By Karen Peattie

RECOGNISING that there are limits to fossil fuel extraction and aiming for a just and fair transition to net zero must form part of the discussion at the forthcoming COP26 climate change conference in Scotland, says Patrick Harvie, co-leader of the Scottish Green Party and MSP for Glasgow.

Mr Harvie, the keynote speaker at yesterday’s A Catalyst for Change, a high-profile, virtual event organised by The Herald in association with international law firm CMS, warned: “The transition must be just and it must be fast – and there must be a clear plan of action on how we are to get there.”

He said that the dominant ideology around fossil fuels that countries need to “drill every last drop” needed to change, adding that countries around the world had to recognise that “there are limits to fossil fuel extraction” if we are to have a chance of staying within the long-term global warming 1.5-degree threshold set by the Paris Climate Accord in 2015.

Pointing to the “climate anxiety” increasingly felt by many young people, Mr Harvie said that it was a “rational response”, adding: “If the world had listened to the green movement in the late-1970s and early-1980s when we had time, this would have been much easier.”

Mr Harvie was appointed Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights last month, with his responsibilities including driving policy changes that shift Scotland away from reliance on high-carbon modes of transport and heating towards greener alternatives as part of the push towards a net-zero economy by 2045.

A long-time campaigner on improving public transport and active travel infrastructure and an advocate for radical measures to reduce CO2 emissions and end dependence on fossil fuels, Mr Harvie said that while there had been a step change in recognising the need for change, it wasn’t happening quickly enough.

“Succeeding too slowly is the same as failing,” he said. “We need a clear plan of action and how we are going to get there,” pointing to the good work being in Scotland in areas such as renewables, decarbonising buildings, making cycling and walking more accessible so the reliance on private cars in reduced.

Opportunities presented by COP26 in Glasgow next month – and what its legacy might be for the city and Scotland – came under the spotlight during a lively panel discussion featuring Karen Betts, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, Anthony Burns, chief operating officer of ACS Clothing, Lindsay McQuade, chief executive of ScottishPower Renewables and Willie Watt, chair of the Scottish National Investment Bank.

Ms McQuade, pointing out that the equivalent of 97.4 per cent of Scotland’s gross electricity consumption is now from renewable sources, said: “I think what has changed even over just the last couple of years is that people want to know more about renewables,” noting that ScottishPower Renewables was also looking at innovations such as solar power and battery storage as solutions.

“One of the really exciting things is hydrogen and how green hydrogen can play a very active role – it provides an opportunity to get to those heavy industries like haulage.”

Noting that “Scotland has valiantly gone where perhaps other countries haven’t”, she warned: “We need to be able to make decisions. We are part of a global community and we need to support others – we need to go further and we need to go faster.”

Asked about green investments, Mr Watt said that the Bank, a mission-led development bank, has announced seven key investments since its launch, including in tidal innovation and forestry projects. “We can invest between £1 million and £50m and we hope to make significant other investments in the low-carbon space in the months and years to come,” he added.

Meanwhile, Mr Burns spoke about his North Lanarkshire-based firm’s efforts in cleaning up the fashion industry’s reputation as the second-biggest polluter globally after oil and one that has a poor reputation when it comes to treating workers in the supply chain. “We are trying to use COP26 to help achieve our goals,” he said.

“Our business models of fashion rental and resale are hugely attractive to the brands we work with who use us as an extension of their business but the biggest barrier is awareness and COP26 is hugely important to overcoming that and sending out the message that fashion has to change.

“We are a climate-neutral company and we are working towards B Corp certification, we have bee hives on site and a model that reflects the circular nature of our business – I’m a firm believer in people, planet, profit.”

Karen Betts, meanwhile, spoke about the Scotch whisky industry’s sustainability strategy which has been in train since 2009. “Scotch is produced entirely from natural products and we are based in some of Scotland’s most beautiful landscapes so it makes good business sense and in the last 10 years we have been able to reduce our carbon emissions.

“We’ve been a forward-thinking industry but also a collaborative one with large and small companies coming together to share the results of experimentation.”

The event, hosted by TV presenter Rachel McTavish and attended by 200 people, was opened by Alan Nelson, Glasgow office managing partner for CMS.