Various exclusives about the COP26 climate summit, published in The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday. Copyright belongs to the respective publications. Click the blue links where applicable to read the original web version of the stories.
Carbon emissions from the Glasgow climate conference are expected to reach more than double the amount pumped into the atmosphere during the last COP, The Scotsman can reveal, with the event on track to be the most polluting summit of its kind.
A report produced for the UK Government states that COP26 is on course to emit around 102,500 tonnes of CO2e. Around 60 per cent of the emissions – about 61,500 tCO2e – come solely from international flights, an issue that has dogged the event in light of the widespread use of private jets by delegates.
Dr Doug Parr, the chief scientist for Greenpeace UK, said the fact that international travel accounted for the majority of the carbon footprint at a conference where negotiators have so far been unable to reach any “meaningful agreement” on aviation emissions highlighted the “lack of equity” in the talks.
The projected emissions for the gathering, described as a “preliminary baseline assessment” by Arup, the Government’s COP26 sustainability consultant, are significantly higher than any previous COP.
The total greenhouse gas emissions for COP25, which was held in Madrid in 2019, stood at 51,101 tCO2e.
The high-profile COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009 produced around 26,000 tCO2e of emissions. At COP21 in Paris six years later, the figure was 43,000 tCO2e.
Arup’s seven-page executive summary of the COP26 carbon management plan notes the 102,500 tCO2e total includes: business travel during pre-event planning; energy, waste, and water use in the accommodation for all blue zone attendees; and operational emissions from emergency service vehicles.
The 102,500 tCO2e figure means COP26’s carbon footprint is nearly three times that of Glasgow Airport, which reported total emissions of 36,885 tCO2e last year. The average person in the UK is responsible for around seven tCO2e of emissions a year.
Arup said the figure represented “the best working assessment of the emissions from the event,” based on planning parameters, carbon reporting for previous COPs, and lessons learnt from the foot-printing of previous similar events.
There is no detailed breakdown in its report of the source of the emissions, but in September, we revealed how two of the summit’s venues have the second lowest possible rating for energy efficiency, with work yet to commence on a raft of legally binding improvements issued by assessors to reduce CO2 emissions.
Cumulatively, the venues on the sprawling waterfront campus are producing around 6,659 tonnes of CO2 a year.
The conference in Scotland’s biggest city has been plagued by criticism given the extensive use of private jets by government representatives and wealthy private individuals such as Jeff Bezos, who flew in on his £48 million Gulfstream jet.
In the run-up to the largest summit ever staged in the UK, some 118 different business jets flew into Glasgow and Edinburgh airports, according to data compiled by aviation consultancy WingX. On the first day of the summit alone, around 50 private jets landed at the hubs.
Flight radar data also shows that some jets have been flying from Glasgow Airport in Paisley, Renfrewshire, to Glasgow Prestwick Airport in South Ayrshire in order to park – a journey of less than 30 miles.
Mr Johnson was condemned after returning to London from Glasgow last Tuesday via private jet to attend a function at amen-only private members’ club.
Downing Street said the journey was taken with consideration of “time restraints”, but Anneliese Dodds, the Labour party chair, accused Mr Johnson of “staggering hypocrisy”. When the Prime Minister returned to Glasgow on Wednesday, he did so by train.
Dr Parr stressed that COP26 was “not supposed to be a demonstration of sustainable lifestyles” and should not be judged in those terms.
But he said: “The failure to reach any meaningful agreement about limiting aviation’s vast carbon emissions – at a conference where 60 per cent of their emissions came from aviation, with a backing chorus of media outrage at the private jet hypocrisy of the elites – really highlights the lack of equity in these talks.
“Creating loopholes for the use of the rich not only maintains their disproportionately high emissions, but makes it so much harder to persuade anyone else to cut.
“At this COP, the final decision must commit to phase out fossil fuels, which means reducing demand for those fuels from high-carbon industries like aviation.
“Policymakers and countries should ban short-haul flights wherever a viable alternative already exists, and invest in rail to create a transport system that’s good for the planet while also being affordable and accessible to all.”
Monica Lennon, Scottish Labour’s spokeswoman for net zero, energy, and transport, said: “If COP26 is to deliver the bold change needed, then those involved should lead by example. Travel emissions were always going to be inevitable, but this stark rise will no doubt raise some eyebrows.
“We all have a responsibility to do our part and those setting the rules must be willing to play by them. Warm words will ring hollow if they’re not matched with action.”
The UK Government has pledged COP26 will be carbon neutral, a promise it aims to uphold via the purchase of UNFCCC-recognised offsets such as certified emission reductions.
It says that Glasgow will be the first COP to achieve validation using the PAS2060 international standard on carbon neutrality, and the “key priority” of its carbon management plan was to “reduce and avoid emissions”.
A spokeswoman for the UK Government said: “As official UNFCCC figures show, COP26 is a substantially bigger event than other recent COPs, with over 39,000 participants as against nearly 27,000 at COP25.
