by Susan Aitken, leader, Glasgow City Council

There is a small boulder on Glasgow Green, installed back the 1980s. The inscription reads: “Near this spot in 1765, James Watt conceived the idea for the separate condenser for the steam engine.”

That is a very unassuming commemoration for something so seismic, a Sunday stroll in the park which transformed our planet.

Watt’s ‘eureka moment’ changed the steam engine from something crude and inefficient into the catalyst for the Industrial Revolution. Humans became the masters of power.

Two and half centuries later and there’s a compelling case often made that what was unleashed by Watt’s invention went way beyond industrialisation. It has now really begun to alter the makeup of our planet. Our world is no longer being shaped primarily by natural processes but by the carbon dioxide from plants and factories spawned since then.

I don’t think anyone would disagree that there is an urgent need to atone for the sins of the carbon age, to repair the damage we have inflicted upon the planet. The most credible evidence available to us tell us that this is indeed an emergency, that there is a very real challenge to viability of human, animal and plant life in parts of our planet. That the ripples created by the separate condenser continue to reverberate and that we now face a global crisis.

Glasgow is determined to lead the UK’s ‘race to zero’. From the research by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to the appeals from our classrooms, our streets and civic squares, we know that emissions reduction is the issue of our times.

We simply have to act now and the City Government will develop those partnerships necessary to get to where we simply have to be. We need to a Net Zero city. And we need to be the UK’s first Net Zero first.

There is a historic pertinence that Glasgow should lead the transition into a carbon neutral future and that we should collaborate with those driving the technological innovation to take us there.

I welcome Scottish Power’s comments today as a significant step in that direction, a mutual recognition that there is much to achieve in collaboration.

My challenge has always been to deliver - as best as we collectively can - social justice. That applies as much to ensuring we meet any new targets as it does economic growth or health promotion. A Net Zero city isn’t about the lights going out, a new Middle Ages where fine dining is bags of raw vegetables. There is nothing incompatible with improving the quality of life of all our citizens and becoming carbon neutral.

Around a third of Glasgow’s households are estimated to live in fuel poverty, damaging health, quality of life and financial sustainability of individuals, households and communities. Sustainable energy and reducing carbon emissions can and must also be about reducing fuel poverty. How we keep our citizens warm will be crucial in delivering our targets.

We also have one of the worst records for poor air quality in the UK, a direct contributing factor in 300 city deaths every year. Air pollution is a serious social justice challenge for the Council. This is why we are leading the way in the implementation of Scotland’s first Low Emissions Zone, which will permit only the least polluting of vehicles into our city centre by 2022.

Perhaps few cities quite understand the need for a ‘just transition’ quite like Glasgow, given the impact of the deep scars of de-industrialisation on the city and its communities throughout the 1970s and 80s. It’s critical that we make sure that quality of life is integral to change and that we take business and civic Scotland with us. If we prepare for this properly one of the pillars of our transition will be the creation of new economies and new jobs.

I want to give one significant example of how we aim to connect social justice with climate justice in this city. Late last month I launched the second report by the Connectivity Commission, a group of independent experts I tasked with considering Glasgow’s transport networks and deliver proposals addressing the city’s needs, opportunities and challenges.

You may have seen the news coverage: a new city-wide Metro system, a connection between our two main railway stations, reviving many of the dormant tunnels and lines closed in the 1960s and extending Central Station. The images used, a Metro on the familiar setting of city roads gave a tantalising glimpse of how these ambitions could look.

But this wasn’t just about a shiny new transport system. Far too many Glaswegians are excluded from the economic life of this city, denied jobs and opportunities because of the lack of connectivity into the transport network. We may have one of the best metropolitan rail networks on these islands and our unique Subway system carries around 13 million passengers a year. But if you do not live close to either of these, which hundreds of thousands don’t, then chances are you face more barriers to employment, training and education.

For the first time we have a report, a solid set of ideas which put the need for new transport projects at the heart of improving the life chances of ordinary people. And how, if we have the will to deliver them, the ability to improve the health and prosperity of all our citizens because they can get around much easier increases manifold.

Crucially, these recommendations have the capacity to radically improve air quality for the health of our citizens and ensure that Glasgow is doing our bit to support national and global efforts to combat climate change by taking private cars off the road. Climate justice and social justice. So inter-connected as to be indivisible.

Because we know that whilst the drive by Scottish Power and others towards renewables is reducing emission from domestic electrical consumption, we are aren’t making the headway we want just yet on transport. Emission from vehicles simply aren’t falling as they should.

Which leads me finally onto Scottish Power’s announcement that one of the key areas of Scottish Power’s focus over the next 10 years will be on electric vehicles.

The built form of Glasgow presents significant challenge with a majority of Glaswegians living in flats. The installation of charging points for residents really has the capacity to give people the opportunity to cut their own footprint which had otherwise been denied to them. Government, local or national cannot do this alone. We need private investment, to create the infrastructure for change and fuel the need to change. And it’s tremendous boost for our ambitions that Scottish Power believes that here in Glasgow we have the right environment and political ambition for them to make that investment.

And it tells me that for the City Government, for political leadership, that awaiting technological development and innovation can be easily interpreted as procrastination. The technology is often already there. What we need is an innovation in our approach to the necessary political drive and determination, to governance and to relationships, and how we take our people with us. Solutions to climate justice and social justice, found in collaboration, must become normal politics and political leadership. On this Glasgow can lead for the rest of Scotland, the UK and indeed, the world.

I started off with James Watt and the legacy of that famous stroll in 1765. This year marks 200 years since James Watt’s death. And it was famously said of him by the novelist Aldous Huxley that the invention of the locomotive engine was pivotal in the modern understanding of time and time pressures. Will, drive and determination is something we have in this city. Time is a luxury many in the world no longer have.