Scotland today unveiled the world's first "carbon budget" to link greenhouse gas emissions with government spending, revealing that its plans will emit the equivalent of four coal-fired power stations next year.
The Scottish government has estimated that its spending next year on £33bn worth of core services such as hospitals, schools, roads, local government and farming, will lead to the release of 11.5m tonnes of carbon dioxide.
The "carbon budget" is being claimed as another world first by ministers in Edinburgh, after the Scottish parliament set the first legally binding CO2 reductions target of 42% by 2020 in a climate act in June.
The UK Treasury has no plans to follow suit but officials in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are closely watching the Scottish government's efforts.
John Swinney, the Scottish finance secretary, said these estimates would be used eventually to test the environmental impact of government spending, allowing ministers to weigh up individual policies and award contracts on how much CO2 they would emit.
Officials said the goal would be to use carbon emissions to help decide which contract or policy to follow, alongside its cost and quality.
'It is vital to have analysis available to help inform critical decisions on how to take appropriate action during these challenging economic times,' Swinney said.
'It will form part of an important discussion taking place across our nation about the carbon implications of activity across the economy and across society.'
Environment groups have applauded the new measurements, but urged ministers to introduce much more detailed assessments of each spending decision, particularly on transport and housing. Swinney has yet to set a target date for detailed measurements.
Elizabeth Leighton, of WWF Scotland, said ministers had to make that a priority. 'They urgently need to apply this appraisal to individual projects and individual policies, so that we know early on the carbon implications of their decision-making, so we can choose the low-carbon option.'
Patrick Harvie, the Scottish Green party leader, was scathing about the government's failure to include car and lorry emissions, which equal 10.5Mt, from the section on roads in the carbon assessment. The budget said spending on new motorways and trunk roads would only release 213,000tns.
'Are we really to believe that the total carbon impacts from roads will be just half that of the Scottish public pensions agency?' Harvie said.
Environment campaigners remain highly critical of many Scottish National party policies, particularly on transport and housing, arguing they undermine the minority SNP government's commitment to renewable energy.
he SNP has authorised extending the M74 motorway through southern Glasgow, has promised new roads, backs a new coal-fired power station at Hunterston, supports expanding several airports and has relaxed planning laws for opencast coal mines. Scotland also has weaker planning laws on energy efficiency for new homes than apply in England.
Swinney also announced that a £170m rail link to Glasgow airport had been cancelled, to help meet a £500m drop in Treasury funding next year due to UK-wide spending cuts. The SNP also dropped a £500m rail link to Edinburgh airport two years ago.
The budget estimates that the £11bn spending on health services in Scotland would release 3.5Mt of CO2; local council spending of £11.6bn would lead to 4.3Mt of CO2; finance and sustainable growth spending of £4.9bn would result in 1.7Mt of CO2.
Agriculture and forestry, which only has a budget of £587m, would release the greatest amount of CO2 for every pound spend, at 0.56Mt of CO2, partly because of emissions from livestock.
Swinney and his officials admit the current carbon budget is based on estimates and will be refined over coming years. Although it fails to includes "secondary emissions" such as car usage of roads, it does include the indirect emissions of public sector workers from their own lifestyles and commuting and emissions from the supply chain.
The total estimate accounts for only 14% of Scotland's total carbon emissions, and the devolved government only has control over 30% of those total emissions.
The UK government and European Union oversees the policies and areas for the remaining 70%, such as fuel duty, air taxes and funding green energy investments.
This article is reprinted courtesy of the Guardian Environment Network