Still a long road ahead for Scotland in the race to net zero - Sara Gilmore

As the conversation around COP26 starts to dilute, leaders at Glasgow City Council are accelerating ambitions which will propel Glasgow to become a thriving, sustainable and future-proofed city. Residents are playing their own role in the effort, too, as they call for temporary measures implemented throughout COP26, such as improved public transport incentives, to become permanent.

Sara Gilmore is a Partner, Addleshaw Goddard
Sara Gilmore is a Partner, Addleshaw Goddard

​​​​Two weeks of gruelling negotiations between almost 200 countries concluded in a number of seismic agreements. This included – for the first time in the conference’s history – a comprehensive plan to reduce the use of coal, currently responsible for around one fifth of annual CO2 emissions.

With other pledges set to increase support for developing countries and the transition to clean energy and decarbonisation, we can all agree this will be a defining decade for the future of green power and sustainability.

There is still one elephant in the room: nuclear power. The controversial energy source was omitted from the COP26 agenda, with little reference made to it, even though the UN recently crowned nuclear power as the lowest carbon electricity source given its zero-emission clean energy status.

Despite this recognition, there is still widespread opposition from various nations to the use of nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuels. Though many figure heads deem it an essential means of achieving net zero carbon and energy security, the SNP has had a long-held opposition to the technology, restated two weeks ago in a speech by Nicola Sturgeon.

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Scotland is currently on a trajectory to decommission all its nuclear plants in the near future, with no plans to replace the current stock. As the most heavily reliant on nuclear power of any UK nation (around 24 per cent of all generation in 2019), the government has a particular set of challenges ahead in meeting net zero.

Thankfully, Scotland is geographically well-positioned to take on the challenge of transition to renewable energy, with an abundance of access to energy from wind and hydropower. Taking 97.4 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources last year, Scotland is now within the top three renewable-producing countries in Europe, according to data from Eurostat.

Electricity is only a part of the energy mix, of course (around a quarter), and we'll need to see much more progress in decarbonising commercial transport and heating systems. Green hydrogen seems like a promising solution, but is still a way off being developed, with a mass roll-out of the energy source possibly not being available for at least another decade. Another issue is that many of the country's wind farms will be coming to the end of their lifecycle soon and will need replacing.

If the government is serious about eliminating nuclear power completely from its energy mix, it will have to make even bolder commitments towards managing the transition, including unlocking funding for underdeveloped but essential technologies such as carbon capture, utilisation and storage, to facilitate the decarbonisation of large-scale industrial plants. Further, as Chris Stark, CEO of the Committee on Climate Change acknowledged, Scotland must now move from the strategy stage to the implementation stage of its zero-carbon plan.

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The Scottish Government has hit some impressive milestones in the race to net zero, but to keep 1.5 degrees alive, the country still has a long road ahead.

Sara Gilmore is a Partner, Addleshaw Goddard

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