SHREC 2021

View our virtual Scottish Highland Renewable Energy Conference 2021

A call to arms in the climate change battle

Harper Macleod's 12th annual Scottish Highlands Renewable Energy Conference (SHREC) provided cause for optimism that Scotland, and the rest of the world, can start 'walking the walk' in taking action on the climate emergency.

Having held the event annually in Inverness since 2010, the pandemic ensured this year would be virtual – allowing for an international line-up of speakers and attendees. 

Our conference took place six months before the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, and in light of that the theme was climate change. It was fitting that the event took stock of Scotland's current state of play on climate change, and plotted a roadmap to a greener, more sustainable economy.

Decarbonisation, renewable energy, biodiversity, looking after our natural capital, investment, future generations … the topics were fundamental to the future direction of the climate emergency and created the most seismic SHREC to date.

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If you weren't able to join us on the day, or just want to revisit one or more of the sections, you can do so by going to the full playlist, or by following the links to specific sessions below:

Full SHREC playlist

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Keynote address – Roseanna Cunningham MSP

Roseanna Cunningham MSP, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, delivered the keynote address. As Cabinet Secretary, she is responsible for Scottish Government policy on climate change, environmental protection and biodiversity, and climate justice. She set out the Scottish Government's ambitious targets for hitting net zero carbon emissions. While setting out the country's achievements to date, and highlighting the actions contained in the recently updated Climate Change Plan, the Cabinet Secretary made clear that "it must be a truly national endeavour." She added: "Previous economic transitions and indeed Covid-19 have already shown us how abrupt and unplanned shifts can exacerbate inequalities. Now more than ever we need a just transition that supports sustainable economic growth and jobs while ensuring individuals and communities are not left behind."

Leading societal changes – Greenpeace International

Louise Fournier, Greenpeace International's Litigation Counsel for Climate Justice and Liability, and Kasey Valente, the organisation's International Legal Coordinator, took the lead on a live session on societal changes. The duo outlined Greenpeace's role in driving change, which dates backed to its formation 50 years ago. Over the past decade or more, Greenpeace International has focused on tackling the climate crisis through strategic litigation, with Louise saying that they use this "to assert the fundamental rights of those most impacted by the climate crisis to address the multiple social, political and environmental layers of the problem in a cohesive way." Quoting author Grace Lee Boggs, Kasey said: "People are aware that they cannot continue in the same old way but are immobilised because they cannot imagine an alternative. We need a vision that recognises that we are at one of the great turning points in human history when the survival of our planet and the restoration of our humanity require a great sea change in our ecological, economic, political, and spiritual values." Human rights of all kinds were at the heart of a powerful session, with Louise and Kasey also accepting questions from delegates.

The key asks for developers and investors

David Bone, Harper Macleod's head of Energy & Natural Resources and one of Scotland's leading renewables lawyers, hosted a 'fireside chat' with George Baxter of GreenPower International, an independent renewable energy developer, Finley Becks-Phelps of Fred. Olsen Renewables and Michael Covington of Alpha Real Capital, who invest in renewables projects. George opened by making clear that Scotland should be focusing on 2030, as without hitting those targets then the ambitions for 2045 or 2050 become almost irrelevant. The need for changes to the planning regime, grid improvements and community involvement in projects were a big topic of conversation, as was the need for a stable legislative framework which builds investor confidence. And, as an advocate for onshore wind, George laid a firm challenge to those who oppose such developments, saying: " Whether you love, don't mind, or don't like them, wind turbines are a symbol that this generation are prepared to accept short-term change to tackle the climate threat that will have impact for many generations to come."

Decarbonisation and sustainable use of natural resources

Nicky Marr hosted a second 'fireside chat' with Graeme Nisbet, Harper Macleod's head of Rural Economy, Robbie Kernahan of NatureScot and Jo Ellis of Forestry and Land Scotland. This time the focus was very much on the use of our Natural Capital and how that impacts on climate change and a fairer, more sustainable economy. Robbie got straight to the point, saying: "Climate change and biodiversity loss are inextricably linked … nature is our most precious asset but we're mismanaging it." This point was echoed by Jo, who added: "Trying to see these two things, climate and nature crisis, as very much interlinked is where we'll make the biggest wins." The session made it clear that is not simply about loving the planet – there is a real financial imperative also with opportunities for the public and private sectors to come together with to create investments which allow people and the natural environment to thrive.

The view from countries taking a 'renewables first' approach

The penultimate session of the day saw David Bone host a panel featuring Joran Sandvik, a specialist renewables lawyer from Norwegian law firm Haavind, and David Scrimgeour MBE of DS Consulting, who has been involved renewables in Germany and forging strong links between there and Scotland. Speaking from Oslo and Munich respectively, this was a fascinating session highlighting real lessons we can learn from these nations, but also illustrating opportunities to export some of our own advances to them. Norway already produces 98% of its electricity from renewables, a world-leading figure, and Joran illustrated the continuing focus on developing technology. He said: "Carbon capture storage is a good example of using technology from the oil & gas sector to tackle climate change. The largest climate project ever in Norway, Longship, includes carbon capture – 800,000 tonnes of CO2 each year." Germany, with its strong manufacturing base, has led the way in many aspects of renewables and decarbonisation. David pointed out some synergies between our two nations. He said: "Germany, like Scotland, is very serious about developing a hydrogen economy. £9 billion invested over next four years. Issue for Germany is having enough renewables to produce the level of hydrogen needed. Can Scotland provide some of that?" This session was brought to a close by bringing a number of the speakers together virtually to answer some of the many questions that had been raised by attendees during the day.

Your decisions affect our future

The final session of SHREC 2021 was perhaps one of the most important. Chaired by Bruce Adamson, Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, Young Advisers Coll Mccail and Beccie White reflected on the current decision-making which will directly affect their future. The powerful session tackled climate justice, human rights, systemic change and the need to heed what the next generation is saying. Beccie White said: "There's a lot of rhetoric we hear around climate change that it's about the individual's responsibility. But as much as we do need to make our own choices, I think we need to look at the root causes and we shouldn't just think that things will change if the market demands it. It's the government's responsibility to put in regulations to make sure it changes and I think we really need to put in place real systemic change rather than relying on the goodwill of people." Coll added: "We're not climate alarmists, though the holding up of banners that say we've got five years left on the planet doesn't help. But at the same time, in the next few years climate change is going to become a key proponent of everything we do. It will affect education, infrastructure and every part of public policy … As the years go by climate change is going to affect every corner of young peoples lives, and everyone's lives."