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September 4, 2018

Forces of reaction

If an opinion poll asked people to rank the issues that currently concern them the most, it would be interesting to see if climate change even made it into the top three. Despite the evidence which is now increasingly all around us, there still appears to be a general ambivalence about demanding that our politicians make hard choices in order to safeguard the future of the planet. A recently published report makes it very clear just how radical these changes have to be. But when you see who the biggest climate polluters are, you get a sense of how hard they’ll be lobbying governments to downplay their impact.

Rob Edwards, The Ferret

Scotland must “rapidly” shut down its North Sea oil and gas industry to cut pollution and combat climate change, according to a new report from scientists.

Carbon emissions from petrochemical plants, oil terminals, cement works and other major polluters will have to cease if Scotland is to play its part in reducing the risk of heatwaves, droughts, storms and floods caused by global warming, they warn.

They also call on the Scottish Government to “decarbonise” transport and heating, boost energy efficiency in buildings, cut waste, expand forests by a third and restore peat bogs. Ministers must toughen their targets to cut climate pollution to “net zero” by 2050, they say.

The oil industry, however, stressed its value to the Scottish economy and urged a “pragmatic approach”. Other industries highlighted the efforts they were already making to reduce their carbon emissions.

The report has been written by leading experts from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester and Uppsala University in Sweden. It was commissioned by the umbrella group, Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, and the environmental group, Friends of the Earth Scotland.

For the first time the scientists worked out Scotland’s carbon budget under the international climate agreement made in Paris in 2015. They conclude that for Scotland to meet its global responsibilities it can only emit a total of 300 million tonnes more carbon dioxide – meaning it has to cut emissions by at least ten per cent every year starting now.

The Scottish Government needs urgently to enact policies to rapidly cease hydrocarbon production from its oil and gas sector.

The report points out that if the world is to meet international climate targets 70-80 per cent of known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground. “Scotland needs to begin an urgent and phased closure of its oil and gas sector,” it says.

“Scotland is a wealthy industrial nation with excellent prospects for renewable energy. The Scottish Government needs urgently to enact policies to rapidly cease hydrocarbon production from its oil and gas sector.”

Scotland should “eliminate all its industrial process carbon dioxide emissions prior to 2050,” the report argues. The country should help lead the global effort to reduce industrial emissions “particularly from cement production”, it says.

According to the pollution database maintained by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, 12 of the top 20 carbon polluters are linked to North Sea oil and gas. In 2016 they emitted a total of over six million tons of carbon dioxide.

Four of the most polluting plants are run by the petrochemical giant, Ineos, at Grangemouth, with others operated by ExxonMobil, Shell, Total and SSE. Other major emitters include the Tarmac cement works near Dunbar, two paper and board factories and a whisky distillery.

Scotland’s top 20 climate polluters

Plant      Tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted in 2016

Petroineos refinery, Grangemouth         1.65m

Longannet power station, Fife   1.64m (now closed)

ExxonMobile ethylene plant, Mossmorran          885,580

Combined heat and power plant, Grangemouth               614,863

SSE power station, Peterhead    602,641

Tarmac cement plant, Dunbar    537,029

Ineos Infrastructure, Grangemouth        495,214

Ineos Chemicals, Grangemouth 486,809

RWE biomass plant, Glenrothes 438,000

E.ON biomass plant, Lockerbie   370,965

Shell gas plant, Peterhead           356,334

Ineos Forties Pipeline System, Grangemouth     351,262

UPM-Kymmene paper mill, Irvine            279,483

Norboard chipboard factory, Cowie         268,160

Total gas plant, Shetland               235,234

Engie oil terminal, Shetland         211,741

Shell gas plant, Mossmorran       193,554

William Grant whisky distillers, Girvan    152,913

Repsol oil terminal, Orkney         144,206

O-I glass plant, Alloa       141,902

source: Scottish Environment Protection Agency.

One of the report’s authors is Dr Jaise Kuriakose, a climate expert from the University of Manchester. “We need a significant change across our entire economy,” he said.

“It is not a case of one sector being able to do all the work whilst others carry on as they are. Because the remaining carbon budget is so small, we must genuinely deliver a transition to living in a low carbon way across all sectors.”

Immediate action was essential if Scotland was to make a fair contribution to the Paris climate agreement, Kuriakose argued. “Scotland should begin an urgent and phased closure of its oil and gas sector and move to a 100 per cent renewable energy economy while ensuring a just transition for the workers in the sector.”

He called for “complete decarbonisation of road transport, increased energy efficiency from buildings and decarbonised heating in the next two decades”. To ensure net land emissions reached zero by 2050 he argued that “a 35 per cent increase in total forest land is required along with restoration of peatlands and wetlands”.

According to Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, the Scottish Government’s draft climate bill would fail to deliver the pollution cuts needed. “It is almost beyond belief that the bill requires almost no further emissions reductions any time in the next decade,” he said.

“Instead we need radical action in housing, agriculture, farming and industry. We need emissions from industries like refining, cement making, steel works and chemicals plants to fall to zero.”