Why we’re at a crossroads on the journey to net zero
The SCDI blueprint outlines opportunities for a collaborative green industrial revolution
The Scottish Council for Development and Industry’s 2030 Blueprint, Making a Good Living, with its positive outlook and ambition for, among other things, clean energy and decarbonisation, arrives at a critical point in Scotland’s journey to net zero.
Resilience needs to be built into our economic future and we need to work hard now to embrace a green recovery and create an environment for future generations that is fair and sustainable.
The net zero opportunity has to be part of that resilient future; it is an opportunity that all people and all sectors must seize, and this comes through loud and clear in the SCDI’s 10-year vision for Scotland.
Clean growth has to be integral to Scotland’s economic purpose. It is quite clear that for net zero emissions targets to be achieved the concept of collaboration has never been more important, which itself creates opportunities.
Making a Good Living quite rightly makes the point that our economic sectors are interdependent, and the proposals and recommendations it puts forward encourage cross-sectoral, cross-societal and cross-interest working. Such collaborative endeavour is imperative if we are to achieve the economic success that we so urgently need as we navigate our way out of the financial and social impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The blueprint rightly highlights Scotland’s many strengths, with natural resources featuring prominently. Our bountiful natural resources provide ample scope to make the most of renewable energy opportunities on land and in the water around our coastline. The imperative to get to net zero is enshrined in statute with the Scottish Government’s 2045 target for Scotland. However, to achieve this target, we must act now.
We should not assume that this is just about turbines in the water and on land. There is so much more to do. It is not just about the clean energy sector working to achieve these targets. To get to where we need to be we need every sector to work together.
As a country renowned the world over for innovation, ambition and world class teaching facilities, we need to harness our potential and establish Scotland as a global hub for purposeful business, clean energy and decarbonisation.
We must seize the opportunity, which will require UK Government, Scottish Government and a variety of sectors and businesses to work together to make Scotland a destination of choice for investment and innovation. The opportunities in this area are enormous, as is the investment required to fund development and deployment.
There is already plenty to do to achieve targets for onshore and offshore wind generation. However, these are just two of the many stepping stones on the path to net zero; we also need to decarbonise transport, carbon intensive industry and construction, to name a few, and one of our biggest challenges is the decarbonisation of certain sectors at pace and scale.
The blueprint’s vision of Scotland as a leading location where globally critical net zero solutions are developed and deployed is welcome and accurately reflects our potential. Scotland should be the location where new net zero solutions are supported and developed with a view to creating export opportunities in technology, products and skills.
Decarbonisation of the North Sea basin and development of the blue economy are great examples of areas on which we must focus, given our location. If we do this properly, then we can export the solutions we develop globally. If government, industry, education and finance work together (and there seems to be an appetite for them to do so), our ambition of becoming a global centre for excellence in net zero solutions is within reach, creating opportunities for jobs, for investment, for development of a thriving supply chain and for technological advancement across multiple sectors.
Of course, achieving net zero requires significant investment, which is why the financial sector is going to play a critical role, a point which is recognised by the Making a Good Living report. Green and/or sustainable financing is well recognised within the financial sector as being the way forward, and the concept of decision-making guided by Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) considerations is now firmly on board agendas.
Many institutions across the financial sector, from banks to pension funds, have embraced the concept of ethical and sustainable investment and there is well-established evidence of green investments performing better than their carbon intensive counterparts.
Nevertheless, there is still an investment gap, and if we are to achieve net zero we need to accelerate the development and deployment of financial solutions and structures to facilitate some of the new net zero technologies. As Making a Good Living acknowledges, Scotland is one of Europe’s leading financial centres and we have an opportunity to do something remarkable by establishing Scotland as a world leader in ethical, responsible and sustainable investment.
We are already taking steps to get there with the establishment of the Scottish National Investment Bank, which will help to lead the way, but imagine if we could reach a point where Scotland is not only lauded for its excellence in developing net zero solutions but also becomes the epicentre of sustainable investment, creating new structures and encouraging inward investment.
The significance of COP26, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow later this year, goes far beyond simply communicating the benefits of renewables; it represents a unique opportunity to forge a path to a new vision of a global, sustainable future.
We have reached a pivotal moment globally where every part of the economy and every citizen is affected, and the world is asking: “How do we come back from a global pandemic and do so sustainably? How do we look at our society and make the necessary changes?”
We are facing an enormous challenge involving all parts of our economy but it is a challenge that we should relish, as the prize for getting it right will benefit everyone. And, in tackling those challenges head on, we have the benefit of the influence, expertise and drive of multiple sectors looking at the same problem and asking collectively: “How do we work together to tackle this?”
This presents tremendous scope for collaboration, a theme that is woven throughout the Making a Good Living report. For us as a nation, COP26, which will be attended by world leaders, is a unique opportunity because the eyes of the world will be on us.
When you look at the history of the UK in terms of its ability to innovate, infrastructure and energy are great success stories – and collaboration was a central feature in both. We have led the way before and must do so again as a leader in the green industrial revolution.