The net zero challenge

THE clock is ticking. It is acknowledged that the world is warming up and, if it continues at its current rate, the impacts will be catastrophic, with stronger storms, rising sea levels destroying our cities, floods, damage to crops, species extinction and ecosystem change. It is a global problem that affects us all and ignoring it will become increasingly difficult as we see the impacts around the world. Some people think it is such a big problem that nothing can be done. However, as I travel around Aberdeenshire and see the talent and resourcefulness of our people and businesses, I am optimistic that by working together we can start to address the challenge.

Earlier this year, the UK was the first major economy to set laws to end its contribution to global warming by 2050. Scotland set the ambitious target of having a net zero economy by 2045, five years earlier than the UK target. Support is building to reduce our emissions but how do we do this and maintain our current standards of living?

Technology will certainly play a part and the hydrogen buses and electric cars across our region show glimpses of the future. Major issues like emissions from flying are being addressed with research on electric aircraft and the recent commitment in Scotland’s Programme for Government to low emission aircraft and net zero airports. Producing large quantities of carbon-free energy from fusion has the potential to transform energy production systems. While it is sometimes joked that ‘fusion is the energy of the future, and always will be’, recent improvements in magnets have brought that reality closer.

We can’t have blind faith on future technology to solve the problem, however; we have an obligation to future generations to act now. In facing this challenge there will be new opportunities for our region. As oil and gas fields come to the end of their life they may take on a new role in carbon sequestration. In Scotland’s Programme for Government, announced in September, the Acorn project – a carbon capture and storage scheme based at St Fergus – was highlighted for support. In the North-east we already have the pipelines and infrastructure to achieve a reduction in the high initial capital costs associated with carbon capture and storage.

Regionally, we have strong ties to the oil and gas industry; an industry beginning to look at energy transition. The Oil and Gas Technology Centre is creating a Net Zero Solution Centre to decarbonise offshore operations, with the aim to have the first net zero oil and gas basin in the world.

Locally, Aberdeenshire Council was in 2017/18 the first local authority in Scotland to set a carbon budget and commit to reducing carbon emissions year on year. The council aims to reduce emissions by 44% by 2025 using 2010/11 as a baseline year.

The challenge is clear and the first steps have been taken but we still have a long way to go. By working together, making changes to our lifestyles and being prepared to pay for technological solutions, I firmly believe this is a challenge we can meet to protect future generations.

Belinda Miller

Belinda Miller