Thursday, December 08, 2011

Measuring Scotland's emissions

Here are 8 reasons to question the value of targets set by the Climate Change (Scotland) Act, 2009.

The reasons are all taken from the Audit Scotland report Reducing Scottish Greenhouse Gas Emissions published today.

  1. Uncertainties about the measurement of emissions: "There are numerous uncertainties with reported levels of emissions." Annexe 1 para 4.  
  2. Emissions for many sources are estimated - sometimes using basic assumptions - for the devolved administration in Scotland.  Overall, the data for the devolved administrations are less certain than for the UK as a whole.  Annexe 1 para 5
  3. Current assessment methods do not cater for shipping.   Annexe 1 para 
  4. Uncertainties associated with greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide can be significant, particularly concerning emissions from agriculture and related land use. For example, the uncertainty level is plus or minus 12 per cent for Scottish emissions of carbon dioxide in 2009, but plus or minus 290 per cent for nitrous oxide.
  5. Reported emission 
  6. levels are estimated not by directly measuring them but by calculating them from the quantities of fossil fuels used and from other relevant processes relating to industry and agriculture - but there are gaps in the data on use of fuel use, and the emissions behaviour of soils is still poorly understood.  
  7. It takes almost two years to obtain data on Scottish emissions. It is difficult to assess the effectiveness of policies on emissions due to the length of time it takes to obtain data on actual levels of emissions.  Report para 54.
  8. It is challenging to assess emissions associated with imported goods and services. "This is a highly challenging field of work"  Report para 56.
  9. Different greenhouse gases vary in their effectiveness at warming the atmosphere. Annexe para 3.

Salmond's Green suicide note

Having listened to Alex Salmond a few weeks ago talking up renewables as "the biggest opportunity for Scotland in 10,000 years" (a bit of hyperbole there), here is another way of looking at SNP policies which is not quite so optimistic.  It relates to the widely reported Audit Scotland report Reducing Scottish Greenhouse Gas Emissions.  The press release includes this text:
The Scottish Government’s plans [are] to reduce emissions by 42 per cent by 2020, compared with 1990. This target is far more ambitious than UK and European Union goals, and the Scottish Government is dependent on action by others to achieve it.
We all like ambition but (according to the summary) this ambition means putting £4m per day into projects to reduce carbon emissions.  Some of these projects will have some value for other reasons but the folly of predicating public policy on science which is deeply flawed will inevitably mean a huge waste of resources.  In the case of targets and wind turbines you might say tilting at windmills, to use an analogy from Don Quixote.  The Daily Express reports the Audit Scotland release highlighting the cost to the taxpayer of £11bn over the next 7 years.  Elsewhere that is described as 'Salmond's Green Suicide Note'.  

I would be surprised if these figures are not a considerable underestimate - knowing all the energy and cost these targets are costing councils.

For the record the targets for reducing emissions against a 1990 baseline by 2020 are:
  • Scotland 42%
  • UK  34%
  • EU  20%