Climate Change and Sustainability

An understanding of climate change impacts and the related effects this has on our natural resources, together with the required mitigation and adaptation approaches, is at the core of Transport Scotland’s actions. Each directorate within the agency considers the impacts of climate change in all operational and policy decision making.

Climate Change Adaptation

The Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019 has been adopted by the Scottish Parliament since 2019, setting a net-zero emissions target for all greenhouse gases by 2045, and new incremental targets for 2030 (to 70% reduction) and 2040 (to 90% reduction).

These are bold and challenging targets, and it is hoped that Scotland’s lead will encourage other nations, both domestic and foreign, to match this commitment. At the time of writing it is understood the UK government is on the verge of announcing similar greenhouse gas reductions. The UK Climate Change Committee (CCC) has stated that realising net-zero emissions targets across the country as a whole will require an integrated, multi-sectorial approach including behavioural or societal changes. The Scottish Government recognises this need, and the response has been to engage in broad consultation to ensure national understanding of the challenges and the opportunities.

The UK Climate Change Act (2008) requires the UK Government to conduct a UK-wide Climate Change Risk Assessment every five years. The latest report of the third Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA3) was prepared by the CCC and was published in 2021. The CCRA3 report identifies and analyses 61 climate change risks and opportunities for the UK, each of which is assigned one of these urgency scores: More Action Needed; Further Investigation; Sustain Current Action; and Watching Brief.

Out of these 61 risks, seven key climate risks specifically pertain to transport infrastructure. Those requiring further action include the following:

  • Risks to infrastructure networks (water, energy, transport, ICT) from cascading failures;
  • Risks to infrastructure services from river, surface water and groundwater flooding;
  • Risks to transport networks from slope and embankment failure; and,
  • Risks to transport from high and low temperatures, high winds, lightning.

Risks to transport in Scotland that urgently require further investigation to assess the need for further action, are the following:

  • Risks to infrastructure services from coastal flooding and erosion;
  • Risks to bridges and pipelines from flooding and erosion; and
  • Risks to subterranean and surface infrastructure from subsidence.

Alongside the 61 individual climate risks and opportunities, the CCC also set out 8 priority risk areas for further adaptation within the next 2 years, with four risks associated with transport infrastructure, and illustrating the inextricable link between climate change and biodiversity.

Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme

To meet these statutory requirements, the Scottish Government has recently published Climate Ready Scotland: Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme 2019-2024 (SCCAP2), which is a five-year programme of policies and proposals for Scotland to adapt to climate change. Transport Scotland was a key author of the policies and proposals related to the transport sector.

SCCAP2 takes an outcomes-based approach, derived from both the UN Sustainable Development Goals and Scotland's National Performance Framework. These are:

  1. Our communities are inclusive, empowered, resilient and safe in response to the changing climate.
  2. The people of Scotland who are most vulnerable to climate change are able to adapt, and climate justice is embedded in climate change adaptation policy.
  3. Our inclusive and sustainable economy is flexible, adaptable and responsive to the changing climate.
  4. Our society’s supporting systems are resilient to climate change.
  5. Our natural environment is valued, enjoyed, protected and enhanced and has increased resilience to climate change.
  6. Our coastal and marine environment is valued, enjoyed, protected and enhanced and has increased resilience to climate change.
  7. Our international networks are resilient to climate change.

Within the adaptation programme, Transport Scotland has key responsibility for delivering a number of Outcomes, including Outcome 5 concerning the need to protect and enhance our natural environment.

Approach to Climate Change Adaptation & Resilience

Adapting to the current and future impacts of climate change is imperative to avoid costly and disruptive consequences for our people, communities, environment and economy, and form a vital element of Transport Scotland’s planning and operations. Even if we were able to stop all emissions today, there would still be adverse impacts from climate change that are ‘locked in’ due to past emissions.

Climate change is also one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss, with the destruction of ecosystems undermining nature’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and protect against extreme weather, thus accelerating climate change and increasing vulnerability to it.

In recognition of these inevitable climate-related effects to the transport network, Transport Scotland has recently published our Approach to Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience (ACCAR).

This work provides a strategic overview of our approach to adaptation for our Road, Rail, Aviation and Maritime transport networks and sets out an ambitious vision for a well-adapted transport system in Scotland which is safe, reliable and resilient in relation to climate change, (see Figure 15).

This vision will be delivered through four high-level Strategic Outcomes and various Sub Outcomes, which will address the seven transport-related climate change risks identified in CCRA3.

The ACCAR sets out the Vision for “a transport system which is well adapted and prepared for the current and future impacts of climate change. It is safe for all users, reliable for everyday journeys and resilient to weather-related disruption.

The ACCAR has reviewed and set strategic directions for the agency’s current climate change adaptation and resilience activities, and provides recommendations on how to enhance adaptation and resilience and enable the establishment of an appropriate and proportionate governance structure to oversee adaptation and resilience activity within Transport Scotland. The diagram below shows how the three elements of Safety, Resilience, and Reliability interlink to form the Transport Scotland Adaptation and Resilience Vision.

