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Energy & natural resources

Key Policies and Actions in the update to the Climate Change Plan (2018-2032)



In 2018 the Scottish Government published the 2018 Climate Change Plan which set out the path to a low carbon economy helping to deliver sustainable economic growth and securing wider benefits to a greener, fairer and healthier Scotland in 2032. In response to the global climate emergency, the Scottish Government (SG) brought forward primary legislation to amend Scotland’s emissions reduction targets.

In October 2019, the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019 received Royal Assent and was commenced in March 2020, setting annual and interim emissions reduction targets for Scotland to reach net zero emissions by 2045.

This article provides a summary of the policies and key actions of the update to the Climate Change Plan and how Scotland intends to reach net zero.


Scotland’s renewable electricity generation has grown rapidly over the last 20 years. In 2019, a record year for renewable electricity generation in Scotland, over six times more electricity was generated from renewable sources compare to year 2000 which is the equivalent of powering all households in Scotland for over three years. There is currently around 12 GW of renewable generation capacity installed across the country.

  1. Onshore Wind – the position statement on the fourth national planning framework (NPF4), published in November 2020, makes it clear of SG’s intention to actively facilitate a decarbonised electricity generation and distribution system. SG will continue to review energy consenting process in making further improvements and efficiencies where possible and seek to reduce the determination timescales for complex electricity generation network infrastructure applications.  Faster determinations will enable any projects awarded consent to develop more quickly, which will benefit onshore wind in particular.The interaction of wind turbines with aviation radar can present a barrier to development and SG will continue to work with aviation energy and other stakeholders exploring the best practice for collaboration through their Aviation 2030 Vision Task Force tackling the technical regulatory and financial barriers which will ensure that all radars are wind turbine tolerant/neutral and freeing up much more capacity for development.
  2. Offshore Wind – SG will deliver the actions from the Offshore Wind Policy Statement  (announced in Offshore Wind Policy Statement, October 2020). These actions range from support for the supply chain, planning, innovation and skills, which will support the development of between 8 and 11 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030. SG will also complete the first ScotWind leasing round granting property rights for seabed in Scottish waters for new commercial scale offshore wind energy projects with the closing date for applications having recently been extended to 16 July 2021. A second ScotWind leasing round is expected to follow in 2023.
  3. Community Renewables – SG will ensure that community-led renewables continue to grow as part of the transition, building on the success of their Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES).
  4. Infrastructure improvements – approximately £1 billion is spent each year and maintaining and developing electricity networks leading to substantial work for local supply chains. Both SSE and ScottishPower as transmission network operators included potential investments totaling around £2.5 billion in their recent business plan submissions to OFGEM comprising a mixture of new and upgraded networks to help accommodate more renewable generation and investment to maintain existing networks. SSE and ScottishPower along with National Grid also announced plans in November 2020 to take forward a multibillion-subsea link between east coast of Scotland and north east England. The 4 GW project is designed to help connect Scotland’s huge offshore wind potential.
  5. Pumped Storage Hydro – SG will continue to fight for measures to unlock investment in pumped storage hydro following the recent consent for major projects such as Coire Glas in the Highlands and Glenmuckloch in Dumfries and Galloway. Coire Glas is a 1500 MW  pumped storage scheme located land approximately 19km to the south west of Fort Augustus and will be the UK’s first new pumped storage scheme to be built for over 30 years. Pumped storage schemes operate using two bodies of water at different heights and like a very large scale grid battery, during periods of low demand for power, electricity is used to pump water from the lower loch to the upper reservoir. The stored energy can then be released by using this water to generate power when it is needed. The Coire Glas scheme will be capable of a power output of up to 1500 MW for 24 hours non-stop and the output from Coire Glas could power around 3 million homes for periods of up to 24 hours. SG has asked the UK Government to bring forward mechanisms potentially similar to those available for interconnectors which will enable a substantial investment needed to develop pumped storage hydro and SG will work the developers to ensure that this can deliver sustainable and secure jobs and supply chain benefits to Scotland‘s rural areas.
  6. Wave and Tidal – recent work by Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult suggest that the tidal stream industry could generate a net cumulative benefit to the UK of £1.4 billion and support 4,000 jobs by 2030 and wave energy could add a net positive contribution to the UK economy of £4 billion and support 8100 jobs by 2040. However both these technologies remain at an early stage of development with a key levers require to commercialise the technology reserved to UK government.
  7. Hydrogen – SG is to take full advantage of new developing technologies such as hydrogen which can play a major role in a net zero electricity system, directly complementing renewable generation, and providing new ways and opportunities to use, transport and store that energy. SG will support the development of hydrogen linked to the electricity system during the 2020s, building on the hydrogen assessment project and hydrogen policy development process which will identify and develop opportunities for generating hydrogen from renewable electricity generation in ways that can support the integration of new wind, solar, and marine capacity.

