2020 emissions data shows impact of COVID-19 on Scottish industry

  31 March 2022
The latest data reveals greenhouse gas emissions from SEPA regulated industrial sites fell by 6% between 2019 and 2020.

This is a Policy statement and relates to the 2020 pollutant emissions and waste transfers from SEPA regulated industrial sites experimental Official Statistics published at 9.30am on Thursday 31 March 2022 and available on SEPA's website

  • Greenhouse gas emissions from SEPA regulated industrial sites fell by 6% between 2019 and 2020. 
  • Continues downward trajectory since 2007. 
  • Coronavirus has impacted emissions from more than 30 sites reporting to the Scottish Pollutant Release Inventory (SPRI), with some seeing significant decreases and others recording increases.  
  • Reflecting the realism of the pandemic, the Scottish energy sector reported a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, while the chemicals sector recorded an increase in part due to enhanced production of healthcare products.  

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has published its Scottish Pollutant Release Inventory (SPRI) data for 2020 following a cyber-attack in December 2020.  

SPRI provides a valuable picture of the amount of pollutants released in Scotland from SEPA regulated industrial sites. It is a publicly accessible electronic database which provides information for policy makers, academics and the public about the pressure Scottish industry puts on the environment through pollutant emissions. SPRI does not assess the compliance of the facilities or the health and environmental impact of the releases. 

The latest data reveals greenhouse gas emissions fell by 6% between 2019 and 2020. This reduction continues the decreasing trend seen over the last 13 years, with an overall drop of around 60% since 2007.  

Pollutant release (kg) 

2016 

2017 

2018 

2019 

2020 

Change between 2019 and 2020* 

Carbon dioxide 

12,500,000,000 

 

11,500,000,00 

 

11,800,000,000 

11,400,000,000 

10,600,000,000 

down 6% 

 

Methane 

35,000,000 

 

32,500,000 

 

27,800,000 

26,700,000 

 

26,000,000 

 

down 3% 

 

Nitrous oxide 

131,000 

 

96,200 

 

89,800 

 

96,500 

 

73,500 

 

down 24% 

 

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) 

 

1,730 

 

1,050 

 

3,510 

 

1,260 

 

3,640 

 

up 188% 

 

Perfluorocarbons (PFCs) 

 

4,510 

 

4,360 

 

4,420 

 

3,940 

 

4,010 

 

up 2% 

 

Sulphur hexafluoride 

 

128 

 

134 

 

107 

 

221 

 

227 

 

up 3% 

 

*change values given are based on raw figures as used in the Statistic; remainder of table gives rounded totals 

IMPACT OF COVID-19 

Around a third of the sites that report pollutant emissions to SPRI each year noted a significant difference in their 2020 data compared to 2019. This is a similar proportion to previous years.  

However, unlike past datasets, more than 30 sites from across multiple sectors mentioned the coronavirus pandemic as having an impact on their emissions. Reasons for this may include temporary site closures due to restrictions and a change to how data is reported. Production levels also shifted during the pandemic. A drop in emissions was reported at energy sites as a result of fewer people travelling during lockdowns and less demand for transport related fuel, while an increase was recorded at others where there was involvement in manufacturing medical supplies. 

An example of this is at Semefab Ltd in Glenrothes where a 30% increase in the sulphur hexafluoride greenhouse gas was reported in 2020 due to production of sensors used in covid detection and treatment. The manufacturer developed more than 12 million forehead temperature guns, as well as components for ventilators and isolation rooms in hospitals.  

Jo Green, acting Chief Executive of SEPA, said:  

“The Scottish Pollution Release Inventory provides an important insight into Scotland’s journey towards a net zero society.  This latest 2020 dataset from SEPA, recovered and now released following the cyber-attack, reflects the realism both of the healthcare pandemic and of an economy in transition.  

“More than that, the data reflects both the significant progress we’ve made as a nation to date and the progress we all still need to make on a just transition, including Scottish business.” 

ENDS 

NOTES TO EDITORS: 

  • The 2020 SPRI data can be accessed on SEPA’s website. Data from previous years can be found here 
  • The 188% increase in Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) between 2019 and 2020 can be linked to multiple factors. Regulatory work to investigate the three sites in the chemicals sector reporting HFCs is ongoing. Two food and beverage sites released HFCs in 2020. Both had accidental releases and have taken steps to upgrade their refrigeration to a non-F-gas system since 2020.  
  • Using the tool to compare facilities or sectors provides a general overview of the total amounts of pollutants released or waste transferred. However, direct and causal inferences should not be made because detailed knowledge of processes, installed abatement technologies and other installed emission reduction technologies and practices must be known before this type of analyses can be accurately and definitively performed. Further, the types and amounts of source material, management methods, production patterns, etc. must also be known. 
  • SPRI is a searchable database of annual mass releases of specified pollutants to air, water and land from SEPA regulated industrial sites. It also provides information about off-site transfers of waste from these sites. It does not assess the compliance of the facilities or the health and environmental impact of the releases. Site compliance can be found in SEPA’s Compliance Assessment Scheme results.