THERE is no climate emergency in Argyll and Bute. Not officially, anyway.

Unlike the Scottish Government or big city local authorities, the giant but sparsely-populated council has not yet made any grand declarations on how it will rise to the challenge of global heating.

Councillors may feel they do not have too. After all, Argyll is not part of the climate problem, it is part of the solution. That is because, according to the most recent figures published, for 2017, the area's forests and bogs take nearly as much CO2 out of the atmosphere as its people put in.

Indeed, some climate policy makers think Argyll and even Highland – home to some of Europe's great peatlands, effectively globally significant carbon sinks – might already be scoring carbon negative, though the figures are not quite there to prove that. They may already be global coolers.

Argyll and Bute is close to zero net carbon, the aspiration for Scotland as a whole and big cities in particular. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wants to get to "zero" by 2045. That does not mean the country – a relatively important regional producer of oil and gas – will not use any fossil fuels. "Net zero" means that the whole country, rather like Argyll now, sucks up as much carbon as it belches out.

Glasgow and Edinburgh have both announced a race to get to net zero first among UK cities – but they realise they cannot compete with wilderness areas in the Highlands.

"We don't have any wooded mountains to offset our emissions," joked one Clydeside policy-maker. "We are going to have to cut carbon the hard way."

Today, as local and national authorities mull some of the tough and life-changing decisions needed to wean us all off fossil fuels, The Herald on Sunday maps Scotland's net carbon output, broken down per capita.


Policy wonks already know where the our carbon comes from, but for many Scots, the raw numbers may come as a surprise, perhaps because plotting CO2 emissions by local authority also tells us a story of lost industrial might and shifting economic activity and population from west to east.

Gone, of course, are the great factories and forges of Glasgow. Three or four decades after de-industrialisation, Scotland's biggest city, with its low car ownership and relatively good public transport, now generates less than half as much CO2 per capital as oil-rich, fuel-guzzling Shetland or suburban East Lothian. So too does the Clyde Valley's once industrial hinterlands of Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire and Dunbartonshire.

Edinburgh and Dundee also score less than the Scottish average of 5.3 tonnes of CO2 per capita per year. The number for Argyll, as of 2017, is 0.3 tonnes. That does not mean Argyllers are eco-friendly; far from it, as we shall see later.

So where are Scotland's hotspots for carbon? Well, in the middle and east of the country's central belt. Fife, which has some of the great volume whisky makers, generates more CO2 than Glasgow overall and ranks seventh in a per-capita league table.

Falkirk Council, home of the giant Grangemouth petrochemicals and refining complex, is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the worst offender for global heating when emissions are divided per person. It produces nearly 15 tonnes of Co2 for every man, woman and child. Local officials are philosophical. Falkirk is not even in the running to get to zero net carbon, not while it is cracking crude.


That does not mean that Falkirk is not improving. It is, and faster than the national average. But it does mean Scotland in the future will always need areas, like the Highlands and their peat bogs, that are increasingly carbon negative. Already, the trees and peatlands of the Highlands extract more CO2 from the atmosphere than large installations in Falkirk add.

Where does Scotland overall stand on CO2 emissions? Middling, by European Union standards. And middling by UK standards. The country has one of Europe's best records on renewable electricity but one of the worst on domestic heating. We remain addicted to gas boilers, though not for much longer, if the Scottish Government gets it way.

The gradual switch to renewable electricity has, however, had an impact. Scotland and England both recorded a 34% reduction in greenhouse carbon emissions between 2005 and 2017. The North-East of England has gone greener faster. Its emissions fell 54% in 12 years. The bad news? That was partly due to industrial closures. Scotland's total output of CO2, less those carbon sinks, is 28m tonnes. (Add in our share of shipping and aviation, domestic and international, and other technical issues, such as exports, and that rises to 31m tonnes, according to UK Government estimates. Even that bigger figure is less than a quarter of one per cent of China's contribution to global heating).

