Scotland votes through watered-down emissions targetsUnited Kingdom
Severin Carrell, Scotland correspondent
Alex Salmond's administration criticised for not making deeper but politically unpopular cuts
Scotland yesterday voted through a watered-down series of annual targets for cutting carbon emissions. The vote was won by 72 votes to three after 41 Labour MSPs abstained.
The original yearly targets – designed to help Scotland meet its "world-leading" goal of a 42% cut in emissions by 2020 – were very narrowly voted down in May, after Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Greens accused Salmond's Scottish National party government of breaching its manifesto promise to introduce 3% annual cuts in CO2 emissions.
The revised figures voted through yesterday under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act will require no cut this year, a cut of 0.5% next year and 0.3% in 2012, compared with originally offering 0.5% this year, 0.5% in 2011 and 1% in 2012. The annual target will increase sharply by 9.9% in 2013 when the European emissions trading regime kicks in, then run at between 2.1% and 3% each year to 2022.
The Scottish Green party, which opposed the lower revised targets, accused Salmond's administration of lacking the stomach for making deeper but politically unpopular cuts in individuals' CO2 emissions.
Despite publicly backing the ambitious 42% target, many senior environmentalists privately believe Salmond's government is unwilling to alienate voters and businesses with more aggressive policies on low-carbon transport, private motoring and house-building standards.
Alex Salmond admitted his government has "got more to do" to cut emissions by Scottish motorists and home-owners.
In an interview with the Guardian, the first minister agreed it had achieved more rapid progress on renewable energy than on tackling transport and heating, two of the largest sources of greenhouse gases.
"I accept, just as a general point, that we have made more rapid progress on energy production than we have, for example, either on transport or heating," he said, adding: "We have got more to do on both transport and heating, I accept that."
The Scottish government's critics believe Salmond is relying too heavily on European measures and on Scotland's massive growth in renewable energy programmes to cut the country's nominal CO2 emissions without hurting voters.
Labour's shadow environment spokeswoman Sarah Boyack said SNP ministers had also admitted this week that the cuts in immediate Scottish CO2 emissions were due to the recession and reduced economic output, and not government policy.
Before yesterday's vote, Boyack accused the SNP of "wasting three years", and said its failure to introduce tougher policies meant emissions could rise after the recession. "If anything we will have to work harder," she said. "What will we do when the economy speeds up? We need policies now to make sure that when the economy recovers we deliver a low-carbon economy."
At the same time, Salmond is supporting "clean coal" power stations and the exploitation of new deepwater oil and gas fields in the north Atlantic. Yesterday, two SNP MEPs, Alyn Smith and Ian Hudghton, applauded a European parliament vote to reject European commission plans for a moratorium on deep-sea drilling.
Patrick Harvie, the Green MSP, said: "Climate policy has been the biggest disappointment of this SNP administration. Every opportunity has been missed, except the photo-ops to take credit for the renewables industry's hard work.
"Today's targets are the perfect summary of the SNP's failure – they've set themselves an ambition of precisely zero for this year, and left all the hard work to the next government."
Salmond disputes these claims. He said: "Our policy record is quite substantial on a range of things."
That included new investment in carbon sinks such as new forests and protecting peatlands; a "huge amount of money" spent on low-carbon transport such as electrified rail lines, a new rail line to the Borders, new trains and improved bus services; strengthened housing standards and millions invested on low carbon home heating programmes.
The first minister added that road building was essential for economic growth and to modernise the country's infrastructure.
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