Company Commentary: It’s time to support the commitment to lasting change with concrete action

While people often point to the achievements and innovations of the industrial age, there have been plenty of recent examples. In fact, three of the last six winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry are Scottish, and our commitment to green energy and lower carbon emissions is world-leading in many ways.

With COP26 just months behind us and facing what could be our biggest challenge ever, the need to turn bold promises into concrete actions has rarely been greater. However, the effects of rising temperatures are only one aspect of the multifaceted problem of climate change. To become truly sustainable, we must ensure a transition that reflects the four pillars of sustainability: not only environmental progress, but also human, social and economic transformation.

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Although more than two decades may seem distant, Scotland’s commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2045 will be a significant undertaking that will require serious action in a timely manner. It will rely on the collaboration of all aspects of Scotland’s economy and society: policies that encourage behavioral change, businesses that invest in green technology, and all of us who reconsider what we consume and how .

Mark Bustard, CEO of the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Center (IBioIC). Photo: Chris Watt

From a policy perspective, we will have to make bold choices, putting in place policies that steer businesses, entrepreneurs and individuals in the right direction. We can look to other parts of the world for inspiration: countries like the Netherlands and the Nordics have made great strides in transitioning their economies from fossil fuels through greater use of alternative bio-based materials .

We can even look to the United States, despite having one of the highest per capita carbon emissions in the western world. The United States Department of Agriculture’s BioPreferred program, which aims to increase the purchase and use of bio-based products, is one of the best examples of policy resulting in meaningful behavior change.

Not only does it reduce the country’s dependence on petroleum-based products, but the program helps create new markets for agricultural products as well as more sustainable jobs. In the 2019 Economic Impact Analysis of the U.S. Bio-Based Products Industry, the USDA reported that the value of the bio-based products industry to the U.S. economy was $470 billion ($360 billion). sterling), the industry employing some 4.6 million workers.

Similarly, turning commitment into action requires significant financial investment. To change the current fossil-based carbon status quo, we need an alternative and sustainable carbon source for tomorrow’s products and processes – a “bio-economy” – which will require a commitment to research and development. long-term (R&D). This is no small feat in an age where organizations around the world are facing tight budgets.

However, we are starting from a relatively low point on this front. In 2019, according to the latest available data, Scotland’s Gross R&D Expenditure (GERD) was £2.79 billion, equivalent to 1.66% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In line with the previous year, this figure remains below the UK’s overall investment of 1.74% of GDP in R&D, the European Union average of 2.1% and the OECD average of 2.47%.

We must therefore channel as many of our resources as possible towards efforts to combat climate change. In practice, this means political choices that ensure we reach net zero before 2045, a financial commitment to research and infrastructure that takes us in that direction. Businesses and academics need long-term funding focused on delivering long-term sustainable impact. Some of these puzzle pieces are still missing, but we are working to move this agenda forward. IBioIC has invested £6.4m since 2014 in innovative collaborations bringing together industry and academia, which has generated £28.5m of leveraged business.

In addition to the Scottish Innovation Centres, the UK Catapult program and the German Fraunhofer Institute are excellent examples of collaborative infrastructure. The National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS) conducts cutting-edge research in modern manufacturing and engineering, supporting the government’s aims to increase its share of GDP.

The financial architecture that underpins these initiatives must also support this long-term perspective. For example, Scotland’s Zero and Just Transition Economic Plans will likely require larger and more flexible funding pots that can be used and administered over the longer term to demonstrate sustainability impacts. We can’t just deliver short-term performance or set rigid funding criteria for an ever-changing challenge.

Priorities should be aligned with the Scottish Government’s new market opportunities outlined in the National Economic Transformation Strategy, including renewables, hydrogen economy, high value manufacturing, space, biotechnology industrial, photonics and quantum, digital technology and life sciences, among others. sectors.

From our relatively recent experience of seeing significant economic impact in sectors critical to the future of the Scottish economy, success has clearly come from focusing on long-term, challenge-based and ambitious at scale to ensure maximum impact. Ultimately, if we are to make ambitious commitments to the greatest challenge of our time, then we must match the scale of commitment at the national level with the concrete actions, resources and innovation needed to meet it. achieve.- Mark Bustard, CEO of the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Center (IBioIC)

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