climate change

Call to shut down oil industry to combat climate change

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 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

PlantTonnes of carbon dioxide emitted in 2016
Petroineos refinery, Grangemouth1.65m
Longannet power station, Fife1.64m (now closed)
ExxonMobile ethylene plant, Mossmorran885,580
Combined heat and power plant, Grangemouth614,863
SSE power station, Peterhead602,641
Tarmac cement plant, Dunbar537,029
Ineos Infrastructure, Grangemouth495,214
Ineos Chemicals, Grangemouth486,809
RWE biomass plant, Glenrothes438,000
E.ON biomass plant, Lockerbie370,965
Shell gas plant, Peterhead356,334
Ineos Forties Pipeline System, Grangemouth351,262
UPM-Kymmene paper mill, Irvine279,483
Norboard chipboard factory, Cowie268,160
Total gas plant, Shetland235,234
Engie oil terminal, Shetland211,741
Shell gas plant, Mossmorran193,554
William Grant whisky distillers, Girvan152,913
Repsol oil terminal, Orkney144,206
O-I glass plant, Alloa141,902
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.”

He added: “Scotland cannot possibly have an oil industry in the long term if we are taking climate change seriously. We need a planned transition out of oil that helps workers retrain to use their skills in low carbon industries, especially renewable energy.”

Stop Climate Chaos Scotland (SCCS), which brings together over 40 civil society organisations, pointed out that Scottish Labour and the Scottish Greens have already backed tougher climate targets. It urged the Scottish Government to do the same.

“We’ve already seen the visible impacts of climate change this summer – from drought to wildfires to overheating hospital rooms,” said SCCS chair, Tom Ballantine.

“Early action to reduce greenhouse gases is absolutely vital, which is why it makes no sense that the Scottish Government’s climate bill keeps ambition static for the next 15 years and fails to introduce any new policies for agriculture, industry, transport and homes.”

But the North Sea industry argued that oil and gas were vital for energy security. “The offshore industry supports hundreds of thousands of jobs and contributes billions to the economy,” said environment director for the industry body Oil & Gas UK, Matt Abraham.

“With official figures estimating oil and gas will still meet two thirds of the UK’s energy needs by 2035, it is clear that we need a pragmatic approach to our future energy mix.”

Ineos did not respond to requests to comment. Tarmac, which runs Scotland’s only cement works near Dunbar, emphasised the environmental benefits of concrete in increasing durability and energy efficiency.

“Producing domestic cement for domestic markets, at Scotland’s only cement plant reduces our dependency on imports, which removes the carbon and sulphur emissions associated with shipping,” said a Tarmac spokesperson.

“Continually reducing carbon across our operations is a key priority and our emissions have shown a significant long-term downward reduction as part of an active carbon reduction strategy. This is a topic we take very seriously.”

According to the Confederation of Paper Industries (CPI), Scottish paper plants had cut carbon emissions 75 per cent since 1990 and were investing in efficiency. “The sector is working closely with the Scottish Government on a decarbonisation roadmap to 2050 seeking to deliver even further reductions,” said CPI environmental director, Steve Freeman.

“A simple focus on the direct release of emissions in Scotland is simply wrong. Closing down Scottish industry would reduce emissions to zero, but have no effect on the global release of greenhouse gases as production simply moves from Scotland to other locations where carbon costs are lower.”

He added: “Closing down industry to seemingly reduce emissions makes no sense while ignoring embedded carbon in imports. Far better to support industry in decarbonising and retain existing industry as well as attracting new manufacturing using low carbon technology.”

The whisky industry claimed it had cut climate emissions 22 per cent between 2008 and 2016. “There is more to do, and the industry will continue to put sustainability at the heart of scotch whisky,” said deputy director of the Scotch Whisky Association, Peter Clark.

The Scottish Government stressed it took an evidence based approach to tackling climate change. “The targets in the new climate change bill are based on the independent, expert, recommendations from our statutory advisers,” said a government spokesperson.

“The targets will mean that Scotland will have the toughest climate legislation in the world, and will result in Scotland becoming carbon neutral by 2050.”

Named: the companies causing the most climate pollution

Visions of how Scotland could cut climate pollution


Following the closure of the giant coal-fired power station at Longannet in Fife in 2016, Scotland needs an “urgent and phased closure of its oil and gas sector”. This would mean winding down major petrochemical facilities in Grangemouth and Mossmorran as well as oil and gas terminals in Peterhead, Orkney and Shetland.

The aim is for a “just transition” to less polluting industries such as renewables, energy efficiency and waste minimisation. Carbon emissions from the cement works at Dunbar, paper and board mills in Cowie and Irvine, distilleries and other factories would also come to an end.


To cut emissions, farmers would have to use nitrogen fertilisers more efficiently and to better manage livestock and manure. Organic farming would expand, and farmers would do more to protect and enhance wildlife.

To store more carbon, there would be a huge 35 per cent increase in the forests covering Scotland. Peatlands and wetlands would also be restored, and peat extraction for the garden industry would end.


Standards for home energy efficiency would be toughened, forcing home owners and landlords to improve insulation and cut fuel bills. Buildings would need smarter energy systems, low-carbon heating and better ways of reducing waste.


The Scottish Government has promised to “phase out the need for diesel and petrol cars and vans by 2032”. This would mean widespread use of electric vehicles, backed by a greatly expanded charging network.

Public transport would need to improve, while cycling and walking increase. The cost of air travel would need to increase to reflect its pollution, and airports would not be expanded.

A version of this story was published in the Sunday Herald on 26 August 2018.

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