But of the net emissions that we can attribute directly to British nations and regions, Scotland's net per capita of 5.3 tonnes of CO2 looks distinctly average, around the same as East Anglia or North-West England. Britain's worst carbon creator is Wales, home to remaining heavy industries, with a per-capita average of 7.2. The least polluting is London, due, according to the UK Government's Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy, "to the urban nature of the transport system, a high population density and its lower level of large industrial facilities than other regions". The average Londoner generates 3.4 tonnes of CO2.

China, of course, remains the biggest greenhouse gas producer. But not per capita, which is as low as 6 tonnes, about the same as Northern Ireland.

For comparison, the United States and Canada both generate 15 tonnes of CO2 per resident, as of 2015. These are entire countries whose average is slightly higher than Scotland's most polluting region, Falkirk, though as of 2017. Roughly speaking, Scotland is doing a better than Germany, Russia and Japan, about the same as Italy and Denmark and a little worse than France and Sweden, according to various databases.

Glasgow, though no longer the biggest contributor of Scottish local governments, already has a blueprint, published by its "Climate Emergency Working Group". It has announced eye-catching suggestions, such as plastic-free school dining and ambitious aspirations to recreate a municipally owned bus company.

Everybody knows that further progress now depends on switching from gas central heating and fossil-fuel power in transport and industry. ScottishPower, which is supporting the city's Zero-Net Carbon initiative, says it reckons that means quadrupling output of renewable electricity.

In Argyll and Bute per-capita consumption of fossil fuels for transport is higher than in Glasgow – after all the huge stretched out local authority has far less public transit than the big city.

A spokesman for Scotland's (and Britains's) accidentally greenest council had plenty to praise.

“We have a number of renewables initiatives aimed at reducing carbon emissions in Argyll and Bute, such as Glengorm landfill site’s wind turbine which creates energy to run the operation on Mull while feeding power back into the grid," he said. "We are also replacing more than 14,000 illuminated signs and streetlights with LED lighting, and there is a rolling programme of energy improvements at council buildings."

Then he added: "The area’s vast amount of greenery helps to offset carbon emissions.”


Scotland’s big cities may have announced a race to be the first to reach zero net carbon. But it is a race they have already lost. The forests and peatlands of Argyll and Bute and Highland Council are almost removing more carbon from our atmosphere than the people of the two local authorities are putting in. And that is for 2017, the most recent figures available. They could already be in negative territory, making them net contributors to cleaning the planet. That does not mean that residents lead a particularly green lifestyle. Argyll, for example, has far higher per-capita emissions for transport than Glasgow.


Nowhere in Scotland does anything like as much damage to the planet as Falkirk, at least on a per capita. The relatively small local authority, after all, is home to the giant petrochemical complex at Grangemouth. The area, in fact, generates more climate-changing CO2 than the whole of Edinburgh despite having just a third of the capital’s population. However, Falkirk is making progress at much the same pace as the rest of the country, with its emissions per capita down from above 24 tonnes per person in 2005 to just under 15 in 2017.


For many, Scotland’s northern and western isles are a green idyll. Far from it. Shetland has the fourth highest level of per-capita emissions in Scotland with figures of more than 10 tonnes per person, nearly double the Scottish national average. while Orkney and Eilean Siar do little better with 8.7 per person. All three archipelagos have high levels of heating and transport costs and even industry. Shetland, home of the Sullom Voe oil terminal, more than twice as much in industrial Co2 output as Glasgow per person. Shetland’s transport contributions to global warming are rising too….and are half as much again as Glasgow’s


Edinburgh’s eastern commuter belt might not look like an engine for climate change. But with twice the per-capita output of Scotland’s cities that is what it is. The local authority has high levels of Co2 generation from industry, transport and domestic dwellings, as of 2017, and has made less progress than many areas in reducing its greenhouse gases.


Once the industrial second city of the empire, Glasgow is now aiming to be a clean green place. It’s Scotland’s biggest council, but not the one that produces the most Co2. That honour goes to Fife. The devastation of heavy industry in the Clyde valley means most of the region is below the Scottish average for greenhouse gas.