Greenhouse gas emissions from Scottish businesses fell by over 50% since 2008


THE SCOTTISH Environment Protection Agency has published its Scottish Pollutant Release Inventory data for 2018.

Scottish Pollutant Release Inventory is a database of annual mass releases of specified pollutants to air, water and land from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency regulated industrial sites.

Terry A’Hearn, Chief Executive of Scottish Environment Protection Agency, commented on the findings: “The most successful countries in the 21st century will be those that thrive within our planet’s means to support them.

“Through our regulatory strategy, One Plant Prosperity, Scottish Environment Protection Agency is helping Scottish business grow sustainably while reducing their environmental burden.

“The annual Scottish Pollutant Release Inventory data from regulated sites is a very visual demonstration of the progress we’ve made as a nation in the last decade as a result of our climate leadership.

“It also reflects the realism of a transition economy where there will be movement in individual metrics such as energy.

“Scotland’s globally ambitious climate change and circular economy strategies continue to drive systemic change in business practice and are vital to the link between economic, environmental and social well-being.”

The data released shows Scotland’s long-term pollutant emissions from the Agency regulated businesses fell between 2008 and 2018 as the country continues its transition to a more sustainable future.

Pollutant releases have decreased across most major pollutant groups over the past ten years.

Some of the decreases, such those of greenhouse gases, are partly due to the ongoing greening of the grid.

Others are directly related to environmental policy and new technologies such as investment in renewables, river basin management plans and landfill gas recovery systems.

The two largest contributing pollutants in terms of number of sites reporting and emissions are carbon dioxide and methane which drive the overall greenhouse gas trend.

The closure of Cockenzie and Longannet coal-fired power stations are largely responsible for the reduction of carbon dioxide by over 13.8 Megatonnes (54%) since 2008.

Levels of other greenhouse gases (Methane, nitrous oxide and sulphur hexafluoride) have also fallen over those ten years.

The most significant of these reductions is the fall in methane emissions.

While methane does not remain in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide, it is initially far more impactful on the climate because of how effectively it absorbs heat.

The reduction of over 50% since 2008 is a consequence of the capture of gas at landfill sites and the reduction of organic waste going to these sites.

Pollutant Emissions (kg) Change between years
2008 2017 2018 2017 to 2018 2008 to 2018
Carbon dioxide 25,700,000,000 11,500,000,000 11,900,000,000 up 3% down 54%
Methane 56,800,000 32,500,000 27,800,000 down 14% down 51%
Nitrous oxide 317,000 89,600 88,900 down 1% down 72%
Perfluorocarbons (PFCs) 12,000 4,360 4,410 up 1% down 63%
Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) 1,770 1,050 3,520 up 235% up 99%
Sulphur hexafluoride 1,030 134 107 down 20% down 90%
Total (to 3 significant figures) 25,800,000,000 11,500,000,000 11,900,000,000 up 3% down 54%


Reflecting the realism of a transition economy and demand from the grid from the 2018 ‘Beast from the East’ severe weather event, Scottish Environment Protection Agency regulated sites recorded a 3% increase in greenhouse emissions.

While renewable generation in Scotland has increased by almost 70% since 2008, the 2018 increase in greenhouse gas emissions is largely due to a 0.96 Megatonne rise in carbon dioxide emitted from Peterhead Power Station, operated by Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE).

SSE Peterhead, a gas-fired thermal facility is designed to respond quickly to market changes, maintaining security of supply.

Now the only large scale thermal power station in Scotland, the site ran for roughly twice as many hours in 2018 in respond to demand, impacting its emissions from the previous year.

Combined Cycle Gas Turbines stations, like Peterhead, are generally considered as least polluting large scale thermal generation technology and are necessary in the shift to renewable energy generation.

The intensive livestock sector showed an increase in methane emissions during 2018 which is relatively large in terms of the sector (15%) but is equivalent to a 0.0006% increase in the total quantity of Scottish Pollutant Release Inventory greenhouse gases released.

The increase is due to the permitting of four new facilities and capacity increases at several existing sites.

Hydrofluorocarbons  (HFCs – also known as F-gases) are commonly used in refrigeration. 2018 saw a 235% increase which is equivalent to a 0.00002% increase in the total quantity of greenhouse gases released.

This was due to accidental releases from two regulated sites, with Scottish Environment Protection Agency action leading to investment in alternative refrigeration technologies being introduced by October 2020.

Year-to-year changes in pollutants can often be attributed to changes at a few sites, due to increases or decreases in production, changing source products and new sites opening.

All pollutants have a reporting threshold, below which sites do not need to report a value to Scottish Pollutant Release Inventory.

An increase in production can move a site’s releases above the threshold, giving the appearance of a large increase.

Other increases are mostly related to an increase in production or variations in combustion fuels. There were also 16 more sites reporting in 2018.