Scotland’s green agency fails to hit own targets

SCOTLAND’S environment agency has failed to meet a third of its green targets as it bids to help the country reach national and international climate change objectives.

The agency set a target to slash travel emissions by five per cent but achieved less than two. Picture: Getty
The agency set a target to slash travel emissions by five per cent but achieved less than two. Picture: Getty

In its annual report on sustainability and action on climate change published yesterday, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) revealed an increase in its greenhouse gas emissions in the past year. The agency also failed to meet its targets for reducing transport and travel emissions.

Sepa chief executive James Curran said he understood that the Scottish Government’s environment agency must set a “strong example” to the public and businesses, but added: “We are still openly and honestly struggling with following our own greenhouse gas roadmap and keeping necessary pace with our target of an overall reduction in our emissions of 42 per cent by 2020.”

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The agency set a target to slash emissions from travel by five per cent but achieved an actual reduction of less than two per cent. Total carbon dioxide emissions rose by 2.4 per cent.

The failings of Sepa mirror the performance of Scotland as a whole, which has missed its climate change goals for two years in a row.

Mr Curran said yesterday’s “Sustainable Sepa 2012-2013” report highlighted a “mixture of successes, issues and challenges” while admitting that the agency was struggling to implement green practices.

“In many areas, we can be proud of our past achievements, particularly on our waste, water and biodiversity management as a business,” he said. “We recognise that achieving our sustainable goals will not be easy. While we accept this will take time, we are fully committed to achieving our objectives and will continue to report publicly and transparently on our progress.”

Sepa’s report for 2012-2013 showed the agency did reach four out of the six environmental targets it had set – including waste, procurement and biodiversity. It also hit its recycling target nine months ahead of the national schedule.

Despite these achievements, however, the internal report shows the agency has performed poorly over its carbon dioxide emissions targets.

Sepa has set out plans to reduce its emissions by 42 per cent by 2020, compared to levels for 2006-2007. Its latest measurements were 10.1 per cent lower than in the baseline year, but its total carbon dioxide emissions for 2012-2013 jumped by 2.4 per cent from the previous year.

But this is “broadly in line” with an internal climate change strategy, says the agency, which predicts that emissions will rise for a temporary period as the organisation moves to new, more eco-friendly buildings. Levels will fall once the older buildings are disposed of, Sepa claims.

The agency’s 1.9 per cent drop in travel emissions fell well short of the five per cent target, but Sepa did cut the number of miles driven on business journeys by a quarter and reduced the number of domestic flights by 96 per cent.

The report also showed that Sepa was performing well in managing its waste. And it hit its target for increasing the use of sustainable goods and services by five per cent.

Sepa is a key regulator and adviser working with Scottish businesses and communities, and advising national and local governments on the effects and recommended responses to limate change science.

“We fully appreciate the urgent need for Scotland to move rapidly towards more sustainable practices and, as Scotland’s environmental regulator, we understand we must set a strong example to members of the public and businesses throughout the country,” Mr Curran said.

While Sepa’s efforts to reduce emissions from transport will continue, it has achieved significant reductions over the past six years.

From 2006-2007 to 2011-2012, Sepa reduced emissions from all transport modes combined by 30 per cent, including a 96 per cent reduction in its UK mainland flights, from 1,461 in 2006-2007 to 62 in 2010-2011.

New targets have been set within the report for 2013-2014, to reduce emissions levels for travel and transport and produce a revised “biodiversity action plan” for each Sepa office.Mr Curran said: “We are fully committed to achieving our objectives and will continue to report publicly and transparently on our progress.”

Jamie McGrigor, Scottish Conservative environment spokesman, said: “At least Sepa is in good company, with the Scottish Government also missing these targets. While by its own admission being green isn’t easy, it is disturbing that an organisation dedicated to the environment can’t even hit its own targets.”

Labour MSP Claire Baker, who sits on Holyrood’s rural affairs, climate change and environment committee, said that while Sepa had made progress in waste reduction, transport was the “key pressure point” of Scotland’s climate change targets, and needed more action.

“Sepa are the organisation who are meant to be setting an example, and this report is a bit of a mixed bag,” she said.

Lang Banks, director of green body WWF Scotland, said: “It’s disappointing that Scotland’s environment watchdog has failed to meet several key targets.

“However, unlike some large organisations, they at least have targets and report on them. Driving down emissions from transport will be important if we’re to address climate change.”