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COP 26

Over the last month, I have sensed a modest quickening of green agendas. In various online meetings, it has been the key part of the scaffolding upon which discussions on a range of subjects have rested.

The announcement of significant support from the Scottish Government for a green transition has been a prominent intervention. And perfectly illustrates how responding to opportunities that come from tackling the climate emergency and a range of other environmental issues, will be of benefit to a wide range of people.

Oil & gas has been a vital source of employment for the North East for decades. It has moved regularly between booms and busts. With declining rates of extraction, very low world prices, and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, many jobs have gone, and more are at risk.

The Acorn project at St Fergus is an interesting one. It seeks to take gas that comes to the beach there, extract the energy and produce hydrogen which is then fed into the national gas grid—all with a zero carbon footprint. And when the hydrogen is used somewhere down the line, it too has no greenhouse effect.

I have now learned that we can put up to 20% hydrogen into the gas grid without our having to change any domestic boilers or cookers. Industrial users present a wee bit more of a challenge because some processes depend on a very precise mixture of gases. But I am told this is a solvable problem.

Overall, it builds on the skills we have in the area and allows us to extract further value from our offshore infrastructure.

A meeting with Opportunity North East (ONE), also highlighted a wide range of other useful initiatives of similar value. The roots of ONE are in the oil industry. Their actions are part of the significant shift many companies are making to move away from exploiting finite, polluting resources, towards renewal solutions.

We have skills in offshore structures that mean I have constituents in many parts of the world. And thus we are well-positioned to re-deploy them in offshore wind and tidal energy. Scotland can be a leader in what will become a growth industry. Not necessarily the leader. But certainly, a leader who will contribute our own innovations.

Even as I sit here writing, an email pops up from Professor Garry Pender (Deputy Principal for Research and Innovation) at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. He is highlighting a project which aims to create the world’s first large scale ‘smart local energy system’ in Orkney. Not all initiatives need to be of large industrial scale.

Scotland will be centre stage for United Nations discussions on the climate next year. The Twenty-Sixth Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) will take place in autumn 2021 in Glasgow.

The hosts will be the Governments of Italy and the UK. Yep, we haven't heard much about Italy's involvement from UK media. I guess I shall need to find a regular and reliable source of information about their plans.

The Italian ambassador in London quotes the Italian Prime Minister as saying in April, “2020 must be the decisive year in the fight against climate change, and science is our greatest ally in this”. We must make sure that remains their message with the postponement of COP26 to 2021.

Their early focus ahead of the Conference was to be on young people and the effects of the climate emergency on Africa. The Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice had been one of the key bodies raising the issue of the impacts on Africa. In particular, they were identifying the differentially severe effects on Women. When it ended its operations in 2019, it had had a significant record of achievement through previous COPs and more generally in raising the issue of climate justice up the agenda.

The President-designate of COP26 is the UK Government's Business Secretary, Alok Sharma. There many people about whom I know little who will be fine people ready to push forward a green agenda. Mr Sharma may well be such a person. Until I looked him up today, I had never heard of him. His ultimately taking on the role depends on a formal election at the start of the Conference.

His Wikipedia page provides little insight into climate change-related activity. I do note that he was born in Agra in India. That is the home to the Tajah Mahal. Built on the initiative of Shah Jahān to immortalise his wife, it is today a world heritage site and a simply stunning building.

I trust that Alok Sharma is familiar with the words on the side of Shah Jahān's tomb, which is within the Tajah. They say, "Happy are those who dream dreams and are prepared to pay the price to make them come true". It seems a good tagline for COP26.

I have attended a number of COPs starting with COP14 in Poznan in Poland in 2008. They are huge events. The official core takes place inside a properly secure area. Many heads of state will be present. Only registered delegates get in.

The København COP in 2009 was quite chaotic in general, and specifically for the Scottish team. There was a capacity of about 25,000 inside. The organisers had accepted registrations from nearly 40,000 delegates. And Gordon Brown, then UK Prime Minister, had refused to allow a Scottish Minister to be part of the UK delegation.

I think this may be the first time this story has been told. Scottish Officials had excellent contacts and we were able to get to a check-in desk for the Conference. The particular desk was carefully chosen. We were expected. My memory of the conversation is something like this;

My Official, "This is a Scottish Minister from the UK here to attend the Conference."

COP15 Official, "His name does not seem to be on the list. Would you like me to add him to the delegation?"

My Official, "Yes please."

Result. I became an official attendee as part of the UK delegation. Worth mentioning that the person manning the desk knew my official very well from previous events. And my official had informally established what sequence of questions and answers would deliver the desired result.

I suspect Gordon Brown never saw the third (as I recall) supplement to the attendees' list.

In other meetings such as EU Councils, I would regularly attend as a Minister empowered to speak for the UK. My Welsh counterpart, Jane Davidson, a Labour member of the Assembly in Cardiff, was treated with casual indifference in a number of occasions. We snuck in. She didn't manage, despite being the most experienced and knowledgable of all the ministers in any of the UK administrations. Their substantial loss.

Speaking of climate change, my car sits out there and is temporarily unusable. One tyre is deflated, I cannot see why. And the nuts holding that wheel on are so tight that even my whole 80 Kgs bouncing up and down on a wheel brace has not released them.

Another day, another problem.

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