Scotland’s Countdown to COP26 was a fantastic event featuring an impressive range of speakers covering many issues, highlighting the challenges and opportunities in tackling climate change. The plenary speakers offered thought-provoking and inspiring presentations which set the tone of the day, including a stimulating and insightful talk by economist and author Kate Raworth on Doughnut Economics.

Throughout the day thousands of virtual delegates were collaborating for a net zero future, and we at the PNDC look forward to forging new partnerships and expanding our membership base in the coming months.  The PNDC will continue to work with government, industrial and academic partners to accelerate the adoption of innovative research and technologies towards net zero energy.

Steven Whyte
Senior Business Development Manager,
Power Networks Demonstration Centre.

Scotland’s Countdown to COP26 | Conclusions and Reflections


Paul Winstanley, CEO of CENSIS, highlighted two standout presentations that began to address a question posed by Dr Poonam Malik regarding the balance between a green sustainable future versus the economy; Flagships of the Future; by Di Gilpin, Founder and CEO of Smart Green Shipping, and Road transport, the CAV Forth project by Louise Simpson, Project Manager at Stagecoach Bus.

In the aforementioned talks, Paul highlighted the importance of place, giving the example of shipbuilding on the Clyde, where there is “an incredible history but there is also a significant and equally incredible opportunity”. Further, in relation to autonomous vehicles, there is the Forth Road Bridge feature, providing an opportunity to use autonomous transport between Edinburgh Park and Fife.

Paul also referenced points made by Ian Marchant, CEO, Dunelm Energy, stressing that “Scotland is small enough to be personal; we can get key decision-makers into the same room at the same time” and when Scotland decides to do something, “we are big enough as a nation to be impactful globally”. Paul concluded by underlining there are opportunities for innovation, place, and exploiting Scotland’s own position.


PNDC’s Executive Director, Dr Jacqueline Redmond, presented on the Energy theme in a talk entitled ‘Accelerating innovation within energy networks in the transition to net zero’, discussing the role of energy network innovation in supporting decarbonisation, enabling and accelerating change rather than leaving progress to chance.

Dr Redmond outlined the lack of progress within the transport and heat vectors in recent years with regards to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, emphasising that no one person can solve this and that commercial investment is required to tip the balance towards reaching net zero. The PNDC’s multi-vector focus will help shape the future of energy delivery, heat, and drive the electric revolution towards zero emissions transport.

What can citizens, acting individually or collectively, do to make a real difference?

Gillian Docherty OBE, The Data Lab, discussed the importance of engaging our youth with programmes of today and in the future, giving the example of supporting Primary Engineer with STATWARS, an inspirational programme enabling young people to use data to address challenges such as the climate emergency.

Will the innovation centres support a more rounded approach to innovation and how can they collectively come together to achieve net zero?

It was put to the panel of closing speakers by a delegate that the evidence suggests we need a model of innovation with a more rounded approach of whole system innovation, rather than a linear approach. George Crooks OBE, CEO of DHI, said that we must recognise the Scottish Government were particularly innovative when setting up the innovation centres and that “we are fortunate in Scotland having developed safe spaces to bring all the actors together, both from the government through to the broader public sector, with industry, with academia, with our citizens, to innovate in that safe space”.

George added that over the past several years, “we have refined our innovation processes, to take user-centred design and put that at the heart of everything we do”, setting Scotland apart from many other regions across Europe and countries around the world.

How are the innovation centres planning on collaborating and capturing the best practices and lessons learned to maximise knowledge and partner with other businesses and SMEs?

The closing speakers, seven leaders of seven world-class innovation centres, were asked for their views on the size of the task and tightness of the scale to achieve net zero targets and the need for collaboration.

Mark Bustard, CEO of IBioIC, said that while the size of the task is huge, there is a willingness and depth of expertise, coupled with the strength of the network and knowledge base. Mark suggested that “we need some granularity; we know where we are trying to get to, we’re just not entirely sure how”, stressing that there is a need for organisations to lead the way and help define what the first steps are, and in turn, better engage businesses and academia.

