Ivan McKee: Seize the initiative in climate change battle

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We all know the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst effects of climate change – that has been clear for a while now. What is becoming increasingly apparent is the extent to which this offers an economic opportunity for Scotland.

Being at the forefront of the global transition to carbon neutrality means Scottish businesses can attract investment and sell expertise, innovation and leadership. We are already seeing the benefits. In 2016, our low carbon and renewable energy sector supported 49,000 jobs and generated £11 billion in turnover.

The wind farm at Whitelee, Eaglesham. Picture: Ian Rutherford

The wind farm at Whitelee, Eaglesham. Picture: Ian Rutherford

The Scottish Government wants to build on that success, growing the economy and creating skilled jobs as part of our transition. By setting the world’s most ambitious climate change targets in law for 2020, 2030 and 2040, while at the same time doubling our business expenditure on research and development by 2025, the message from the Scottish Government is clear: we are growing the economy while simultaneously tackling climate change. This can, should and must be the case.

We want Scotland to benefit from the global markets for low-carbon goods and services and we are backing this mission with investment that will stimulate innovation and private investment. We recently published our Economic Action Plan, which recognises the huge opportunities for Scottish businesses associated with reducing demand for natural resources. Scotland’s abundant assets, together with our record in innovation, represent an opportunity to launch new competitive and innovative businesses that deliver carbon neutrality and sustainable economic growth.

For example, innovation was on show at the beginning of November when a number of new Scottish businesses were shortlisted at the Climate Launchpad Global Grand Final. A variety of business ideas were presented, ranging from Planet Heat’s water-source heat pumps to decarbonise domestic heating, Undisturbed’s innovative designs for bathroom consumer products and Crover’s remote device for real-time monitoring of bulk-stored cereals to significantly reduce waste. Innovative businesses are essential for meeting Scotland’s climate targets and also for moving to a carbon-neutral economy.

I am aware that the transition to carbon neutrality poses challenges as well as opportunities. These challenges featured in recent discussions Climate Change Secretary Roseanna Cunningham and I had with businesses, trade unions and local government. Poorly planned structural changes to our economy, as we witnessed in the 1980s, negatively impact individuals and communities: those scars have persisted for generations, and are, sadly, still visible in the communities I represent and across our country. I want Scotland to forge a bold new path that will ensure decarbonisation does not happen at the expense of our workforce and our communities. History cannot be allowed to repeat itself.

Our move to a carbon-neutral economy must be socially inclusive, deliver fair work and improve the life chances of our young people. The development of new and transferable skills will be essential. And we will continue to promote fairer working practices and protect workers’ rights.

To help achieve this, we are establishing a Just Transition Commission to provide ministers with practical advice on the way forward. The commission, chaired by Professor Jim Skea, will look at the opportunities and the challenges that achieving a carbon-neutral economy will bring, and will provide expert advice on planning, investing in and implementing a transition that promotes cohesion and equality.

Our ambitious Climate Change Plan, combined with our Economic Strategy, shows our commitment both to pave the way to a carbon-neutral economy and to continue to be a world leader in the social and technological innovations that will deliver a vibrant, inclusive and sustainable economy for Scotland.

Ivan McKee is Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation