Why Glasgow is the perfect host for COP26

By Keith Anderson,
Chief Executive, ScottishPower

This year marks 200 years since the city of Glasgow came of age as the crucible for Scotland’s industrial revolution. It was the 1821 census which saw its population overtake Edinburgh’s for the first time, driven by the shift from the linen trade to industry. Glasgow took its place then as the second city of the Empire. And as it prospered, the term ‘Clyde Built’ became synonymous around the world with engineering quality and technological innovation.

It is incredible to think of the transformation that has taken place since then. From a global hub of heavy industry – world-leading for its time but also heavily polluting – to a pioneer of the green industrial revolution. So far along in this new global race, that it has been chosen to host the world’s largest ever climate conference – COP26.

Welcoming the world’s leaders to Glasgow in a little over 6 months for COP26 will be a fantastic opportunity to reflect on what we’ve achieved so far, and look ahead to what we’ve still left to do. For a city like Glasgow to reinvent itself so completely is no mean feat. It’s been hard yards at times and we’re not at the end of the journey yet, by any means. That’s why I believe that reaching back through our incredible history will be more important than ever as we face the next round of challenges and opportunities that come with becoming a truly carbon-neutral city.

From the ScottishPower offices, I can see across the hills above Glasgow to the turbines of Whitelee, the UK’s largest onshore windfarm. I also sit just a stone’s throw from the Clydeside docks, which once led the world in industry and will in November host the world’s leaders in what I hope will be the most important milestone in addressing climate change yet.

Glasgow’s transformation since those ship building days hasn’t happened by chance. Scotland was an early adopter in taking climate change seriously, making a conscious decision that our future needed to be clean and renewable. Something like 90% of the electricity we now consume in Scotland is powered by renewable sources. That’s a massive change and a number to be hugely proud of. COP26 is our opportunity to tell the story of how we did it to the world.

At ScottishPower, we’ve been pioneers on that journey. We’re the first large energy company to go 100% Green. We’ve closed our coal plants, ditched gas, and built onshore, offshore and even solar generation, as well as investing in the grid to get that renewable energy to homes and businesses. Everything we do now, all our investments, are determined through our laser focus on Net Zero.

There are two key lessons that I’ve learned through our switch to 100% green energy. Number one. ScottishPower’s success has only been possible because of the commitments made by successive governments and the energy industry to reduce carbon emissions – by creating an environment in which it makes sense to invest and develop renewable technologies. Together, by keeping our eyes on the Net Zero prize, we’ve been able to create a market and drive down the cost of renewables to the point that wind power is now the cheapest form of generating electricity. Twenty years ago, that would have been unthinkable. But, together, we have done it – and our experience is rightly the envy of the world.

The second lesson is that we’re only getting started. For our own part, over the next 5 years we plan to invest £10bn in the UK in renewables, networks, battery storage and green hydrogen. It’s taken us 20 years to build our current wind portfolio, and our aim is to treble that over the next decade. Alongside that, we’re starting to couple up technologies to make the very best out of our sites. For example using solar or battery storage at our existing wind farms to ensure we wring every last drop from the wind energy we produce.

There’s a saying, ‘if you want something done, give it to a busy person’. That’s certainly true when it comes to our sector. We’re moving faster and faster, building bigger and better and speeding up, not slowing down. When it comes to change, it’s clearly all about momentum. The government has a vital role to play in building on that momentum by encouraging waves of future investment and innovation from industry.

Wherever you look, there are ambitious targets to be met. 40GW of offshore wind. A ban on petrol and diesel engines. A two-thirds reduction in GHG emissions. All by 2030. We’re not afraid of ambitious targets, but we need to ensure these plans survive contact with the real world and get delivered through robust and proven mechanisms.

Over the course of 200 years, Glasgow and its people have had to make and re-make our leading position on the world stage. We’ve needed to live up to our reputation for grit and ingenuity several times over. And as we look forward, with the right plans and the same determination, we can make a success of the opportunities that Net Zero presents – particularly at a time of economic recovery.

For all these reasons, Glasgow is a fitting host for the COP negotiations. And given the leadership the UK and Scotland have shown so far, we’re perfectly placed to act as the launchpad for renewed global leadership on climate change.

As Principal Partner for COP26, ScottishPower stands ready to help the world chart a course to a better future, quicker. And we’re proud to do so in our home city of Glasgow, too.