UK Energy Minister: Scotland has chance of a lifetime on green energy

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The need to tackle climate change has never been more stark, but there are also huge economic opportunities, particularly for Scotland, writes UK Energy Minister Claire Perry.

Scotland is the UK’s heartland when it comes to energy generation, helping to keep the lights on by exporting as much as 20 per cent of its electricity to the rest of the country while boosting the economy.

Part of the base of one of the world's most powerful wind turbines is seen in Peterhead harbour ahead of its installation in the North Sea (Picture: TVP Multimedia and Film/PA)

Part of the base of one of the world's most powerful wind turbines is seen in Peterhead harbour ahead of its installation in the North Sea (Picture: TVP Multimedia and Film/PA)

From James Clerk Maxwell, a notable 19th century Scottish scientist who pioneered power generation, to the thousands of jobs supported by the North Sea oil and gas industry and the recent rapid expansion of wind power, Scotland’s energy revolution has come full circle. Now, clean growth is unlocking even more opportunities for Scotland, making it a true British success story.

We are a world leader when it comes to clean growth, cutting emissions by more than 40 per cent since 1990 and with almost 400,000 people working in low-carbon businesses and their supply chains, from the innovators creating better, more efficient batteries to the factories putting them in less polluting cars. The UK has paved the way with our Climate Change Act and we have led the G7 in cutting emissions and growing our economy on a per-person basis.

More recently, the Committee on Climate Change described Scotland as leading the rest of the UK when it comes to slashing carbon emissions as quick progress has been made in switching to clean energy. In 2016, 43 per cent of Scotland’s electricity was generated from renewables – the single largest source of energy closely followed by nuclear.

But more can be and should be done. Just last week a group of expert climate scientists warned governments around the world that more action is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid devastating risks to health and global prosperity. I welcomed the strong scientific analysis behind the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Its stark and sober conclusions hammered home that we, as policymakers, need to work together to accelerate the low-carbon transition and minimise the costs and misery of a rapidly warming world.

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That’s why yesterday I asked independent climate experts to consider whether now is the right time to set a date for a net zero-emissions target. But making our climate change targets more ambitious could also be one of the biggest industrial opportunities of our time.

Everyone recognises this is one of the greatest challenges of our generation and businesses are already stepping up to the mark to play their part in a move to clean growth. For example, power company SSE is making a huge difference by investing in and providing clean energy.

We want businesses and communities to play their part and rise to the task which is why yesterday we launched Green GB & NI Week and asked companies and communities from the Outer Hebrides to Edinburgh to act on climate change. Events will be taking place across the UK to showcase the new low-carbon technologies, innovative financial products and business models that will help us tackle this global challenge, while generating economic growth.

These economic opportunities are only getting bigger. The low-carbon economy could grow by up to 11 per cent a year up to 2030 – four times faster than the rest of the economy. If we’re at the top of our game, we could see the UK export £170 billion worth of goods and services as we become a global go-to for low-carbon technology and expertise.

We’re creating the right conditions to ensure businesses can seize those opportunities through our modern Industrial Strategy. Our world-leading Clean Growth Strategy sets out how we’re investing more than £2.5 billion in low-carbon innovation as part of the largest increase in public spending on science, research and innovation in over three decades. We’ve also earmarked more than £500 million for emerging renewable technologies to give developers the certainty they need to invest while driving down costs for consumers.

READ MORE: Lesley Riddoch: Scotland can lead the way on climate change if it acts now

We’re laying the groundwork for energy infrastructure of the future, launching a £320 million fund for low-carbon heating for cities, introducing proposals for new laws for smart-energy appliances like washing machines and electric heating and setting the foundations for a smarter clean electricity system with the ambition of making all new buildings smart by 2030. In 2019, we will launch a competition to design a house fit for 2030, more energy efficient, with quality affordable design and easily adaptable to help healthy ageing.

The week will see more than 100 events hosted around the country which are designed to promote the opportunities that come from clean growth and raise awareness of how businesses and the public can contribute to tackling climate change.

Polling commissioned for Green GB Week revealed 60 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds are interested in ‘green collar’ jobs in the environmental sectors of the economy, the equivalent of more than three million young people in the UK. When asked why they wanted to pursue a career in the green economy, two-thirds said it was because they wanted to help tackle climate change; however, 70 per cent of those surveyed underestimated the number of jobs which could be created in the sector.

There are opportunities for clean-growth innovation wherever you look, whether it’s becoming a global leader in developing technology to capture carbon from burning fossil fuels or installing the world’s most powerful wind turbine off the coast of Aberdeen.

The case for tackling climate change is more stark than ever before. This Green GB Week, we need everyone – the Government, businesses and communities – to renew their efforts to confront this global challenge head on, while seizing one of the greatest industrial opportunities of our time.