It includes three partially overlapping circles. Within circle 1, under heading "Safe", it states "a transport system that is safe for all users across all modes, minimising serious injury or fatalities, despite the impacts of climate change.

In circle 2, under heading "Reliable", it states "a transport system that can be relied upon to support everyday journeys, communities, vital services and the movement of goods".

In circle 3, under heading "Resilient", it states "a transport system that is prepared for, and able to sufficiently respond to the impacts of climate change.

Figure 15 Transport Scotland's Adaptation and Resilience Vision as described in text above
Figure 15 Transport Scotland's Adaptation and Resilience Vision

Vulnerable Locations Group

In December 2020, the National Transport Strategy Delivery Plan 2020 - 2022 committed Transport Scotland to establishing the Vulnerable Locations Group (VLG) to identify Vulnerable Locations on Trunk Roads and drive our strategic approach to climate change adaptation. The VLG was established in 2021, with an initial focus on short-term cost-effective actions, whilst developing a move to a long-term proactive approach, including a dedicated budget for climate change adaptation.

In early 2021, the VLG agreed to establish the Vulnerable Locations Operational Group (VLOG) to lead on the operational alignment required to manage a Pilot Adaptation Programme (PAP) to deliver schemes to mainstream climate change adaptation across the Roads Directorate.

These schemes were required to deliver a “Going Beyond Maintenance” policy, to adapt the network to the current and future impacts of climate change while delivering a safe, reliable and resilient Trunk Road Network.

The VLOG was tasked with the following:

  • Promoting and mainstreaming climate change adaptation across the Roads Directorate;
  • Communicating and sharing the good adaptation work already undertaken, encouraging innovation and delivery on adaptation;
  • Reporting on progress to the VLG.

In 2022/23, the VLOG has identified areas of focus, fed into the budget allocation process, fostered collaboration, and communicated internally and externally as appropriate. The VLOG also delivered six defined schemes in 2022/23 to effect adaptation and build resilience, and has sought and reviewed innovation to bring improvement to the management and maintenance of the Trunk Road Network:

  • A78 Seamill, adjacent to Waterside Hotel: upgrading of drainage system including upsizing eight pipes;
  • A76 West Polquhirter/ Brunton Farm: new filter drain system;
  • A75 Barlae: verge and filter drain works;
  • M80 River Carron to Haggs: drainage improvement scheme;
  • A889 Dalwhinnie; and
  • A83 Rest and Be Thankful Hillside watercourse realignment.

Carbon Management

Scotland’s ambitious climate change legislation, the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019 (amended in direct response to the international Paris Agreement), sets a target date for net zero emissions of all greenhouse gases by 2045. To meet Scotland’s targets, a rapid transformation across all sectors of our economy and society is required.

The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals shown in Figure 17, below, are designed to be a blueprint for a more sustainable future for everyone. These goals have influenced both Scotland’s National Performance Framework and the outcomes associated with Climate Ready Scotland, and directly informed the development of Transport Scotland’s Carbon Management Plan 4.

Figure 17 The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (for full description, see UN website as linked above)
Figure 17 The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals

Transport Scotland’s Carbon Management Plan: 4th Edition (CMP4) covers the Agency’s operation emissions and network energy emissions, the latter being associated with the lighting of the Trunk Road Network.

This plan sets our corporate carbon emission baseline along with associated targets and projects to 2027, with the overarching goal to reduce emissions within our sphere of influence.

The goal of this plan is to not only achieve Net Zero across our own corporate activities, but to also challenge the way in which emissions are managed throughout our supply chain.

Our emission sources are as follows:

  • Scope 1 – Gas Consumption (George House and Traffic Control Centre);
  • Scope 2 – Electricity Consumption (George House, Traffic Control Centre and Roadside Electrical Assets);
  • Scope 3 – Business and commute travel, employee home working, water consumption, waste generated through corporate activities; and
  • Scope ‘i’ – Transport Contracts (ScotRail, HIAL, CalMac Ferries Ltd, Caledonian Maritime Assets), Trunk Road Operating Company Contracts (Operations, Construction and Maintenance Infrastructure projects), Fugitive emissions (leaks and other irregular releases of gases or vapour from a pressurised containment).

Setting measurable, achievable, and realistic targets against a timeline relies on credible data. We have set the following Corporate Emission targets:

  • By 2025, Transport Scotland’s Scope 1 emissions will be zero.
  • By 2025, Transport Scotland’s Scope 2 emissions will be Net Zero.
  • By 2025, Identified Scope 3 emissions will be Net Zero primed, with an associated target of 15% reduction (for Scopes 2 & 3) by 2027.
  • By 2045, Transport Scotland’s Scope ‘i’ emissions will be Net Zero.

