Boris Johnson should agree to Nicola Sturgeon’s demand for a place at the COP26 global summit when it comes to Glasgow in November. She has a lot of questions to answer. With the recent discovery of a new bonanza in the North Sea with recoverable resources estimated at around 100 million barrels of carbon emitting oil, the First Minister’s declaration of a national climate emergency in Scotland leaves her with a challenging square to circle. Could an independent Scotland, turning its back on the annual Barnett Formula transfer of £10 billion from the London Treasury, really afford to shut down the North Sea oilfields? With a fiscal deficit bigger than Greece, an independent Scotland would have an economic black hole to fill, greater than the one in the ozone layer.

Those who suspect that Nicola Sturgeon’s chest-thumping climate emergency pledge was simply empty rhetoric, may have a point.  Her government’s policy on tackling carbon emissions certainly seems to have veered way off course. The SNP’s obsession with wind power as a source of low-cost, zero-carbon renewable energy has led to a proliferation of giant, industrial wind turbines, sprouting in hideous legions across Scotland’s once pristine landscape. The huge cost of these monstrosities and their attendant overhead powerlines is simply passed on to Scotland’s beleaguered electricity consumers, driving fuel poverty to unprecedented levels. 

Not content with receiving generous payments when they actually produce electricity, the power companies get hefty handouts even when their turbines are switched off. In the ten years to 2019 these so-called ‘constraint payments’, paid usually when the grid is over-congested, amounted to a staggering £649 million in Scotland. The power companies were effectively being paid for discarding 8.7 TWh (TerraWatt Hours) of electricity. According to the Renewable Energy Foundation (REF), this quantity of energy would be sufficient to provide 90% of all Scottish households with electricity for a year.

But the climate change catastrophe doesn’t end there. Following a freedom of information request to Scottish Forestry, it has been revealed that 13.9 million trees were felled to make way for wind farms in Scotland. There will also have been an unknown quantity of private forestry felled for the same reason. With a target of covering up to 21% of Scotland’s land area with trees by 2032, this massive deforestation exercise seems to be a strange way of achieving that objective. We are illogically cutting down vast expanses of forest every year, destroying nature’s own carbon capture and storage system, while  beating the drum for a zero-carbon future.

Worse still, we are digging up peat bogs all across Scotland to construct industrial wind farms. Peatland is Europe's equivalent of rainforest and it constitutes a vital component of the world’s natural air conditioning system. Peatland and wetland ecosystems, for which Scotland is renowned, accumulate plant material and rotting trees under saturated conditions to form layers of peat soil up to 20 metres thick – storing on average 10 times more carbon per hectare than other ecosystems. But vast areas of carbon-capturing peat bogs in Scotland have been torn up to make way for so-called 'green' energy projects like windfarms, rendering the whole process carbon-negative.

Peat is a global carbon sink, storing millions of tonnes of CO2 during the thousands of years the peat is formed from rotting trees and plant material. Damage to peat can extend as much as 250 metres on either side of turbine foundations and access-road installations. So, the peat will gradually dry out over the years resulting in an ongoing release of carbon. This can easily be calculated once the total extent of the planned development is known using the fact that peat contains 55 kg carbon/cubic metre – three times as much as a tropical rainforest! The whole hydrology of the area will change forever and once damaged, peat can never be replaced – a terrible legacy to leave to future generations and a loss of a critical carbon sink.

Many giant wind turbines in Scotland are being built on deep peatland, causing immense damage to the environment and releasing vast quantities of CO2. Farmers and landowners with great tracts of peatland welcome development on what they have always regarded as unproductive terrain. Hundreds of applications are still in the planning pipeline, many of them in wholly inappropriate locations which would threaten endangered flora and fauna and industrialise some of Scotland’s most spectacular landscape. Worse still, by destroying deep peatland, these windfarms would create more carbon emissions than they would ever save. Taken together with the construction of the mammoth steel towers, vast concrete foundations under every turbine, borrow pits, drains, connecting and access roads, overhead power-lines and pylons, it is not unreasonable to think that the carbon footprint from every windfarm built on deep peat far exceeds any environmental savings it may aspire to.

Of course, the big power companies, who are pocketing billions of pounds from these profligate projects, are keen to disprove this theory and regularly trot out ‘experts’ to say that drainage of the peat is not necessary and that damage to the environment will always be minimised. The ‘floating roads’ needed for access to the turbines, are made to sound as if they can defy gravity by floating over the surface of peat bogs. Actually, they require tens of thousands of tonnes of rock foundation, which cuts off the water flow to the bog and causes the peat to dry out, releasing millions of years of stored CO2  into the atmosphere.

To suggest that a windfarm can be built without damaging peatland is absurd. As soon as the so-called ‘floating’ roads have been built and construction of the giant turbines takes place, the peat will be breached and drainage of the peat bog will occur naturally. This is basic hydrology! Drains will then have to be installed to take excess water off the site – otherwise the area will flood. This is called peat run-off and it will continually flow into adjacent watercourses, causing potentially the deaths of many freshwater and marine organisms as a result of suffocation. 

So, the 200 world leaders and 30,000 delegates who attend the COP26 summit in Glasgow may like to ask Nicola Sturgeon to explain how pumping oil out of the North Sea, digging up vast tracts of Scottish peat and hacking down huge swathes of forestry can meet her climate emergency criteria?