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What Cop26 means for climate tech
Openreach chief executive Clive Selley introduces Freya Baillie, four, to a new generation of electric vans at Cop26. Supplied/Openreach
COP26

What Cop26 means for climate tech 

Was Glasgow all hot air? Or an important milestone on road to net zero? We look at the commitments on green transport, technology and finance

Some have heralded Cop26 a great success, while others – a young Swedish climate change activist springs to mind – have dismissed it as nothing more than “blah blah blah”.

Though it is up for debate whether they go far enough to reach global net zero before it too late, a
number of encouraging commitments were made at the UN climate summit in Glasgow last month.

They include a pledge from 137 countries to end deforestation by 2030, a promise from 100 countries to reduce global methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030, and an agreement from 190 countries to phase down coal power.

When it comes to climate tech – digital technologies that address the impact of climate change – several key breakthroughs were made, a major one being the Declaration on Accelerating the Transition to 100 per cent Zero Emission Cars and Vans.

This saw over 35 countries, six major vehicle manufacturers, 43 cities, states and regions, 28 fleet
owners and 15 financial institutions, vow to phase out polluting vehicles by 2040 globally and by
2035 in leading markets.

Telecoms company Openreach – whose 28,000-strong fleet is the second largest in the UK – was
among those to sign the agreement.

This is significant. Scottish Government statistics show that domestic transport is the “leading
emitter” in Scotland and has seen little improvement over the last two decades, with a decrease of just 11.3 per cent in emissions between 1990 and 2019.

The ambition to “green” transport was clear at the conference when delegates were given the opportunity to tour the UK’s first hydrogenfuelled train, Hydroflex, which was on show at Glasgow Central Station.

The demonstrator vehicle has been developed by leasing firm Porterbrook and Birmingham University.

Hydroflex, Britain’s first hydrogen fuelled train, was also shown to Cop26 delegates. Supplied/University of Birmingham

Another key outcome of Cop26 is the Breakthrough Agenda, which more than 40 countries have joined to help scale the development and deployment of green solutions.

It will aim to make clean technologies and sustainable solutions the “most affordable, accessible and attractive option” in all key sectors globally before 2030, with a focus on clean energy, zero-emission transport, green steel, hydrogen and sustainable agriculture.

Cop26 also saw 450 financial companies from across 45 countries join the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ), which aims to accelerate the financial sector’s transition to net zero using “science-based guidelines”

The coalition, chaired by Mark Carney, former governor of the Bank of England, saw all members
commit to reshape their business models and advocate for policy that fosters innovation and investment. Another significant development for climate tech at Cop26 was the International Aviation Climate Ambition Coalition, which has been joined by 23 countries, including the UK, US and Canada.

The new union has committed to work alongside the aviation industry to accelerate its reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, support the development and adoption of sustainable aviation fuels and back the development of new net zero climate technologies.

Cop26 also provided an opportunity for industry leaders to come together to discuss some of the issues facing Scotland’s emerging climate tech sector.

At a climate tech event hosted by tech trade body ScotlandIS in partnership with the Scottish Council for Development and Industry and Scottish Enterprise, delegates heard that collaboration across the climate tech ecosystem is “fundamental” if Scotland is to achieve its net zero targets by 2045.

Benjamin Combes, director of net zero and strategy at professional services network Deloitte, said: “No-one really knows exactly how they are going to get to net zero. “What people do know is that there are various things across different sectors that they feel they need to do and there are roadmaps and trajectories, but no-one can hand on heart say ‘we will 100 per cent get there’, because it’s reliant on an ecosystem. And in a way, that’s good news, because it means we need to work together.”

He also pointed to the importance of mobilising finance in the climate tech sector. “We’ve had
two years of people setting aspirations and net zero targets, which is fantastic. But what we need to see now is action, and action requires investment.

“If someone comes up with a great idea – how do we fund the structural change? How do we fund
the structural transformation? It’s something that is very challenging, but there is no doubt in my mind that we need more investment for returns further down the line.”

Carolyn Hogg, founder of greywater solutions company Cascade Water Products, shed light on the
investment issues faced by climate tech firms in Scotland.

She told the audience the scalability journey for startups is a “valley of death” where there is “a lack of funding and support”.

This is just one of the challenges for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) attempting to
decarbonise.

Responding to an audience member who pointed out that 30 per cent of SMEs do not have a net-zero strategy, Sarah Middlemiss, chief operating officer of sustainability reporting software company Ecometrica, said: “What we’re trying to do is make sustainability reporting on software as easy as financial accounting.

“I think you have to lower the barrier to entry for SMEs and do a bit of hand holding…. Making
it easy and accessible in that first instance will then help them slowly set and meet those targets, and also help them get those contracts where it is a requirement to monitor processes.”

Darren Martin, chief technology officer at multinational engineering and consulting business Wood Group, agreed. “We must create the technology so that an SME can push the easy button.”

Pushing the “easy button” allows businesses effortlessly to track the emissions and expenses created by their employees, buildings, and vehicles, thus staying on track to meet net zero, he explained.

Combes also underlined the need to upskill entire workforces rapidly to adapt and respond to climate challenges.

He told delegates: “If your organisation has seen a digital transformation over the past decade, I would suggest you undergo a climate transformation over this decade, so you can be part of [the journey to net zero] because we all need to be part of this.

“It’s not about creating green jobs – although that is important,” he said. “We need green skills for
everyone.”

Marc Strathie, head of policy and research at ScotlandIS and chair of the expert panel, pointed out “just how quickly organisations were able to adapt digitally” during the pandemic. He said: “The good news is that organisations have proved they can pivot – they can be adaptable and flexible.”

Middlemiss highlighted the important role of the tech sector in helping to combat an environmental catastrophe. She said: “The tech sector is used to problem solving – that’s our bread and butter. We innovate, we invest in research and development, and we solve problems.”

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