Connecting Business – Growing Opportunities

Achieving Scotland Net Zero: Expert Q&A on Strategies and Challenges

As the world faces the pressing issue of climate change, Scotland has set ambitious targets to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2045. In our insightful Q&A session, with Ramboll, a global architecture, engineering, and consultancy company specialising in sustainable solutions, we explore the practical strategies, potential challenges, and significant opportunities tied to Scotland's Net Zero initiative. This discussion with Stefanie O'Gorman, Director of Sustainable Economics, offers valuable perspectives on the essential steps for reducing carbon footprints, the growing role of renewable energy, and the broader impact on various sectors.

The Scottish Government have said they are halfway to Net Zero. With 50% still to go, what are your thoughts on the progress so far and where do we have to go? 

Scotland’s progress towards Net Zero so far represents a significant shift and demonstrates positive action and leadership. The Scottish Government’s commitment to reducing emissions, through policies and initiatives supporting renewable energies like onshore and offshore wind, has been particularly important in reaching the current halfway mark to Net Zero. However, the remaining 50% presents substantial challenges, including large-scale infrastructure changes, workforce challenges, supply chain bottlenecks, and the need for significant behavioural shifts across sectors and communities. Additionally, while Scotland’s potential for renewable energy generation is strong, to bridge the gap for Net Zero the nation must confront hard-to-decarbonise sectors like heavy industry, transport, and domestic heat – while wrestling with an economy which lacks a large manufacturing base crucial for many of these sectors. Addressing these challenges will require significant investment, as well as an effective policy strategy which builds on Scotland’s strengths while remaining cognisant of its weaknesses. 

What are the main economic opportunities that Scotland aims to maximise through the net zero transition? 

Our report identifies several opportunities which Scotland can both capitalise on and benefit from as it aims to bridge the gap to Net Zero. Several sectors are poised for significant growth, creating substantial economic growth, job creation, and gross value added (GVA) domestically, especially in the period over which the additional renewable energy capacity is rolled out up to around 2035. Internationally there are also opportunities from growth net zero markets, particularly in service exports where Scotland has a strong presence to build upon. Numerous sectors such as hydrogen and low carbon fuels are experiencing international demand, presenting Scotland with the prospect of securing a considerable share in these markets if the right supporting actions are taken early enough. For example, if Scotland were to build hydrogen pipelines to mainland Europe and establishes a hydrogen sector, it has the theoretical ability to supply 10% of Europe’s future hydrogen demand. Scotland's strong position in sustainable financial services, coupled with existing expertise and an established international presence, offers further potential for capturing a sizable share of the growing market for sustainable financial products and services globally. 

In your opinion, can Scotland maintain its leading position in climate policy despite the 2030 goal being pushed back by 15 years? Have we lost momentum, or are there opportunities to regain and strengthen our leadership in this area? 

There can be no doubt that the announcement to scrap the 2030 emissions reduction target by the Scottish Government represents a substantial set back in Scotland’s climate ambition and reputation.   Even though the 2030 target was always very ambitious, the Scottish Government’s ambition was widely commended. But ambition is nothing without action. The evidence suggests that Scotland’s progress on climate action is frustrated by a combination of delay in policy development, slow decision-making and a lack of policy implementation. 

That said, Scotland retains many key strengths in this area and for me, its these that we need to focus on. Strengths identified in our report encompass a wealth of diverse natural capital, strategic oil and gas infrastructure (which holds the potential for skills and infrastructure transfer to net zero industries), innovative companies, a highly skills workforce that can deliver on international as well as domestic projects, a supportive policy environment, and, in principle, government backing despite the recent pushback.  

Notably, the general expectation among stakeholders engaged throughout our project is that both domestic and international demand for services related to achieving net zero objectives will experience significant and sustained growth – a trend which complements Scotland’s economic profile and sets the nation up for success. 

What are your thoughts on the uncertainty surrounding the hydrogen sector? Is hydrogen worth investing in as a source of energy? 

The hydrogen sector presents a dichotomy of opportunity and uncertainty, but Scotland is better placed than most to benefit from what has the potential to be a lucrative industry. Scotland’s abundant wind resources ensure access to the substantial renewable energy supply needed to produce green hydrogen at scale, and its geographical position underpins its export potential. Additionally, Scotland has established infrastructure from the oil and gas sector along with a skilled workforce, both of which are transferable to meet the demands of the evolving hydrogen landscape.  

Nonetheless, it must be recognised that both blue and green hydrogen are in early stages of development globally, and a critical near-term challenge is the lack of domestic demand (from industry, transport or buildings), which means the sector is reliant on export orders to grow. Fostering domestic demand is vital for initiating and sustaining growth in the hydrogen sector. However, this will need to be combined with infrastructure investment to overcome challenges like the absence of electrolyser production if Scotland is to attract producers and realise the sector’s potential jobs, GVA and export potential. 

You have witnessed a great progression in climate policy – what do you think was the key driving factor for the shift in climate policy and attitudes in the cultural zeitgeist? 

I don’t think any one factor has driven the shift in climate policy and cultural attitudes. Increased public awareness, growing and irrefutable scientific evidence of climate impacts, and advocacy from environmental groups have all played a role, amplifying media coverage of climate-related events and steering public discourse. Moreover, the ratification of international agreements, such as the Paris Agreement, has necessitated policy changes at national and local levels. The business sector's recognition of the economic implications of climate change and the opportunities presented by a green economy has further propelled the shift. Technological innovation, driven both by startups and established players, has also been pivotal in providing practical alternatives to carbon-intensive practices. I think all of these have contributed to building the economic, social and environmental cases for the Net Zero transition.  

But fundamentally, the demand for action has come because of greater and more widespread education (across demographic groups, sectors and industries) on the implications of inaction. This I think has been the game changer. 

From your experience in sustainable economics, would you be able to give our members some tips for a sustainable business practice? 

Now more than ever, it’s not enough to think about sustainable business practices purely in terms of reducing carbon emissions. A sustainable mindset needs to consider a whole suite of considerations, from climate change mitigation (reducing emissions) and adaptation (improving resilience) to biodiversity impacts and circular economy principles. Further, there are significant social and governance aspects to sustainability which are now really driving investment flows. The Scottish Government has also been vocal at emphasising that the transition to Net Zero needs to be a Just Transition which leaves no one behind.  

So, there’s no one correct path to sustainability, but businesses looking to adopt a sustainable mindset should look across their supply chains to see how they impact and depend on the environment and society in those places, and then prioritise efforts, investments and partnerships accordingly. A strategic approach could include setting measurable sustainability goals, reporting transparently on progress, and continually seeking innovative practices that enhance both environmental and economic performance.

A huge thank you to Stephanie and the team at Ramboll for sharing their insights. If you're passionate about sustainability and energy, join Causeway to connect with experts and be part of the conversation driving a greener future. Together, we can make a difference. 

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