“As part of its analysis, the Government has for the first time included both the full Blue and Green Zone impacts, giving a fuller and more accurate picture of emissions from the site.”
A definitive total of the event’s carbon footprint is expected to be published in coming months, once the data has been received and analysed.
But there is every chance the overall emissions total of COP26 could be higher, given past experiences of trying to estimate the figure.
Arup was responsible for tabulating the carbon bill at this summer’s G7 summit in Cornwall, a three-day event that had some questioning its environmental credentials given Mr Johnson’s decision to fly from London, and the use of an aircraft carrier with four diesel engines.
According to the firm’s calculations, the three-day summit in June resulted in emissions of 20,960 tCO2e, nearly 5,000 tCO2e more than the initial baseline estimate. The majority of the emissions were associated with international air travel (40 per cent) and accommodation (30 per cent).
We recently revealed how Arup itself has long-standing ties to the oil and gas industry.
The firm, which is receiving more than a quarter of a million pounds in public money for its role at COP26, has designed and installed offshore platforms in oil and gas fields the world over.
As recently as 2016, it was a member of MFDevCo, a consortium targeting the development of marginal oil and gas fields in the North Sea.
Arup announced this week that it will not take on any new energy schemes involving fossil fuels anywhere in the world from April next year.
The UK government has been condemned for enlisting a company with longstanding ties to the oil and gas industry to oversee the sustainability of the COP26 climate change summit.
Arup is receiving more than a quarter of a million pounds of public money to ensure November’s gathering of world leaders is as green as possible.
But amid ongoing questions about the fossil fuel industry’s influence over COP26, environmental groups and politicians have hit out at the involvement of a firm which has designed and installed offshore platforms in oil and gas fields the world over.
Greenpeace accused the government of “dipping into the oil industry biscuit tin”, while Scottish Labour said it was wrong to reward firms who “promote the interest of big polluters.”
The SNP called for “full transparency” around the contract in light of Arup’s ties with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The firm received £8.4 million for its work on the doomed Garden Bridge project during Mr Johnson’s time as London’s mayor. An independent review subsequently criticised the procurement process.
The UK government said Arup was awarded the contract based on technical and commercial assessments, and that there had been “a fair and transparent competitive tender process.”
There has been no official announcement by the government about Arup’s COP26 role, but it is being paid £265,191 to advise the government, devise a carbon management plan, and build a sustainable supply chain.
While Arup has set its own net zero goal of 2030, and is working on numerous renewable energy projects as part of its global portfolio – which includes designing airports – it worked with the likes of Shell on offshore platforms as far afield as Indonesia, the Philippines, Turkmenistan, Newfoundland, and New Zealand. The latter is capable of producing 35,000 barrels of crude oil per day.
In 2014, it was hired by Xcite Energy to design an offshore platform in one of the largest undeveloped oil fields in the North Sea, although the project did not progress to construction.
The following year, Arup joined MFDevCo, a consortium targeting the development of marginal oil and gas fields in the North Sea. It is still listed as a member on MFDevCo’s website, but Arup said it appeared its last active engagement with the group was five years ago, and that its membership had “long lapsed.”
However, its work for fossil fuel firms continued. Only last year, a hi-tech inspection service co-developed by Arup to help operators drive down costs was deployed on the Beryl Alpha, one of the biggest offshore platforms in the North Sea. As recently as 2016, it was carrying out environmental consultancy work for fracking firm Cuadrilla in the north of England.
Arup did not address multiple questions from Scotland on Sunday about any ongoing or future work it has planned with firms involved in oil and gas extraction.
A spokeswoman for the company said it took its responsibilities as COP26’s sustainability consultant “extremely seriously”, adding that was “well down the transition path” and focused on renewables.
But Charlie Kronick, Greenpeace UK’s senior climate adviser, said: “This contract shows that the government – not to mention the economy – is still hugely dependent on the fossil fuel industry.
“To tackle the climate crisis this government will have to make a credible commitment to a just transition to renewable energy, instead of continuing to dip into the oil industry biscuit tin.”
Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “Asking Arup to advise on carbon neutrality is a bit like asking a car dealer to advise on a public transport project. With plenty of specialist firms on sustainability out there, it is hard to understand how a firm so involved with fossil fuels can be the right choice.”
Monica Lennon MSP, Scottish Labour’s net zero and energy spokeswoman, said: “It is wrong that firms who promote the interests of big polluters are the beneficiaries of lucrative public contracts on tackling the climate emergency. Governments should be taking greater care to avoid such conflict of interests.”
Mark Ruskell MSP, the Scottish Greens’ climate spokesman, said: “The involvement of companies like Arup, who see no conflict between the notion of ‘net-zero’ and maximum extraction of fossil fuels, highlights the risk of falling for the idea that emissions can be offset.”
