Ahead of All-Energy & Decarbonise 2023, the UK’s largest low carbon energy and decarbonisation event, Clare Foster of Shepherd and Wedderburn explores a key focus of the conference: the decarbonisation of cities and places.

You could be forgiven for feeling more than a little battered and bruised in 21st century Britain – having endured more than three years of Covid, we have seen a number of developments that most thought they would never witness in their lifetime – a horrendous war in Ukraine with the resultant turmoil in the energy and gas markets, exacerbated by a febrile geo-political situation, meaning security of supply has never been higher on the domestic agenda. 

Add to that the challenges of political upheaval, extreme weather events, a cost of living crisis and more than 1.5 million children in England living in cold, damp or mouldy homes (a statistic from charity Citizens Advice in January 2023). 

This description is a dystopian nightmare which should be more at home in 19th century Britain, rather than today.

Sitting among all of these challenges there is one constant – climate change. And despite what has just been described, if we are to avoid the ultimate existential threat, then reaching net zero has to be regarded by everyone as non-negotiable, rather than just a set of statutory targets set by UK and Scottish governments. 

We have a collective responsibility to decarbonise, and the green building blocks are there if we have the will to make it happen. It should not be assumed that this just a problem for government and industry to tackle.

The energy sector is already playing its part in trying to achieve the colossal clean energy generation targets set by government (notwithstanding the challenges of port infrastructure, planning and grid constraints, amongst others), and progress is impressive. 

However, the challenge around decarbonising our towns, cities, villages and other places where we go to work and call home seems to attract fewer headlines. 

The irony is that the challenge of climate change should resonate with every person. It is in everyone’s interest to focus on achieving a future which is clean, sustainable and economically robust. 

In the context of cities, the challenge is acute, as cities are responsible for more than 65 per cent of the world’s energy consumption and over 70 per cent of its CO2 emissions. 

What better place to start in terms of reduction in consumption than where we work, live, study and socialise? 

Cities account for a tiny 4 per cent of the EU’s land area but are home to about 75 per cent of its citizens… given the concentration of people in urban areas then surely there is a case for taking collective action.

In Scotland, there are already initiatives, set up specifically to encourage businesses and organisations (public, private and third sector) to work together in sharing best practice and to commit to taking certain actions to tackle climate change. The Edinburgh Climate Compact and the Sustainable Glasgow Charter are good examples of what can be achieved by a coalition of the willing. 

But we need much more action to make decarbonisation happen and activity should be mobilising across the UK with communities, towns and cities seeking out opportunities to work together – targetting “place” based action. 

The key ingredients of political will/support, training, capability to get the right measures implemented, finance (through public, private or community investment) all exist, but there needs to be much more co-ordination and co-operation to streamline and accelerate the processes. 

If existential threat is not enough of an incentive, then ponder this – cities play an important role in the economic development of any country and over 75 per cent of global wealth is generated in cities. 

Given that there is an opportunity to decarbonise and boost the economic opportunities for all, then surely the drivers to take action are there – and the potential prize is enormous: the creation of clean, green, warm places which are inclusive and provide opportunities for economic growth on a sustainable basis.

For such a small geographical landmass, the UK has achieved some astonishing results in the past 20-plus years in terms of clean energy generation, despite the challenges – we should be capable of replicating that in terms of decarbonisation and everyone has a responsibility to make it happen.

Shepherd and Wedderburn is working with clients on a variety of low carbon and decarbonisation projects. Please visit us at stand D20 at the All-Energy conference on 10 and 11 May at SEC, Glasgow, where our clean energy team will be on hand to share market-leading expertise. 

Clare Foster is a partner and head of clean energy at Shepherd and Wedderburn

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