Around the UK

Since devolution in 1998, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own political and administrative powers, under the Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Each country can set its own climate change targets, policies and measures, supplementing action under the 2008 UK Climate Change Act and UK-wide legislation on, for example, energy. In some cases, the devolved administrations are more ambitious than the UK as a whole:

  • Scotland plans to cut emissions by 42% by 2020 under its own Climate Change Act, and generate renewable power equivalent to its entire electricity consumption
  • Wales plans to reduce greenhouse emissions by 40% by 2020 under its Climate Change Strategy
  • Northern Ireland is targeting 35% lower emissions by 2025 under its Greenhouse Gas Action Plan, and is developing plans for its own Climate Change Act

Across the administrations

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland accounted for 8.9%, 9% and 4% respectively of UK emissions in 2013. Scotland has seen the steepest emissions reductions (35%) since 1990, as a result of a shift from coal to renewables in the power sector. Emissions in Wales have fallen by 12%, and in Northern Ireland by 16%.

Regarding emissions sources, agriculture and forestry have a bigger role in Scotland and Northern Ireland than in the UK as a whole; these emissions are relatively hard to measure accurately.

Wales is the most industrial country, with the greatest role for power plants, refineries and iron and steelworks, while Northern Ireland has the least heavy industry.

In terms of efforts to fight climate change, there are some limits on the responsibilities of the three administrations.

They have no powers to regulate energy, including power generation, meaning that UK-wide low-carbon energy support schemes apply.

All three countries have responsibility for economic development and the environment, however, and each has set targets to cut emissions and develop renewable power. And they all use some of their own finances to boost home energy efficiency.

UK-wide measures to combat climate change and restrict emissions are covered in a separate ECIU briefing. This briefing summarises measures specific to the devolved administrations.


Scotland has particularly rich renewable energy resources, which it estimates at a quarter of all Europe’s tidal, wave and offshore wind potential. And it has a large carbon sink as a result of extensive forests, contributing more than half of the UK’s total carbon sink.

Sloy hydro power station, Scotland
Sloy is one of the largest hydro power stations in Scotland. Image: Andy Magee, Creative Commons licence

The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 came into force a year after the Westminster equivalent. It sets a long-term target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% in 2050 relative to 1990 (identical to the UK target), and established the principle of five-year carbon budgets. Unlike the Westminster government, Scotland also has annual targets.

Scotland has an interim reduction target of 42% by 2020, which is more ambitious than the UK-wide 34%. So far, it has set emissions targets out to 2027.

However, it has repeatedly missed the annual targets. In 2015, the UK Committee on Climate Change stated that Scotland’s long-term targets were ‘very challenging’.

Part of this difficulty reflects changes in how emissions are measured. The Committee said that Scotland would have to step up progress in low-carbon heat, energy efficiency, transport and agriculture and land use.

The Scottish government is more upbeat. The country’s targets take into account trade in carbon emissions permits, under the EU emissions trading scheme. Once these are taken into account, Scotland’s emissions in 2013 were 38% below 1990 levels, already more than three quarters of the way to the 2020 target.

Scotland has a target to generate renewable power equivalent to the country’s entire electricity consumption by 2020, with an interim target for 50% of consumption by 2015.

In 2014, renewable sources generated a record 49.8% of Scotland’s electricity consumption, putting the country on course to meet the 2015 target. The UK Committee on Climate Change says Scotland is on track to meet the 2020 renewable energy target.

However, Scotland faces renewable energy headwinds as a result of cuts to renewable energy support in UK-wide policies, especially for onshore wind. Blaming those cuts, the Scottish government projected a 37% cut in its energy budget in 2016/17 compared with the previous year.


The Welsh Climate Change Strategy, published in October 2010, targets an annual 3% cut in greenhouse gas emissions in sectors that the Welsh Government controls under its devolved responsibilities, thus excluding power generation and energy-intensive industries.

The Strategy also commits Wales to a reduction of 40% from 1990 levels across all sectors by 2020, more ambitious than the UK’s target of 34%. The 2020 target includes the country’s entire emissions.

Emissions in Wales saw a big annual increase in 2013, by 10%, largely as a result of the restart of Tata Steel’s Port Talbot No.4 Blast Furnace in February 2013, showing the significant role of energy-intensive industries. As a result, emissions in 2013 were only 12% below 1990 levels, compared with 30% lower across the UK as a whole. That leaves Wales far off the course needed to meet its 2020 target, which the UK Committee on Climate Change says ‘is likely to be missed’.

Wales has an aspirational target to develop 22.5 gigawatts of renewable power by 2025, compared with just 1.8 GW in 2013. It is well off track.

In its UK-wide progress report in 2015, the Committee on Climate Change made four main recommendations for Wales:

  • develop a low-carbon heating strategy
  • cut heavy industry emissions
  • increase adoption of electric vehicles
  • meet existing tree-planting targets
Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s Executive has set a target of reducing emissions by 35% on 1990 levels by 2025 under its Greenhouse Gas Action Plan.

That is rather less ambitious than the equivalent UK-wide target of a 50% cut. The lower ambition reflects the greater share of agriculture in Northern Ireland, a sector where emissions cuts are more difficult.

In 2013, Northern Ireland’s emissions were 16% lower than 1990 levels, compared with 30% lower across the UK as a whole. Emissions rose slightly in 2013.

Northern Ireland set a target to generate renewable power equivalent to 20% of total electricity consumption by 2015, and 40% by 2020.

It reached 19% of consumption from renewable sources in 2014. However, to meet the 2020 target, it will have to install around another 700 megawatts of renewable power, according to the UK Climate Change Committee.

The Committee published three main recommendations, in its 2015 assessment, that would put Northern Ireland back on track for both its emissions and renewable energy targets:

  • develop networks and renewable energy in heating
  • improve monitoring of agricultural emissions
  • boost electric vehicle uptake.

The Committee has advised Northern Ireland to establish its own Climate Change Act, as in Scotland and in the UK as a whole.