'Green police' fail to hit own targets

THE government body responsible for protecting Scotland's environment has been accused of "extraordinary double standards" for failing to slash its own greenhouse gas emissions.

• Sepa says its staff have to travel a lot to monitor environmental incidents. Picture: Getty Images

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has a target of cutting carbon dioxide from its business activities by 25 per cent by March 2012, compared with 2006 levels.

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However, over the past year, its emissions actually rose by 10 per cent, a new report has revealed.

Sepa belched out 3,365 tonnes of , up from 2,974 tonnes in 2006, mainly due to the electricity used to light its offices and power its computers, and the number of car journeys taken by staff.

Green MSP Patrick Harvie questioned how the public and businesses could be expected to reduce their carbon footprints if the body responsible for protecting the environment could not even get its own house in order.

He said: "This is an extraordinary record of failure and double standards from the body supposed to be protecting Scotland's environment.

"The public is being asked to do their bit to tackle climate change, and so too is business. The public sector must get its house in order, and if Sepa is to have any credibility at all, their own emissions are the right place to start."

Sepa claims on the homepage of its website to be "responsible for protecting and improving Scotland's unique and beautiful environment".

It goes on: "Our work makes Scotland a greener place to live and creates a sustainable legacy for future generations."

Electricity and business car travel account for 77 per cent of Sepa's emissions. However, rather than cutting emissions from these key areas, both have increased since 2006, and over the past year.

from electricity rose from 1,098 tonnes in 2006 to 1,479 tonnes last year, and emissions from business car travel rose from 883 tonnes in 2006 to 1,015 tonnes last year. Overall emissions from transport dropped by 0.8 per cent compared with 2006, largely due to reduced air travel by staff.

Critics warn this leaves Sepa's target of cutting 2006 transport emissions by 10 per cent by March 2011 a long way from being met.

Sepa defended its performance, saying it had done well at cutting the environmental impact of its waste and procurement, and by meeting biodiversity targets.

Bosses blamed the increase in emissions on an expansion in staff numbers from 1,249 in 2008 to 1,317 in 2009 – and the resulting need for more office space.

Sepa chief executive Campbell Gemmell said: "We have not performed as well as we would have wished on reducing our carbon dioxide emissions. This was in part due to the fact that we were growing in size during that period so required more office accommodation."

He said staff had to travel widely across Scotland to inspect sites, investigate pollution incidents and monitor the environment.

"We must also engage with our customers, stakeholders and partners in all parts of Scotland and beyond, so there is always a degree of unavoidable travel to our business. That said, we must and will continue to seek ways of improving our performance," he said.

Sepa's targets have been set internally, and there is no financial penalty if they are not met.

Mr Gemmell, who earns about 100,000 a year, recently attracted controversy over his decision to decline a request by his own board to waive a 10,000 bonus for his work in 2008 to 2009.

Per Fischer, spokesman for Friends of the Earth Scotland, described Sepa's performance as "worrying".

He said: "It's vitally important that Sepa, as the nation's environmental watchdog and safeguard, lead by example when it comes to cutting emissions."

He said Sepa would have to "change its strategy" to reach "even their rather unambitious target of 25 per cent cuts by March 2012".

He also highlighted that Sepa was producing almost 50 per cent more emissions today than ten years ago.

Dr Dan Barlow, WWF Scotland's head of policy, praised Sepa for making progress in reducing its impact from waste and water, and halving the number of UK flights taken by staff, but added: "It is very disappointing that their overall climate emissions have increased."

He said the new Climate Change Act required all public bodies to help tackle climate change. "It is critical Sepa show real leadership and deliver substantial cuts in emissions from their own operations," he said.

Sepa bosses believe an imminent move to a new headquarters in Torry, Aberdeen, built to top eco-standards, will help bring down emissions. The building will make use of the latest renewables technology, such as a wind turbine, solar panels and rainwater harvesting. It is due to be complete by March this year.

ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATOR WITH A 70M BUDGET

• SEPA is Scotland's environmental regulator.

• Its main role is to protect and improve the environment.

• It protects the public by regulating activities that can cause harmful pollution and by monitoring the quality of Scotland's air, land and water.

• Sepa is also responsible for delivering Scotland's flood warning system and helping to implement waste strategies.

• Set up more than a decade ago, it is accountable to the Scottish Parliament.

• The organisation has more than 1,300 staff, who cover a range of specialist areas from chemistry to ecology, hydrology and engineering.

• It operates out of 22 offices. Its corporate office is in Stirling. Many of its staff will soon move to a state-of-the art new building in Aberdeen, which they will share with employees of Scottish Natural Heritage.

• It has an annual revenue budget of about 70 million.

• The chief executive, Campbell Gemmell, earns about 100,000 a year.

• Other members of the management team include Colin Bayes, director of environmental protection, and John Ford, finance director.