The closing speakers were asked to pinpoint three practical and achievable actions to take between now and COP26 in November 2021 for reducing carbon pollution…

Marian McNeil, CEO of PMS-IC:
Cross-innovation centre collaborations look for opportunities to work together.
Conscious awareness of incorporating climate change into every project.
Embracing Ian Marchant‘s 3C’s of Courage, Collaboration, Connectivity.

Mark Bustard, CEO of IBioIC:
Cross-innovation centre collaboration is a huge opportunity. We’ll continue to do that.
Growing and developing new indigenous and sustainable supply chains; IBioIC would like to see one of those being delivered at least to pilot scale.
Scotland has received money through the growth deal for Falkirk and Grangemouth to decarbonise Grangemouth; IBioIC would like to work with them to help define what their carbon capture and utilisation strategy is based on input from the bioeconomy and sustainable processes.

George Crooks, CEO of DHI:
Firstly, don’t let there be any backsliding from the increased use of technology being brought about by COVID-19; that should grow, not shrink backwards.
Secondly, let’s use citizens’ own technologies to help the delivery of health and care, rather than provide additional technology on top of what they’ve got already.
Thirdly, let’s address one of the other major societal challenges we have in Scotland, which is an ageing population, by the innovation centres working together, the built environment, data, sensors, ourselves and others to make a better life and a safer life for people to stay healthy in their own homes.

Gillian Docherty, CEO of The Data Lab:
To continue to explore how AI can help us drive towards the future we want.
To look at how doughnut economics can overlap with data projects.
To continue being inspired by my 10 yr old in supporting future generations.

Stephen Good, CEO of CSIC, offered a more personal perspective:
To try and deep retrofit my own leaky and drafty old house.
Get rid of my old diesel car and move to an electric vehicle.
To look at more sustainable travel solutions when time allows.

Heather Jones, CEO of SAIC:
I would love to see knowledge hubs set up to transfer the knowledge from one innovation centre to another, from one food production sector to another, and that would drive adoption.

Paul Winstanley, CEO of CENSIS:
Investment; it’s an area that’s not been addressed during Scotland’s Countdown to COP26 event, but it’s high on the polls.
Skills; i.e. school children, Primary Engineer, apprentices, Forth Valley College and the ‘Fuel Change’ challenge, graduate entrepreneurship, and Alacrity Foundation.
Network of collaborations; in this area, we want an ‘R’ definitely much bigger than one. Edinburgh Science, Climate Opportunity Ideas Factory and the round tables they’re running, and Scottish Technical Army.

The results of the day’s polls confirmed an overwhelming agreement that collaboration and innovation are essential in finding solutions, with over 80% agreeing that Scotland can reach its 2045 targets.

Scotland's Countdown to COP26 – A Catalyst for Change

Dr Martin Valenti, Head of Climate Enterprise at Scottish Enterprise, highlighted the potential for the event to be a catalyst for change ahead of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference – COP26, taking place in Glasgow from 1st – 12th November 2021.

It seems fitting to conclude our round-up with extracts from Dr Valenti's closing remarks and inspiring calls to action…

"We've got to rise to the challenge. We have everything we need at our disposal. We have the innovation centres, research pools, fantastic EPA; a nature agency that's got nature-based solutions. We've got academic prowess, better than any other country in the world.

If we dig deep into what made you want to get involved in solving these problems, hold that to your heart and come out fighting. This is about our continued way of life on our planet. 

In almost a year from now, what will the world think of Scotland? Will they see a small, feart nation, cowering back, waiting for other solutions to happen? Will they see a nation that is fragmented on the greatest challenge of our time?

Wouldn't it be fantastic when we move into COP27 that Scotland handed over to Africa having demonstrated how you run a successful COP? Here is how you engage actively, enthusiastically with people, because people matter, and here is how you solve problems.

We need a change in mindset. If we view climate change as a problem to manage, you'll manage it; if you view it as an opportunity to explore, you'll solve it."