Richard Cockburn: Scottish cluster fails to get on track

The world’s gaze has fallen firmly on Scotland this week with the launch of COP26 in Glasgow. Leaders of government and industry from across the globe have gathered in the city’s Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in a bid to tackle climate change and reverse existing environmental damage, while paving the way for a greener society for future generations.

Picture: Shutterstock
Picture: Shutterstock

It is apt that the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties should take place in a country that has committed itself to the implementation and innovation of sustainable energy in recent years. Scotland’s existing offshore operations infrastructure has given it the ideal foundation to pivot into being a green energy superpower.

Developments such as the multi-million-pound extension at Aberdeen Harbour, the rapid expansion of clean energy activities at Port of Cromarty Firth, and the announcement of a renewable energy hub at Port of Leith have bolstered Scotland’s standing as an international hub for energy transition.

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Scotland has also announced plans for its pioneering green ports. Similar to freeports in the rest of the UK, green ports will have an additional requirement for operators to meet – the so-called “Fair Work First” criteria – in order to further promote sustainable growth and investment.

Richard Cockburn

Given that the country has cultivated a culture of progress and productivity through its green endeavours, it was disappointing to see Scotland miss out on a Track One award in the UK Government’s carbon capture and storage (CCUS) cluster sequencing programme.

Priority instead was given to south of the Border projects, in Teesside, the Humber and the north-west, with an estimated 50,000 jobs to follow.

While this announcement was exciting news for the clusters in the north of England, it was a genuine shock that the Scottish cluster missed out. Like the north-east and north-west of England, Scotland has its development rooted in heavy industry and power, as well as oil and gas. The country had been considered a front runner, given its preparations to be ready to implement CCUS.

Despite this initial setback, further opportunities are still on the horizon. More clusters will be developed as part of Track Two and are yet to be announced. As the Scottish cluster was named as the reserve project for Track One, it is widely considered this will support its bid to be in Track Two, presenting a chance for Scotland to reap the rewards of its hard work to date.

When looking at energy transition more broadly, Scotland is playing a major part in the UK’s journey to net-zero, not least through rapid expansion of onshore and offshore wind farm capacity, among other clean energy technologies.

While the initial cluster announcement has been disappointing for Scotland, it is still a vitally important project which will have a big role to play in the ongoing journey to environmental sustainability.

Richard Cockburn is partner and head of energy at Womble Bond Dickinson