The Carbon Neutral Islands Project

In May 2022 the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands announced the six Scottish islands to be supported by the Carbon Neutral Islands project: Barra, Cumbrae, Hoy, Islay, Raasay and Yell.  This represents one island from each of the local authorities with permanently inhabited islands in their council areas. More widely, the CNI project will help to deliver key commitments in the National Islands Plan and support islands to adapt to and be resilient to the effects of climate change.  


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The project aims to align with wider net-zero and decarbonisation efforts and will contribute to the Scottish Government’s statutory target to reach net zero by 2045. 

What is Carbon Neutral?

The Project considers carbon neutrality akin to net zero. Accordingly, a carbon neutral island is ‘an island where the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (recorded as CO2 equivalent) are in balance with the sinks.’ Sinks can be natural resources capable of absorbing CO2 (e.g. trees) or technological solutions that do the same thing (e.g. carbon capture and storage).  

This project aims to achieve carbon neutrality on each of the 6 islands by 2040, five years prior to Scotland as a whole. The Project will look at carbon neutrality as broadly as possible in line with the Scottish Government’s updated Climate Change Plan list of sectors: 

Waste and the Circular Economy
Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF)
Negative Emissions Technologies

Aims for the CNI Islands

By 2040 the goals for each of the six islands are:

An Island Led Approach

On each island the CNI project is led by a steering group of community representatives. This group identified an anchor organization within the community, which was then funded by the CNI project to employ a local CNI Community Development Officer (CDO). The CDO is the link between the Steering Group, the Community, and the external agencies involved in the project, supported by Community Energy Scotland (CES). 

In the first phase of the project, wide ranging baseline carbon audits were carried out for each island. These identified key carbon sources and sinks with the aim of stimulating discussion and engagement with the local communities.  

The CDOs worked closely with the technical team at CES to ensure local data informed the baseline carbon audit, which also also included work by external consultants. The carbon audits, along with climate and coastal change assessments by Adaptation Scotland are tools to help identify and highlight potential key areas for decarbonisation, mitigation and adaptation actions.  

Informed by these technical tools, the CDOs led discussions and engagement activities within their communities to help identify key priorities for action, which were included as part of a Community Climate Action Plan (CCAP) produced by each island 

The Community Climate Action Plan (CCAP) helps the community record existing knowledge and data, prioritise key projects and schedule actions towards a carbon neutral and sustainable future.  

The CCAP is a ‘living document’ owned by the island community, which can be reviewed and amended to reflect the progress made on the island’s decarbonisation journey.

“Woodland in Islay” – Credit To Ben Shakespeare

Actioning the CCAPs

The next stage of the CNI project involves refining the ideas coming out of the community engagement process to create more detailed proposals. These actions are evaluated in terms of estimated costs, their feasibility, timescales and responsibilities, the predicted carbon impact, and the wider benefits to the community.  

With this process, the CNI project communities will cost the implementation of each of the six island CCAPs and will develop individual community investment strategies to help fund the actions where necessary.