Controversial plans to build thousands of wind turbines across Scotland will make almost no difference to greenhouse gas levels, according to new research by leading environmental scientists.

The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies says that even on the most optimistic assumptions, renewable sources of energy, such as wind power, will have only a “minor impact” on reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

The report, by one of the UK’s leading think tanks on energy policy, is a serious setback for the Scottish Executive. Ministers hope to convince voters that around 70 new wind farms will make a significant contribution to slashing carbon dioxide levels by at least 20% over the next 15 years.

But the institute’s report argues that previous experience shows governments fail to meet their targets for building wind farms, and even when they do deliver their promises, they have little impact on greenhouse gas levels.

Other technologies, such as nuclear energy, which produces no carbon dioxide, now deserve to be given closer consideration by ministers, even if they are unpopular with voters, the report says.

New nuclear power stations in countries such as France have played a major role in reducing carbon dioxide levels over the past two decades, it adds. But reliance on renewables and energy efficiency measures “is not a proven or reliable way of making big carbon dioxide reductions”.

Carbon dioxide pumped out by road traffic, industry and power stations that use irreplaceable fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, is a major contributor to global warming and plays a part in accelerating dangerous climate change around the world, claim campaigners.

The Scottish Executive is hoping to cut emissions by producing more than one third of the country’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Within 15 years, it is planning to have 2,500 turbines in operation compared with 330 now, enabling conventional power stations to be closed.

The Oxford research gives fresh ammunition to community groups fighting the rapidly increasing number of wind farm projects throughout Scotland.

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