Key targets identified in CMP4 aim to meet the latest legislative requirements to set zero direct and net zero indirect emissions targets associated with our operational control.

The target to emit zero direct emissions by 2025 is ambitious but achievable, as long as transformative action is taken now; meaning the adoption of wholesale changes in our processes and functions. The target encompasses our Scope 1 emissions - those that are owned or controlled directly by Transport Scotland.

Transport Scotland aims to be net zero by 2025 for Scope 2 emissions, which are those that result indirectly from the purchase of energy.

We will also aim to reduce our scope 3 emission as much as practically possible – these are emissions as a consequence of our activities (i.e. operating the trunk road network) but occur from sources not owned or controlled by Transport Scotland.

Carbon Sequestration

However, there are limitations as to what can be decarbonised as technologies and policies are still developing. Carbon sequestration, through tree planting on our estate (insetting), will therefore form a major element of our journey towards net zero and our aim to being “net zero primed” by 2025, and this has been identified and promoted through CMP4.

Insetting refers to interventions along a company’s value chain (all the activities and processes involved in creating a product or performing a service – such as managing a transport network) that are designed to generate reductions in greenhouse gas GHG emissions and to deliver carbon storage, and at the same time create positive impacts for communities, landscapes and ecosystems.

This is different to carbon off-setting which refers to an organisation seeking to reduce GHG levels externally in order to compensate for their own excessive emissions. Ultimately, both processes are viable in the fight against climate change, but insetting is considered more sustainable as it reduces the need to purchase carbon credits or invest in carbon offsetting projects by directly controlling emissions at source.

We cannot address our planet’s climate emergency without reversing the loss of nature. Evidence shows that strong and healthy ecosystems can help to fight climate change as well as build resilience and help us adapt to climate impacts. Insetting projects help to protect, value and reverse the loss of nature, create regenerative processes in an organisation’s operations, and support the business case for investing in nature. This allows businesses to integrate investment in nature into sustainability strategies and goals, providing a way to scale nature-based solutions across industries, sectors and areas.

Over the past few years Transport Scotland has commenced large scale tree planting across our estate, with planting verified via the Woodland Carbon Code. Transport Scotland is the first public sector body to begin such insetting projects as part of our net zero journey, with woodland creation projects already registered and underway in Argyll & Bute (A83) and Dumfries & Galloway (M74). However, in order to meet the Scottish Government’s ambitious climate change goals and reach Net Zero by 2045 we must continue with this vital work to sequester carbon and offset emissions associated with our operations (Scope 1 and 2 emissions).

Details of the Carbon Sequestration projects underway are included in the Landscape and Ecosystems section (page 58).

Low Carbon Economy

In September 2018, the Scottish Government announced its intention to phase out the need for new petrol and diesel cars by 2032 placing Scotland among the world’s leading countries in the shift away from fossil fuels for light vehicles. This commitment has just been matched by the UK government with the recent announcement by the Prime Minister to phase out the sale of new single fuel combustion engine vehicles by 2030.

Scottish Ministers have reinforced their intentions to tackle climate change, improve air quality and ensure Scotland is a net-zero carbon society. Within Transport Scotland, the Low Carbon Economy Directorate has a clear focus in facilitating and contributing to these outcomes, with the following vision and outcomes:


A transformative shift to sustainable, low carbon mobility.


  • Scotland is at the forefront of markets for Ultra Low Emission Vehicles.
  • Scotland is a global destination for innovation and investment in sustainable, low carbon mobility.
  • People and places benefit fairly from the shift to sustainable, low carbon mobility.

Air Quality

Poor air quality and air pollution can have a serious detrimental effect on ecosystems and species. The health, condition and ability for ecosystems to grow and thrive is threatened in such circumstances, affecting their ability to provide associated benefits (ecosystem services), e.g., nutrient and carbon cycling, pollination, food production etc., on which we are all dependent.

As ecosystems are impacted, so is the biological diversity. This is the same in relation to humans – both as a direct consequence of breathing harmful pollutants, and indirectly though the associated impact on our environment, such as the plants and the processes they support, which we all rely on.

The ongoing development of Low Emission Zones (LEZs) in Scotland has been a key task in recent years. LEZs set an emissions limit for certain road spaces, restricting access for the most polluting vehicles to improve air quality. This helps protect public health within our towns and cities, making them and the wider environment more attractive and healthy places in which to live, work and to visit.

On 1 June 2023, the Glasgow’s LEZ came into force, which effectively excludes the most polluting vehicles from the city centre. The zone covers an area of the city centre bounded by the M8 motorway to the north and west, the river Clyde to the south and Saltmarket/High Street to the east. It is anticipated that LEZs will be also introduced in Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen.

The introduction of LEZs, coupled with the regulatory powers to be provided by the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019, is likely to contribute to the agency meeting the carbon reduction targets that are required to tackle Climate Change.