Electricity policy covering generation transmission and distribution supply and regulation is reserved to the UK government and SG are working with the UK government to ensure that they understand both the scale and context of Scotland’s ambition, as well as the importance of renewable electricity in Scotland for wider UK decarbonisation ambitions. SG are calling on the UK government to:

  1. radically reform the contract for difference (CfD) scheme which is the UK Government’s main mechanism for supporting low-carbon electricity generation. It looks like they have had some success in that the fourth round of the CfD scheme which opens in late 2021 will aim to increase the capacity of renewable energy from 5.8GW which was achieved in the last round in 2019 to up to 12 GW. Offshore wind has previously been a big beneficiary to such an extent that the costs of offshore wind have fallen by two thirds over the last 5 years, floating offshore wind projects will now be able to bid for CfD’s for the first time, and solar and onshore wind projects will also now be able to bid for the first time since 2015;
  2. explore the options for hydrogen to play a role in direct power generation itself, potentially displacing natural gas as a provider of back-up or base load power generation;
  3. give OFGEM an explicit statutory objective to support the delivery of net zero which will ensure its regulatory mechanisms and decisions are fully consistent with binding targets such as Scotland’s 2045 net zero goal, and flexible enough to meet the national and local ambitions across Scotland as well as in England and Wales.


Heat in Buildings accounts for 20% of Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions. By 2040 the statutory fuel poverty targets require that; no more than 5% of households are fuel poor (currently 24.6% of households are fuel poor); no more than 1% of households are in extreme fuel poverty (currently 12.4% are in extreme fuel poverty); and the fuel poverty gap is reduced to £250.

The zero emissions heat transmission will involve changing the type of heating used in over 2 million homes and 100,000 non-domestic buildings by 2045, moving from high emissions heating systems, reliant on fossil fuels (oil and gas), to low and zero emissions systems, such as electric heat pumps, heat networks and potentially, hydrogen. Interim statutory target of a 75% emissions reduction by 2030, means there is a need to rapidly accelerate heating system conversions during this decade from the current rate of 0.1% of homes converting per year to a rate in the region of 5-10% (over 100,000) per year. Currently only around 11% of households have a low carbon heating system and just over half of non-domestic building stock has heating from low or zero carbon sources.

In the next 5 years, SG will focus on the following:

  • new buildings, including all new homes consented from 2024 are to use zero emissions heating (gas central heating that produces carbon emissions will be banned and replaced with heat pumps);
  • the introduction of minimum energy efficiency standards for the domestic private rented sector;
  • the introduction of regulations for all buildings to achieve a good level of energy efficiency;
  • establishing a new net zero carbon standard for new public buildings; and
  • taking steps to facilitate common works in tenement buildings.

£1.6 billion is to be invested in heat and energy efficiency over the next parliament. £95 million has been committed to heat and decarbonisation and energy efficiency of the public estate; £25 million to support zero carbon energy infrastructure and heat networks for residential and commercial premises in the Clyde mission region; and up to £4.5 million over the next 6 months has been allocated to a cashback scheme for households, providing 75% cashback for zero emissions heating and 40% domestic energy efficiency measures, with a total of £13,500 available per home. SG announced it earlier this year that it is looking to overhaul 1 million homes and 50,000 commercial buildings into low and zero carbon-heating systems by 2030 using the £1.6 billion fund.

The Heat Networks (Scotland) Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 23 February 2021 and became an Act on 30 March 2021 and is to encourage the greater deployment of heat networks in Scotland. SG will work with local authorities and developers to implement the provisions of the legislation, which will see creation of zones suitable for heat networks, within which networks can be developed with assurances over demand, alongside support available to local authorities and private investors to bring forward projects for investment. Where there is new development, including where infrastructure is required, the planning system will support the heat transition so that heat network zoning and development planning will need to work together.

SG have also established a new expert advisory group to make recommendations to Scottish Ministers on the scope of a potential heat pump sector deal for Scotland. The deal will forge an important partnership between SG and the industry on sector specific issues, creating opportunities to boost deployment, employment, innovation and skills. The export advisory group is to report in 2021 and SG is to respond to its recommendations by the first quarter in 2022.


Transport is Scotland’s biggest emitting sector accounting for 35.6% of emissions in 2018. Cars currently account for almost 40% of transport emissions and SG wants to promote active travel to help reduce reliance on cars, and to encourage this shift, SG will invest over £500 million in bus priority infrastructure to tackle the negative impacts of congestion on bus services and raise bus usage. In November 2020, SG also launched the Bus Partnership Fund to support local authorities in their ambitions around bus priority in partnership with bus operators.

SG is also committed to:

  • delivering a national concessionary travel scheme for free bus travel for young people aged under 19;
  • working with bus, finance and energy sectors to ensure that the majority of new buses purchased from 2024 are zero-emission and to bring this date forward if possible; and
  • investing £30 million to establish the fourth largest electric vehicle charging network in the UK, ChargePlace Scotland which had 55 public charge points in 2013 has now grown to over 1,500 in 2020 and is to grow substantially in the next decade;

Sales of all petrol and diesel cars will be banned by 2030 and SG are working with public bodies to phase out the need for any new petrol and diesel light commercial vehicles by 2025.

Local Authorities can implement Low Emissions Zones (LEZ) where Air Quality Management Areas exist, reducing access to the most polluting vehicles. Glasgow already has one in place over the city centre which currently applies only to local service buses and when it is fully implemented (likely to be early 2023) it will apply to all vehicles entering into the LEZ.