Arup, which posted annual profits of £37m, hit the headlines amid the Garden Bridge fallout. An independent review by Dame Margaret Hodge MP in 2017 concluded that the procurement process was “not open, fair or competitive,” stating: “Ultimately, the then mayor, Boris Johnson, must be held accountable for this.”
Isabel Dedring, Arup’s global transport leader, also served as Mr Johnson’s deputy mayor for transport. In January, she was appointed to the prime minister’s Build Back Better Council.
Deidre Brock MP, the SNP’s environment and COP26 spokeswoman, said: “The decision to hire a firm with such strong ties to the Conservative party does seem extremely questionable.
“What is more concerning however, is the connection Arup has with the prime minister. The UK government has previous for handing out lucrative contracts to Tory associates.
“There must be full transparency on how these contracts were distributed and whether or not these firms are best placed to tackle the key issues at COP26.”
Arup’s spokeswoman said: “Climate change demands urgent action on adaptation, mitigation and a just transition. Much like Scotland itself, our firm has been reviewing its relationship with the energy sector, especially in recent years. We are very conscious of our societal responsibility to drive change.”
A spokesman for the COP26 Unit, part of the Cabinet Office, said: “Sustainability is at the core of COP26, with the UK offsetting all carbon emissions associated with running the event. The contract was awarded through a fair and transparent competitive tender process.
“All organisations supporting COP26 have met robust criteria, which includes making net-zero commitments with a credible action plan to achieve this, and are independently verified through the science-based targets initiative.”
Two flagship venues hosting the upcoming COP26 climate change summit have received the second lowest possible rating for energy efficiency, with work yet to commence on a raft of legally binding improvements issued by assessors in order to reduce CO2 emissions.
The SEC Armadillo in Glasgow has been graded F by inspectors, who said its owners should consider installing renewable energy sources as well as new insulation and lighting in order to curb its carbon footprint.
The SEC Centre, the sprawling conference venue which will form the epicentre of negotiations, also has an energy performance certificate (EPC) rating of F. Assessors told its owners in 2012 they should consider investigating the use of low and zero carbon technologies.
Nine years on, neither it nor any of the other SEC properties have renewable energy sources installed. Cumulatively, the venues, chosen by the UK government for the summit, along with Glasgow Science Centre, are pumping around 6,659 tonnes of CO2 a year into the atmosphere.
With hundreds of world leaders set to descend on Glasgow in November, environmental groups reacted with dismay to the efficiency record of the venues.
Greenpeace warned that COP26 “must be the first climate summit where it’s the rooms themselves that are one of the elephants in the room”. Friends of the Earth Scotland described the energy wastage as “shocking” and “embarrassing”.
The questionable sustainability of the venues will be viewed as an embarrassment for officials in Scotland’s biggest city, as well as both governments in Edinburgh and London. They may also raise eyebrows among United Nations (UN) officials, given its guidance for COP hosts stipulates that the venue “should be an energy-efficient building”, or have energy reduction measures in place. The Madrid venue for COP25, for example, had a purpose-built geothermal power supply for its air conditioning.
Scotland on Sunday can also reveal that authorities across Scotland and the UK are failing to set a good example when it comes to improving energy efficiency in prominent government buildings.
Bute House, the official residence of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, has an EPC rating of D, while heating-related CO2 emissions at Downing Street have risen for two years running.
It comes as experts warned the issue of energy efficiency across the 220,000 non-domestic buildings in Scotland – a significant source of emissions – have been “overlooked”, and that considerable work is needed to ensure decarbonisation initiatives are successful.
Come November, the eyes of the world will be on the SEC campus, the brainchild of the then Scottish Development Agency, which at the tail end of the 1970s, envisaged transforming the derelict Queens Dock site at Finnieston into a modern exhibition and conference space.
The SEC Centre was completed in 1985, followed by the Armadillo and the SSE Hydro. Together, they will form the tightly-secured, UN-managed blue zone at COP26. The UK government promises the event will have “sustainability at its core”. That pledge, however, is complicated by the venues themselves.
The 3,000 seater Armadillo’s annual emissions are around 1,088,788 kgCO2, according to an EPC assessment carried out September 2019 – the same month it was confirmed Glasgow would host COP26.
Assessors made seven recommendations to improve the building’s efficiency, including the installation of solar water heating, building mounted wind turbines, and solar electricity panels. The following month, an action plan was produced detailing improvements which would cut around a quarter of its annual emissions.
While Covid-19 forced the closure of the Armadillo in March 2020, work has yet to begin against a deadline set for May 2023. Under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, it is a legal requirement for a building’s owners to evaluate and improve energy efficiency based on the report, known as a section 63 action plan.
The SEC Centre is also rated F on the EPC sliding scale, where A is the best, and G worst. The latest assessment, conducted in 2012, indicated it is emitting 3,421,370 kgCO2 a year. At the time, inspectors advised its owners to “consider investigating the use of low zero carbon technologies”.
