CO-OPERATION and collaboration. They were the words that insistently reverberated throughout Scotland’s Countdown to COP26, a virtual conference convened yesterday by The Herald and hosted by Scotland’s Innovation Centres.
For the first time, the UK had been due to host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties this year in Glasgow – and while there has been understandable disappointment at the delay as the Covid-19 crisis placed public health at the top of the agenda, more than 2,350 people were enthused with a passion for climate change and a clean, green, sustainable economy.
Beyond Glasgow the theme was that of international co-operation, the kind we need to achieve collective wins for business, society and citizens. Co-operation that, said Ian Marchant, CEO of Dunelm Energy and chairman of Scotland’s 2020 Climate Group, must be combined with individual ideas: “Every single person needs to think about how they respond the challenge,” he said.
“Every person and every sector needs to be courageous because while there are significant challenges we can learn from our failures – and that’s OK.”
Dr Martin Valenti, head of Climate Enterprise at Scottish Enterprise and chairman of the conference, underlined that: “Of course there’s a climate of uncertainty at the moment but today’s event is about innovation, collaboration and – key to that – engagement.” He also pointed to the positives: “In the decade from 2008 to 2018, Scotland cut emissions faster than in any country.”
And in desperate times we need to accentuate this message. “We have to reinstate a feeling of optimism among our youth because they are a major part of the solution,” said Mr Valenti.
Kate Raworth, a much-admired economist and author of Doughnut Economics, asked: “Who do we want to be when the world comes to the UK, and come specifically to Glasgow?”
She was looking to ambitious cities everywhere in the world to answer that question: “How can our city be a home to thriving people in a thriving place while respecting the wellbeing of all people and the health of the whole planet? It’s going to look different in Stockholm, Rio and Dar es Salaam.
“What would it mean for cities to respect the health of the whole planet, the people in those supply chains, the people who grow and pick and pack our fruit, who stitch and sew the clothes we wear, who ship the products we buy and who assemble the electronics we use.”
Ms Raworth, who received a “virtual standing ovation” from many delegates, said: “We cannot overshoot that ecological ceiling, the outer rim of the doughnut, because there we put so much pressure on this delicately-balanced, life-giving planet. We’re causing climate breakdown, we acidify the oceans, we’re creating a hole in the ozone layer and destroying the web of life and biodiversity”.
Peter Lacy, chief responsibility officer and global sustainability services lead at Accenture, emphasised that this is time to focus minds on the “incredible opportunity that there is for Glasgow and also for Scotland, to take advantage of this unique moment and change it for the decade to come”.
He reiterated: “That will take collaboration across the private and public sectors in coalitions to think about the scale of that opportunity.
“Which is one that involves around 20 disruptive technologies involving science and engineering breakthroughs in physical, digital and biological technologies that enable us to change our relationship with the economic output and benefit and products and services with the natural environment.”
Another speaker was Councillor Susan Aitken, leader of Glasgow City Council, who stressed that it was important for citizens of the city to get something out of COP26. She agreed that people had to adopt new attitudes in the fight against climate change but said that she would feel “uncomfortable” asking those living in poverty to change their behaviours.
Afterwards, in a session chaired by social entrepreneur Dr Poonam Malik, a board member of Scottish Enterprise, the CEOs of Scotland’s seven Innovation Centres were given the opportunity to highlight their key learnings from the day and some of the most thought-provoking issues.
While collaboration emerged overwhelmingly as the way forward in tackling climate change, Dr Malik said: “There is an opportunity for us to start the dialogue, and take the steps and practical action to plan the year ahead – for citizens, it is an opportunity to hold leaders accountable for their actions.
“Scotland is an innovative nation and can lead from the front but do we have the courage to be bold and do we dare to dream big? Climate action is a collective responsibility – we must join hands and minds as we strive to change attitudes and behaviours.”
Dr Malik asked the CEOs how collaboration can achieve national net-zero targets. George Crooks, CEO of the Digital Health & Care Innovation Centre, said that the adoption of innovation often came during a crisis.
Digital technology, he said, had enabled millions of miles of travel to be saved by the NHS during Covid. It had also enabled patients’ health and care to be delivered to patients at home as part of a collaboration. Pointing out that digital technology is ubiquitous, Mr Crooks added that it could be used to personalise health services in the future by monitoring people in their own homes. “By keeping people at home and in their own communities we can reduce costs,” he said.
Highlighting that Scotland has the best natural resources in the world, Dr Malik ask Heather Jones, CEO of the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Agency, for her views on collaboration. “Food supply kept flowing around the country during Covid and that is testament to Scotland’s supply chains,” said Ms Jones.
“But food production is complex. There are many ways we can reduce carbon in the supply chain and much of that is dependent on Government and food producers.”