Expectations for COP26 are high and growing. With world leaders attending and tens of thousands of people descending on Glasgow later this month, there is a real sense that the gathering will mark a defining moment in the climate emergency. Will it? We will have to see. But it will certainly capture the attention of the world.

And a large number of organisations believe it is important enough to organise their own global events in parallel with the main gathering. Among them is the Net Zero Technology Centre, which holds Scotland’s and UK’s ambition to be a leader in technology at its core; developing and deploying technology for an affordable net zero energy industry. The Centre is planning a three day fringe programme involving international participants. This event will look at what is needed to close technology gaps and define a clear path to net zero.

Heavily involved in the debate will be Luca Corradi, the Centre’s Innovation Network Director. When it comes to the main COP gathering, he is a hopeful realist. “This kind of international negotiation is very complex and very difficult”, he says. “My hope is that there will be some action in areas such as financial and international agreements. The growth in emissions is mainly coming from developing countries – that’s natural because that’s where 70% of the world population live, and are developing their economies and living conditions using their fossil fuel resources. 

“So there needs to be an agreement about compensation and international collaboration that doesn’t penalise these countries for trying to get to the same standard of living that we enjoy. We need to incentivise them to get there without burning more fossil fuels or creating more CO2 emissions. We also need to see actions and investment from developed economies, and private investment too.”

He also hopes for a strong focus on technology and innovation. Half of the technologies needed to reach net zero by 2050 (and Scotland is aiming for five years earlier than this) are still under development, he adds. “So we need to accelerate innovation in order to make it happen. We need to innovate, to deploy and to accelerate. These things have allowed humanity to progress. The world is not perfect – far from it – but it is far better than it was 500 years ago.”

Technology, he says, is the key to doing more with less. “It provides growth, better healthcare and better living with less use of natural resources. That’s where innovation can make a difference.” Luca Corradi explains that it does not have to be the case that advances in technology damage the planet: the opposite can be and is true. “The important thing is how many CO2 emissions go into the atmosphere. It is also the case that a billion people still live in poverty with no access whatsoever to electricity or power. We tend to look at things from the privileged position of the first world.”

While he is wary of direct comparisons, he believes that poverty can be more of a threat to the environment than the burning of fossil fuels. “Poverty does not tend to drive an efficient use of resources. If people burn everything they find to cook or to keep warm, that is not good for the environment. It is the enemy of sustainability. So, we need to improve people’s conditions.” 

As populations increase their standard of living, he adds, there will be a greater demand for energy that does not produce carbon. “We have also made massive progress in terms of efficiency when it comes to productivity in farming and food. We are sustaining eight billion people on the planet because of better use of resources.” But even with the use of technology and innovation, can we really cut emissions and boost sustainability in the way that the climate emergency requires without both individual and collective self-sacrifice?

He argues that there is really no choice: we are already having to bear the burden and meet the social price of the CO2 in the atmosphere. It may not be a cost that comes directly out of our pockets, but it has to be factored in.  There will be a price for the transition, Mr Corradi believes, and we have to think about how to reduce the cost of the technology needed to cut levels of carbon. “In my view, that is about scale, it’s about skills and it’s about innovation.

“With wind turbines, for example, building at scale means that you can optimise the resources and so buy at better prices if you are producing thousands of them. Once you do that, each one becomes cheaper than the first. 

“However, scale is not enough. It helps with the cost of the existing turbines, but you need innovation in order to create new ones. Recent turbines are much better than the first generation.

“It’s the same with electric vehicles. The early ones were basically golf carts. You’d need to have been a really hardwired environmentalist to use one of them. But we have now innovated in terms of things like the battery and the powertrain and we now have vehicles that can travel for 300 miles and are very cool and desirable.” Not all innovations will yield the right results, he says: some will be fantastic, while others will prove not to work as hoped. “There isn't a single panacea or quick fix, and not all things will work in all situations.”

The technology that is being developed to address climate change will also vary according to what is required in different parts of the world. 

“In Scotland, we are working on hydrogen, carbon capture and storage (CCS) and offshore wind. In other regions, it’s more likely to be about solar. The solutions will vary. But we are moving from an era where we use easily transportable oil and gas to a world where we have a portfolio of solutions, both in terms of energy sources and technology. Case by case and country by country, these will be different.”

For more information visit www.netzerotc.com