Scotland’s approach to tackling climate change has been praised by international organisations, and the ruling SNP party has described new legislation as the toughest in the world.

The draft Climate Change Bill would see a commitment to “achieve a 100 per cent reduction in carbon emissions”.

Climate activists and opposition parties in Scotland have expressed disappointment that no date for this reduction has been set.

Ferret Fact Service | Scotlands impartial fact check project

Promoting the legislation on Twitter, the SNP said they were setting the “toughest emissions targets in the world”.

Ferret Fact Service looked at this claim and found it to be False

Evidence

The new bill will “immediately set a target of a 90 per cent reduction by 2050” and require ministers to aim for a 100 per cent reduction, known as ‘net zero’. A target date for a 100 per cent reduction will be set “as soon as possible” after consultation with experts.

The new draft law increases to 56 per cent the emissions reduction target for 2020 (up from 42 per cent), and sets reduction targets of 66 per cent for 2030 and 78 per cent for 2040. These reductions are measured against baseline carbon emissions in 1990.

Net zero or carbon neutrality means that carbon usage is fully offset by taking an equal amount of carbon out of the atmosphere. This can be done by planting trees or carbon capture and storage, for example, as well as reductions in fossil fuel emissions.

However, a number of countries have set targets to become 100 per cent carbon neutral before Scotland.

Emissions targets were set by many countries in response to the Paris climate agreement, which required involved nations to put forward a plan to reduce the impact of climate change and hold global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

This required countries to agree to cover their ‘fair share’ of measures to reduce their climate impact.

According to the Climate Action Tracker (CAT), a body which tracks the progress and adherence of countries to their stated climate change targets, there are only two countries which currently have policies in place which are compatible with the Paris agreement – Morocco and The Gambia.

Climate change: the ‘devastating’ risks facing Scotland

Scotland’s individual climate change targets are not assessed by CAT as it is currently part of the European Union, which has negotiated and set targets collectively.

The world’s most ambitious carbon reduction target is in Costa Rica, which has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2021. This has not, however, been set into law and appears to be a national goal rather than a legislative requirement.

Norway’s parliament has agreed to cut the country’s net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2030, moving its target forward by 20 years. This is likely to require the purchase of carbon credits, also known as carbon offsetting.

It is also conditional, based on agreement from other world nations as part of an ambitious global climate agreement where other developed nations also undertake ambitious commitments

This allows a country to invest in environmental projects overseas which help to balance its own overall carbon footprint.

However, CAT suggests that because the 2030 target includes carbon reductions through Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF), it does not equate to carbon neutrality.

LULUCF covers emissions and removals of greenhouse gases resulting from direct human land use, land-use change and forestry activities. CAT does not include this in its assessment of climate targets due to uncertainty around data and an overarching need to reduce carbon production from fossil fuels and major industry.

France has committed to carbon neutrality by 2050, as part of the country’s ambitious Climate Plan, announced in July 2017.

Sweden also has a more ambitious carbon neutral target than Scotland, with a commitment to reaching the 100 per cent cut by 2045.

A new law requires Sweden to reduce human-made emissions by at least 85 per cent, and the rest to be covered by ecological carbon capture, and “emissions Sweden helps to reduce abroad by investing in various climate projects”.

The bill requires yearly updates to the Swedish parliament, and “a climate policy action plan for how the climate goals are to be achieved” produced every four years up to the 2045 net-zero target.

Scotland’s bill has no such target date for carbon neutrality, instead committing to setting a date in future.

In response to an evidence request from Ferret Fact Service, the SNP said that despite only legislating for a 90 per cent reduction rather than 100 per cent, the bill was tougher.

The Scottish bill contains yearly targets “meaning the Scottish Government can be held to account for progress each and every year”. This in effect means ministers will be required to deliver a reduction compared to the baseline each year.

However, this does not make the targets “tougher” than other nations with stated carbon neutrality targets.

Ferret Fact Service verdict: False

The Scottish Government’s new climate action bill toughens up targets for greenhouse gas emissions, and puts into law a commitment to reaching carbon neutrality. However, despite strict rules on decreasing emissions, they cannot be considered the world’s “toughest emissions targets” as Sweden and a handful of other countries have committed to specific target dates for achieving carbon neutrality. Sweden has pledged to achieve 100 per cent neutrality by 2045, five years before the Scottish legislation aims to achieve a 90 per cent carbon reduction.

This claim is false

Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, working 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. Want to suggest a fact check? Email us at factcheck@theferret.scot or join our community forum.