COP26 seems to trip off the tongue these days – or at least it does for me given my role in HIE and the increasing focus we have on net zero. But when my son tells me that its #GameZero for Tottenham Hotspur versus Chelsea next weekend, and explains it is not the predicted score, I realise that COP26 and being green really is hitting the mainstream. They hope to use the power of sport to inspire and support football fans to make simple changes to reduce their carbon footprint and make more climate friendly choices, which is fantastic.

We all have a part to play and as Scotland’s Climate Week begins, there are more opportunities to start conversations, take small (or big) steps and to contribute to Scotland’s ambitious target for net-zero emissions of all greenhouse gases by 2045. For anyone who wants to be involved you’ll find lots of information in our new net zero section on the HIE website zero, look out for the link to the Scotland Climate Week toolkit. We will continue to add more information on what is happening across the region to help as we all embark on this transition. There you will also meet some of our #netzeroheroes, who I am confident will inspire action, whether that be in energy innovation, waste management, food production, or welcoming visitors sustainably.  

But with only 50 days to go until COP26, what does this mean for me and why is it important to the Highlands and Islands? I hope COP26 itself inspires international action and commitment to make the transition to net zero in a fair and just way.  And by being in Glasgow it will provide greater opportunity to showcase Scotland’s ambition to reach net zero to the rest of the world. There is no doubt that the Highlands and Islands will play a leading role in the transition - it is already punching above its weight.

World leading in marine energy with innovative technology developers demonstrating new energy concepts in our waters at the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney, world first tidal energy arrays, and an experienced supply chain which has evolved to support this emerging sector, our region has long attracted international attention. The potential is particularly exciting, not only in the prospect for new, high value jobs in our remote and rural parts of the Highlands and Islands, but also for it to be major contributor to net zero plans in marine nations across the globe.   

A huge part of reaching net zero will be in large scale renewable deployment, and Crown Estate Scotland’s current offshore wind leasing round clearly illustrates just how much of this we can expect around our shores. When we consider the positive impact of the Beatrice Offshore Windfarm’s Operation and Maintenance Base at Wick, and potential for replication in other parts of our region, there is much to be excited about. And the dynamic, resilient businesses so typical of the Highlands and Islands, have already done so much to prepare for the energy revolution, not least our many ports servicing the sector. 

These strategic opportunities, now with scope for further expansion into hydrogen production which could be economically transformational for the Highlands and Islands, are only part of the transition to net zero. Our natural habitats and landscapes, land and marine based, offer scope for carbon sequestration – an alternative for those hard-to-treat industries. We are keen to engage communities in ensuring the investments are more widely and equitably felt.  How we heat our homes; how we travel; our food consumption habits; and how we minimise our waste will all need to change. The necessary disruption will be hugely challenging and in some cases potentially quite daunting.  But we can’t afford to stand still and risk scoring own goals. Working together as Team Highlands and Islands, using the tools and tactics available on HIE’s website and those of our many partners, we too can play #GameZero and ensure that as we go beyond COP26 the Highlands and Islands remains top of the net zero league.

Note: Audrey has changed role within HIE since time of writing and is now Area Manager, Inner Moray Firth.

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