Comment: Chemical sector has expertise to help save world
As A Scot now working and living in Switzerland I take a great interest in how Scotland can best adapt to the challenges we tackle at the World Economic Forum.
Our brief is to improve the state of the world by engaging business, political and academic leaders to shape global, regional and industry agendas. Economic recovery is one priority.
So what role can Scotland play? The forum’s annual Global Competitiveness Report showed the UK had risen from tenth to eighth place in terms of global competitiveness. Recent research by Ernst & Young also showed Scotland generated more jobs last year through foreign direct investment than any other part of the UK.
This is where Scotland can play to her strengths: by casting the economic net more globally. We all know that whisky is the nation’s biggest export but less well known is the role played by a dynamic chemicals sector which is Scotland’s second highest exporter.
There are some 200 chemicals companies based in Scotland that generate £3 billion in exports, with industry leadership group Chemical Sciences Scotland aiming to grow this figure by 50 per cent by 2020.
How realistic is this ambitious target? Well, the good news for Scotland is that growth in this area chimes with much of the work we undertake at the forum.
Chemical sciences offer a real alternative to our dwindling fossil fuels. In the developing world, five billion people aspire to developed-country lifestyles. Fossil fuel-based energy production consumes immense amounts of water and creates intense air pollution. Addressing that water-food-energy nexus is critical for the planet and society’s development.
Likewise we can harness the natural ability of cells to produce useful chemicals, fuels and polymers from renewable and waste biomass for food and fuels. The capacity of cells, such as a metabolically engineered strain of E.coli, can be optimised to achieve efficient production. Chemical sciences provide solutions and Scotland has the right formula to play its part in overcoming our global energy challenges.
• Andrew Hagan is head of Chemical Industries at the World Economic Forum.
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