Wind turbines on a Scottish hillside

FFS explains: Scotland’s climate targets ahead of COP26

Scotland’s approach to tackling climate change was in the news after comments by activist Greta Thunberg ahead of Glasgow hosting the COP26 summit.

The climate change campaigner was asked whether she saw Scotland as a world leader in setting targets to reduce CO2 emissions.

She replied: “No, I mean I don’t… Of course there are countries… I meant there are some that do a bit more than certain others. But then again if we look at it in a broader perspective I think we can safely say that there are no countries, at least in the global north, that are doing even close to what would be needed”

So, what targets has the Scottish Government set to reduce emissions? And how well are we doing in meeting them? Ferret Fact Service looked at the details in Scotland’s climate plans.

What targets has the Scottish Government set?

Greenhouse gases

Scotland’s overarching climate target is a plan to reach net-zero emissions by 2045. 

Net-zero is when greenhouse gas emissions are balanced with the amount which is removed from the atmosphere. This is usually achieved by a reduction in emissions, as well as actively removing greenhouse gases – notably carbon dioxide, which accounts for 70 per cent of Scotland’s emissions.

Measures to remove greenhouse gases include reforesting, as well as technologies such as carbon capture. A large-scale carbon capture facility has been proposed in north east Scotland.

The legally binding date in the Climate Change (Scotland) Act is five years ahead of the planned target of the UK as a whole, and contains targets for yearly reductions in emissions. 

There are also interim targets for reductions of at least 75 per cent by 2030 and 90 per cent by 2040.

The latest target we have data for is 2019, when a 55 per cent reduction from 1990 levels was specified. Over that period Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions reduced 51.5 per cent, meaning the target was missed. 

The levels of greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland have decreased significantly since 1990, which is used as the baseline measurement. In 1990, Scotland was emitting 85.1 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e). The latest figures for 2019 show 47.8 MtCO2e. 

Renewable energy

The Scottish Government aims to generate 50 per cent of Scotland’s heat, transport and electricity consumption from renewables by 2030, and a “near-complete decarbonisation” of energy by 2050.

This follows on from a previous target set in 2009. This target aimed for the equivalent of 30 per cent of Scotland’s heat, transport and electricity consumption to be supplied from renewable sources by 2020.

The latest provisional figures from 2019 show 24 per cent of energy consumption was coming from renewables. 

Another target was set to generate the equivalent of 100 per cent of Scotland’s electricity demand from renewables by 2020. This was narrowly missed last year, as 97.4 per cent produced.


Transport in Scotland is the largest source of greenhouse gases. In 2018, transport accounted for 36 per cent of the total emissions. 

While the use of electric cars is increasing, petrol and diesel cars still make up the vast majority of those on the road.

Ministers have committed to phasing out new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, and to a 20 per cent decrease in kilometres travelled by car by 2030.

Scotland also aims to decarbonise rail services by 2035. 


Scotland’s occupied buildings currently account for 15 per cent of Scotland’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

Eighty per cent of homes are heated by gas, and about 11 per cent of households use renewable or low emissions heating systems. 

To meet the interim 2030 emissions target, the Scottish Government has committed to increasing the rate of homes converting to low emission or renewable heating systems to five-ten per cent.

By 2025, Ministers have committed that zero emissions heating systems will account for at least 50 per cent of new heating being installed, and by 2030, that at least 50 per cent of Scotland’s buildings are heated using zero emissions systems.

How do Scotland’s targets compare to other countries?

Scotland’s emissions targets are tougher and more ambitious than the UK, which aims to become net-zero in 2050. 

According to the non-profit Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, which tracks the net-zero targets of countries around the world, there are currently 11 countries (plus the European Union) with net-zero emissions targets in law, as well as two countries (Suriname and Bhutan) which have already achieved net-zero. 

Scotland’s targets are not included as it is part of the UK. 

Of these, the most ambitious targets are Sweden and Germany, which have both committed to 2045 as the net-zero date. 

Scotland’s targets include a “fair share of emissions from international aviation and shipping”, and are not reliant on paying for carbon to be reduced elsewhere, sometimes known as carbon offsetting. 

Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, and signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles.

All the sources used in our checks are publicly available and the FFS fact-checking methodology can be viewed here.

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Photo thanks to iStock/leonard78uk.

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