What do you think of when you hear the word ‘industry’? Most people will conjure images of smoking towers and dirty lorries. Despite a sense that it is probably quite important, many of us would rather ignore its existence.  

However, with energy-intensive industry being responsible for up to 15% of Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions, decarbonising industry cannot be ignored. Indeed, it is essential if Scotland is to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045.

I went to the Industrial Decarbonisation Research and Innovation Centre (IDRIC) conference to hear about the newest research from industrial clusters across the UK.

Multiple voices

Decarbonising industry is a behemoth challenge. The IDRIC conference highlighted just how many areas of expertise are needed to develop and deliver the change we need.

Decorative image of smoking towers

Striking up conversation with other attendees, I never knew whether the person I was addressing was a seismologist, engineer, chemist or hydrologist. I had coffee with regulators, industry representatives and policymakers. Economists and finance specialists were also present to share their perspectives on funding the transition. Had the contributions stopped there, it would have been a fascinating, rich and full agenda.

However, industrial decarbonisation is not just a technical goal to be achieved. The people impacted by the transition away from traditional industrial methods were also strongly represented.

Labour market analysts and trade unions considered the implications for the thousands of jobs that may be impacted. Wider communities will also be affected, as highlighted by a workshop considering factors present in a place-based just transition.

These issues are critically relevant for Scottish communities such as Grangemouth and Peterhead, with deeply embedded industrial histories.

Challenging perspectives

The conference showcased that the conversation about decarbonising industry has expanded far beyond fuel switching, energy efficiency and carbon capture.

For example, IDRIC researchers are innovating methods to incorporate circular economy principles into carbon accounting, so that businesses can be incentivised to reuse resources.

IDRIC-funded researchers are also interrogating decarbonisation tools through life cycle analysis studies, calculating which tools will really achieve emissions reductions from the ‘cradle to grave’.

Importantly, they are also evaluating other environmental impacts, considering the best result for the environment beyond solely emissions reduction. I was particularly encouraged that a focus on equality, diversity and inclusion at IDRIC means that sharp minds from a variety of perspectives are considering these complex challenges.

Future steps

The changes needed to decarbonise industry are not going to happen tomorrow. Each industrial cluster has developed a roadmap charting key steps over the coming decades.

The interdisciplinarity and innovation present at the IDRIC conference demonstrated that these steps are being approached with a strong commitment to phased learning and knowledge exchange. Surely, these are the building blocks to success alongside the necessary infrastructure development, investment and strong policy development.

ClimateXChange continues to work with Scottish Government policymakers, commissioning research that informs Scotland’s industrial decarbonisation route. The IDRIC conference was an excellent opportunity to ensure that our research includes a wide range of relevant perspectives and draws on current thinking, meaningfully adding to the decarbonisation of industry in Scotland and beyond.

Related links

Industrial Decarbonisation Research and Innovation Centre

Related ClimateXChange projects

Driving emission reductions through the public sector supply chain

TIMES model industry sector update