Clean Revolution case study: Scotland

Clare Saxon Ghauri
Reading time: 13 minutes
26 September 2012

This is part of The Climate Group's Clean Revolution case study series. Read an interview with Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party.

Strategic advantages, economic opportunities and stakeholder values are some of the drivers and enablers of Scotland’s ambitious climate and energy efforts. Scotland is combining its abundant natural energy resources with significant human capital (e.g. in engineering, finance and education) and political leadership to drive its Clean Revolution. Scotland’s actions go beyond existing UK and EU ambition and have received near universal political, business and NGO support.

Since 1999 Scotland has had its own devolved, sub-national government. While still part of the UK, this nation of 5.2 million has seized its new found autonomy to move ahead faster than most in dealing with the challenges and opportunities of climate change.

Scotland’s climate and energy leadership comes from its development and implementation of comprehensive and ambitious low carbon policies and measures. Scotland’s evolving climate change framework has already set deep emissions reduction targets for 2020 and 2050, while a range of other policies and proposals are set to decarbonize its power and transport sectors. Scotland’s policy efforts place it in the forefront of the emerging Clean Revolution both in Europe and globally.

– Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland

The 2009 Climate Change Act provides the basis for Scotland’s comprehensive approach to low carbon development. The Act has set or enabled a range of ambitious climate and energy targets, as well as supporting policies and measures. A number of actions are world-leading.


Emissions reduction: Scotland’s 2020 and 2050 legally binding emissions targets are amongst the world’s most ambitious. The 42% cut by 2020 and 80% target for 2050 (relative to 1990) are in line with the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – a rarity amongst existing country targets. Decisions to including aviation and shipping emissions and to set challenging, mandatory annual carbon budgets also set Scotland’s targets apart.

Renewable electricity: By 2020, the Scottish Government has pledged to meet a level of renewable electricity output equivalent to 100% of Scotland’s own electricity demand. This is up from 31% in 2011. This does not mean thatScotland will be 100% dependent on renewables, however. Thermal and nuclear electricity generation will continue, although as a declining proportion of total generation, with surplus production exported.

Renewable heat: Scotland’s 2020 target for renewable heat generation is 11%, up from 2.8% in 2011. By comparison the current UK-wide figure is 0.6%.


Electricity decarbonization: Policies to phase out nuclear plants and ensure all thermal plants are enabled for carbon capture and storage (CCS) before 2030 have been announced or are under development. Near total decarbonization of the electricity sector is expected by 2030.

Renewable infrastructure: To help Scotland reach its 100% renewable electricity target, the $114 million Scottish National Renewables Infrastructure Fund was established in 2010 to support improvements in port infrastructure for the offshore wind sector.

Energy innovation: To capture the potential of its marine energy resources the government established the $16 million Saltire Prize. This is one of the world’s largest innovation prizes and aims to encourage innovation in marine energy technology. A $19 million fund is already supporting the testing of existing marine energy prototypes in Scottish waters.

Energy efficiency: In the building sector, new 2010 energy standards for housing will see all new homes deliver a 30% reduction in CO2 emissions. Some 500,000 older properties, or around 20% of households, meanwhile, will benefit from free or low-cost insulation measures.

Transport: Since 2008, some $4.34 billion has been spent improving public rail, tram and bus services. Other policies and proposals are also in place or under development, covering energy efficiency, buildings, waste, transport, agriculture and the public sector.


  • Scotland possesses some of Europe’s best renewable energy resources, including 25% of the continent’s estimated wind and tidal capacity. This potential resource is far in excess of Scotland’s own needs, providing it with an emerging and obvious strategic advantage in the production and export of clean energy.
  • Scotland also benefits from significant expertise in large-scale, offshore engineering – the consequence of 40 years of North Sea oil and gas production. This human resource provides Scotland with much of the skill base it needs for scaling up offshore wind production and developing seafloor CCS.
  • Scotland’s sophisticated service industries, particular finance, law and research and education, provide another point of strategic advantage for the development of an innovative, low carbon Scottish economy.


