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by Ruaraidh Gilmour
15 October 2023
Tom Arthur: Achieving net zero is the ‘greatest challenge we have ever faced as a civilisation’

Holyrood's fringe event at the SNP's annual party conference | Andrew Perry

Tom Arthur: Achieving net zero is the ‘greatest challenge we have ever faced as a civilisation’

Community wealth minister Tom Arthur has said that achieving net zero is the “greatest challenge we have ever faced as a civilisation” but it also represents one of the “greatest commercial opportunities”.  

Speaking at a Holyrood fringe event held in partnership with TheCityUK and the City of London Corporation during the SNP’s annual conference in Aberdeen, Arthur argued that an environment is arising in Scotland where there is an “opportunity to make incredible returns” and “deliver on net zero” while making “significant and positive social impacts”. 

He underlined the importance of the Scottish Government working in partnership with the sector. 

Arthur said: “This [net zero] is the greatest challenge that we have ever faced collectively as a civilisation but it also represents one of the greatest commercial opportunities.  

“What we are seeing now is a way in which ESG [environmental, social and governance] strategies and sustainability approaches is an environment developing where there is an opportunity not just to make incredible returns but delivering on net zero and also significant and positive social impacts.” 

He added: “Crucially, it is utterly impossible for the public sector to be able to meet this. It is going to require a significant mobilisation of private capital, and government has a key role to play in that. 

“I think the benefit and fruits that we can gain go beyond just meeting our international obligations in meeting net zero by 2045, it can deliver a fundamentally fairer and more prosperous society for all and that is an opportunity that we cannot afford to miss.” 

Chris Hayward, policy chairman of the City of London Corporation, told delegates that for business the biggest challenge with government in Scotland and the UK is continuity.  

He accepted that governments would have to consider the affordability of their decisions related to net zero. However, he pointed out that that can impact on consumers, adding that they must “consider the cost of business”.  

Hayward said: “I think one of the big issues for governments, north or south of the border, when we are talking about net zero is continuity and clarity for business, and that is a challenge frankly.  

“Of course, it is right that governments have to consider the affordability of for everyone of pursing policy towards net zero. But considering that for consumers, and for the public, we also have to consider the cost of business if there are constant changes in targets and timescales.  

“That is one of the things that is really important.”  

As many consider Scotland to be a world leader in green finance, former SNP MP Eilidh Whiteford highlighted the importance of capitalising on Scotland’s “innate comparative advantages in a couple of sectors” as it continues to develop the emerging sector.  

She said: “One of them is green energy and potential renewable energy, and one that has been historically competitive is the higher education sector.   

“And green finance is an absolutely crucial part of the jigsaw and one that we have not exploited enough to date.”  

She added: “There is a job for government to do, both Scottish and UK, around infrastructure. We need the grid capacity for the energy that we are going to produce that can be moved about, whether that is exporting it or using it domestically.  

“Our port infrastructure needs to be coordinated better so that our ports are working together to offer Scotland as more of a package deal. Not seeing our individual strengthens but seeing them more collectively.” 

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Read the most recent article written by Ruaraidh Gilmour - Scotland's circular economy: What goes around comes around.

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