Climate Change Bill – Blog 4: Why We Need Stronger Climate Targets

With the Scottish Government’s consultation on the new Climate Change Bill closing on the 22nd of September, Nourish is publishing a series of blogs. Today:
Why we need stronger climate targets


If you haven’t already, please do check out our campaign here and take part in the e-action run by the Stop Climate Chaos Scotland coalition (of whom we are a member) here to ask the first minister to take more leadership on mitigating climate change, and specifically focus on food and farming.


What are we asking for?

In order for Scotland to remain a climate leader and deliver our fair share of the Paris Agreement, we urge the Scottish Government to set stronger targets in the new Climate Bill: at least 80% greenhouse gas emission cuts by 2030, and to reach net-zero emissions by 2040 at the latest.


What is the Scottish Government proposing?

The new Bill is an update to the current 2009 Climate Change Act. In 2009, Scotland showed leadership: the 2020 (42% reduction) and 2050 (80% reduction) targets in the Act were set on the basis of what climate science showed was necessary. The First Minister has said that “at that time a 42% reduction by 2020 was the most ambitious legal target anywhere in the world. Scotland deliberately set a goal that we thought would be difficult”[1]. At the time those targets were set there was no defined pathway to deliver them, yet we are now on track to meet the 2020 target comfortably.

In the new Climate Change Bill, the Scottish government proposes 56% emission cuts from baseline levels by 2020, 66% by 2030 and 90% by 2050.


What does the Paris agreement say?

Scotland is one of the first countries to set new domestic climate legislation following the ratification of the Paris Agreement. The Scottish Government made a manifesto commitment to “strengthen our ambition further” in “a new Climate Change Bill to implement the Paris Agreement”.[2]

The Paris Agreement, ratified in April 2016, commits nations to ‘holding’ global warming to ‘well below 2oC’ and pursuing best efforts to limit warming to 1.5oC, in recognition of the fact that climate change is already underway, with devastating consequences for the countries and peoples most vulnerable to the climate crisis. It commits parties to a ‘global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible’.


What is the Global Carbon Budget?

What does the Paris Agreement mean in practice? After subtracting past emissions, climate scientists estimate we are left with a ‘global carbon budget’ of between 150 and 1,050 gigatonnes of CO2 to meet the Paris target of 1.5 °C or well below 2 °C. The wide range reflects different ways of calculating the budgets using the most recent figures.[3] If we take the mid-point, for a >66% chance of not exceeding the temperature threshold of 2 °C, from now on no more than 600Gt of CO2 can be emitted on a global scale – as an absolute maximum.[4]

According to the 2017 report ‘The Climate Turning Point report’[5], this means we need to peak global emissions no later than 2020 –the so-called “climate turning point” – and reach zero emissions by 2040 at the latest. See the graphic on the right.


What about climate justice?

When calculating individual nations’ share of the remaining global carbon budget, we cannot ignore the moral case for international climate justice (or the “Principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities”): The ‘Climate Fairshares’ approach[6] takes account of historical responsibility for causing the current climate crisis as well as technological and financial capacity to tackle emissions. Friends of the Earth has made a great infographic about this.

A response to the climate crisis based on justice would require developed countries such as Scotland to cut down their emissions at a more rapid rate -a 10% emission reduction per year within this decade- to allow for the developing world to adapt more gradually.[7] The 90% by 2050 target as proposed in the new Climate Change Bill commits Scotland to a gradual decrease in emissions of 2.3% per year.

In other words, the targets proposed in the new Climate Change Bill set Scotland up to breach the Paris Agreement: to deliver its fair share in holding global warming to ‘well below 2 °C and to ‘pursue efforts’ to limit the rise of global temperatures to 1.5°C. From having been a world climate leader, Scotland now seriously risks becoming a climate laggard.


What are the time lines?

Acting in accordance with Paris would require us to take concerted action as soon as possible. Scotland, with its 5.3 million inhabitants, accounts for 0.00071 percent of the world’s population. An equal sharing of the global carbon budget (600Gt for a >66% chance at 2°C) would only allocate 424,000,000t CO2 to Scotland in total – and this does not take account of historic emissions nor capabilities. Given that Scotland’s emissions are already around 44,000,000t/year, this means that, even with the new targets,  our entire carbon budget will be consumed in 11 years. Once the budget fairly allocated to Scotland will be consumed, any additional emissions will be released at the expense of the rest of the world. Instead of a linear, gradual approach to emission reductions, we need to put the focus of climate action over the next decade, so that we do not burn our carbon budget too soon. The Bill’s proposals however do not contain any specific commitment to take action before 2020, and the 2030 target is only a slight increase on the 2009 Act.


What about other countries?

Sweden has just passed a world-leading Climate Bill pledging to cut emissions to zero by 2050, and French President Macron has pledged to do the same, as well as several other countries and regions. Scotland has the opportunity to remain truly world-leading by setting a net zero target almost entirely delivered through domestic effort, with strong policies and measures towards a low carbon economy: we can go above and beyond other countries’ net-zero targets that rely on carbon credits or unproven and risky negative emissions technologies. We can create domestic carbon sinks through tree planting and peatland restoration and we transition towards a zero-carbon economy across the board, including the food and farming sector (check out our policy asks on a national nitrogen budget, organic targets and agroforestry!). Bold action on climate change would create a better, healthier, fairer and greener future for Scotland’s people and the international community – why wait?


Can you write to Nicola Sturgeon to commit to stronger climate targets? Please take part in the e-action today.

You can also read more about our other asks here.


[1] First Minister’s speech to Arctic Assembly, Rejkjavik, October 2106.




[5] Mission 2020. 2020: The Climate Turning Point (Mission 2020, 2017); prepared by Carbon Tracker in London, the Climate Action Tracker consortium, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, available at

[6] Climate Fairshares is prepared by Friends of the Earth EWNI and Jubilee South Asia Pacific Movement on Debt and Development based on work by the Stockholm Environment Institute, Ecoquity and IGSD, see and

[7] Kevin Anderson, ‘Duality in Climate Science’, Nature Geoscience 8, no. 12 (December 2015): 898–900, available at