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WWF Scotland

The UK’s first “green” bank will be officially declared open for business today. The Green Investment Bank (GIB) is funded with £3bn of Government money to be used helping develop the green economy. It will be formally launched by Business Secretary, Vince Cable, in Edinburgh.

Mr Cable argues that the Bank – a key coalition pledge – “will place the green economy at the heart of our recovery and position the UK in the forefront of the drive to develop clean energy. Three billion pounds of Government money will leverage private sector capital to fund projects in priority sectors from offshore wind to waste and non-domestic energy efficiency, helping to deliver our commitment to create jobs and growth right across the UK.

“Having the headquarters in Edinburgh is a powerful vote of confidence in the Union, and a testimony to our commitment to helping Scotland lead the green revolution.”

The first project to benefit from the new fund will be in the north east of England. Around £8m will be spent on the construction of an anaerobic digestion plant at Teesside which will generate energy from waste; it will be the first of six planned over the next five years and the Government says its investment will be matched with a further £8m from the private sector.

The Scottish energy minister, Fergus Ewing, described the Bank as presenting “huge opportunities” for green energy projects in Scotland. Dan Barlow from the environmental group WWF Scotland added that it represented an exciting step towards a low carbon economy.

However, the launch comes on the day when the Government admitted that green power could add £100 a year to electricity bills by 2020. It’s thought that some £110bn will be needed to renew the country’s power generation infrastructure; much of that will go into low-carbon power sources such as wind farms.

Officials point out that, although consumers will pay more towards green energy, they will also save through increased energy efficiency at home.

The strategies adopted by both the UK and, in particular, Scottish Governments have also been questioned by the Scientific Alliance in Scotland. In a report this morning, it described the Scottish Parliament’s recent report on the achievability of the Holyrood government’s renewable energy target as a “damp squib”.

Its Chairman Professor Tony Trewavas explained that “Instead of listening to the scientists and engineers with real experience of electricity generation, the Committee chose to accept the evidence of unqualified political activists. We welcome the Committee’s recognition of the need for more students to study engineering, science and mathematics, but this makes it even more surprising that it did not take heed of the scientific advice offered.”

Professor Trewavas added: “The clear impression is of a committee which deliberately turns a blind eye to the failings of government policy. This unfortunately reinforces the concern recently expressed by other MSPs that the Scottish Parliament is not governing the country for the benefit of all its people but solely in support of the narrow view of a minority about independence. But the reality of Emperor Salmond’s new clothes will be obvious to all before long.”

There’s controversy over new figures just published which appear to show that electricity generated from renewables in Scotland has displaced 8.36 million tonnes of harmful carbon dioxide emissions. In the view of Scottish Renewables, it’s the equivalent of removing some 3.5 million cars off the roads – that’s more than every licensed car in the country.

Joss Blamire, its Senior Policy Manager, explained that the figures “show that Scottish renewables projects displaced the equivalent of 15 per cent of the country’s total carbon emissions, which is 55.7 Mt CO2. This is proof that Scotland’s renewables industry is establishing itself as one of the most effective weapons in tackling climate change and addressing the greatest threat to our natural environment. Renewable electricity produced in Scotland by technologies such as wind and hydro already amounts to over one third of the total used in all of our homes and businesses, and these latest figures are evidence that we are delivering further real benefits.”

Dr Richard Dixon, Director of WWF Scotland, added that the industry was making “a huge difference” to Scotland’s climate change emissions. “Climate change,” he said, “is the challenge of our age and Scotland’s renewable energy industries are leading the way towards the kind of zero-carbon economy that will help us prosper in an uncertain world. This is a very significant contribution to reducing Scotland overall emissions and gives the lie to those who claim that renewables do not make a real difference. Meeting Scotland’s 100 per cent by 2020 target for renewable electricity will make a huge difference to Scotland’s climate change emissions. This is such a huge amount of CO2 that it is equivalent to turning off a whole coal-fired power station.”

