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Huge rise in Scottish emissions of world’s most destructive greenhouse gas

Scottish emissions of the most powerful greenhouse gas have increased dramatically over the last 15 years, dwarfing the reductions in carbon dioxide achieved over the same period.

Found in many industrial products, sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) is 24,000 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere – the cause of global warming.

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A new UK Government report shows that Scotland’s production of SF6 has increased by two-thirds since 1995.

The latest figures show that the amount of SF6 produced in 2008 has the same warming effect as seven times the total CO2 emitted by Scotland in that year.

Figures show that Scotland produced 15,000 tonnes of SF6 in 2008 – equivalent to 360 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. SF6 is used in the manufacture of semiconductors and in electricity distribution equipment.

The report, published by the UK Department for Energy and Climate Change, also showed that Scottish emissions from another group of chemicals which are dangerous to the climate, known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), have also experienced massive increases since 1995.

Like SF6, HFCs are thousands of times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

They were introduced in the early 1990s as a substitute for the ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and are used in refrigerators, inhalers and are even found in the soles of running shoes.

According to the report, while CO2 discharges have fallen since 1995, Scottish emissions of HFCs have increased by 610%.

HFCs can be up to 11,000 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2.

While the report records huge rises in HFC emissions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, it shows a decrease in England.

A spokesman for Climate Change Minister Stewart Stevenson tried to play down the significance of the rise.

“Sources of SF6 are relatively few, and so looking at trends between different devolved administrations is less straightforward, as a large change in emissions may be caused by decisions taken at an individual level, such as a plant closing or a production method changing,” he said.

The spokesman added that there had been a growth in the use of HFCs across the UK.

“In all parts of the UK, usage of these products has been on the increase since 1990,” he said, adding that data looking at the use of the chemicals shows an approximate 600% increase in each part of the UK.

The spokesman insisted Scotland was not lagging behind England when it came to reducing harmful greenhouse gases.

“The reduction observed [in England] since 1995 is due to the production plant – the single largest source of emissions in the UK – installing abatement technology which greatly reduced the effect of the plant as a source of emissions,” he said.

This plant in Runcorn, Cheshire, was owned by Ineos, which operates the Grangemouth refinery, before being sold to Mexican firm Mexichem earlier this year.

Mexichem says it is working on replacement chemicals for HFCs which are less effective as greenhouse gases, but could not give a timeframe for their introduction.

Duncan McLaren, Friends of the Earth Scotland chief executive, said it was important that Scotland works on cutting all sources of climate-changing emissions.

He added: “Our welcome and world-leading climate targets will not be met efficiently without considering and tackling emissions of all greenhouse gases from energy production, agriculture, homes and industry.”

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