The Glasgow Science Centre, set to be taken over by the UK Government for the summit’s green zone, is rated D. Its EPC assessment, issued last April, found it is emitting around 752,719 kgCO2 per year. It noted that the centre has heat pumps in place, but recommended further efficiency measures.
Meanwhile, the latest EPC for the SSE Hydro, which opened just eight years ago, rates it C, with annual emissions of circa 1,396,809 kgCO2.
The carbon footprint of the Clydeside campus is even bigger once the nearby Crowne Plaza hotel is factored in. The hotel, fully booked for COP26, is owned by SEC Ltd and leased at a peppercorn rate. It was rated F last September, with approximate annual emissions of 1,563,634 kgCO2.
The UK government’s COP26 Unit, part of the Cabinet Office, referred questions about the venues to the property owners.
A spokeswoman said: “Sustainability will be at the core of COP26. The UK will be offsetting all carbon emissions associated with running the event.
“We are aiming to achieve ISO 20121 certification, which will address all aspects of sustainability of the event including carbon, waste management and supply chain management. We are working with sustainability consultants on this effort.”
The UN Climate Change secretariat did not respond to enquiries from Scotland on Sunday.
But Caroline Jones, Greenpeace UK’s climate campaigner, said: “The Glasgow talks must be the first climate summit where it’s the rooms themselves that are one of the elephants in the room.
“Buildings are directly responsible for more than one sixth of the UK’s total emissions. And while it’s too late to insulate the SEC campus and fit the buildings with heat pumps before COP26 begins, it’s not too late to roll out a deep and thorough strategy that will tackle this problem head on.”
Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said it was “an embarrassment that the buildings hosting the COP are such poor examples”.
He added: “It is shocking that across the SEC campus so much energy is being wasted. Some of the buildings are from the 1980s but the Hydro is less than ten years old and all of them clearly need a major energy efficiency overhaul.
Monica Lennon, Scottish Labour’s spokeswoman on net zero and energy, said: “The buildings at the epicentre of the COP26 summit in Glasgow could have been a beacon of net-zero best practice. Instead it’s embarrassing that world leaders will be holding climate talks in venues with an energy efficiency rating as low as F.”
Mark Ruskell, climate spokesman for the Scottish Greens, said: “The fact COP26 will take place in a draughty hall with no renewable energy source underlines the urgent need to address the fact that Scotland’s buildings contribute to our climate emissions, which is why it is a central part of our cooperation deal to enter government.”
With eight weeks to go before COP26 begins, preparatory work is underway. Last week, ventilation installers were at the SEC Centre, while a team from the events agency, Identity – who worked at the G7 summit in Cornwall – are planning for one of the largest gatherings of heads of state ever hosted in the UK. Temporary structures are also being erected, with the construction powered by a mix of solar, battery, and mains power.
That work coincides with a return to business as usual. Last weekend, the Armadillo welcomed comedian Daniel Sloss for two gigs – the venue’s first live shows since the initial Covid-19 lockdown. This Tuesday, meanwhile, the campus is hosting the Scottish Sustainability Summit, where attendees will hear how companies can reduce their ecological footprint.
One COP26 venue, at least, is improving its energy efficiency before the conference. Thanks to funding from Scottish Enterprise, £5.5 million worth of work is underway at the Glasgow Science Centre to install new insulation and a heat resistant waterproof membrane to its roof. There will also be a phased replacement of its lighting system to LED, as well as its building management system.
Dr Stephen Breslin, chief executive of the centre, said the improvements will help the venue meet its goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2030.
The timescale for improvements to the three SEC venues, however, is unclear. Planning permission in principle was approved in June for an expansion of the campus, which includes what is described as a “potential energy centre.”
However, mooted technologies like photovoltaic panels, heat pumps and micro wind generation are only under consideration, and the energy centre is only a proposal at present. Much depends on securing private investment. Ironically, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency objected to the campus expansion on the grounds that it may be at medium to high risk of flooding.
In May, SEC Ltd published its environmental policy. In it, Peter Duthie, the firm’s CEO, who was criticised last year over his £266,807 salary package, announced plans to “consider opportunities to make our venue more sustainable”. However, it includes no details about retrofitting renewable technology or carbon management plans.
A spokesman for SEC Ltd said: “We continuously work to make our buildings more energy efficient and are committed to improving our environmental performance. We acknowledge that events can have a substantial impact on the natural and built environment and we are in the advanced stages of developing a sustainability and energy strategy.
“This will consider opportunities to make our venue more sustainable and to identify environmental improvements, innovations and best practices together with a coherent plan for implementation.
He added that since last February, 100 per cent of the electricity used on the campus has come from renewable sources, and that the firm is reducing energy and water wastage, increasing recycling rates, and employing energy efficient technologies. It has also pledged to ensure all packaging it uses will be recyclable or reusable by 2023.
