Scottish Government needs to take action over polluting chemicals industry

The Scottish Government should move away from ‘vague promises’ about improving the green credentials of the chemical industry and consider setting up a Scottish Green Chemistry Agency, a Stirling University academic has claimed.

Professor Andrew Watterson said the Scottish Government should connect concerns about chemical production and non-recyclable and unwanted plastics with production levels at existing ethylene crackers and similar plants.

Green chemistry researchers have identified bio-based alternatives to oil an gas based ethylene and plastics and much more could have been done to move these industries towards safer and more sustainable production and products, according to Prof Watterson, in a paper presented at a COP26 Coalition Workshop today.

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He also said the Scottish Government should re-assess the actions and roles of regulators, Scottish agencies, and bodies such as SEPA, Health Protection Scotland, Public Health Scotland, health boards and local councils in identifying and controlling exposures to pollutants from all sites.

Professor Andrew Watterson said the government should set up a dedicated agency.

Prof Watterson said: “Scotland has a significant influence on some key national and international climate change drivers especially linked to oil, gas and related chemical and plastics production and the export of their technologies and expertise across the globe. The Scottish Government’s Just Transition and Fair Work Commissions with STUC and trade union engagement provide the means to put good policies into practice to protect workers, communities, and the environment from climate change impacts.

"However, vague promises, and broad and rhetorical statements from Ministers that currently exist on many of these topics will achieve very little.”

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He added: “Arguing Scotland has done less badly than the rest of the UK on climate change is a poor response to a global catastrophe. Either we meet climate change targets and prevent catastrophe or we don’t. There’s no middle ground. COP26 is not really a time to be talking about pride in Glasgow, feeling uncomfortable or not being able to look the next generation in the eye if we don’t act.

"It’s about ensuring global action wherever possible and making sure the Scottish Government and companies based in the country do everything they can on climate change. We have missed many opportunities already.”

Prof Watterson said there was an opportunity to further connect concerns about chemical production and non-recyclable and unwanted plastics with production levels at existing ethylene crackers and similar plants.

He said: “These could link to green chemistry initiatives on plastics from renewable sources ,avoiding ‘regrettable substitutions’, and adopting effective evidence-based just transition and toxics use reduction programmes. The Scottish Government should therefore explore setting up a Scottish Green Chemistry Agency or Unit to take this type of work forward just as they have done with Scottish Government funded ‘Enterprise’ bodies.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Scotland’s current position on oil and gas is clear. Unlimited extraction of fossil fuels is not consistent with our climate obligations. Our focus must now be on achieving the fastest possible just transition – one that delivers jobs and economic benefit, and also ensures our energy security, and meets our climate obligations.

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“Sites within the Scottish petrochemicals sector are often critical assets in our energy network; they are significant sources of energy security, skilled employment and economic output and we are seeking to preserve and harness their potential, as we transition to net zero. We will work with industry, workforce and local communities to consult on the best way to develop and implement Just Transition Plans for sectors such as chemicals, nuclear and other energy intensive industries. Our refreshed Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan will be an opportunity to demonstrate this holistic approach.

“We are absolutely committed to achieving our net zero targets and will carefully consider the points raised by Professor Watterson.”

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