However, the Scientific Alliance Scotland has disputed these claims. It points out that the figures ignore the fact that, with a larger proportion of wind capacity, gas fired power stations run less efficiently, using relatively more fuel and thus increasing both cost and emissions. Furthermore, when wind power output increases, it is likely to be the more flexible low emission gas generation which is turned down rather than coal fired stations which emit more than twice as much CO2 per MWh.

The Alliance is now calling for an independent study to be carried out to determine what proportion of wind power corresponding to the Scottish Government’s `100% of Scottish electricity’ would be reflected in real CO2 savings by the UK grid. From work elsewhere it is clear that simple one-for-one replacement of fossil generation will not occur. In any case, around half of Scottish Renewables’ claim of 15% displacement derives from facilities (hydro) which were constructed between 1922 and 1965 and are not attributable to recent developments.

Professor Tony Trewavas, who chairs the organisation, insisted that Scottish Renewables was “not an independent commentator; it is a lobbying body and trade association for the wind power industry. Assessment of CO2 savings should be carried out by an independent body, not one which is financially and politically involved.”

However, this criticism has been dismissed by Scottish Renewables. In a statement to the Caledonian Mercury, the organisation pointed out that “the figures we highlighted in our press release on CO2 emissions were published in a Parliamentary Question. Therefore, the figures are from the Department of Energy and Climate Change not collated by Scottish Renewables.”

By Rob Edwards

<em>Picture: Peter Harrison</em>

Picture: Peter Harrison

More than a quarter of a century after it was banned, the notorious pesticide, DDT, is still contaminating eels throughout Scotland, a new scientific study has revealed.

A range of other persistent pollutants, including PCBs and BDEs, have also been detected in a survey of eels from 26 Scottish rivers. The highest levels were found in the River Clyde in Glasgow and the River Don in Aberdeen, a legacy of their industrial pasts.

Although evidence suggests that most of the pollution is declining, there are a few places where it seems to be refusing to go away. Traces of DDT in River Don eels were higher than they were in 1986, while levels in eels from the River Cree at Newton Stewart hadn’t dropped.

DDT – dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane – holds a unique place in twentieth century history. It was seen as the farmers’ saviour in the 1940s and 1950s, and was widely used to kill agricultural pests.

But in the 1960s it was blamed for wiping out birds in Silent Spring, the famous book by US naturalist, Rachel Carson, credited with giving birth to the modern-day environmental movement. It was also said to cause cancer and other diseases.

As a result DDT was progressively banned in industrialised countries in the 1970s, and then in the UK in 1984. Unfortunately, however, this hasn’t made the pollution disappear.

The problem is that it persists for a long time in the environment, and accumulates in the fat of animals like eels. That’s why they were chosen for the latest study by scientists from the government’s Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa).

They also analysed the eels for other industrial pollutants known to hang around a long time like PCBs – polychlorinated biphenyls – and BDEs – polybrominated diphenyl ethers. The results of their survey, which ran from 2004 to 2008, have just been published in the journal, Environmental Pollution.

DDT was detected in almost every eel sample taken. Most levels were substantially lower than a previous survey in 1986, except for the two locations on the River Don and the River Cree.

PCBs were also present in 90% of eel samples, with levels up to 1,723 micrograms per kilogram in the River Don and 10,487 micrograms per kilogram in the River Clyde. According to the study, the two most polluted eels from the Clyde breached the “maximum tolerance limit” for PCBs set by the US Food and Drug Administration.

“The poor eels have been in trouble for decades,” said Dr Richard Dixon, director of the environmental group, WWF Scotland. “They have been subjected to a cocktail of persistent chemicals, many of which are still showing up today, years after they were banned.”

He added; “We finally got round to banning DDT in the UK more than 25 years ago but here it is still circulating around the Scottish environment and potentially still getting into the human food chain.”

Sepa pointed out that the levels of pollution were broadly similar to other places in Europe, and mostly on the decline. Although the pollutants couldn’t be detected in water, they could be still be found in the fat of long-lived animals.

Sepa’s head of chemistry, Dr Ian Ridgeway, said: “The levels do not give cause for concern and show that Scotland has a relatively low contaminant level.”

