THE Scottish Government is expected to hit its target for cutting climate pollution for the first time in five years – but only because of changes in the way emissions are counted.

The new climate change minister, Roseanna Cunningham, looks likely to tell the Scottish Parliament tomorrow that the statutory target for 2014 has been met. Every previous annual target for 2010 to 2013 has been missed.

But the main reason for the success will be that the complex rules on how the European Union’s emissions trading system is taken into account have changed. This has the effect of making Scotland’s targets easier to meet.

A new analysis by environmentalists shows that most sectors of Scottish society have achieved only minimal reductions in carbon pollution. Emissions from public sector buildings, businesses and farms dropped by less that one per cent between 2009 and 2013, with falls of just a few per cent from homes and transport (see table opposite).

According to government advisors, the new carbon accounting rules also mean that climate targets need be raised if parliament wants to fulfil its original ambitions. Campaigners are calling for “real emission reductions”, and for the 2020 target for cutting pollution to be increased from 42 to 56 per cent.

The UK Committee on Climate Change, which advises the Scottish Government, has pointed out that “backloading” in the EU’s emissions trading system “artificially make Scotland’s emissions targets easier to meet”. Even if actual emissions don’t fall “the 2014 annual target will be met”, predicted a committee report in March.

Environmental groups welcomed news that Scotland would at last meet one of its annual targets. They are looking forward to the introduction of a new Scottish climate bill, promised by the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

“The Paris agreement last year promised extra action to try to keep the world below a 1.5 degree temperature rise and the new climate bill gives us the chance to make sure Scotland demonstrates it is serious about this aim,” said Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland.

“We welcome the Scottish Government’s official advisors’ calculation showing the need for at least a 56 per cent reduction in emissions by 2020. This also means tougher targets for subsequent years,” he added.

“It is possible that ministers don’t quite realise what they have signed up for but these targets would ensure that Scotland can still talk about being world-leading in the fight against climate change.”

WWF Scotland, which calculated real emissions cuts from 2009 to 2013 using official figures, pointed out that progress had been “uneven”. Although electricity generation and waste had significantly cut their pollution, key areas such as transport and home energy efficiency had not.

“Looking ahead to this week’s climate change target announcement, we’ll want to look behind the figures and see real emissions reductions occurring across the economy, and not just the tailwind of changes in the European emissions trading system,” said WWF Scotland’s climate officer, Fabrice Leveque.

“Strong government policy can help Scotland realise the many varied benefits of a zero-carbon future – cleaner air, a healthier population and tens of thousands of green jobs.”

Labour’s climate change spokesperson, Claudia Beamish MSP, was “delighted” that the 2014 target looked likely to be met. “It’s a relief that they have finally managed so after four years of failure and an extra 17 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” she said.

“I would urge the Scottish Government to seriously consider 56 per cent by 2020 as an updated target in the new climate change bill. This should be coupled with an aspiration to generate 50 per cent of our electricity, heat and transport demand from renewables by 2030.”

The Greens’ climate change spokesperson, Mark Ruskell MSP, argued that the government couldn’t take credit for meeting the target. “We have yet to see the transformational policy and investment in energy efficient homes and sustainable transport to compensate for past failures,” he said.

The climate change minister, Roseanna Cunningham, defended the government’s record. “The Scottish Government invests over £1 billion per year in public and sustainable transport and has designated energy efficiency as a national infrastructure priority in recognition of its importance,” she told The National.

“Previous figures show that Scotland has already reduced emissions by 38 per cent from the 1990 baseline, meaning we are on course to exceed our current statutory target of a 42 per cent reduction by 2020.”

She accepted, however, that Scotland needed to be “bolder” to meet the Paris agreement to keep global warming to “well below” two degrees. “That is why First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed the Scottish Government’s plan to legislate to establish a new and more testing target for 2020.”

The Scottish National Party’s manifesto for the last election promised to “set an ambitious new target for Scotland to reduce emissions by more than 50 per cent by 2020”. Scotland’s ambition had been praised by international experts, Cunningham said.

Existing climate change legislation sets out the basis against which progress towards targets was measured, she explained. “This calculation, which remains the same in every year, reflects Scotland’s participation in EU-wide emissions trading and also incorporates ongoing improvements in the science of how emissions are accounted for.”