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Exposed: Scotland’s Global Warming Roll of Shame

by: Rob Edwards    12 November 2006

MORE than 25 million tons of climate-wrecking pollution is being spewed into the atmosphere every year by 80 industrial plants across Scotland, the Sunday Herald can reveal.

An analysis of new data released by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) exposes the well-known companies responsible for emitting the most greenhouse gases and threatening the future of the planet.

Oil industry giants such as Exxon Mobil, Shell and BP are implicated, along with big energy companies such as Scottish Power, Scottish & Southern and National Grid. Other major-league polluters include chemical, cement, paper, food and glass plants.

The companies all plead that they are doing their utmost to cut emissions, but environmentalists have accused them of destroying the planet. "The public will no longer accept a company's plans to gradually reduce emissions over decades," said Dr Richard Dixon, director of WWF Scotland.

"Instead they will demand radical action to curb emissions tomorrow. The companies which heed the demands will still be here in the coming decades, those that do not will disappear."

New evidence also suggests that the global warming that is disrupting the climate is accelerating. This year is now predicted to join the past three years as the hottest on record in Scotland.

"The planet is giving us a clear message," said Dixon. "We must move much faster if we are to head off the most dangerous climate change."

Two weeks ago the leading econo mist Sir Nicholas Stern warned that the impact of pollution on the climate could have catastrophic consequences. Floods, droughts and storms could damage as much as 20% of the world's economy and trigger a depression similar to that of the 1930s.

This weekend in Nairobi, Kenya, world governments are holding vital talks on how to reduce climate pollution in the future. And in the coming week the UK government is expected to include legislation to combat climate change in the Queen's speech to parliament.

An updated pollution inventory from Sepa, posted on its website on Friday, contains figures for the six main greenhouse gases emitted by industry in 2005. They include carbon dioxide and other, more damaging gases such as methane, nitrous oxide and sulphur hexafluoride.

The worst polluters are Scotland's two coal-fired power stations at Longannet and Cockenzie on the Firth of Forth, run by Scottish Power, closely followed by Scottish & Southern Energy's Peterhead power station. The Innovene refinery and chemical plants at Grangemouth, which were owned by BP until last December, also made the top five.

Another BP site at Grangemouth is in the top 20, with two plants run by ExxonMobil, two by Shell and two by National Grid. Others include a Lafarge cement works near Dunbar, East Lothian, a Tullis Russell paper mill at Markinch, Fife, and a Smith KlineBeecham pharmaceutical plant in Irvine (see table, right).

Major greenhouse gas emitters who didn't make the top 20 include many other well-known businesses, such as the Diageo and Glenfiddich distilleries, Tennent Caledonian Breweries and Michelin Tyres in Dundee. The nuclear submarine base at Faslane on the Clyde is also listed, along with slaughterhouses, chemical companies and more paper mills and distilleries.

Sepa's pollution inventory also discloses the disruption that the semiconductor industry is causing the climate. Plants such as National Semiconductor in Greenock and Freescale Semiconductor in East Kilbride discharge significant levels of fluorinated compounds, which are thousands of times more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide.

Sepa pointed out that its inventory only measured total emissions, and did not show how efficiently different plants operated. Although it was able to encourage companies to improve their energy efficiency, it did not have statutory powers to force them to do so.

Tom Leatherland, Sepa's environmental quality manager, defended Longannet, suggesting it could be a more efficient electricity generator than other coal-fired plants. "If people reduced their demand for electricity at home through efficiency savings, Longannet would generate less and reduce carbon dioxide emissions," he said.

SCOTTISH Power pointed out that emissions from Longannet and Cockenzie were within stringent air quality standards. "Scottish Power is also the UK's biggest developer and operator of onshore wind energy and will invest £1 billion in wind energy projects by 2010," said a company spokesman. Other companies that responded to the Sunday Herald's request for comment stressed their anxiety to keep down greenhouse emissions. Scottish & Southern Energy said Peterhead was the most efficient power station in Scotland.

National Grid said it was aiming to deliver a 60% cut in greenhouse gas emissions and was planning to replace its Scottish gas compressors by May 2008. INEOS, the company that bought the Innovene plants at Grangemouth from BP, is similarly committed to improving energy efficiency.

ExxonMobil pointed out that reduced flaring at its two plants had cut emissions in recent years. "We agree with scientific assessments which conclude that climate change poses risks that may prove to be significant for society," said a company spokesman.

The manager of Lafarge's Dunbar cement works, David Chrystall, said: "Since 1999, we have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by a third through the use of alternative fuels. We are currently building on this."

Chris Parr, managing director of Tullis Russell, accepted that growth had brought increased energy demands on its Fife plant.

"We have a solid record of improving our energy efficiency and are working on an exciting project to switch to wholly renewable energy by 2010," he said.

The chipboard company Norbord pointed out it had made a 45% reduction in burning fossil fuels over the past five years. "We have invested £2.1 million this year on a new biomass plant to further reduce our use of fossil fuels," said the company's Steve Roebuck.

Other companies either did not respond or could not be reached for comment last week.