A Dear Green Place – now and for the future

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In this month’s blog, I wanted to focus on sustainability and tell you about some of the exciting work we are progressing across the Region. Sustainability, and the climate emergency is something we hear about every day. Our economy is driving us beyond the safe boundaries of the planet, which will continue to impact on our lives and on those of our children. Left unaddressed, it has enormous social and economic implications. But addressing it is one of the greatest opportunities of the next decade. And embracing it can support our economic recovery from Covid and drive the long-term success and prosperity of the Region.

Glasgow City Region is recognised as a leading Region for sustainability. In November this year we will host COP26, – the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) climate change conference. This comes at the start of a decisive decade. In the next eight years, global emissions need to halve, whilst we build resilience to the unavoidable impacts of climate change. We owe it to current and future residents to deliver on that. As eyes are turning to Glasgow as host of COP26, we are ensuring our plans are worthy of a host City Region.

Glasgow of course means dear green place, and to live up to our namesake for future generations, we need to kick start a just and orderly transition to an inclusive, net zero and climate resilient economy. That transition – to an economy within planetary boundaries, with strong social foundations – offers so many economic, social and environmental benefits for the Region. It will bring new jobs in sectors needed for the transition, improved productivity, reduced business costs, and increased investor confidence, as well as wider benefits of cleaner air, improved health, reduced costs to the public sector to name a few.

What we mean by a net-zero, climate resilient economy?

Becoming net zero means balancing sources of emissions, and sinks, so that we don’t keep polluting the atmosphere with greenhouse gases. This means cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the Region, and also increasing the ability to store them, such as in trees or sinks.

On the sources side, a number of exciting projects are underway – such as our Housing Energy Retrofit programme. Here we are developing proposals for a ten-year £5 billion investment programme that would upgrade the insulation for all properties in the City Region that need it and explore the use of innovative renewable technologies to deliver clean energy. This project, which would be five time the size of our City Deal programme, would improve the quality of housing and deliver on our shared commitment to net zero carbon emissions.  We estimate it would support over 75,000 jobs and offer significant opportunities for local companies to grow in order to deliver this ambitious programme of work and through the supply chain opportunities. The project requires extensive investment and last month we appointed a team of expert consultants to undertake the feasibility study and work to set out a way forward – to be completed later in the year.

This together with other key projects such as our ambitions for a Glasgow Metro and new work underway to look at the feasibility of a Regional Electric Vehicle Charging network will help tackle the emissions from transport and the built environment. It’s by no means all that we need to do but it’s a strong start to a future decade.

On the sinks side, we also have ambitious plans, in the form of the Clyde Climate Forest. Launched earlier this month, with Mairi McAllan, Scottish Government Minister for Environment, Biodiversity and Land Reform, the project will deliver a new urban forest with 18 million trees. This is ten trees for every man, woman and child in Glasgow City Region. The project is being delivered as part of the Glasgow and Clyde Valley Green Network, with support from Green Action Trust, TCV, Glasgow City Region, Trees for Cities, Scottish Forestry and Woodland Trust Scotland. The project team are seeking involvement and investment from businesses, communities and individuals so I’d encourage you to consider how to get involved.

But despite stopping emissions, our climate will continue to change from historic emissions. This means the Region also faces higher temperatures, rising seas and more extreme weather. The recent Third UK Climate Change Risk Assessment shows Scotland is more unprepared for the climate crisis than five years ago. So, we have to adapt well, to protect people, communities and businesses from the worst impacts.

Fortunately, Glasgow City Region’s first Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan, to be formally launched later this month, sets out a comprehensive blueprint of how working with others, we will transform the Region so we flourish in our future climate. Developed by Climate Ready Clyde, colleagues at Sniffer, in partnership with EIT Climate-KIC, Creative Carbon Scotland and Paul Watkiss Associates, the Strategy and Action Plan was acknowledged by the Committee on Climate Change as one of the leading examples of how to address the risks of climate change in the UK. It is a first regional approach for Scotland and in fact the whole of the UK.

How we get there: the need for an orderly just transition, and how we pay for it…

Also crucial to this is how we undertake that transition. We need to make sure that the transition is just and orderly; designed with people and businesses, with a strong focus on those who will be disproportionately affected by the transition to climate change or its impacts; and planned to avoid the disorderly disruption from past economic transitions such as the decline of the shipbuilding industry. As a first step, Glasgow recently held a Just Transition Skills Seminar, an event which brought together the city’s universities, colleges and further educations organisations, with the academic and private sector to discuss the development of a ten-year skills plan for a ‘just transition’ to a greener economy. The seminar explored the skills required to support the transition, industry trends, gaps in skills provision and future opportunities. We need to consider the current curriculum in schools, colleges and universities and work out what it is we should be doing differently. Action here will be vital to Glasgow and the Region’s future competitiveness.

We will be building on the seminar in the coming months to consider wider issues, such as how we involve those most affected and the impacts of the transition across society.

Finally, whilst the low carbon, climate resilient transition will create long-term economic prosperity and jobs, the pace and scale of change required is unparalleled. It presents big questions about how and by whom it is funded and how we scale up to meet it head on and get it done.

To help us think this through, we have appointed a new Green Economy manager. Whilst it’s a daunting task, we’re starting to see that it’s not just possible but desirable. There are many examples of positive economic value being generated from societal goals such as the New Deal and the Apollo Mission, and fixing the O-Zone Layer. These large upfront investments by Government, in partnership with the private sector and communities, generated public support and prosperity for decades afterwards. Going forward, Glasgow City Region will need to willingly direct the Region’s economy. By focusing on the opportunity presented by the need for urgent action, we are well positioned to capture the opportunities and drive the prosperity for the decades ahead. We’ll be talking more about this in due course, but the next decade is shaping up to be truly transformational.

If you’re not already involved in some way or another, I’d call on you to consider how you can get stuck in – it will take us all.

Kevin Rush is Director of Regional Economic Growth at Glasgow City Region

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