Reliance on fossil fuels in the Scottish public sector

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The consumption of fossil fuels from energy creation is the most significant contributor to human induced climate change, [1] however fossil fuels remain the most dominant of energy sources, whilst the use of renewable energy is growing at a slow rate, [2]. International action in tackling climate change has led to increased pressures to measure, record and report carbon footprints. The public sector has a key role to play in reducing emissions and increasing uptake of renewable energy technologies.
The study aims to investigate and present findings from an exploratory study on the reliance on fossil fuels in Scotland ‘s public sector with focus on Universities and Local Government Authorities. A multi-method qualitative study approach is employed, using information gathered from a literature review, case study, and thematic analysis of semi-structured interviews with sector professionals.
The case study developed a carbon footprint baseline for a School at the University of the West of Scotland. Electricity was the greatest contributor of overall emissions followed by travel, and over 45% of all emissions resulted from fossil fuel sources through road travel, air travel and gas use in buildings. These findings are in line with findings of similar studies [3], [4]. The thematic analysis of semi-structured interview responses resulted in five key themes namely: ‘evidence of ongoing reliance on fossil fuels’, ‘efforts to reduce fossil fuel use’, ‘actions required to reduce reliance on fossil fuels’, ‘barriers to moving away from fossil fuels’ and ‘carbon reporting’. The use of fossil fuel energy sources in buildings for space heating, cooling, and electricity, and its persistent reliance for transportation, evidence reliance on fossil fuels, [5], [6]. Government and organisational initiatives, and the uptake of renewable and low carbon energy justify efforts to reduce fossil fuel use however, a zero-carbon energy revolution, reduced energy consumption and carbon offsets, and financial instruments and governance are further required. Lack of funding and support, practicalities and cost implications, and lack of an alternative energy source to replace fossil fuels are sub themes highlighting the main barriers to moving away from fossil fuels. Difficulties in estimating accurate carbon emissions associated with procurement, reducing emissions associated with staff mileage and influencing staff travel behaviours are also highlighted, in line with studies highlighting difficulties in estimating Scope 3 emissions, for example, [7].

[1] IPCC. Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis., 2007.
[2] BP. BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2018., 2018.
[3] Robinson O., Kemp S. and Williams I. Carbon management at universities: a reality check., 2015, 106:109-118.
[4] Ozawa-Meida L., Brockway P., Letten K., Davies J. and Fleming P. Measuring carbon performance in a UK University through a consumption-based carbon footprint: De Montfort University case study., 2013, 56: 185-198.
[5] Mehta D. P. and Wiesehan M. Sustainable Energy in Building Systems., 2013,19: 628-635.
[6] Pietzcker R.C., Longden T., Chen W., Fu S., Kriegler E., Kyle P. and Luderer G. Long-term transport energy demand and climate policy: Alternative visions on transport decarbonization in energy-economy models., 2014, 64: 95-108.
[7] Alvarez S., Blanquer M. and Rubio A. Carbon footprint using the Compound Method based on Financial Accounts. The case of the School of Forestry Engineering, Technical University of Madrid., 2014, 66: 224-232.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 27 Nov 2019
EventSAGES’19 Global Climate Challenges for a Blue Green Economy: Scientific Evidence; Its Relevance; Societal Solutions - John McIntyre Conference Centre, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Duration: 27 Nov 201828 Nov 2019


ConferenceSAGES’19 Global Climate Challenges for a Blue Green Economy
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • Carbon footprint
  • Fossil fuels
  • Public sector


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