However, Holly O’Donnell, climate and energy policy manager at WWF Scotland, said it was “disappointing” that COP26 had not spurred a wider “energy renovation” at the campus.
“All too often these opportunities get overlooked as too expensive or difficult, and the carbon savings undervalued,” she explained. “But we’ve known for decades that improving the energy efficiency of our old and leaky buildings is the low hanging fruit of climate action, as it cuts carbon but also makes buildings cheaper to run and more comfortable.”
The questions over the carbon footprint of the SEC venues are more pronounced given their quasi-public ownership structure. The Armadillo was sold by Glasgow City Council in 2019 to City Property Glasgow (Investments) LLP, one of its arms-length external organisations, to bankroll the council’s equal pay deal.
City Property in turn leases the property back to the council, which sublets it to SEC Ltd for £1.9m a year. SEC Ltd is responsible for the EPC rating and any associated recommendations. The SEC Centre is owned by the council and leased by SEC Ltd until 2047 via a subsidiary firm, while the Hydro is owned by SEC Ltd outright. Some 90.86 per cent of SEC Ltd’s shares are owned by the council – that major financial interest alone, said Lennon, meant that the local authority had “big questions to answer”.
Susan Aitken, the council leader, is also a non-executive director on SEC Ltd’s board, while a significant tranche of public money financed the building of the SSE Hydro, with Scottish Enterprise and the council contributing £25m and £15m respectively.
The council has included the SEC expansion in its ‘greenprint’ investment portfolio, which seeks around £30 billion of sustainable investment. Glasgow has already reduced its citywide carbon emissions by 41 per cent since 2006, ahead of a 30 per cent target set for 2020, but its new goals will require significant funds.
Chris Friedler, policy manager for energy efficiency at the Association for Decentralised Energy, said the inefficiency of the landmark venues sat uncomfortably alongside the council’s green ambitions.
“Many other aspects of Glasgow have had low carbon alternatives floated to promote COP26, such as a new fleet of low emission buses, so low efficiency buildings do not send the correct message to the conference,” he said. “This is particularly relevant given that Glasgow City Council has declared a climate emergency with a goal for net zero by 2030.”
Benny Talbot, a spokesman for Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, a civil society coalition of climate change campaigners, added: “The UK government, Scottish Government, and Glasgow City Council have all declared climate emergencies, but none are acting with the urgency that this emergency demands. We all need COP26 to deliver more than warm words and ‘F’ rated action.”
A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said: “If any country or any city was already where it really needs to be, COP wouldn’t be such a critical moment for the planet. No part of the council family would claim, in 2021, to be a fully-formed model of environmental sustainability. Glasgow is, like most cities, closer to the start of its journey than the end.
“Where the city is increasingly seen as a leader, however, is as one living with the legacies of heavy industry and the subsequent economic and social impact of its decline, but also one that is focused on using that experience to seek a just transition to a low carbon economy.”
He added: “COP is important precisely because communities across the world are being confronted with real problems with real and immediate consequences – and cities like Glasgow need significant change in the global economy, as well as national and international policy, to be able to address them.”
The concerns around energy efficiency extend beyond the COP26 venues, with prominent government properties across Scotland and the rest of the UK lagging behind when it comes to lowering their carbon emissions.
According to the UK government’s December 2020 analysis of its properties, four out of 1,034 buildings across its central estate achieved the best EPC rating of A+. The picture is worse than it was 12 months previously, when 39 buildings met the top grade.
The main building of the Cabinet Office, which is co-ordinating COP26, has an EPC rating of C, and a display energy certificate (DEC) rating – which measures actual energy consumption – of F, the second lowest score. Its electricity-related emissions stood at 1,669 tonnes of CO2 per year as of June, up from 1,457 tonnes two years previously.
Downing Street had a DEC rating of D as recently as 2013, but is now classed as E. Its annual heating emissions increased from 138 tonnes in June 2019 to 174 tonnes this summer.
The main Treasury building and the headquarters of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are classed as E, while the Department of Energy & Climate Change scored D.
The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office declined to disclose EPC data for its joint headquarters in East Kilbride, claiming it was subject to freedom of information legislation.
Despite those ratings, the UK government’s property agency said it is making progress towards halving office emissions by 2027.
In Scotland, few of the devolved government’s flagship properties could be described as exemplars. Saughton House, inspected last August, was rated D. Assessors ruled that the building’s roof, walls, loft spaces, and glazing are “poorly insulated,” and advised the government to install wind turbines and solar water heating.
Bute House, the official residence of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, scored D in July 2019, when inspectors noted poor insulation in the A-listed building’s walls and roofs, as well as the lack of any renewable energy source. Victoria Quay is also rated D.
The government’s headquarters at St Andrews House fares a little better, with a C rating. Recent works on the property include the installation of solar panels, LED lights, and upgraded boilers. Its electricity consumption fell by 44 per cent between 2015 and 2020.
