Emissions from Scotland

Unlike the rest of the United Kingdom, Scotland seeks to cut emissions faster deeper and more thoroughly. It aims to reduce (from 1990 levels) emissions by 42% by 2020, which is in less than eight short years’ time, and by a massive 80% by 2050. If it can achieve this it will have led the rest of Europe in emission reduction.

It monitors emissions as best it can (like every other nation) but when your nation has a weather which is a variable as that in Scotland many of the changes in emissions are climate induced from year to year, and many and economy induced, so looking at emissions from one year to the next is not always helpful; as with climate change itself, this is where the statistics are only meaningful if you look at them either as trends or at the end of the target period.

The Climate Change Committee reports that emissions in Scotland fell in 2009, and will have almost certainly risen in 2010. The reason for the fall in 2009 is the economic rescission which meant that there was less economic activity and hence fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and the reason for the expected rise in emissions in 2010 is the colder winter of 2010 and the increased use of carbon intensive fuels in electricity generation and industry.

Good progress is reported in making energy efficient measures being undertaken in buildings but the Committee also think it essential that policies like the Renewable Heat Incentive are brought into effect if emission reductions are to be sustained. As with all policy areas of renewable energy and emission savings, the fruit that hangs low is easier to pick first; much more effort must be expended to reach the higher fruit. It is a bit like the Pope’s “a little learning is a dangerous thing”; you have to drink deep. Initial measures can create a feeling of false self confidence that you are doing the right thing; in truth you have to do far more –“drink deep” – because “a shallow draught intoxicates the brain – drink deep to make it clear again”.

In 2009, Scottish emissions of the basket of six GHGs covered by the Kyoto Protocol (including international aviation and shipping) were estimated to be 51.0 MtCO2e, but when adjustments are made for the infamous EU Emission Trading Scheme, emissions in 2009 were 52.0 MtCO2e, which is a 28% reduction from 1990. It sounds good but could be better; 1990 is not a particularly useful starting point; it was adopted internationally because it gave a high starting point from which any fall could be made to look good. Many nations (not Scotland) found 1990 to be a useful point from which to measure savings because within ten years most of the heavily industrialised former Eastern Bloc nations had made emission savings quite independently of any climate change measures.

UK emissions as a whole rose by 3% in 2010, due to increased use of fossil fuels to heat buildings in the colder than average months at the start and end of 2010. Scotland also experienced this colder than average weather, so emissions rose, particularly from heating buildings. This underlines the importance of renewable heat, the importance of which has been relatively ignored when compared with renewable electricity.

In 2010 there was reduced power generation from nuclear, due to nuclear power stations required planned and in some cases unplanned maintenance. The power that would have normally been generated from nuclear was replaced largely by coal generated power. Further the water reservoirs were low and this led to lower hydro electric generation. Scotland, where most of the hydro power is concentrated, has had plenty of rainfall since and 2011 looks like being a year when we will have found that hydro power generation significantly increased compared with the previous years. In 2010 Scotland’s renewables was 37% of total UK renewable electricity generation. This is on a per capital basis far higher than the other parts of the United Kingdom, and mainly reflects the significant hydro generation as well as the Scottish policies for renewables, which are more advanced than those in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Scotland aims to generate 11% of its heat from renewable sources by 202, which in one respect is a slightly lower aim than the UK’s 12% as a whole. It is impossible for Scotland 9or indeed any other part of the UK) to understand how renewable heat can be developed when the terms of the RHI have not been settled. If anything Scotland, with its colder weather, and relatively larger number of homes off the gas grid, can make great savings in emissions through renewable heat using devices such as solar water heating. The Scottish government aims in the short term for 4% of Scottish housing to have some form of renewable heat in place, either for space or water heating.

It is clear that Scotland has a good mix of policies in their efforts to reduce emissions. Some policies need adjusting and rethinking, but the basis is there and I can only hope that England Wales and Northern Ireland will copy the best of what Scotland is doing in saving emissions.


5 Responses

  1. “In 2010 Scotland’s renewables was 37% of total UK renewable electricity generation. This is on a per capital basis far higher than the other parts of the United Kingdom, and mainly reflects the significant hydro generation as well as the Scottish policies for renewables, which are more advanced than those in the rest of the United Kingdom.”

    Presume you mean per capita (per head) but surely that is exactly why Scotland’s figures are apparently so good, the population density is much lower so measured ‘per capita’ gives a false picture.

    • Thanks for picking up the typo. On a per head basis Scotland produces more renewable energy than England, because of hydro power, – I don’t see it having anything to do with density of population, except to the extent that where there are mountains generally fewer people live.


  2. My point is that that the comparisons are artificial.

    For example, on your ‘per capita’ basis, you could argue that the town of Selby generates excessive emissions. This is due to Drax power station being in Selby. There simply are no renewables.

    The residents of Selby only need a fraction of the electricity produced by Drax. Similarly, the residents of Scotland do not use or need all of the hydro electric power produced in Scotland.

    In my view, your conclusion results purely from restricting the comparison to an arbitrary area or zone. Surely, if you wish to genuinely identify the success in creating renewable energy sources ‘per capita’ then the proper area or zone which should be considered is the area/population served by all of the power stations in the study. It makes no sense to restrict the study to an area which bears no relationship to the total number of users.

    In summary, in my view, there is no useful or meaningful relationship between the number of residents in an area and the electricity produced in that same area.

    Whether the electricity is generated in a hydro electric or coal fired power stations the grid distributes it to everyone in the country.

    Therefore, the only fair comparison would be to consider the proportion of renewable energy sources ‘per capita’ within the whole of the national grid and if you then want to compare Scotland’s measure of success you would have to factor in the natural benefit of wind and water so as not to penalise Yorkshire or Dungeness.

    In my view, Scotland’s claimed success, is just because it has a lot of “low hanging fruit”

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