After three years of column inches filled with Brexit divisions, fractures and missteps, perhaps a healthy dose of consensus is exactly what the doctor ordered for our political leaders.
Put simply, the world needs to get a grip on climate change. From school strikes to the Extinction Rebellion, global protests have raised the right questions and shown that a lack of action will be catastrophic.
So, what should business do in response? Too often we’re seen as an obstacle to progress, but I say it’s time to take a lead. This could well be the defining challenge of our age, and it would be wrong for business to either sit on the side-lines or find itself on the wrong side of history. Fortunately, many are already rising to the challenge.
From colossal offshore wind turbines to electric vehicle batteries, they are the ones innovating the world away from fossil fuels by delivering the technology needed to cut carbon emissions.
Indeed, without business creating new technologies, there is no way we can stop global warming. But the problem also requires real solutions from governments, as well as changes to the way each of us lives our lives, right now.
As the country that first harnessed the power of hydrocarbons to drive the Industrial Revolution, the UK has a unique responsibility – and opportunity – to lead again. The first step to doing this is to be even bolder in our climate ambitions.
Tomorrow, the Committee on Climate Change will recommend to the UK and Scottish governments whether to raise the UK’s current target – to reduce emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 – to a net-zero emissions target.
We fully support a new target as a clear and bold response by government to people in every nation across the globe who are demanding immediate action.
The UK, and Scotland in particular, already have a strong track record for turning words into action. Since 1990, we have grown our economy by more than 60 per cent whilst cutting carbon emissions by more than 40 per cent.
In 2008, the UK was the first country to set legally binding targets to cut emissions and Scotland’s new Climate Change Bill sets out an ambitious immediate target of 90 per cent by 2050.
In Scotland last year, 98 per cent of electricity demand was met by wind turbine generation, and during Easter weekend the UK set a new 90-hour record for generating electricity without coal. We already have the world’s largest capacity of installed offshore windfarms, we’re developing new technologies to capture carbon, and are using our financial services sector to finance green and sustainable projects across the globe.
While we know more than ever about the negative effects of climate change, we also know more about the solutions – and the wealth of opportunities they offer. Onshore wind is among the cheapest of all energy sources and solar power continues to fall in price, while rapid advancements in battery technology mean that electric vehicles are surging in popularity.
It’s important to note that reaching a net-zero target is not just for the power sector. 50 per cent of the power sector is decarbonised thanks to energy efficiency measures and government support via subsidies for renewables. No other sectors have yet made such progress. However, a lot of low-carbon solutions for heavy emitting sectors such as heavy industry, heat and transport will be electricity-based and so a whole system approach is needed – using lessons from the power sector and implementing them elsewhere. We need cross-industry, cross-party and cross-government collaboration to make net-zero the centrepiece of future policy decisions.
The UK has another opportunity to demonstrate it is at the forefront of climate action by hosting the 2020 international climate change conference, COP26. We back the UK Government’s bid to host this critical meeting and to showcase the brilliant, home-grown new technologies and services that are helping drive this transition, demonstrating to the world that the UK is at the forefront of a new industrial revolution.
The scale of the challenge is significant. While shifting towards a zero-carbon future will not be cheap, it is the best-value investment we could make as a country in the long run. However, the costs of any transition cannot be borne by those least able to deal with them. Investing in new technologies must be shared fairly, between consumers, businesses, and government.
The world has reached a large and unavoidable crossroads on climate change. Tough decisions and leadership, from boardrooms to Cabinet tables, are needed. This is the “space race” of our times, the green race, to a better future. With Brexit seemingly ‘parked’ until October, perhaps it’s time to heed the lessons from younger generations. Greta Thunberg, Holly Gillibrand and the other school protesters are not prepared to quietly surrender our climate. Let’s use their voices as the inspiration we need to get on with making substantive and lasting contributions to tackling climate change – it’s a battle we simply can’t afford to lose.
Tracy Black is director of CBI Scotland