HM Insights

Energy Bulletin - Environmental Legislation Update

In recent years the United Kingdom has been party to various international agreements designed to agree targets to reduce the release of CO2 and other greenhouse gases and restrict the increase in global temperatures.


Emissions reduction targets

The UK Government and the Scottish Government have passed legislation that aims to reduce CO2 emissions in order to contribute to the targets set in international agreements.

At the UK level, the Climate Change Act 2008 (2008 Act) committed the UK to reduce CO2 emissions 34% by 2020 and 100% by 2020 (compared to 1990 levels).

In the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 (2009 Act) the Scottish Government set further targets to reduce CO2 emissions in Scotland 42% by 2020 and 80% by 2050 (compared to Scottish emissions of CO2 for 1990).

The last UK-wide report (prepared by the Committee on Climate Change in June 2020) indicated that CO2 emissions had reduced by 28% across the UK. This report also noted that CO2 emissions in Scotland had reduced by 51%.

On the 31 October 2019 the Climate Change (Emissions Reductions Targets) Scotland Act 2019 (2019 Act) received Royal Assent. The 2019 Act increased the initial target in the 2009 Act to a 56% reduction by 2020. The 2019 Act replaced the 2050 target in a 2009 Act with the goal of achieving net zero emissions (i.e. a 100% reduction compared to the 1990 baseline) by the year 2045. The 2019 Act also set interim reduction targets of 75% by 2030 and 90% by 2040.

Recent legislation

The reduction targets set in the 2008 Act, the 2009 Act and 2019 Act can only be achieved through specific mitigation measures that reduce the emission and strengthen the absorption of CO2.

To date, reduction of emissions has principally been achieved by focusing on cleaner means of energy production. Whilst this will undoubtedly remain a key aspect in achieving reduction targets it seems likely that other activities that cause emissions such as transport and agriculture will feature in future efforts to reduce emissions.

There is also growing recognition that reducing waste and maximising recycling will be important aspects of emission reduction. The Deposit and Return Scheme for Scotland Regulations 2020 (2020 Regulations) were implemented using powers set out in the 2009 Act. The 2020 Regulations introduced a deposit return scheme for PET Plastic, Glass, Steel and Aluminium drinks containers in order to encourage the recycling of these materials.

Upcoming legislation

The Heat Networks (Scotland) Bill acknowledges that reducing emissions from heating will be an essential step in meeting emission reduction targets. This bill envisages surplus heat energy being recycled through an energy network to heat nearby buildings in the same network. This bill will regulate the grant of heat network licenses and the creation of heat network zones. This bill will also require all public sector building owners to assess their buildings to check if they are suitable to connect to a heat network.

The Circular Economy (Scotland) Bill aims to reduce waste, litter and Scotland's carbon footprint by increasing recycling. The main proposals in this bill are additional charges to discourage the use of single use plastics, new specific penalties for littering from vehicles and changes to increase household recycling. This bill would oblige public bodies to report waste and surplus in their operations and support the circular economy through their procurement processes. Due to the impact of Covid 19 the Scottish Government has decided not to progress this bill in the current parliamentary session. It remains to be seen if aspects of this legislation will be implemented separately or if this bill will be revived at a later date.

Adaptation to Climate Change

In addition to reducing emissions the Scottish Government has also recognised the importance of adapting to the impact of changes caused by climate change.

Following a UK wide climate risk assessment in 2017 the Scottish Government published the Second Scottish Adaptation Programme in September 2019.

This programme is designed to engage with the adverse effects of climate change (i.e. increased temperatures, extreme weather, rising sea levels) and aims to ensure that communities, infrastructure and the natural environment are resilient to the impacts of climate change.


In light of the ongoing political focus on climate change we are likely to see additional environmental legislation in years to come.

It will be important for public bodies, individuals and private organisations to be aware of any additional obligations that may be imposed on them as part of ongoing government efforts to achieve emission reduction targets and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

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