Climate change illustration

Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions explained


With the eyes of the world focussed on the COP26 climate negotiations in Glasgow, Scotland’s own carbon emissions are receiving scrutiny like never before.

The Ferret Fact Service has broken it down.

How much Greenhouse Gas does Scotland produce?

In 2019, Scotland’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions were estimated to be 47.8 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e).

Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Scotland have fallen by 51.5 per cent since 1990.

The Scottish Government produces Greenhouse Gas (GHG) statistics for Scotland each year.

The latest figures start at 1990 and give data to 2019. Emissions are broken down to show which parts of the economy produce the most climate pollution.

This data shows that the Energy Supply sector has, to date, made the largest contribution toward reducing Scotland’s GHG emissions

Domestic transport emissions, such as those from private cars, lorries and vans, are now the largest source of GHG pollution in Scotland.

International aviation and shipping is the only sector of the Scottish economy to increase the amount of GHG it produces since 1990.

What are the largest sources of carbon emissions in Scotland?

In 2019, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency published a list of the industrial sites that emit the most greenhouse gas pollution.

The SSE power station at Peterhead was the largest source of Greenhouse gasses in Scotland then. It produced 1.6m tonnes of CO2.

The table below summarises the top sources of climate pollution in Scotland.

Scotland top carbon polluters in 2019

SiteCarbon dioxide emissions (tonnes)
SSE gas power station, Peterhead1.6m
Petroineos oil refinery, Grangemouth1.3m
ExxonMobil ethylene plant, Mossmorran680,000
Ineos power plant, Grangemouth641,000
Tarmac cement works, Dunbar559,000
Ineos chemical plant, Grangemouth522,000
RWE biomass plant, Glenrothes487,000
Ineos infrastructure plant, Grangemouth 429,000
E.ON wood power station, Lockerbie371,000
Ineos oil and gas pipeline, Grangemouth345,000
Shell St Fergus gas plant, Peterhead303,000
UPM-Kymmene paper mill, Irvine284,000
Viridor energy recovery plant, Dunbar274,000
Shell gas plant, Mossmorran250,000
Norbord paper mill, Stirling210,000
Total gas plant, Shetland208,000
Engie combustion plant, Shetland181,000
William Grant whisky distillers, Girvan165,000
O-I glass plant, Alloa149,000
FCC Millerhill energy recovery plant, Dalkeith132,000
Source: Scottish Environment Protection Agency

How do Scotland's carbon emissions compare to the rest of the UK?

Between 2005 and 2018, Scotland has reduced carbon emissions by 35 per cent, according to the Office of National Statistics.

On a population adjusted basis Wales and England have achieved similar reductions. Northern Ireland has not reduced emissions to the same extent.

The chart below shows how carbon emissions per head of population have reduced in each part of the United Kingdom between 2005 and 2018.

The ONS notes in its report, "UK local authority and regional carbon dioxide emissions national statistics: 2005 to 2018," that emissions figures for different areas of the country tend to reflect the land use there.

In Wales and Northern Ireland the importance of energy intensive heavy industries relative to the size of the local population has an impact on the per-capita figures for these places.

What about UK climate emissions over the long term?

Whilst a great deal of the focus on tackling climate change can be on recent GHG emissions and targets for the future, data on climate pollution releases for different countries since the dawn of the industrial revolution have also been calculated.

This longer-term view will be important at COP26 as many countries point to this data to show that countries that industrialised early tend to be responsible for the vast majority of GHG emitted over time.

When emissions are looked at on a long-term cumulative basis, we can see that the United Kingdom is the 3rd most significant source of climate pollution in the world.

From 1850 to 1975, the UK was the 2nd largest source of carbon pollution, after the USA.

By 2018, the UK had become the 6th largest emitter of climate pollution, after the US, China, Russia, Germany and India.

Is Scotland meeting its climate change targets?

No, Scotland is currently failing to reduce emissions fast enough to meet the targets set out by law in the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019.

This sets a 55 per cent GHG reduction target for 2019. In 2019, the most recent year that figures are available for, Scotland cut GHG emissions by 51.5 per cent since 1990.

2019 was the third year in a row that Scotland had failed to meet its carbon reduction targets.

What targets have been set for the future?

The most recent August 9 IPCC report represents the global scientific consensus on global warming.

When it was released scientists said: "Stabilising the climate will require strong, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and reaching net zero CO2 emissions."

"Net Zero" has therefore become the policy goal for an increasing number of countries and organisations all over the world.

The stated aim of the COP26 conference in Glasgow is to "Secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach."

Domestically, different governments in the UK have set different targets.

The UK Government has set a net zero target of 2050.

To reach it, it is supposed to meet interim Carbon Budget targets. These are set and assessed by the Climate Change Committee (CCC).

The CCC has assessed that the UK Government is on target to meet it's current carbon budget allocation, which is equivalent to a reduction of GHG of 37 per cent by 2020.

But the CCC has warned that the UK is off track if it is to meet future targets of a 51 per cent GHG cut by 2025, 57 per cent by 2030 and 78 per cent by 2035.

Additionally, the Scottish Government has set a net zero target of 2045. To reach it, the law in Scotland sets further legally binding interim greenhouse gas reduction targets.

By 2030, Scotland must have reduced its GHG emissions by 75 per cent and by 2040, it must have reduced them by 90 per cent.

A number of Scottish local authorities have set net zero targets that are still more ambitious. For example, Highland Council says it aims to become carbon neutral by 2025.

Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, and signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles.

All the sources used in our checks are publicly available and the FFS fact-checking methodology can be viewed here.

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Illustration credit: Invincible Bulldog/iStock

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