THERE is no climate emergency in Argyll and Bute. Not officially, anyway. Unlike the Scottish Government or big city local authorities, the giant but sparsely-populated council has not yet made any grand declarations on how it will rise to the challenge of global heating. Councillors may feel they do not have too. After all, Argyll is not part of the climate problem, it is part of the solution. That is because, according to the most recent figures published, for 2017, the area’s forests and bogs take nearly as much CO2 out of the atmosphere as its people put in. Indeed, some climate policy makers think Argyll and even Highland – home to some of Europe’s great peatlands, effectively globally significant carbon sinks – might already be scoring carbon negative, though the figures are not quite there to prove that. They may already be global coolers. Argyll and Bute is close to zero net carbon, the aspiration for Scotland as a whole and big cities in particular. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wants to get to “zero” by 2045. That does not mean the country – a relatively important regional producer of oil and gas – will not use any fossil fuels. “Net zero” means that the whole country, rather like Argyll now, sucks up as much carbon as it belches out. Glasgow and Edinburgh have both announced a race to get to net zero first among UK cities – but they realise they cannot compete with wilderness areas in the Highlands. “We don’t have any wooded mountains to offset our emissions,” joked one Clydeside policy-maker. “We are going to have to cut carbon the hard way.” Today, as local and national authorities mull some of the tough and life-changing decisions needed to wean us all off fossil fuels, The Herald on Sunday maps Scotland’s net carbon output, broken down per capita. Gone, of course, are the great factories and forges of Glasgow. Three or four decades after de-industrialisation, Scotland’s biggest city, with its low car ownership and relatively good public transport, now generates less than half as much CO2 per capital as oil-rich, fuel-guzzling Shetland or suburban East Lothian. So too does the Clyde Valley’s once industrial hinterlands of Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire and Dunbartonshire. Edinburgh and Dundee also score less than the Scottish average of 5.3 tonnes of CO2 per capita per year. The number for Argyll, as of 2017, is 0.3 tonnes. That does not mean Argyllers are eco-friendly; far from it, as we shall see later. So where are Scotland’s hotspots for carbon? Well, in the middle and east of the country’s central belt. Fife, which has some of the great volume whisky makers, generates more CO2 than Glasgow overall and ranks seventh in a per-capita league table. Falkirk Council, home of the giant Grangemouth petrochemicals and refining complex, is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the worst offender for global heating when emissions are divided per person. It produces nearly 15 tonnes of Co2 for every man, woman and child. Local officials are philosophical. Falkirk is not even in the running to get to zero net carbon, not while it is cracking crude. That does not mean that Falkirk is not improving. It is, and faster than the national average. But it does mean Scotland in the future will always need areas, like the Highlands and their peat bogs, that are increasingly carbon negative. Already, the trees and peatlands of the Highlands extract more CO2 from the atmosphere than large installations in Falkirk add.
Herald 8th Sept 2019 read more »