Dixon said that while officials faced an obvious challenge in having so many older properties, they needed to “lead by example” by utilising high levels of insulation and renewable energy systems.
“There are some good examples but they are very much the exception rather than the rule,” he said. “These kinds of improvements need to become mainstream.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “As a public sector organisation, we are rising to this challenge and are currently developing our own plans for further emissions reduction across our estate and operations.
“We are the only government in the UK to hold the Carbon Trust triple standard, which recognises our significant year-on-year absolute reductions in energy usage, greenhouse gas emissions, water usage, and waste management. Carbon emissions across the Scottish government estate have reduced by 45 per cent over the last 10 years.
Mr Ruskell said his party’s power-sharing deal with the SNP meant that the issue would become even more of a “priority for government.”
“It’s fair to say previous commitments to decarbonise buildings are out of date,” he reasoned. “Part of the £1.8bn secured for decarbonising buildings the Scottish Greens have secured as part of our cooperation agreement will be used to improve the public estate, including Saughton House.”
Though the issue of energy efficiency struggles to capture the public imagination, it is increasingly important when it comes to the climate crisis; fittingly, a full day of COP26’s programme will focus on the built environment.
According to the International Energy Agency, the right efficiency policies could enable the world to achieve more than 40 per cent of the emissions cuts needed to reach its climate goals, without new technology.
From shopping centres and hospitals to offices and shops, there are around 220,000 non-domestic buildings across Scotland. Cumulatively, they account for around six per cent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions; the equivalent UK-wide figure is around 12 per cent.
The Scottish Government’s draft heat in buildings strategy, published in February, notes that 42 per cent of these premises have an EPC rating of G, with a mere five per cent rated B or higher. The government said the strategy would “expand and tighten” existing efficiency requirements.
Professor Paul Ruyssevelt, chair of energy and building performance at University College London’s Energy Institute, stressed that the issue of energy efficiency in non-domestic stock has been “ignored and overlooked for a long time”.
He said. “There’s been a very heavy emphasis on domestic buildings – quite rightly so, as there are more consumers to deal with – but the non-domestic stock is significant and heterogeneous.”
Amid a push to encourage non-domestic property owners to adopt greener measures, there are doubts over whether policies are fit for purpose, and if the capital investment pledged is sufficient.
Ms O’Donnell said a lack of incentives and binding requirements were at the root of the problem, and called for long-term grant support and the rollout of low-carbon urban heat networks.
“We’d like to see requirements to ensure that such buildings meet a minimum standard of energy efficiency starting from 2024,” she explained. “We need both regulations to compel owners to act, as well as supported through grants and incentives to do so.”
Mr Friedler suggested other measures could include mandatory DECs, or a Scottish equivalent, so as to better measure energy performance, backed by “sufficient and measured funding.”
Under the power-sharing agreement ratified between the SNP and the Scottish Greens last month, the policies include a pledge to decarbonise public buildings and invest at least £1.8bn in efficiency upgrades and renewable heating.
The Scottish Government has said that in order for it to meet its targets, an estimated 50,000 non-domestic properties will have to be converted to zero emission heat sources by 2030.
It has yet to produce a detailed plan, but it envisages a phased approach, with SME loan cashback schemes and the use of the non-domestic rates system to encourage owners to use local heat networks and meet upfront transition costs.
Rohinton Emmanuel, professor in sustainable design and construction at Glasgow Caledonian University, said better data was needed to determine the scale of the challenge. He too pointed out that there are no regulatory mechanisms with which to ensure compliance with current energy efficiency standards. “This will need to change if the existing stock is to be made energy, and therefore carbon, efficient,” he said.
The UK government has yet to unveil its much-anticipated heat and buildings strategy, originally slated for publication last summer. The delay, said Mr Ruyssevelt, has been “a bit of a disappointment”.
In its most recent progress report to parliament in June, the Climate Change Committee stressed that there are “critical questions to resolve around who pays for building decarbonisation.”
With no new applicants allowed to access the UK-wide non-domestic renewable heat incentive scheme, which helped businesses meet the cost of installing renewable technologies, a key question is how such transformative improvements can be bankrolled.
Mr Ruyssevelt believes “carrots, sticks, and tambourines” are vital. “It’s about providing incentives, putting regulations in place where they’re required, and making sure people have information and access to knowledge and supply chains.”
He added: “We don’t have a lot of time. I’ve been working in this field for 45 years and I’ve been saying that for the last 30. It’s only now in the twelfth hour that we realise we have to do something.”
The UK Government has been accused of turning COP26 into a “greenwashing platform” after partnering with a firm that has been condemned by environmental groups for sourcing palm oil products from businesses accused of widespread deforestation activities.
Reckitt, the firm behind household brands such as Dettol, Vanish and Air Wick, has been named as a ‘principal partner’ of the coming UN climate change conference in Glasgow, with Alok Sharma, the COP26 president, praising the company’s “clear commitment to combating climate change”.
