As a small country, Scotland doesn’t often get the chance to host events that shape global politics. Next year, however, it will be the venue for one of the most important ever international gatherings.

The COP26 conference at the SEC in Glasgow will prove to be instrumental in the fight against climate change. Set to be the most important meeting on the subject since the 2015 Paris agreement, it is expected to attract some 30,000 delegates. Hosting this event provides Scotland with an unprecedented opportunity to promote its own green credentials and the opportunities it can offer to all the nations, companies and organisations around the world working to secure a non-carbon future.

One of the most important messages this country has to convey to the world’s green movement is that addressing climate change is not just a moral and political imperative, but that it offers economic opportunities too. The countdown to COP26 is about to begin. On November 3, The Herald will be partnering with Scotland’s Innovation Centres in organising a one day virtual conference exploring how Scottish businesses can collaborate together and respond in the run up to the gathering.

High profile speakers will include Peter Lacy of Accenture Strategy, a recognised authority on sustainable prosperity and the circular economy, and Kate Raworth from the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute. Alongside the plenary, there will also be sessions covering subjects such as the built environment, energy, food production and land use, health and wellbeing, transport and sustainable industrial processes. Topics for discussion will include innovation for climate change, inclusive economic growth, culture change around climate action and the achievement of national net zero targets.

One of the main organisers of the event is Martin Valenti, who is Head of Climate Enterprise at Scottish Enterprise. He believes that Scotland’s enlightened and imaginative approach to climate change offers huge prospects for the future of our economy, and that the forthcoming online conference will highlight this. “We are building a narrative around opportunity in working together to offer nature-based solutions. That is a key selling point for us,” he explains.

Scotland is already an acknowledged global leader in the battle against climate change and has some of the world’s most ambitious targets. It has legally established a goal of achieving net-zero emissions of all greenhouse gases by 2045 – five years earlier than the UK date. “The COP26 event will have representatives of 194 countries attending. That gives us a unique opportunity to have our voice heard in the world,” Martin Valenti adds. “We can show that while we are a small country, we have huge ambition and great capabilities. It will act as a showcase for what we can offer.” Our ability to be a leader in the climate change battle is heavily rooted in our historic spirit of innovation and enterprise, but it goes beyond that.

When it comes to carbon reduction, we also have huge advantages in geology and geography – with our peatlands, for instance, acting as a carbon sink. And as one of the windiest places in Europe, Scotland is an ideal location for both onshore and offshore wind farms alongside tidal energy. “Scotland also has an advantage in that its people are very solution-focused. We have experience in a range of areas such as low carbon technologies, hydrogen and geothermal. The COP26 event will give us the opportunity to talk about what we are capable of and to show that we are pioneers.” Valenti does not see Scotland’s legacy of global excellence in fossil fuel extraction and particularly in North Sea oil and gas as compromising this message, but rather as enhancing it. The skills and experience as a world hub in this sector are transferable into the new green economy, he argues.

“We need to have a just transition and make sure that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. “To suddenly abandon oil and gas would cause significant social, economic and environmental problems. You only have to look at the coal sector to see how that happened. “We have to ensure that we harness our skills, infrastructure and entrepreneurial spirit to ensure that we do this properly. There needs to be a phased transition between fossil fuels and green energy.” He continues: “Our determination to address climate change is supported by all the political parties here, but some other countries do have more ambitious net zero goals than Scotland does.” That, he adds, is why 2045 should be seen as what it is – a target. We may be able to work at, and succeed in, doing better.

“The Scottish Government recently outlined its Programme for Government that had a green economic focus at its heart including investment in green jobs, low carbon heating, energy transition and decarbonisation of manufacturing – this is what will set Scotland apart.” November’s one-day online event aims to encourage collaboration across areas such as business, industry, academia and the public sector to drive Scotland’s emerging position as a climate change exemplar.

“We need to come together – to find a way to harness all the expertise we have, including in sectors such as chemical, whisky and the creative industries, to create a coordinated approach and build a coalition of the willing.” Central to this will be Scotland’s network of seven innovation centres. Launched in 2012, these include CENSIS, the centre for sensing, imaging and internet of things technologies; The Data Lab, for data and artificial intelligence; and the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre.

They share a mission of accelerating advances in technology by forging new collaborations across service delivery, businesses and the research community. The aim is to create jobs and support inclusive growth. “We need to be able to work together in a faster, bigger and bolder way than anyone else”, Martin Valenti says. “This is about leadership. We need to be better at identifying good ideas, putting the innovation behind them and getting projects up and running.

“This is a race to zero and we have to be in on that. This event is our starting point. We want this conference to promote the resource that is available in Scotland, including in our innovation centres, in order to develop fantastic ideas. “It’s also about bringing in the regulatory and economic agencies to create the right strategic framework for businesses and communities in Scotland that want to do the right thing and to do it quickly.” Valenti says he is hugely excited at what can be done, and Scotland’s businesses should be too. “We really can make the climate emergency into a climate opportunity, and we absolutely should get out there and do it.”

The event takes place on Tuesday, November 3rd 2020, is free to attend, and will be accessible online.