Clyde Life – May 2019

“People want economy and they will pay any price to get it.”  So said Lee Iacocca (automobile executive, Ford and Chrysler). Given the recent statistics that global temperatures have risen 1.8 degrees (1 degree Celsius) since the industrial age began and the statement by the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres that if we do not dramatically change the way we fuel factories, vehicles and homes it “would mean a catastrophic situation for the whole world”, it appears the price we are prepared to pay is our own planet. To facilitate our energy demands, travel requirements and fast food appetite at a price we find acceptable we are destroying our climate in all sorts of inventive ways. There is a global climate emergency and people across Scotland have been calling, rightly, for more ambition to tackle it and safeguard our planet for future generations. The Scottish Government amendments to the Climate Change Bill will set a legally binding target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 at the latest, with Scotland becoming carbon neutral by 2040. The existing targets proposed in the Bill were already world-leading. I am delighted that in response to calls from young people, scientists and businesses across the country, Scottish Ministers have adopted the advice of independent experts, the UK Climate Change Committee. This means that in addition to the net-zero target for 2045, Scotland will reduce emissions by 70% by 2030 and 90% by 2040 – the most ambitious statutory targets in the world for these years.

Scotland is in a fortunate situation, it has the opportunity to harvest natural clean renewable energy from land, sea and air but it will take massive financial investment. The World Wildlife Federation (WWF) says it is confident Scotland could end its climate emissions by 2045. It cites our “abundant renewable energy resource” and our “large land area suitable for carbon sinks” complemented by “our history of innovation and skilled workforce”.

Three years ago I wrote an article titled ‘The Island of Inverclyde’. It was designed to stimulate the idea that Inverclyde could be self sufficient in clean renewable energy by utilising wind, tide, forest and hydro amongst other renewable options. The idea came and went and three years later there is still little appetite to improve the situation locally. There are worthy exceptions but we are nowhere near utilising our local resources to anything like the levels we should be. But I still believe that as Scotland moves towards its ambitious net-zero target, Inverclyde could lead the way.

One source of low carbon heat is rivers. The River Clyde runs the entire length of Inverclyde. A district heating system, sourcing its power from the Clyde should be utilised in the fight to decarbonise Scotland. The technology already exists. An innovative project in Drammen, Norway uses a water source heat pump to take low-grade heat from the adjacent fjord and turn it into high-grade heat to supply heating for the 60,000-strong community. And the company behind it is based in Scotland. In the North of England the H21 project is a detailed engineering solution for converting 3.7 million homes and businesses from natural gas to hydrogen. This blueprint sets out to lead the way in reducing CO2 emissions. Converting the UK gas grid to hydrogen has the ability to provide “deep decarbonisation” of heat, as well as transport and power generation, with minimal disruption to customers. H21 North of England report proposes conversion will begin in 2028, with expansion across 3.7 million properties in Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, York, Huddersfield, Hull, Liverpool, Manchester, Teeside and Newcastle over the following seven years. In Italy they are building blocks of flats that absorb C02. Australia is completely changed their carbon footprint to use more solar and wind. Elon Musk has created the world’s largest lithium iron battery storage in the world. These few examples highlight that we require a mix of clean renewable solutions. One size does not fit all. And of course projects such as these, create jobs and support communities. The natural geography of Inverclyde affords us opportunities other people can only dream of. We need to realise their potential and protect the future of the planet.

During these critical times we need strong leadership at both national and local government. We need people capable of making brave decisions. If not, the price we have to pay will be far greater than the cost of investing in new energy, transport and land utilisation projects. Let me finish as I started with a quote from Lee Iacocca “We are continually faced by great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems”.