  • Significant financial opportunities arise from Scotland’s strategic advantages. The low carbon market is already estimated to be worth $13.6 billion per annum, equivalent to nearly 9% of GDP. By 2015-16 the figure is expected to rise to $18.5 billion.


  • With the important North Sea oil and gas industry viewed increasingly as a sunset industry, the importance of the emerging clean tech sector is growing. Government estimates suggest that the low carbon job market could grow 4% per annum, with up to 130,000 jobs in the sector by 2020, or around 5% of Scotland’s workforce.
  • Other social drivers include the health and welfare benefits that come from having warmer, drier and cheaper to run homes and offices as a result of energy efficiency measures.


  • Strong support for clean technologies and climate action exists across stakeholder groups, including businesses, NGOs and the main political parties.
  • The ‘2020 Climate Group’ ( for example was established by leading business figures specifically to support and help deliver the government’s 2020 climate objectives.
  • Scottish parliamentarians, meanwhile, voted unanimously to include amendments which made the 2009 Climate Change Act the most ambitious in the world.


  • A relatively ambitious climate policy environment at the UK and EU-level has helped to remove much of the economic and political risk that might otherwise hinder the rollout of Scotland’s own low carbon plans.
  • The EU’s Emission Trading Scheme (ETS), for example, automatically covers 55% of Scotland’s emissions. This ensures Scotland’s energy generators and heavy industries operate on a level playing field with their European competitors. EU transport policies, meanwhile, provide nearly all the current fuel efficiency incentives for Scotland’s vehicle fleet.
  • EU-wide policies such as these help mitigate opposition to climate action by setting a minimum floor for ambition upon which Scotland has then built. Equally, however, they have created a ceiling for ambition – a key challenge for Scotland (see ‘Challenges’ section).
  • UK-wide policies such as the small-scale renewables feed-in tariff or the CCS demonstration funding also assist and complement Scotland’s efforts.


As a devolved administration, Scotland lacks full legislative and fiscal autonomy in a number of important areas. This includes energy and agriculture where control of certain issues remains at the UK or EU level. The Scottish Government has noted that: “Without the same financial and economic powers as other nations, Scotland has limited flexibility when it comes to implementing measures to reduce emissions”.


Modeling has indicated that Scotland’s 2020 target is dependent on the rest of the EU increasing the region’s collective 2020 emission cut from 20 to 30%. This would drive reductions through the EU-ETS in particular and so affect Scotland’s energy producers and heavy industries. The Scottish Government has lobbied hard with other progressive governments for the increase to 30%.


A significant proportion of Scotland’s measures for achieving the 42% target in 2020 have yet to be converted from proposals into formal policy. This includes such things as the regulation of energy efficiency in existing housing, and a range of transport proposals. The UK Climate Change Committee, the Government’s independent advisor, has noted that this conversion needs to happen quickly if the targets are to be met. Certain initiatives, such as funding for CCS demonstration plants, are also dependent on progress at the UK-level.


These include the cost of, and access to, investment finance; the need to streamline and improve the planning and consent process; the importance of training a skilled, low carbon workforce; the development of supply chains and infrastructure to support renewable development; supporting and enabling sufficient R&D and innovation; and perhaps most critically, effectively engaging with the public.


The following figures summarize Scotland’s low carbon ambition, its natural resource wealth and the economic opportunities that result from this combination ($=US dollars)

42% & 80%

Respectively, Scotland’s 2020 and 2050 emissions reduction targets compared to 1990


Number of older homes to be insulated to modern standards


Annual estimated worth of Scotland’s low carbon sector in 2015-16


Scottish Government’s commitment to the proportion of electricity consumed in Scotland from renewable sources in 2020


Number of jobs expected in the low carbon sector by 2020


Proportion of Europe’s total wind and tidal energy resource that is located in Scotland.


The estimated cost in GDP in 2020 to meet 42% emissions reduction target

7 GW

Current amount of built and consented renewable energy generation capacity


Estimated total savings between 2011 and 2020 for Scottish electricity consumers from new energy efficiency measures

206 GW

Scotland’s untapped, practical offshore wind, wave and tidal resource


Number of new trees to be planted in Scotland by 2015

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