How Glasgow became a net zero exemplar

A series of projects aim to attract impact investment and meet net zero goals. By Paul Strohm.

It is appropriate that the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference is being staged in Glasgow, a city which could be looked upon as a microcosm of many of the challenges facing the world.

Glasgow is still undergoing a transition from a past that was focused on heavy, carbon-intensive industries such as steel making, ship building and heavy engineering. This transition has meant the city’s engagement with new industries and economies, but has also necessitated confrontation with the legacies of the past: economic, social and now environmental and climatic.

Although Glasgow is already something of a model for climate change reduction, having cut its carbon emissions by 41% since 2006 – ahead of the 30% target it had set for 2020 – it has firmly grasped the environmental nettle having realised the challenges and responsibilities it still faces.

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Recognition of its achievements has already included the award of Global Green City status and it is currently ranked fourth in the world in the Global Destination Sustainability Index (GDS-Index), which promotes responsible business tourism best practice.

But the watershed was perhaps the city council’s declaration in 2019 that Glasgow was experiencing a climate and ecological emergency and the subsequent publication of a series of recommendations in response.

This year the launch of Glasgow’s Greenprint for Investment followed, comprising a £30 billion portfolio of climate investment opportunities intended to transform the city while being focused on the 2030 net-zero goal.

Driving net zero ambitions

“What we really want to be able to do is demonstrate that Glasgow is an exemplar of what can be achieved, often from a really difficult starting point,” says councillor Susan Aitken, the leader of Glasgow City Council. “It’s almost saying ‘if we can do this in Glasgow in terms of driving forward our ambitions for net zero by 2030, then really anywhere can do it, nowhere has any excuse’,” she adds.

“Glasgow’s particular physical and environmental challenges are such that we have considerable barriers to overcome but those barriers are also drivers of innovation, they also provide opportunities for people to think bigger and they also provide us with the biggest gains – where you have the biggest challenges, you also have the biggest opportunities for gains in terms of carbon reduction.”

‘The success of COP26 will be measured by how cities can take the practical steps necessary to secure the future of our planet. Our Greenprint provides a major part of our roadmap to doing just that.’

Susan Aitken, leader, Glasgow City Council

The Greenprint projects (see below), in terms of their scale and diversity, are intended to reflect Glasgow’s sustainability ambitions and provide potential impact investors with a mix of transformative development opportunities as well as more traditional but sustainable, investor-ready propositions.

There is a focus on decarbonising transport by increasing the numbers of people using public transport instead of private vehicles. The proposals address decarbonisation of the built environment, particularly the use of heat in homes and by businesses through provision of renewable energy and district heating. A significant increase of green space is proposed within the city, especially in the city centre, one of the benefits being that green space will sequester carbon.

Aitken explains that the portfolio of 10 “transformational, investable and shovel-ready projects,” ranges from an entire new transport system to generating renewable energy from the River Clyde and upgrading hundreds of thousands of homes across the city region.

Climate assessments

“Given the need for long-term patient capital, we are committed to assessing the projects against the TCFD [Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures] framework of physical and transition risk, to help potential investors understand how the projects will complement their existing portfolio of investments and provide confidence that they are investment-ready.”

The range of projects is also designed to align with four umbrella United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: decent work and economic growth; sustainable cities and communities; climate action; and partnerships for the goals.

“Our Net-Zero future is about safer communities, warm and efficient homes, sustainable jobs and a prosperous economy,” Aitken says. “Transition has to be about the social and economic well-being of Glasgow and its people. This will require levels of investment never seen before in local government and adaptation plans which will be vital in delivering a modern, resilient and inclusive city economy.”

She says that the key ambition is for the city to become carbon neutral by the year 2030 which is a journey that needs partners to work together across public, private, academic and community sectors.

“To achieve a ‘just transition’ we must manage change positively in an equitable way and prepare for our move to a cleaner, greener economy and society, leaving no one behind,” she adds.

“All cities face huge change. Glasgow’s challenges are typical of those of so many of our global peers. As cities rebuild to decarbonise, we can be the demonstrator in shaping those solutions. The success of COP26 will be measured by how cities can take the practical steps necessary to secure the future of our planet. Our Greenprint provides a major part of our roadmap to doing just that.”

Transforming Glasgow in 10 projects

From green spaces to sustainable transport, the city is planning to attract investors with a series of transformative projects.

Scottish Event Campus (SEC) Expansion

The expansion aims to turn the SEC into one of the world’s most sustainable campuses and includes a number of cutting-edge conference and exhibition innovations.

Project value: £180 million
Investment type: Grant funding, development partner

Glasgow’s District Heating Network

Glasgow is focused on transforming its energy production and consumption through a series of projects to build out into a wider strategic district heating network across the city.

Project value: £40 million (phase 1)
Investment type: Public/private infrastructure investment

Home Energy Retrofit Programme

A 10-year £10 billion programme to upgrade the insulation of all homes in the Glasgow City Region and explore the use of innovative renewable technologies to deliver clean energy.

Project value: £10 billion
Investment type: Public infrastructure/private investment

Climate Neutral Innovation District

The University of Strathclyde is leading an innovative and ambitious project to make the Glasgow City Innovation District 100% renewable, climate neutral and climate resilient.

Project value: £0.5 billion
Investment type: Public/private infrastructure investment

Clyde Climate Forest

The Clyde Climate Forest aims to plant 18 million trees in City Region over the next decade; that’s over 9,000 hectares of new woodlands – increasing forest and woodland cover by 3%.

Project value: £107 million
Investment type: Development and capital

Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District Scotland

Scotland’s new home of advanced manufacturing with ambitions to drive the UK’s low carbon transition.

Project value: £100-£150 million
Investment type: Public infrastructure/private (developer, occupier) investment

Glasgow metro

Glasgow Metro is a new transport provision that will improve connectivity within Glasgow and the wider city region, driving inward investment, business growth and inclusion.

Project value: £ multi billion
Investment type: Various including design and build franchise partner, development partner(s)

Charing Cross M8 Green Infrastructure Cap

A new, connected urban environment via the construction of a cap over the motorway junction at Charing Cross, and redesigned public realm between local access thoroughfares.

Project value: £60-£80 million
Investment type: Public infrastructure/private investment

Sustainable Apparel Project

Glasgow City Council, working with UKFT – the largest network for fashion and textile companies in the UK – is collaborating to transform the UK apparel sector.

Clyde Gateway

Clyde Gateway is working to decarbonise travel and energy for homes and businesses while providing the local community with a place to live and work in a low-carbon and resilient neighbourhood.

Project value: up to £200 million
Investment type: Capital, Equity Co-Development, Development Funder, Construction Partner