Don't assume carbon emissions are somebody else's problem
Published in The Scotsman, Wednesday, 17 September 2008
When the Scottish Climate Bill is passed into law in Spring 2009, the Scottish Parliament will, arguably, have its finest green hour. The signal this will send, worldwide and at home, about the country's green intentions and ambitions, will be a striking call to action. However, the real work in getting the show on the road, will then start in earnest, and we will all need to play our part.
Delivering this level of change in such a short time will need action at all levels, including government, businesses, the public sector and individuals. Planning laws will need revision, skills of workforces considered, incentives and policy changes implemented.
The simplest, cheapest, most obvious place to start is energy, with almost 10% of the country's carbon footprint easily reducible this way.
A mix of technologies is inevitable in Scotland, and the balance will shift as they develop. Onshore wind will play the greatest short-term role, with offshore farms having great potential, once grid connections are made and hardware designed to cope with the harsh conditions. Wave and tidal power, facing the same challenges, should flourish in a decade or so.
Biomass will have a role to play in providing heat, and electricity too, through Combined Heat and Power. Calls are getting louder, from some quarters, for domestic waste to be burned to achieve the same ends.
Hydrogen offers intriguing potential - as a fuel, it could capture and store energy from renewable resources, and provide power for remote and off grid Highland communities. Further, micro technologies, such as solar and wind, will play a small but significantly increasing role as developers meet tightening green standards. Then of course, there are technologies of the future, which our Universities are helping to design. Biofuels from algae, thin film solar panels, smart materials, wind powered vehicles, biodigesters for home waste - they could all transform our future.
However, regardless of renewable energy targets, with 30% of Scotland's electricity power generating capacity due to become obsolete by 2020, and 70% in 20 years time, more conventional power is inevitably part of the mix. Regardless of our renewable energy ambitions, nuclear, gas and coal, will play a part, and remain on our shores for some time to come.
The creation of a financial market for carbon has the potential to change the world for the better. Taken to its logical conclusion, in a 'perfect carbon economy', every transaction, product, service, development decision, will be made with climate change taken into account. The 'invisible green hand' of the realigned economic system will incentivise low-carbon innovation and responses, and send money to developing countries. The Stern Report of 2006, identifies climate change the greatest market failure ever seen - and predicted the cost of inaction as up to 20% of global GDP - with the cost of tackling it at 1% of GDP. Carbon markets readdress the balance.
With our major banks involved to varying degrees in creating this transformation, and a handful of consultancies and niche players, Scotland has a toehold in the emerging carbon market. The Carbon Reduction Commitment will soon require hundreds of Scottish businesses, Local Authorities and organisations to account for their carbon.
What is striking, is how many of the country's major businesses, across sectors, including food, drink, banking and law, have a strong vision and are taking decisive action - they now see climate change and carbon management as one of their defining corporate issues. Networks are well-established, including forward-looking membership organisations, Business in the Community and the Business Council for Sustainable Development. A group of high-level business leaders are showing others what's possible, through the Climate Change Business Delivery Group.
Examples of great practice include Kingdom Shopping Centre in Glenrothes has reduced gas consumption by 60%, and distributed 5,000 jute bags to its customers. Macphie of Glenbervie, a food company, is building a biomass boiler on site and using the story to educate local school-children. ScotAsh, an environmental award winning business, supplies thousands of tonnes of recycled fuel ash, avoiding the mining of raw materials and emissions of CO2.
The Scottish knowledge economy is making an impression too. Climate-focused niche players, pioneers in the low-carbon arena, include The Edinburgh Centre For Carbon Management - which has given advice from international climate negotiations to zero-carbon homes - and Plan Vivo - which helps channel carbon money to communities in developing countries, including Mexico and India.
Alan Simpson, Partner in law firm, HBJ Gateley Wareing, sums up the rationale for which our featured businesses, and many others in Scotland, are acting, 'A two-tier market is developing, with those who embrace the sustainability and the opportunities it will create standing to gain in the long-term. In future these businesses may be taxed differently. We are moving into a carbon-constrained world, where accounting for carbon will soon be as important as accounting for money.'
Yet take a step back and the big picture is blurred. No information is available, publicly, on how businesses are doing as a whole. It would serve the interests of businesses, government and the general public, to have regular, public, reporting of carbon footprints and strategies by Scottish businesses, in much the same way as the Carbon Disclosure Project has helped the world's leading investors.
As a whole, climate change is still not an empowering issue, difficult to relate to at a personal level, intangible, not immediately relevant nor local. But, as the environment shifts into the mainstream, with cultural leaders, product designers, executives and marketers, taking the issue to heart, this is changing. At some point, it is predicted, we will reach a consumer 'tipping point' - when the laws, clean technologies, life cycle thinking, communication, and of course, the changing climate, create a momentum all of its own. What is needed, to lubricate the wheels of change, is more belief, more optimism, better communication. A number of supporting organisations have advice on grants, free assistance and good examples of what works.
Scotland's potential, in terms of clean technology, manufacture, investment, carbon trading and green products, is huge. With a bit of effort from each of us to decarbonise our businesses, organisations, homes and shopping baskets, we can make sure that Scotland remains where it deserves to be - a climate leader.