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Nicola Sturgeon’s attempts to portray herself as a climate change world leader at the Cop26 summit suffered a major blow on Wednesday after it emerged her Government has missed its renewable heat target by nearly half.
An official report disclosed that only 6.4 per cent of Scotland’s "non-electrical heat demand" was met by renewable sources such as heat pumps last year, compared to the SNP Government’s target of 11 per cent.
In a deeply embarrassing disclosure for Ms Sturgeon, only days away from Cop26 opening in her home city of Glasgow, the figures also showed the amount of heat generated from renewable sources declined in 2020.
The Scottish Government blamed reduced heat output from biomass systems "at a small number of industrial sites", but opposition parties said the figures disclosed "the gulf between the SNP’s spin during Cop26 and reality".
Among the measures required to meet the target are replacing gas boilers in homes and offices with heat pumps and installing more solar systems.
In a speech on Monday setting out how Scotland "can lead the world into the green revolution", the First Minister said that nearly 100 per cent of net electricity demand already came from renewable sources but she failed to mention heat.
However, she acknowledged that her Government had missed its last three annual targets to cut carbon emissions and pledged to publish a catch-up plan this week.
'SNP's track record on the environment is one of failure'
Monica Lennon, Scottish Labour’s net zero, energy and transport spokeswoman, said: "Despite all their warm words, the SNP’s track record on the environment is one of failure. Not only have they missed yet another key target, but things are actually getting worse.
"With Cop26 a matter of days away, this exposes the gulf between SNP rhetoric and reality. Being a world leader on the environment requires deeds not words – the First Minister should take her own advice and deliver credible action."
Liam McArthur, Scottish Liberal Democrat climate emergency spokesman, said: "It is embarrassing that in the week of COP26 Scotland has missed another national target. At the moment the only hot air we are seeing is coming from SNP ministers."
Non-electrical heat demand is defined as any fuel used for room heating, hot water or process heat, which is the application of heat in industrial processes used in the manufacture of products like steel and glass. It excludes any heat used solely to generate electricity.
The report for the Scottish Government, prepared by the Energy Saving Trust, found the proportion of heat demand met from renewable sources fell by 0.2 points last year.
An estimated 5,074GWh of "useful heat output" was generated by renewable technologies in 2020, a decrease of 2.6 per cent compared to the previous year.
Although the report said some progress had been made, an additional 701GWh of heat output would have been required every year since 2010 for the SNP's target to have been met.
Rural local authority areas accounted for 86 per cent of Scotland's renewable heat output thanks to large biomass installations.
However, the amount generated by heat pumps rose by 83GWh after 3,020 more systems were installed last year, bringing the total to around 21,000.
The report also found Scotland's heat demand fell slightly to 78,844GWh in 2019 thanks to improving energy efficiency and "increasing average annual temperatures".
The figures were published after the SNP-Green coalition this month published plans for more than a million households to rip out their gas boilers by 2030 and replace them with low emissions systems like heat pumps.
However, Scottish ministers only committed £1.8 billion towards the estimated £33 billion cost of converting the country's buildings to "zero emissions", prompting fears that families will be forced to spend thousands of pounds each.
A Scottish Government spokesman said the decline in renewable heat "should be seen in the context of a difficult year for the Scottish economy due to the pandemic."
He added: "We know that we have to go further and faster, but we are being held back by glacial progress in the UK Government."
Scotrail calls off strikes during Cop26 after final demands are met
Meanwhile, a transport union that had threatened to cripple Scotland’s rail services during Cop26 has called off industrial action after a set of demands were met.
The RMT had sent proposals to Scotrail bosses minutes before a 5pm deadline on Wednesday, after which contingency plans would have kicked in which would have seen most of the country left with no train services for 12 days.
While the full details of the offer were not clear, they were believed to involve demands for a 2.5 per cent backdated pay rise and an extra "Cop26 payment" for staff.
The strikes would have caused chaos at the UN summit, with around 30,000 delegates to arrive in Scotland and many staying outside of Glasgow and planning to commute by train.
However, after days of acrimonious talks, in which both Scotrail and SNP ministers have accused the RMT of repeatedly "moving the goalposts" in negotiations, a breakthrough was made.
The union confirmed the planned industrial action will be "withdrawn immediately" as members welcomed a negotiated pay rise.
In a letter released to union members following the agreement, RMT general secretary Michael Lynch said: "By accepting the offer, ScotRail stated that it would mean all current disputes between your union and the company would be resolved and that all current and planned industrial action would be withdrawn immediately."
The new terms accept the union's call for a 2.5 per cent pay rise backdated to April and a "Cop26 payment" for all staff of £300.
A three-hour book on allowance applied to each rest day worked, applicable for 12 months from the date of the agreement, is also included.