However, a swathe of environmental groups have questioned the company’s green credentials, given it uses more than 134,000 tonnes of palm oil products to make its goods every year.
The firm’s suppliers include dozens of mills owned by Wilmar International, the world’s largest palm oil trader, which has been implicated in deforestation activity and human rights abuses by groups including Amnesty International.
Greenpeace told Scotland on Sunday that by allowing Reckitt to become a ‘top tier’ sponsor of COP26, the summit was being subjected to “greenwashing”.
However, the UK Government said Reckitt met its “robust sponsorship criteria,” adding the COP26 sponsors would ensure the event provides “value for money”.
The Cabinet Office announced on Tuesday that Reckitt would be the “official hygiene partner” of COP26, joining the likes of SSE, Sottish Power and Sky as high-level sponsors of the conference, described by John Kerry, the US climate envoy, as the world’s “last best chance” to avert climate catastrophe.
The press release described Reckitt as “one of the world’s most recognisable hygiene brands”, with the firm’s chief executive Laxman Narasimhan stating the deal reinforced its commitments to combat climate change. But it omitted to mention the numerous criticisms and concerns around the company’s own sustainability practices.
Reckitt’s own list of mill suppliers, produced in 2019 as part of a transparency and traceability initiative, includes 44 separate sites across Indonesia and Malaysia owned by Wilmar.
In December, Mighty Earth, the environmental campaign group, claimed an area of natural forest the size of 1,500 football fields had been cleared in eastern Indonesia by one of Wilmar’s suppliers.
Jhonlin, another mill firm named on Reckitt’s supplier list, has been accused by Chain Reaction Research, a Washington DC-based deforestation think-tank, of clearing around 5,900 hectares of forest in 2019 and about 5,000 hectares the previous year. Reckitt said that since the list was compiled, Jhonlin has ceased to be part of its supply chain.
Reckitt has also been adjudged by WWF to be “lagging behind” in its duties as a responsible user of palm oil, scoring just 6.8 out of a possible 22 in an analysis by the leading conservation organisation.
The company said it was working with its suppliers to prevent deforestation, and taking steps such as using satellite technology to monitor its supply chain, and working with the Earthworm Foundation. It also aims to use 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2030 and to become carbon neutral by 2040.
However, Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK, said for any COP26 sponsor to be involved in “climate wrecking activities” suggested “greenwash is at play”.
“Delivering a safe, clean conference is paramount, but delivering a green one should be as well,” she said. “To qualify for sponsorship, companies like Reckitt, which committed but failed to remove deforestation from its supply chain by 2020, should be made to clean up their own act first.
“Without this condition, all the UK Government is doing is enabling it to hide its role in the climate crisis with a PR fig leaf.”
Mary Church, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said Reckitt was “the latest in a string of UK Government-appointed corporate COP26 sponsors with dodgy environmental records”.
“Big corporations use the prestige of sponsoring events like these to distract from the dirtier, more polluting side of how they make their money, and gain privileged access to decision makers,” she said.
“COP26 cannot be allowed to become a shop window for greenwashing rather than delivering the real leadership needed to tackle climate breakdown.”
SNP MP Deidre Brock, the party’s COP26 spokeswoman, said: “Reckitt is knee-deep in the deforestation accompanying palm oil production, but it’s being allowed to sponsor COP26 to help clean up its public profile.
“Greenwashing reputations is pretty much always distasteful, but using an international climate change conference for it is a step beyond.”
Mark Ruskell, environment spokesman for the Scottish Greens, said: “The UK Government seems determined to use COP26 as a greenwashing platform for planet-wrecking companies to try and claw back some credibility. Reckitt do not get to claim green credentials when they are part of the problem.”
In a statement, Reckitt said it was “working with suppliers to reduce their environmental footprint, to prevent deforestation and progressively regenerate key ecosystems”.
The company added: “Protecting our forests and preventing deforestation are critical to our planetary health and public health. That’s why zero deforestation is central to our palm oil strategy. We believe in responsibly sourcing all the natural raw materials used in our products, including palm oil, and are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.
“We are committed to increasing the percentage of certified sustainable palm oil each year until all our palm oil is certified. Alongside that commitment, we are working with stakeholders representing around 40 per cent of the whole palm oil network, including governments, industry, local communities and smallholders to capture and limit negative impacts not covered by certification.”
A spokesman for the UK Government said: “The COP26 sponsors ensure the summit will provide value for money to the UK taxpayer.
“All our sponsors have met the robust sponsorship criteria, which includes making net-zero commitments with a credible action plan to achieve this, independently verified through the science-based targets initiative.
“They have also joined the Race to Zero, which requires them to set credible action plans for reducing their emissions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement.”
A hardline US think tank which rails against climate change science and accuses the United Nations of trying to “usher in socialism” by tackling the climate emergency is to stage an alternative conference in Scotland’s biggest city during COP26.
