the public sector for every opportunity they want to pursue. Imagine trying to roll out your network EV charging points in 32 local authorities!

If we don’t create a better system to deliver a low carbon economy, we risk losing out to foreign companies or other countries overtaking our lead. So, who will rise to the challenge and create a forum to make this happen? Is there a coalition that will build on the success of the Climate Change Business Delivery Group and the subsequent 2020 Group? Or do we wait for the Scottish Government to create a new one? We cannot wait too long.

Tweet Graeme at @graemefdickson and Scotland’s 2020 Climate Group at @2020ClimateGrp