Richard Muir

Deputy chief executive, Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, sets out the challenges ahead to tackle climate change and a just transition to net zero, while still driving economic recovery.

Earlier this month, two news stories linked directly to major challenges of our time - post-Covid recovery and climate change - met head on.

I woke up to "beyond Level 0" coverage as many of the remaining Covid restrictions were removed, including reports of clubbers out enjoying themselves in city venues from Sunday midnight into the wee small hours - good news for many nighttime economy businesses who were desperate to re-open.

Of course, we warmly welcomed the removal of restrictions and it was a big step in the right direction, but with significant concerns from members - especially around lack of clarity from the Scottish Government on the return to the office.

By lunchtime the headline focus had moved on as the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report was released, starkly stating that global warming is dangerously close to spiralling out of control.

We were told humans are "unequivocally" to blame and that rapid action to cut greenhouse gas emissions could limit some impacts, but that others are now locked in with the heatwaves, hurricanes and other weather extremes that are already happening, only becoming more severe.

The latest data from Centre for Cities reports that only 15% of city centre office workers have returned.  As we move beyond level 0 and all businesses can now open, we need office workers to return to the city centre Monday to Friday, spending money. The hospitality and retail sectors are especially reliant on that weekday footfall.

Glasgow has been the hardest hit city centre in the UK outside of London and businesses need to hear a clear return to office plan from those in power.

The Scottish Government's position on continuing to work from home "if you can" is confusing many and we know that businesses can be trusted to work out a responsible return which takes into account their business needs, staff concerns and customer demands.

In addition working from home might suit some staff but not others.  Many don't have adequate facilities, are complaining of isolation and mental health issues, and lack personal mentoring and development.

Of course, there is a belief that working from home or at least hybrid working is seen as a contributor to the fight against global warming, as commuting journeys are reduced.

In just three months' time COP26 comes to Glasgow and will try to wring much more ambitious climate action out of the nations of the world, and the money to make it happen.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he hoped the UN climate report would be "a wake-up call for the world to take action now, before we meet in Glasgow" and US President Joe Biden tweeted : "We can't wait to tackle the climate crisis. The signs are unmistakable. The science is undeniable. And the cost of inaction keeps mounting."

So we face the conundrum of embracing and embedding actions to tackle climate change​ and a just transition to net-zero, while still driving economic recovery.

Chamber member Hazel Gulliver, Director of Engagement at ScottishPower, told me: 'Everything I now do in my role is focused around striving towards net zero and post-Covid economic recovery'.

It seems that these two major challenges of our time are now inextricably linked, and for the foreseeable future we will all have to do the same.

So, as we hurtle towards COP26, to this end I'm greatly encouraged by the pivotal role of the City Centre Task Force in combining the efforts of the Council, our business community and government to ensure everything has been done to speed up the centre's sustainable recovery, as lockdown restrictions come to an end.

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