The right wing Heartland Institute, which has previously received funding from the fossil fuel industry, is to convene a two day “climate reality forum” in Glasgow, designed to counter what it calls the “political groupthink” and “propaganda” of world leaders.
Friends of the Earth Scotland warned the controversial outfit was peddling “dangerous misinformation” and “pseudoscience” to try to delay action on climate change. Greenpeace branded the organisation as a “gang of climate deniers” and “fanatics.”
Dr Geoffrey Supran, a Harvard University research fellow who specialises in climate denial, delay, and propaganda tactics, told Scotland on Sunday that Heartland did the “dirty work” of denying basic climate science on behalf of “fossil fuel interests and libertarian billionaires.”
“They’re essentially well-funded trolls of climate science and policy,” he explained. “Heartland’s overall strategy is not to win the climate debate, but just to make it seem like there is one.”
Chicago-based Heartland, which no longer discloses the identity of its donors, has spent years amplifying the voices of those who reject the scientific consensus on climate change.
It has published multiple books on the issue, such as ‘Unstoppable Solar Cycles’ and ‘Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming.’ It was condemned after sending hundreds of thousands of copies of the latter title to schools and colleges across the US.
It has gained prominence through its conference activities, most notably with events which coincided with previous COPs in Madrid, Paris, and Poland. Glasgow will be no exception.
Heartland previously announced its intention to hold an event in the city last November, but the postponement of COP26 due to the pandemic left its plans uncertain.
But James Taylor, the institute’s president, said it intends to send a group of “scientists, economists, and policy leaders” to Glasgow for the rescheduled event.
“We will have our own conference,” he explained. “We’ll have a two day climate reality forum in Glasgow at the same time the United Nations is holding their meeting.
“Folks can see for themselves the difference between what the UN is putting out, which is essentially just propaganda and political groupthink, versus real facts, evidence, and basically, the realities the UN would like us to forget.”
Asked by Scotland on Sunday about the event, Mr Taylor did not disclose the venue or dates, but said Heartland was still in the process of finalising its speakers and agenda due to difficulties with the pandemic and travel restrictions. He added: “The good news is science clearly supports climate realism, not climate alarmism.”
But Mary Church, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland, warned that Heartland was attempting to hamper efforts to tackle the climate emergency.
She said: “The Heartland Institute are known peddlers of dangerous misinformation and pseudoscience. Having cut their teeth blocking action against big tobacco, their main target now is to confuse voters and decision makers, and delay action on climate change.
“The science is absolutely crystal clear that climate change is happening, that it’s driven primarily by burning fossil fuels, and that we only have a few years left to avert truly catastrophic consequences.
“Polling consistently shows that the UK public know this, and want the government to act on the climate crisis, so the Heartland Institute is likely to get short shift when it hosts its alt-reality summit in Glasgow next month.”
Kate Blagojevic, head of climate at Greenpeace UK, said Heartland were “clearly fanatics that should and will be ignored”.
“This gang of climate deniers pipe up every year but they bring absolutely nothing to the debate and have nothing to offer anyone except other fantasists,” she added. “The truth is they lost a long time ago.”
Mr Taylor accused Greenpeace of lying as “frequently as the rest of us breathe,” and dismissed Ms Church and Dr Supran’s remarks as “ad hominem, vitriolic and juvenile.”
It comes as Heartland is preparing to stage a separate conference in Las Vegas in an attempt to “set the agenda” before COP26. The International Conference on Climate Change, billed as a “fight for climate realism over climate socialism,” begins this Friday.
Those lined up to speak include Christopher Monckton, a former deputy leader and Scottish president of UKIP. He topped the party’s regional list for Mid Scotland and Fife at the 2011 Holyrood election. It commanded a 1.1 per cent share of the vote.
The 69-year-old, who has a Pitlochry-based environmental consultancy, has occupied the fringes of the climate debate for years. He once described it as “the biggest fraud in history,” and warned that efforts to tackle the “non-problem” of man-made climate change will lead to a “global totalitarian tyranny”.
Other speakers include Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the climate sceptic group founded by former Conservative chancellor, Lord Lawson, and William Happer, a former advisor to the Trump White House who compared the “demonisation” of carbon dioxide to the “demonisation of poor Jews under Hitler”.
Jeremiah Bohr, associate professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, who has studied organised climate change denial, said: “In my own view, Heartland conducts such events because they want to create enough confusion and doubt in public debate to provide cover for politicians looking to delay or obstruct proactive climate mitigation.”
Environmental sociologist Dr Riley Dunlap, professor emeritus at Oklahoma State University and an expert in climate change denial, said Heartland initially focused on discrediting the health threats of second-hand smoke, but switched to spreading “misinformation” about global warming.
He explained: “It promotes what might be called hardcore denial, challenging the three well-established findings of contemporary climate science: the earth is warming, it is due primarily to human activities, and it is having negative impacts for humans and the entire global ecosystem.”