Industrial emissions in Scotland have declined considerably since the 1990’s falling over 45% between 1990 and 2018. This was driven by the closure of heavy emitting sites particularly in the steel and paper sectors but also by the deployment of innovative and more energy efficient technologies and processes. By 2032 emissions need to decrease by 43% on 2018 levels, whilst the Scottish industry remains globally sustainable and competitive.

Emissions from industry continue to constitute a large proportion, around 30%, of total Scottish emissions these omissions are generated from a variety of activities across a diverse range of sectors, predominantly manufacturing as well as mining and construction. Combined the sectors are fundamental to the Scottish economy contributing £26 billion annually employing over 300,000 people.

Carbon Capture and Storage – There are opportunities for the industrial sector in the development of a carbon capture and storage (CCS) network which is described by the Committee on Climate Change as a “necessity, not an option” to achieve net zero emissions as it removes greenhouse gases from the atmosphere on a permanent basis. Globally there are more than 20 CCS facilities already in operation including in Norway, USA and Japan nearly 40 more in construction and development. CCS is a proven technology that offers great opportunity if commercialised at a scale in Scotland.

Hydrogen – Another significant opportunity is the use of hydrogen to displace fossil fuels in industry, requiring development of regional hydrogen production facilities, and also servicing hydrogen demand for other sectors such as heat, transport and electricity.

SG are announcing a new Emerging Energy Technologies Fund of £180 million which will support the development of hydrogen projects in line with their Hydrogen Policy Statement and also the development of a CCS transport and storage network.

Waste and the Circular Economy

In 2018 waste and resources sector emissions were 70% lower than in 1998 due an increase in recycling and the amount of waste going into landfill steadily declining. SG want to substantially reduce emissions in this sector by ending landfilling of biodegradable municipal waste, reducing the percentage of all waste sent to landfill to 5% and recycling 70% of all waste all by 2025. SG have committed to deliver on these targets including £70 million to improve local recycling collection infrastructure

There is also an emphasis on moving towards a ‘circular economy’ where instead of resources being taken from the ground, air and water to make products and structures which are then disposed of, movement is required to a ‘circular economy’ where the demand for raw materials in products is reduced, reuse and repairs are encouraged through responsible products and the recycling of waste and energy to maximise the value of any waste that is generated. SG hope that prior to 2032 they will have the tools in place so that individuals, businesses and organisations can make a shift in how materials are used and re-used and that we will be on track to embedding a fully circular approach with the biggest opportunities being in the areas of construction, agriculture/food and drink, energy and renewables, procurement, skills and education and plastics.

SG also recognise that significant change will be required in this sector if they are to meet their targets in 2025 and beyond and they will work with partners to develop a post 2025 route map to identify how the waste and resources sector will contribute towards Scotland’s journey towards net zero in the period to 2030 and beyond.

Land Use Change and Forestry

It is estimated that around 80% of Scotland’s peatlands are degraded, and despite the significant progress over recent years, Scotland remains heavily deforested compared to European countries, and imports significant quantities of timber and timber products. Expanding the area of Scotland’s forests and woodlands will contribute to reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and will generate an important commercial natural resource, improve biodiversity and provide space for people to enjoy. As part of the Scottish Government’s Low Carbon Fund, Scottish Forestry will receive an additional £100 million to increase new planting and FLS will receive an additional £30 million to expand Scotland’s national forests and land. SG will also provide £20 million to increase tree nursery capacity which will allow woodland creation to be increased from the current level of 12,000 hectares in 2020/21 up to 18,000 hectares in 2024/25, ensuring that forestry and woodlands play an important role in cutting emissions and sequestering carbon.

Peatlands form more than 20% of Scotland’s land cover. In good condition, they actively remove and store carbon from the atmosphere, support habitats and species and help to improve water quality and manage flood risks. When peatlands are degraded they no longer provide these benefits and emit more carbon than they remove, becoming a net source of greenhouse gases. In 2019, SG announced a £250 million ten-year funding package to support the restoration of 250,000 hectares of degraded peat by 2030.


Agriculture and food production rely on natural processes and will always cause some degree of greenhouse gas emissions and livestock will always emit some greenhouse gases. It is important that all farmers and crofters and not just those with livestock continue to adopt low carbon technologies that currently exist, as well as those that become available in the future through technological advances i.e. use of precision farming techniques can reduce the need for fertilisers and pesticides which has a positive impact on biodiversity. It is also important that soils and grassland are managed appropriately i.e. poorly managed soils can become degraded and release carbon, whilst under good management, the use of clover can help reduce the need of fertilisers and soils and can actively sequester carbon.

The update to the 2018 Climate Change Plan sets out an ambitious pathway to how Scotland can reduce emissions out to 2032. It is clear that every aspect of the economy is going to undergo significant transformation, from how we generate electricity, heat our homes, travel to the expansion of our forests and the restoration of our peatlands if Scotland is to achieve its goal of reducing emissions to 2032 and reaching net zero emissions by 2045.


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