Carbon Assessments and Infrastructure – Implications for Government planning and decision making


On 4 February 2021, the Scottish Government (“SG”) published its Infrastructure Investment Plan for Scotland 2021-22 to 2025-26 (“IIP”).  In September 2023, the SG admitted that it was in breach of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 (“2009 Act”) because it had failed to publish an assessment of the climate impact of the IIP. The SG promised ‘urgent work’ to remedy the failure. On 17 January 2024, and in response to a further threat of legal action by campaigners, the SG published the Infrastructure Investment Plan 2021-2022 to 2025-2026: carbon assessment. This article provides a brief overview of the assessment and its findings.  

The Assessment

The IIP Carbon Assessment draws on three sources of evidence to assess the overall extent to which the IIP contributes to the achievement of Scotland’s climate targets:  

  1. the results of a Strategic Environmental Assessment conducted in the initial development stages of the IIP. 
  2. the application of a new Taxonomy Model to the investment which has been designed to indicate if measures in the IIP align with the achievement of the SG’s climate targets.  
  3. a high-level comparison of 39 infrastructure policies and proposals found in Climate Change Plan Update (CCPU) and the IIP, to assess whether they are supported by the IIP.  

The Findings 

The SG have concluded that the IIP Carbon Assessment shows ‘clear and consistent’ evidence that the IIP ‘contributes positively to the achievement of Scotland’s emissions reduction targets.’ The Taxonomy Model shows that cumulatively around 50% of infrastructure investment is expected to contribute positively to meeting the targets.  

Moreover, the high-level comparison exercise found that 85% of the infrastructure policies and proposals identified in the Climate Change Plan Update were wholly or partially supported by the IIP, suggesting the IIP positively contributes to the meeting the targets. 

Will it be enough?  

The IIP was published on the back of campaigners’ demands for the SG to show their ‘homework’ by publishing a detailed assessment of the IIP’s climate impact. 

Whilst SG may have averted a challenge by belatedly publishing the carbon assessment, the question remains as to whether campaigners will be satisfied by the information provided, including the SG’s conclusions in the Carbon Taxonomy Categorisation which underpins the IIP Carbon Assessment.  If campaigners believe that the SG has still failed to show its working, then there might be further legal challenges to the IIP on the horizon.   

Government and public bodies face an increasing risk of legal challenge by interested parties, including activist groups seeking to ensure that climate change commitments are factored into wider decision making, and that decisions are backed up by transparent calculations of the emissions arising from such decisions.