Is the SNP helping to tackle climate change?

The SNP, having been elected to office in Scotland in 2007, has overseen policies concerning environmental issues for more than 14 years.


That includes control over matters of environment, energy and transport, as well as the many environmental elements which concern other devolved matters such as health, education and the economy.


In recent months, Nicola Sturgeon has formally brought on board the Scottish Greens into a coalition.


But after so many years in charge, how is the SNP actually performing when it comes to environmental targets and pursuing policies to clean up Scotland?


We have looked at ten key areas and assess the nationalists’ record in charge of them.


Emissions


The SNP may have set ambitious targets on greenhouse gas emissions, pledging to meet net zero by 2045, but the current performance level is below even the standards it set for itself.


This summer, it emerged the SNP had fallen short of emissions targets for the third year running. In 2019, the most recent year for which statistics are available, there were 47.8 million tonnes of carbon emissions.


Alongside this, changes to the uses of Scotland’s land has led to it now being a net carbon emitter rather than a “carbon sink” - previously Scotland’s peatlands and other areas absorbed more CO2.


The Scottish Government also had to revise up the previous years’ estimates, meaning the country had generated more pollution than the SNP had claimed at the time.


There are also ongoing concerns in towns and cities across Scotland about the destruction of the greenbelt, which reduces the land available for carbon absorption and increases pollution.


Recycling


The recycling of waste, rather than sending it to landfill, has long been identified as an important way of cleaning up the environment.


The Scottish Government wants 70 per cent of all household waste recycled by 2025, but for years it has missed its annual target.


Currently, the Scottish average is just 44.9 per cent, meaning performance will have to improve drastically in order to meet those goals in four years’ time.


In Scotland’s fourth largest city, Dundee, at current rates it will take 20 years to hit the 2025 target.


In terms of devolved policy, it’s one of the SNP’s most longstanding failures. As far back as 2013 it wanted to have a 50 per cent recycling rate, a figure it is still falling well short of almost a decade on.


Reducing car usage


By 2032, SNP ministers said the distance travelled by private cars will have reduced by 20 per cent. That was one of its key climate change commitments set out in December 2020.


But less than a year on that claim already looks in jeopardy, with latest figures showing journeys have been on the rise.


The number of private vehicles registered is at a record high, and the accumulated distances driven by cars has increased by eight per cent over the last five years of records (to 2019).


If anything, the SNP’s pledge to cut journeys has been slammed into reverse.


Heat from renewables


The Scottish Government proudly declared that 11 per cent of non-electrical heat in Scotland would be met from renewable sources, for example heat pumps and biomass, in 2020.


In reality, barely half that level was reached, with 6.4 per cent achieved for that year.


In fact, the performance is going backwards, with 6.6 per cent of non-electrical heat being met from renewable sources in 2019.


Deposit Return Scheme


In April this year, Scotland was supposed to have a fully operational Deposit Return Scheme, which would have seen shoppers refunded the 20p extra they had to pay for their drink when they returned the container.


It was seen as a key way of reducing plastic waste across the country.


But it was delayed repeatedly, and now Green minister Lorna Slater – in charge of the circular economy – won’t commit to it happening before 2023.


Update: This has now been delayed yet again.

Fly-tipping


Much focus has been placed on fly-tipping in the run up to COP26.


Images from the centre of host city Glasgow show mountains of discarded rubbish, with refuse collectors warning that there isn’t the funding nor the staffing resources to address it.


Fly-tipping isn’t a new problem, and the SNP has been promising to address it for years.


Conviction rates for the problem hit a 10-year low according to the most recent statistics, despite the issue blighting communities across the country.


Just 17 people were convicted in 2019/20; the majority receiving fines.


Cuts to local authority funding have led to charges being introduced or increased for uplifts in many council areas, which is likely to be exacerbating the problem.


Electric Vehicle charging points


Nationalist ministers have repeatedly highlighted the importance of electric vehicles as a tool in reducing pollution on Scotland’s roads.


But the roll-out of charging points has come under fire for many years, and business leaders said the infrastructure is “nowhere near ready” for mass roll-out.


Scotland needs to install 4,000 charging points a year if we want all motorists to be driving electric vehicles by 2030.


But according to the latest Transport Scotland report, there are currently only 2,558 public chargepoints in Scotland.


Is the Scottish Government leading by example on this issue?


Not according to latest data, which reveals just 13 per cent of Scottish Government vehicles are considered “zero emission”.


Offshoring waste


The SNP has plenty to say when it comes to responsible disposal of waste and other governments’ role in reducing emissions.


Yet Scotland exports almost all of its plastic waste, and the overall exportation stands at three tonnes a minute.


State-run energy firm


Among the benefits of a Scottish state-run energy firm, Nicola Sturgeon said, would be the increasing of renewable sources fuelling the homes of the people of Scotland.


But four years on from this commitment, and with the introduction of two Green MSPs to government, the plan has been shelved.


SNP members felt so betrayed by this u-turn they tried to put it onto the agenda of the SNP’s autumn conference.


Green jobs pledge


Last autumn the First Minister announced a £100 million green jobs bonanza.


The investment over five years was supposed to form a key part of Scotland’s post-pandemic “green recovery”.


But no projects have yet been funded, and nothing is planned for the rest of this financial year.


Trade unions have dismissed it as a “damp squib”.

Conclusion


By almost any measure, the SNP has failed when it comes to ensuring Scotland can play its part in the battle against climate change.


Nationalist ministers have the levers and powers available to make meaningful change.


But they’ve missed targets, u-turned on high-profile schemes, and allowed themselves to be distracted by their constitutional obsession.


It’s time for the SNP to focus on what really matters to people and work constructively as part of the UK to tackle the climate emergency.