Scotland's green resources must be exploited
Published in The Scotsman 8th November 2008
HERE'S an eco pub-quiz question: Which has the larger carbon footprint-a medium-sized Scottish city, or a Chinese paper mill?
The answer is the Chinese paper mill. More than two million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, in case you were wondering.
That staggering volume of polluting gas is enough to fill Murrayfield 1,500 times, or a hollow Arthur's Seat 15 times. The vast majority of the mill's emissions come from burning coal, over half a million tonnes of the stuff, every year.
This climate factoid is of more than a passing interest for Scotland. First of all, the company commissioned to undertake these calculations, ECCM, is based in Edinburgh - and part of an international group, Camco.
Secondly, it will be working with its Chinese partner to help the mill owners reduce its reliance on fossil fuels, shrinking the footprint in the process.
We may be importing our paper, and exporting our pollution in the process, but the good news is we are safeguarding jobs by exporting knowledge - and tackling climate change too.
It is critical for Scotland to look to similar knowledge-building and sharing in its quest for green-collar jobs, as the opportunities from renewable energy may not be as high as some hope.
An article in the Financial Times earlier this week suggested the Prime Minister's promise of 160,000 new UK jobs in the green sector is highly exaggerated, perhaps even double the real picture.
The current policy and financial frameworks are not sufficient to drive the levels of investment required, even less so in the current economic climate.
Many of the supposed renewable energy jobs are likely to be generated overseas, and some Scottish-developed technologies may not be appropriate for the big export markets.
Among advanced wind technologies, offshore turbines are more expensive than land-based equivalents. Offshore is an area of expertise, and hence a big hope, for Scottish firms, but high-energy consuming countries, such as the US and China, will opt for land-based turbines first, and are likely to favour their own manufacturers.
A representative of the turbine maker Clipper Windpower said the UK was unlikely to be able to tempt large established wind-turbine manufacturers to set up major operations and may have missed the boat. He went on to add that the UK was likely to be his biggest customer.
This could certainly be the case if the findings of a recent study are acted upon by government and industry. 'Offshore wind power: big challenge, big opportunity' commissioned by the Carbon Trust, concluded that the technology is one of the UK's greatest hopes in meeting its renewable energy targets. These goals, driven by Brussels, and agreed by Westminster, require a tenfold increase in UK renewable energy capacity by 2020.
The report states that urgent action will be required to create the necessary 29 gigawatts of energy - enough to power more than 18 million homes - to meet our targets. Current proposals in planning comprise a mere 8GW - less than a third of what is needed.
The Carbon Trust concludes that to deliver this level of offshore wind power, leadership must be shown, economic sites made available within environmental constraints and investment made in research and development (R&D), manufacturing and the grid. The prizes? Cost reductions of 40 per cent, 70,000 jobs in local industries and a secure energy supply.
We can be optimistic that events, far over the horizon will change the policy dynamic for green investment. Barack Obama promises to help create five million new green-collar jobs in the United States over the next ten years. Surely the UK can deliver on 160,000? The choice is simple. Invest in our R&D, jobs and energy security now, or pay Brussels a fine in 11 years and continue to beholden to increasingly unstable regimes.
Next year, the UK government will publish a strategy to attract more renewable energy manufacturers to the UK. Let us hope Scotland will be at the forefront of this policy, punching above its weight to be the green man of Europe.Charles Henderson