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Dr Martin Valenti looks at the complex climate change challenges we face and how we can collaborate to tackle them.

Banner image for Climate Emergency to Climate Opportunity

If everyone on earth lived how we like living in Scotland we would need three planets. Living this way means we are presently using more of earth’s natural resources that we can sustain which is referred to by the Global Footprint Network as “ecological debt”. Scotland however is not alone in this challenge and according to Earth Overshoot data the majority of the world is also in the red ecologically. We have an exceptional opportunity to lead the way in embracing the challenge and as we head towards the Convention of Parties Climate Conference in 2020 (COP26 in Glasgow) we should shine green!

The challenges of climate change are complex, interconnected and cross-sectoral so it stands to reason that our best chance of tackling these issues will have to be strategically coordinated and highly collaborative. It is important that all public agencies in Scotland work together to reverse the deficit and towards the ambitious net zero targets set by Scottish Government to transform our economy and society.

Climate Emergency to Climate OpportunityThe recently published Programme for Government and soon to be published climate and economic action plans will describe in detail our national ambition but here’s a radical thought – if the future of our climate is central to our future prosperity and wellbeing, why not have one coordinated action plan rather than two separate, albeit connected, plans? After all, without a coordinated action plan we will simply fail to live up to our aims as a global leader.

To underline my point, let me turn to Mariana Mazucatto, a leading economist, whose words say it all: “History tells us that innovation is an outcome of a massive collective effort.” Mariana advises politicians and academics across the world on mission-oriented policies and that is also key to our approach in Scotland.

There is a real need for strategic alignment to bring about a proper effective dynamic team Scotland approach. Scottish Enterprise’s Strategic Framework “Building Scotland’s Future Together” provides a safe space for collaboration to coordinate efforts across agencies to ensure policies align to net zero 2045 with innovative projects to transition our economy. There is also a real opportunity for the Scottish Funding Council to be a key influencer in this space. When I talk of climate ‘opportunity’ rather than ‘emergency’ it is because we must look at the situation through a new lens and SFC can support this in terms of tapping into the network of further and higher education establishments, innovative research, not to mention minds of the future. There are many opportunities available whether that is growing forests on derelict land owned by Scottish Enterprise, creating a low carbon innovation park (MSIP) or utilising the SFC network to inspire young people to bring new ideas on climate growth projects to the table.

Young people like Greta Thurnberg have been central to global climate emergency conversations and illustrate quite rightly the passion young people have. I am keen that this positive energy is supported and channelled into solutions we can all take forward for the future and into projects that Scottish Enterprise and key partners like SFC can deliver.

The world economic forum global risks outlook for 2019 lists ‘failure of climate change mitigation and adaption’ as one of the top risks, second only to extreme weather events – the risk to the Scottish economy is real and we will only be able to embrace climate opportunities through collaboration. Looking ahead there is a significant opportunity around COP26 in Glasgow in November 2020 as we highlight our values and capabilities to the world. The role of universities and colleges in building this narrative of Scotland leading the way will be key. When other nations continue to focus on the challenges of emissions reduction, we can help Scotland shift from climate emergency to climate opportunity working together to address our ecological deficit and deliver environmental and economic goals that benefit everyone.