Energy tax expert Jim Robertson says taking the Climate Solutions course opened his eyes to the scale of the challenge we are all facing.

Benjamin Franklin once said that “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”. The climate change crisis, however, is rapidly becoming a close third on that ominously short list.

It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that a tax expert with decades of experience in the energy industry, and who now serves as a Non-Executive Director to the Scottish Government, reckons that one of the best ways to navigate our planet through this climate change crisis is via tax policy.

When Jim Robertson qualified as a chartered accountant working for PwC in 1981, the world was a very different place. The global economy was on the up and up, the oil and gas industry in the UK was booming, and the chance to join global energy giant Shell was an excellent career opportunity.

The experience and insight into global energy taxation policies Jim has amassed in a career spanning four decades in the industry, working in London, The Hague, Kuala Lumpur, Aberdeen and Houston, is now being put to very good use. In his role as a Non-Executive Director of the Scottish Government he considers all the risks facing the nation at the very highest level. His professional understanding of taxation has similarly placed him high on the call list for Governments globally on how best to shape the taxation policies that will drive the critical green energy revolution, putting the responsibility for change firmly back into the hands of the consumer.

It was through his work as a member of the Climate Emergency Action Group of the Scottish Leaders Forum that Jim first got the opportunity to undertake the Climate Solutions Professional course, a new online learning opportunity from the Royal Scottish Geographical Society (RSGS), in collaboration with University of Edinburgh, University of Stirling and Institute of Directors (IoD) Scotland.

Climate Solutions aims to educate middle and senior business leaders and managers on climate change, outlining the actions that can be taken to mitigate the impact before it’s too late. It is offered in two ways – the Climate Solutions Professional and the 90-minute Climate Solutions Accelerator.

More than 50,000 leaders globally have now taken part or enrolled on  the Climate Solutions courses. The Professional course consists of four modules, online workshops and the development of a Climate Action Plan. The Scottish Government provided funding for the development of the course and an initial 100 places.

Jim’s reason for taking the course was very clear: “I was very happy to be nominated to take part in the pilot of the Climate Solutions Professional course. It was over 40 years since I did any science at school and, despite having 40 years’ experience in the energy industry, the opportunity to brush up on my knowledge as well as broaden my understanding was appealing.

HeraldScotland:

“It’s essentially an executive MBA on climate change and, for busy people, it’s structured so you can do it at your own pace and in your own time. It helped fill in a lot of gaps for me, augmenting the knowledge I already had, and the ability to access subject matter experts was really invaluable.”

“At the conclusion of the course, we all had to develop a personal action plan which prompted me to look in depth at how countries can use carbon pricing to adjust consumer behaviour. As long as gas central heating is about a third of the cost of electricity from renewable sources, it’s hard to convince consumers to switch.

“If carbon pricing was introduced to address that imbalance, we would soon see a marked increase in the consumption of energy from renewable sources. It’s the scale of the change that feels overwhelming to people.

“There are about 28 million gas boilers in the UK and the Climate Change Committee that advises the government says we need to replace 400,000 per year by 2025 rising to 900,000 per year by 2028.The sooner we get started, the better. Carbon pricing will help drive consumer behavioural changes, but bold government action is needed too.

“In truth, one of the key outcomes of doing the Climate Solutions Professional course for me was that it gave me a far better understanding of the climate change risk that the Scottish Government has to manage, the scale of the challenge and what needs to be done right now, to respond to what the First Minister rightly refers to as the Climate Change Emergency.”

Each module of the course takes between two and three hours to complete and during each module there is an opportunity to capture learnings in a “Pause for Thought” session. These are available to all participants afterwards to discuss during the workshops and to assist in the development of their Climate Action Plan.

During the workshops, there is an opportunity to meet other participants and afterwards each participant creates a Climate Action Plan for their business area.  Once plans have been completed and reviewed, participants are awarded the Professional Certificate in Climate Solutions and invited to become a member of the Climate Solutions Network. 

In addition to his work with the Scottish Government, Jim’s understanding of global taxation policies and the positive impact these can have on climate change extends to his involvement with the United Nations, where he is a member of the Subcommittee on Extractive Industries Taxation Issues for Developing Countries, and to the UK Chartered Institute of Taxation’s Climate Change Working Group. In the UK, the majority of tax powers in relation to climate change are reserved to Westminster.

Jim’s passion for energy companies being part of the solution, not the problem, is evident when you speak to him.

“Energy companies want to be part of the solution to these challenges. They have the technology research capability to explore innovative solutions such as carbon capture & storage and the role of hydrogen. They are able to manage and deliver large scale projects on time and within budget. They understand fluids management, energy supply, trading and transportation. They can produce energy from renewable sources, but they can’t make consumers buy without a market price signal. Governments can use taxation to nudge (or significantly shift) consumer behaviour. We just need to look at the impact of the plastic bag tax in the UK to know it works.

“Now is the time for leaders from across Scotland to step up. Climate change is everyone’s problem, and our collective knowledge and insight is really valuable.

“I would strongly urge all business leaders and managers to improve their understanding of the climate change issue and how to respond to it because, to quote the great Benjamin Franklin, ‘by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.’ And the planet can’t afford for this to fail.”