Economist Ben Combes

The Herald:

THE Climate Conversations podcast, presented by The Herald in association with Epson, returns for its first episode of the year this week.

Host Marc Strathie, Head of Research and Policy for Scotland IS welcomes Ben Combes, a director at Monitor Deloitte and the lead climate economist in its newly formed Net Zero Transformation team. 

A specialist in strategy and technology-enabled structural change, Combes’ career has taken him from applied economics to a shift following a Masters at UCL in environmental and resource economics.

What followed was time at DEFRA, where he helped set up the Climate Change Committee, Llewellyn Consulting and PWC.

Combes has been at Monito Deloitte for around eight months now, and building a practice around Net Zero transformation and Net Zero strategy in climate tech.

The top lie is the attempt to accelerate solutions and get firms to make better choices to transform their operations.

This week sees an extremely wide-ranging conversation, with Combes looking at the progress in climate awareness and action during the past 15 years in particular.

He recalls the time around the financial crash when some of the progress almost stalled, but fast forward to today and the realisation of the importance in economics in achieving climate targets.

The Herald:

“What we're seeing in the past couple of years is a realisation that without that broader policy and regulatory framework, you're not going to see the acceleration in emissions reduction that we need to achieve our goal of Net Zero by mid-century globally and having emissions by the end of this decade. So I do think that you know, economics has an important role to play.”

He adds that economics isn’t the “silver bullet” but neither is technology. On carbon pricing he believes that “we need to get the right incentive structures.”
Marc Strathie asks every guest to reflect on COP26 and Combes says straight away.

“I wasn't expecting a miracle.  I wasn't expecting us to close the gap to Net Zero, but the fact that we've managed to move that trajectory down is progress. Is it quick enough? Probably not.”

Combes was surprised by the depth of the public reaction. The fact that it was the main topic of conversation in Scotland during the whole event. “I was actually staying in Edinburgh but I heard people talking about it on the buses on the trains.

“That that was real shift for me. I think the other learning for me was just how much corporates need to move. Companies playing the sort of honest broker neutral role… People starting to get a bit fed up with it.”

On the effects of Covid, Combes is realistic rather than pessimistic. While saying, “I don’t think there is any business as usual anymore,” he also points out the warnings we’ve had over the past 10 to 15 years with MERS and SARS.

“We had certain outbreaks nearly every five or six years… but they were contained. Suddenly we've had a pandemic.  

“It's a massively dark cloud, but let's hope one of the silver linings is people starting to realise that some of the warn the longer-term warnings can come to fruition.”

Looking to the future Combes is clear about how we need to ser up the economic market. The shift to technology is clear, whether that’s the Metaverse, NFTs or continued digitisation.

When it comes to employment within the green arena he makes the clear distinction between green jobs and green skills.

“On green jobs, in the UK and Scotland, will need to rise five to six-fold over the next 10 years so there’s a big job to do there. But then there's also the fact that nearly everyone will need to have green skills. I’m using that analogy in the same way that we all need digital skills now. 

“Over the past 10 years, we've all gone on a sort of digital upskilling journey, even if perhaps if you haven't realised it, you know some of it's been sort of just infused in into what we do. We do need to bring green skills into everyone's mindset.

“Everyone isn't a digital expert; we do need to have digital literacy and we need people to have climate literacy.”

To listen to the new episode, brought to you in association with Epson, simply search for 'Herald Climate Conversations' in your favourite app store or click here