By Rob Edwards

Picture: Alex Marshall

Picture: Alex Marshall

A series of radical recommendations aimed at eliminating Scotland’s waste, including “pay as you throw” schemes, landfill bans and a network of biomass plants, are being sidelined by the Scottish Government, insiders say.

Five authoritative reports by the Zero Waste Think Tank, a group of experts set up to advise ministers, are being virtually ignored in drawing up the nation’s waste plans. Critics fear that ministers may be losing the political will for tough action on waste.

The reports, which were meant to inform waste policy, were quietly posted on the government’s website in February at the same time as other announcements about recycling. No reference was made to their publication.

The Zero Waste Think Tank, involving 15 waste specialists from public agencies, voluntary organisations and businesses, started work in March 2008. It ended by producing the five reports, covering delivery, regulation, business and climate pollution.

The reports’ recommendations included the adoption of controversial “pay as you throw” schemes designed to encourage consumers to minimise their rubbish. They also suggested that the dumping of certain wastes on landfill sites should be banned. Bans on glass, metals and plastics, along with commercial and industrial biomass, should be announced immediately, and then phased in between 2012 and 2015, they said. The reports endorsed schemes under which consumers are required to pay deposits on returnable containers in shops.

The Zero Waste Think Tank also backed a new national network of facilities for burning and composting biomass, which includes wood, food and other organic waste. The plants could be used to provide heat and electricity for local communities.

The think tank’s reports called for an “urgent review” of the legislative instruments necessary to deliver their recommendations. They urged an independent assessment of the options for delivering support to local authorities, the private waste sector and local communities.

“There is a clear need for more rapid decision making and deployment of resources and direction from Scottish government to ensure that progress is made up to 2020 and beyond and that the Scottish waste management system evolves in a co-ordinated and cost effective manner,” said one report.

Another concluded: “The creation of infrastructure to support a zero waste Scotland will be a significant undertaking but one that will yield economic and social benefits as well as environmental gains. It is a journey which will take time, but the immediate steps are readily apparent.”

But insiders say that little of this thinking has fed into the Scottish government’s recent consultation on Scotland’s zero waste plan. The final version of the plan is due to be published by ministers after a debate on waste policy in the Scottish Parliament scheduled for 29 April.

The idea of zero waste, repeatedly endorsed by ministers, is to eliminate the unnecessary use of raw materials, reusing products where possible and maximising recycling, composting and energy recovery. The environment minister, Richard Lochhead, is due to launch a new “zero waste recycling campaign” with the help of elephants at Blair Drummond safari park near Stirling tomorrow.

“The Zero Waste Think Tank came up with some fairly radical proposals, and this is what think tanks are for, to provide stimulating ideas,” said Professor James Curran, director of environmental science at the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.

“For me, the crucial parts were about designing products so that they don’t create waste in the first place and about creating the right business model to release the huge economic potential of a zero waste country.”

Sepa’s former waste expert, John Ferguson, now head of strategy at Binn Eco Park near Perth, described the government’s zero waste plan as an “unprecedented opportunity” to deal with mixed waste. “Landfill bans for specific materials offer an opportunity to prevent methane emissions and odour problems for local communities,” he argued.

Another member of the think tank, Jan Bebbington, professor of accounting at St Andrews University, agreed: “If we are serious about pursuing zero waste then we need to look at all possible solutions, including rolling landfill bans.”

The Scottish Government insisted that the recommendations of the think tank had fed directly into the consultation on zero waste launched last year. “The Scottish Government is now considering all consultation responses before finalising its zero waste Scotland plan,” said a government spokesman.

Environmentalists called on the government to implement the recommendations of the Zero Waste Think Tank. “Proposals for landfill bans, pay as you throw schemes and deposit return schemes have been shown to work elsewhere in Europe and can all play a valuable role in helping to further transform Scotland’s approach to waste,” said WWF Scotland’s head of policy, Dr Dan Barlow.

“A step change in our attitude to resource use is essential if we are to make the prospect of a zero waste Scotland become a reality.”.