SCOTTISH Government ministers have insisted that they are still on course to cut emissions by 42 per cent by 2020, despite missing climate change targets for the fourth year in a row.

Figures released yesterday show that in 2013 Scotland produced 1.7 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) more than planned.

Environment Minister Aileen McLeod said that the failure was in part due to the using of the 1990 baseline to register figures.

Scientists now know that Scotland produced more emissions that year than thought when the legislation was passed.

McLeod said: “Scotland is well on track to meet our ambitious emissions targets, with these latest figures for 2013 showing we are more than three-quarters of the way there with seven years still to go.

“Our emissions have fallen by 38.4 per cent from the 1990 baseline, outperforming the original 31.7 per cent reduction that was required to meet the 2013 annual fixed target. If it had not been for successive increases to the baseline since targets were established, Scotland would have met, and exceeded, our target for this year – and the three previous years.”

The Government were criticised by the Greens who said that they were showing a “staggering lack of ambition” when it came to cutting carbon emissions.

The party’s convener Patrick Harvie said:”The Scottish Government has had since 2009 to put in place policies to live up to our much-heralded climate change targets and they have failed spectacularly.

“Since the Act was passed we have put nearly 10 million tonnes more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the targets allow – demonstrating a staggering lack of ambition by this government.”

Professor Peter Strachan, an energy expert from RGU said that the Government should be commended.

He added: “Scotland has a world class energy policy. It has set very ambitious climate change targets. Even though Scotland has narrowly missed its recent targets, the Scottish Government should be commended for the leadership that it has shown.

“Their 2020 renewable energy targets are now within touching distance and this is largely testimony to the leadership shown by the Scottish Government and their low carbon strategy.”

Tory spokesperson Jamie McGrigor said: “The SNP should be looking to nuclear power and fracking as ways of boosting energy production and lessening the effects on the environment.”

Lib Dem environment spokesman Jim Hume said: “For ministers to claim that our carbon reduction work is on track is laughable.

“The SNP are running out of excuses. These targets were made in Scotland and the Scottish Government have no one to blame but themselves.”

Labour’s Sarah Boyack said: “For the fourth year in a row, the SNP Government has failed to meet climate change targets.

“While there has been progress in the energy supply, it is sadly lacking in other key sectors like transport and agriculture.

“The missed target is embarrassing for SNP ministers but they should be wary of watering down ambition to save face. Lowering targets would send a terrible message ahead of climate talks in Paris”.

Official figures show that an estimated 53 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) was produced in Scotland in 2013.

When that total is adjusted to take into account trading in the EU Emissions Trading System that falls to 49.725 MtCO2e. However, the Scottish Government’s target for 2013 was 47.976 MtCO2e.

In a statement the Scottish Parliament yesterday McLeod said: “Of course, if our targets were easy to achieve they would not be ambitious enough.

“And these are the level the international community needs to meet if the international climate treaty to be agreed in Paris later this year is to stand a good chance of limiting global warming to less than 2°C.

“As negotiations continue this week to agree the text of that treaty, the Scottish Government stands firm in our commitment to tackling climate change.”