Change is in the air – Scotland’s new Climate Change Bill

27/09/19 | Blog
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Scotland once again confirmed its world-leading position on climate change by passing the snappily-titled Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill on October 26.

Once the Bill receives Royal Assent (about four weeks after it is passed) it will put in place the most stringent statutory emissions targets of any country in the world.

But what does this ground-breaking piece of legislation actually say?


The main target

The most important thing this new Bill does is change Scotland’s climate change target of reducing our emission levels (based on what we were emitting in 1990, AKA the baseline) from an 80% cut by 2050 to a 100% cut by 2045.

By 2045 we won’t actually have zero climate change emissions, but the low level of emissions we do have will need to be balanced out by things that absorb climate change emissions, such as tree planting or carbon capture and storage technology. This balancing will result in what is known as net-zero emissions.

The net-zero target is very ambitious, but the Committee on Climate Change – which provides independent advice to government on climate change – has stated in its May 2019 report that this target is achievable and should cost 1-2% of GDP to deliver.

One thing that you may not have spotted is that the target year of 2045 can be changed if the proposed new target year is consistent with the most up-to-date advice government receives from the relevant body. This means that if the CCC changes its advice, the year we by which we achieve net-zero could also be changed by amending the Bill.


Interim targets

While the 2045 target is important, the climate science is very clear: we will only achieve it at reasonable cost if we take early action.

This is why interim targets are really important, and why the 2030 target is a key milestone.

The following interim targets were included in the Bill:

  • 2020 emissions are at least 56% lower than the baseline (the CCC expects this to be met)
  • 2030 emissions are at least 75% lower than the baseline
  • 2040 emissions are at least 90% lower than the baseline

In addition to these 10-year targets, the Bill requires the government to set annual targets from 2021 showing the annual emissions reduction for each of the years leading up to the 10-year targets. Scottish Ministers must, following each target year, lay before the Scottish Parliament a report in respect of that target year so progress can be monitored.


Climate action plans

Within five years of the Bill receiving Royal Assent, Scottish Ministers must lay a climate change plan before the Scottish Parliament.

The plan must set out the Scottish Ministers’ proposals and policies regarding the respective contributions towards meeting the emissions reduction targets that should be made by each of the sectors below, and detail how they will achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals on:

  • Energy supply
  • Transport (including international aviation and shipping)
  • Business and industrial process
  • Residential and public (in relation to buildings in those sectors)
  • Waste management
  • Land use, land use change and forestry
  • Agriculture

These plans are usually for 10-15 years, and an annual report on progress must be laid before the Scottish Parliament.

Although the Bill states that the government has five years to bring forward the next climate change plan, in reality the current climate change plan is already being revised in line with the net-zero target and will be published in the coming months.

Once the first post-Bill climate change plan is in place, Scottish Ministers must bring forward an updated climate change plan every five years and lay it before Parliament. Before preparing their updated plan, Scottish Ministers must request advice from the relevant body (most likely the CCC) at least once before the expiry of each relevant five-year period to ensure that all new plans are in line with the latest science and advice.



In addition to the sectors that must be included in the climate action plan the Bill also requires that when Scottish Ministers publish an infrastructure investment plan, they must also publish an assessment of the extent to which investment is expected to contribute to the meeting of the emissions reduction targets.

An “infrastructure investment plan” is defined as a plan prepared by the Scottish Ministers setting out their priorities for investing in, and strategy for the development of, public infrastructure.


Citizens assembly

An entirely new concept introduced in this Bill is the requirement for Scottish Ministers to establish a panel to be known as a “citizens assembly”. The citizens assembly is a panel made up of people whom Scottish Ministers consider to be representative of the general populace of Scotland.

The citizens assembly is to have two conveners who are independent of the Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Parliament, and there is to be a gender balance between the conveners.

The functions of the citizens assembly are to:

  1. Consider how to prevent or minimise, or remedy or mitigate the effects of, climate change
  2. Make recommendations on measures proposed to achieve the emissions reduction targets
  3. Make recommendations about such other matters in relation to climate change as the Scottish Ministers may refer to the assembly.



The new Bill is, without a doubt, very good news for the renewable energy industry as there is universal recognition that renewable technologies will be key to delivering on the ambitions of the Bill.

There is a clear expectation that there will be a realignment of Scottish Government policies and spending plans to achieving net-zero, and we would expect the needs of the renewable industry to be a major consideration here.

Scottish Renewables is already working with the Scottish Government on this process and over the coming months and years we will continue to ensure that policy and spending are shaped by our members’ views.

The Bill puts in place legislation that prevents any new government from kicking climate action into the long grass or ignoring the climate implications of major public infrastructure.

For the first time it also enshrines in law the need for government to undertake serious public engagement on climate change that goes far beyond public information campaigns.

Together these ensure that, as an industry, we can be reassured that a change of political administration is unlikely to derail progress.

By taking such a world-leading stance we have the potential for Scotland to become the ‘go-to’ country for expertise on achieving net-zero. Our industry is already stepping up to the plate to meet that demand.

  • Blog by Morag Watson, Director of Policy