Chapter 6


Emissions from the buildings sector cover emissions from fuel combustion for heating and cooling and garden machinery, and, perhaps unexpectedly, fluorinated gases released from aerosols and metered dose inhalers. Emissions fell 21% between 1990 and 2021.

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Improving the energy efficiency of buildings reduces carbon emissions, cuts household bills and makes homes healthier. The top priority in reducing emissions from buildings is to improve the efficiency of each building, the next priority is to change heating systems over to zero-carbon technologies. The Bute House Agreement139 between the Scottish Greens and the SNP committed to the majority of homes achieving an energy efficiency of EPC C or better by 2030, and all homes reaching this level by 2033.

Energy Action Scotland state that a quarter of households in Scotland are in fuel poverty.140 A recent AgeUK survey of older people in Scotland found that 76% were always concerned about paying their electricity bill, only 46% felt they could heat their home to a comfortable level and four in ten identified themselves as living in fuel poverty.141

The Scottish Government is committed to spend £1.8bn over this Parliament on its current programme of work in the area of energy efficiency improvements to homes and the installation of zero-carbon heating systems. The Heat in Buildings Strategy142 requires over a million homes and the equivalent of 50,000 non-domestic buildings to be using zero-emissions heat by 2030.

Scotland’s territorial emissions 1990-2021

Emissions in MtCO2e from the residential sector 1990-2021, showing a fall of 21% (bold green line).

The measures in the current strategy include heat pumps, connection to heat networks, electric storage heaters and hydrogen heating systems.

In the longer term, the Scottish Government estimates that the total gross cost to deliver zero emissions for all buildings (including heating systems) by 2045 is £33bn, although householders would have spent about £5bn replacing heating systems in this time anyway.143

The decarbonisation of public sector buildings is essential. Hospitals, schools and colleges, care homes services, local government buildings, leisure centres, police stations and courts, social and community housing, water, transport and environment services will all need to decarbonise. This needs government action plans with major investment, and procurement and commissioning mechanisms to enable public services to meet their statutory binding obligations.144 See ‘Decarbonising the public sector’ policy in the Public Sector chapter.

Reducing fuel poverty reduces costs on the NHS, with one recent estimate145 suggesting that every £1 spent on warming up the homes of vulnerable households yields £4 in health benefits.

Four policies below set out the kind of regulatory measures, financial support, enabling actions and delivery plans that will be needed to decarbonise Scotland’s homes.


Scottish Government and Scottish Green Party: draft shared policy programme, Scottish Government, 2021,


Heat in buildings strategy – achieving net zero emissions in Scotland’s buildings, Scottish Government, 2021, publications/heat-buildings-strategy-achieving-net-zero-emissions-scotlands-buildings/


Heat in buildings strategy – achieving net zero emissions in Scotland’s buildings, Scottish Government, 2021, publications/heat-buildings-strategy-achieving-net-zero-emissions-scotlands-buildings/


Getting to net zero in UK public services: The road to decarbonisation, UNISON, 2021,


Tackling cold homes would save the NHS £540mn per year, new BRE research reveals, BRE Group, March 2023, press-releases/tackling-cold-homes-would-save-the-nhs-540mn-per-year-new-bre-research-reveals/

Current climate plan
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The Climate Change Plan update146 lists 4 outcomes for buildings, with policies and proposed policies which are supposed to achieve them:

Outcome 1: The heat supply to our homes and non-domestic buildings is very substantially decarbonised, with high penetration rates of renewable and zero emissions heating

Outcome 2: Our homes and buildings are highly energy efficient, with all buildings upgraded where it is appropriate to do so, and new buildings achieving ultra-high levels of fabric efficiency

Outcome 3: Our gas network supplies an increasing proportion of green gas (hydrogen and biomethane) and is made ready for a fully decarbonised gas future

Outcome 4: The heat transition is fair, leaving no-one behind and stimulates employment opportunities as part of the green recovery

The Scottish Government’s plan is to reduce emissions from buildings by 68% between 2020 and 2029, but with no further reductions after that.

Emissions from buildings 2020-2032 (MtCO2e)

Expected climate change emissions from buildings 2020-2023

Version 1.0: September 2023

The contents of this document will be updated on a regular basis.