April 24, 2024
The Scottish government’s decision to abandon its flagship target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 75% by 2030 on 18 April 2024 has sent shockwaves through the environmental community. While the ultimate goal of achieving “net-zero” emissions by 2045 remains intact, the scrapping of interim targets raises critical questions about Scotland’s commitment to combating climate change. Let’s look into the reasons behind this decision, its implications, and what it means for Scotland’s environmental future.


In 2019, Against the backdrop of global climate activism, including the inspiring calls for action by Greta Thunberg, the Scottish Parliament passed a landmark legislation aimed at accelerating decarbonisation efforts. Led by Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP administration, Scotland positioned itself as a world leader in climate action, declaring a climate emergency and hosting the COP26 climate summit in 2021.

Since then, Scotland has prided itself on being a leader in climate action, boasting ambitious targets that surpassed those of many other nations. 

Why Targets are Being Ditched

Despite the initial enthusiasm and declarations of climate leadership, reality has proven challenging for Scotland. The Scottish government has missed eight out of the last 12 annual targets, with ministers failing to publish required plans on how to meet these goals signalling significant hurdles in meeting its 2030 milestone. 

The Climate Change Committee (CCC), an independent advisory body, warned in 2022 that Scotland had lost its lead over the rest of the UK in tackling climate change. By March 2024, the CCC stated that the 2030 target of a 75% emissions reduction was unattainable due to inadequate action in crucial sectors such as home heating, transport, and farming.

With mounting pressure and criticism, the Scottish government is now facing the harsh reality of its climate ambitions outpacing its ability to deliver tangible results.

What Went Wrong

The failure to foresee practical challenges, coupled with overestimations of achievable reductions, set the stage for the current predicament.Several factors contributed to the failure to meet climate targets. While some progress has been made in reducing emissions, particularly in sectors like energy and waste, others, such as transport and agriculture, have lagged behind.

The closure of Scotland’s last coal-fired power station in 2016 marked a milestone, but subsequent progress proved insufficient. Critics argue that the focus on targets overshadowed the need for effective policies, leading to a fundamental failure in the current approach.


Scrapping the targets represents more than a mere policy adjustment; it’s a significant setback for Scotland’s environmental credibility. The move undermines previous declarations of a climate emergency and raises doubts about the government’s commitment to real, tangible action. Environmentalists fear that without stringent targets, accountability and urgency in addressing climate change may diminish, jeopardising Scotland’s environmental future.

There are also serious challenges in enforcing legally binding targets against an unwilling government. In Scotland and the rest of the UK, the Climate Change Act 2008, the relevant legislation, typically lacks automatic sanctions for missing targets. Instead, climate legislation relies on mechanisms such as public pressure, political embarrassment, and the tangible threat of a judicial review. When a government blatantly breaches its own laws, it can be taken to court.

In the UK, this scenario unfolded in 2023 when the High Court compelled the government to strengthen its net zero strategy in response to a lawsuit by the environmental law charity ClientEarth. Dissatisfied with the outcome, ClientEarth returned to court in February 2024. A similar fate may await the Scottish government.

If successful, such legal actions would join a series of court cases where judges compelled governments to elevate their climate ambitions. A notable example includes the recent European Court of Human Rights ruling in favour of KlimaSeniorinnen v Switzerland, further emphasising the importance of robust climate action.


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The decision by the Scottish government to abandon its emissions reduction targets has elicited a range of reactions from various stakeholders. 

  • Environmental organizations and climate activists have expressed deep disappointment and concern, characterizing the move as a significant setback in the fight against climate change. Groups such as Friends of the Earth Scotland and Oxfam Scotland have condemned the decision, labeling it as the “worst environmental decision” in the history of Scottish Parliament. Protest demonstrations have been planned outside Bute House, the official residence of the First Minister, reflecting grassroots frustration and demand for stronger climate action. 
  • There has been scrutiny from independent experts and advisory bodies, with the UK’s Climate Change Committee expressing disappointment and emphasizing the importance of interim targets for credibility in achieving net-zero commitments. 
  • On the political front, the Scottish Greens, as partners in government with the SNP, face internal deliberations over the future of their coalition agreement, highlighting the complexities of climate policy within coalition politics. 

Future Strategies

The Scottish government is confronted with the task of navigating a new path amid recent developments. They plan to introduce “carbon budgets,” which are five-year blocks of emission reduction targets already utilized by governments in the rest of the UK to progress towards achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

However, Scottish ministers have recently postponed the publication of a draft climate change plan detailing how these targets would be achieved. Despite this delay, the government remains committed to a more ambitious objective of attaining net zero carbon emissions by 2045. Màiri McAllan, the Net Zero Secretary, affirmed her unwavering dedication to this goal and outlined various climate-friendly initiatives, including the quadrupling of electric vehicle charge points.

However, achieving this goal will become increasingly challenging if ministers fail to promptly present a draft climate plan.

How are other European countries faring?

European countries have been setting ambitious targets to combat climate change, reflecting a global acknowledgment of the urgency of the issue. Switzerland targets a 50% reduction by 2030. Similarly, Germany has set a goal of reducing emissions by 55% below 1990 levels by 2030, and Norway aims for at least a 40% reduction by the same year.

Additionally, the European Union (EU) aims for at least a 40% reduction below 1990 levels by 2030. While these targets vary in scope and ambition, they collectively demonstrate a shared commitment to addressing the climate crisis on a global scale.

According to the European Commission’s EU Climate Action Progress Report (CAPR), there have been positive developments, including a steady decrease in greenhouse gas emissions in the EU in the last years (in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic). However, Member States’ projections indicate that the EU is currently not on track to reach its 2030 objective of removing 310 million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere per year.

Consequently, the EU and its Member States need to significantly enhance their implementation efforts and accelerate emissions reduction to stay on track to achieve the -55% net greenhouse gas reduction target by 2030 and attain climate neutrality by 2050.


Scotland’s decision to abandon its 2030 climate targets marks a critical juncture in its environmental journey. While the aspiration of achieving net-zero emissions by 2045 remains, the path forward is fraught with uncertainty and skepticism.

The government must heed lessons from past failures, prioritise robust policies over lofty targets, and reinvigorate efforts to combat climate change, although the likelihood of Scotland reclaiming its position as a climate leader seems fairly small. 

By Mallika Singhal


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