Scotland can be amongst the very best in the world in tackling fuel poverty if it commits to goals to reduce it, MSPs have been told.
The Scottish Government introduced the Fuel Poverty Bill in June with the aim of reducing fuel poverty to no more than 5% of households by 2040.
Speaking at a Holyrood committee on Wednesday, Kevin Stewart, Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning, said the target is challenging but can be achieved.
“Scotland is one of only a handful of European countries to define fuel poverty, let alone set a goal to eradicate it,” Mr Stewart said.
“Achieving the target will place Scotland amongst the very best in the world in terms of tackling fuel poverty.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that our target is challenging but achievable and, importantly, deliverable.”
Mr Stewart said that of the four key drivers of fuel poverty, the Government would focus primarily on changing poor energy efficiency and how energy is used within homes.
He said the other two drivers, fuel prices and income, are outwith the control of the Scottish Parliament.
A target to eradicate fuel poverty by 2016 was set in 2002 by the then-Labour led Scottish government, however it was not met.
Scottish Labour has previously urged the Scottish Government to set its 2040 target to 0%, however Mr Stewart insisted achieving the 5% target would not lead to a halt in work towards eradicating fuel poverty.
The minister also stated that future governments should not be punished if targets are not met and warned that if the date is brought forward, it could lead to a potential rise in fuel poverty.
Mr Stewart said: “I don’t believe that if penalties had been in place in respect of the 2016 target it would have been met.
“We don’t know which government will be in power in 2040 and I don’t consider it to be appropriate to set out consequences in the Bill for a future administration’s failure to meet the target.
“Clearly, the consequences of not doing so are obviously political and reputational.
“To bring forward the target date risks a rise in fuel poverty due to higher installation or operating costs per household.
“I want to make clear, though, that I expect considerable progress to have been made in our fight against fuel poverty well ahead of the 2040 target date.
“Our draft fuel poverty strategy, published alongside the Bill, contains important interim milestones.
“The first of these is that by 2030, the overall fuel poverty rate will be less than 15% and the second is that the median fuel poverty gap, based on 2015 prices before adding inflation, will be no more than £350.”
Mr Stewart indicated the intention to bring forward amendments to the Bill in the Chamber at Holyrood to enshrine the “ambitious” interim targets in the legislation.
Redefining fuel poverty, he said, would also mean that around 76,000 more income-poor households would be considered to be fuel-poor than under the current definition.
He said: “By bringing the definition of fuel poverty closer to the definition of relative income poverty, we aim to achieve a fairer Scotland.
“We are determined to put right the situation whereby under the current definition some households with low incomes do not qualify as fuel-poor.
“We want the new definition of fuel poverty to work for everyone, no matter where they live in Scotland.”