Scotland has come under fire for a drastic cut to its residential heating decarbonization target.

The 2032 target for residential heating from low-carbon sources was set at 80 per cent in a draft climate change plan released last year. But under the country’s new plan, released last month, the target has been reduced to 35 per cent.

Climate change secretary Roseanna Cunningham reportedly said the target was cut after the government received advice that the original target was not achievable.  

“The independent adviser the Committee on Climate Change has already advised that the transition to near zero emissions buildings is likely to take decades and we should be realistic about the contribution this sector can make to targets in 2032, and they criticised the original ambition in the draft plan,” Cunningham reportedly said, adding that the government must consider “what is actually doable.”

MSPs called for explanations, with Labour’s Claudia Beamish saying the changes were “dramatically for the worse” and the Lib Dems’ Liam MacArthur asking if Cunningham could “really justify a collapse in the target for low carbon domestic heat”.

However, Prof Karen Turner of the University of Strathclyde’s Centre for Energy Policy said in a statement that part of the reason for the new plan’s scaled-back targets is a change in the way greenhouse gas emissions are measured.

“Between the time that the draft Plan was published and this final Plan,” Turner explained, “we have learned that Scotland’s trees are in fact taking up much more carbon than we thought. This means that the land use sector (without agriculture) is netting carbon off the bottom of our account throughout the 2020s. In effect, this reduces the burden on other sectors to make quite such steep emissions reductions.”

Turner also pointed to the plan’s emphasis on local energy systems as “positive”, with the hope that communities will be empowered to “actively participate in decision making and be offered opportunities to own assets, generate income and reap the economic benefits at a local level”.