The Scottish Government failed to meet its own legally binding annual emissions reduction target for 2021, according to new statistics released on Tuesday.
It means that four out of the last five targets have been missed, with emissions not falling fast enough to keep Scotland on track to deliver on its promise of being net zero by 2045.
Total emissions are now 49.9% lower than in 1990 but the benchmark for this year was a 51.1% cut.
In 2021, Scottish source emissions of the basket of seven greenhouse gases – including carbon dioxide and methane – were estimated to be 41.6 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e). That is 2.4% higher than the 2020 figure of 40.6 MtCO2e.
Jamie Livingstone, head of Oxfam Scotland, said: “The Scottish Government’s latest failure to meet its own annual climate target is yet another reckless misstep in a very dangerous dance with climate destruction: one that threatens all of our futures, but particularly those of people living in poverty.
“The government’s climate rhetoric is alarmingly out of sync with the speed and level of action required: Ministers must now deliver the urgent and decisive new investment that’s needed to drive down Scotland’s emissions, including by making polluters pay for the damage they’ve caused.”
The latest figures have been released just weeks after Glasgow’s low emission zone came into effect. All vehicles entering the city centre must be compliant with emission standards or face a fine.
Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Dundee will enforce their LEZs next year.
The Scottish Government said it was disappointed about missing the 2021 emissions target but that it was “not far behind” where it should be.
Climate campaigners warn the failure to hit the interim figure puts the target to reach net-zero by 2045 at risk, but net zero secretary Mairi McAllan said the results show a post-Covid rebound that was expected.
She said: “To miss Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of 51.1% so narrowly – by just 1.2 percentage points – is of course disappointing, but it also demonstrates that we are not far behind where our world-leading targets dictate we should be.
“While the 2021 results show a rebound from 2020, this was not unexpected given how much the 2020 position was affected by pandemic lockdowns.
“Indeed, Scotland is not unique in experiencing an increase. UK emissions rebounded by 4.4% over the period, compared to 2.4% in Scotland.”
The figure measures seven gases and the baseline period is 1990 for carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, and 1995 for hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, sulphur hexafluoride and nitrogen trifluoride.
Source emissions for the basket of seven gases were estimated at 41.6 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent in 2021, up 2.4% from 40.6 in 2020.
Increased domestic transport emissions, up 10.7% between 2020 and 2021, and a 7.2% rise in residential emissions are driving the increase.
Greenhouse gases released by international aviation and shipping fell by 15.2% in the same period, while energy emissions dropped 9.2% and business fell by 2.8%.
The Green Party’s climate spokesperson Mark Ruskell said: “These statistics are not good enough. They underline the scale of the challenge that we face, and are exactly why the Scottish Greens went into government in the first place.
“Today’s stats reflect yesterday’s choices – sometimes choices made decades ago. So it tells us that tackling the climate emergency won’t be achieved by business as usual but. It will need concerted effort and the kind of long term changes that we are putting in place now.”
Liam Kerr, the Scottish Conservative shadow net zero, energy and transport secretary, said: “Yet again, the SNP-Green government’s rhetoric on tackling climate change has not been matched in reality.
“After only meeting their 2020 targets due to lockdowns, SNP-Green ministers are once again going backwards when it comes to hitting crucial targets.
“It is particularly galling that they missed their emission reduction target in the year that the UK Government brought the COP26 summit to Glasgow.
“If there was one policy area you would expect the Green tail to be wagging the yellow SNP dog, then it would be on the climate emergency. Instead, the Greens have sold out environmentalism for nationalism, and targets have failed to be hit.
“The SNP-Green government cannot continue to deflect from their failures on such a serious issue. Time is fast running out to achieve ambitious net zero targets, and it is time we finally see ministers take the action required to do so.”
Mike Robinson, chair of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland (SCCS), said meeting the emissions target in 2020 was a “hollow success” achieved only through lockdown restrictions.
“Now for 2021 we’ve seen a rebound in emissions despite continued pandemic effects,” he said. “Every missed target means more effort is required the following year, making it harder to meet our crucial goals.
“The impacts of climate change both here and abroad are devastating lives and livelihoods in countries which have contributed the least to it and continue to bear the cost for its worst effects.
“While Scotland has been rightly recognised for taking the important step of committing money to a loss and damage fund, this will all be in vain if we fail to rapidly bring down domestic emissions.