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We can have sustainable economic growth, if we prioritise innovation

25 Nov 2022

Despite high expectations, it seems that COP27 has largely failed to meet the key challenges of climate change, writes Dr Andrea Taylor, head of strategic partnerships at Edinburgh Innovations.

In Scotland, while our First Minister urged world leaders to deliver on last year’s commitments, her government quietly removed £133m from energy efficiency schemes.

In this global economic crisis, competing dialogues of sustainability versus ‘balancing the books’ are back in public discourse. Yet one thing could ensure the just transition to net zero as well as economic growth: innovation.

Innovation strategy

Supporting sustainable growth means tackling some traditional government silos and creating an innovation culture with universities at its core.

The forthcoming Scottish Government Innovation Strategy is an opportunity. With funding and support, and collaboration across university, government and industry, we can turn cutting-edge climate research into real world solutions that work for banks and planet.

In one of our labs right now, a young researcher is engineering molecules to replace fossil fuels in the production of an industrial chemical called adipic acid, the production of which currently releases ten per cent of the world’s nitrous oxide emissions. What’s more, his process uses waste from the agriculture industry as an initial source, and produces only water as a by-product.

Another ‘circular economy’ project in development will use the waste heat generated from computing and data storage facilities to heat nearby homes. Turning waste into resource could surely save the world, whilst creating profit and jobs.

Meanwhile, three PhD students are developing small, muti-rotar wind turbines that reduce manufacturing costs, increase efficiency, and make rotor blades fully recyclable.

Image: Dr Andrea Taylor

Investing in growth

Innovation requires investment, but the definition of investment is that it pays off. We need to get away from government departments with competing priorities; the Treasury on one side, tasked with driving down costs, and the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on the other, tasked with economic growth.

Case in point is to the north of Inverness, at the Port of Nigg, where thousands of tonnes of yellow steel frames stand ready to be deployed in offshore wind generation.

Their fabrication created thousands of jobs in the United Arab Emirates, where we bought them from. It would have cost five per cent more to build them here.

Those jobs, and the resultant supply chain in the UK would mean economic growth, a just transition and energy security. Modelling shows the UK stands to gain £80bn from a high ambition innovation strategy in offshore renewables.

Innovation will enable a just transition to net zero and economic growth; a future on our planet. The cost of business as usual is too high for any of us to pay.

This article was first published in The Times

Header Image: Adobe Stock