By Anissa Alifandi, Corporate Communications Manager at the British Science Association

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Each year at the British Science Festival, we host a debate for leaders in business, science and policy, inviting them to explore a current scientific issue affecting society. This time, the For Thought debate questions our journey ahead to, and potential effects of, net zero.

In June 2021 we published a report titled Build better. The report distilled insights from discussions with leaders across industries in the UK. One of the key recommendations was for the Government to create a UK Net Zero delivery board to oversee, and be accountable for, achieving net zero.

This recommendation, and the highly-anticipated COP26 conference in November, inspired the topic of the For Thought debate: Creating environmental prosperity, but for who?

Watch the full event on our YouTube channel

Our esteemed panellists were:

  • Christina Adane (campaigner and co-chair of Bite Back 2030’s Youth Board)
  • Carl Arntzen (Chief Executive, Bosch Thermotechnology Ltd)
  • Professor Penny Endersby (Chief Executive, Met Office)
  • Professor Aled Jones (Director of the Global Sustainability Institute, Anglia Ruskin University)
  • Laura Sandys (Co-chair, IPPR Environmental Justice Commission; Chair of the Government’s Energy Data Taskforce and a Non-Executive Director).

Here are some of the key takeaways and themes our speakers shared their thoughts on.

The current industrial revolution

Aled and Laura pointed out that we are, in fact, in the midst of an industrial revolution. The difference this time around is that we know we can’t repeat past mistakes. We need to ensure that lower income communities, for example, are not left behind. In short, this industrial revolution needs to lead to a fairer society.

Both Penny and Aled alluded to the fact that a green revolution would be beneficial to the economy, creating new jobs, industries and wealth for the population. However, as recommended in Build better, these benefits must be distributed equally. As Aled insightfully commented, we can’t just replace oil barons with renewable energy billionaires. Everyone should experience better outcomes, whether that’s health, economic or wellbeing across communities.

Carl mentioned that technology – although important – isn’t the only force to depend on in our green transition. Laura rightly said that the policy and regulation landscape must support the development and innovation of technologies we’ll eventually rely on, incentivising businesses and individuals to accept and implement them. New regulation is required for businesses to commit to change.

A just transition

The journey to net zero affects communities and industries in various ways. It is crucial to engage the communities who will be the worst affected. Christina quite simply stated that “hard-to-reach” communities aren’t actually hard to reach – those saying they can’t engage with these groups are actually failing to try hard enough.

The considerations of such communities, who may be affected by the digital divide (such as in rural areas) or more likely to be on lower incomes, must be taken into account when developing ‘green’ strategies to ensure they work in the long-term. The will to adapt in most cases is there, but the ‘how’ requires those in Government and industry leaders to set out a clear vision, which of course requires the input from these communities too.

Intergenerational equality is another topic covered in the Build better report and was touched on by all the speakers. Empowering people with the skills to do jobs in a ‘greener’ society is essential to the future workforce. As part of The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, the Government has asserted that 250,000 jobs will be created by 2030 in the plans they’re setting out. However this has been criticised for falling short compared to proposals by other G7 countries and there are calls for more focus on closing the skills gap.

Interestingly, education could have a role to play. Christina questioned why we aren’t teaching relevant lessons about the environment earlier than A Level, whilst Aled purported that different ways of thinking should be encouraged in order for the next generation to think on a big-picture scale.

Trust and transparency

Unsurprisingly, those in Government and business leaders are somewhat less trusted than others in influential roles, as Christina brought up in the debate. This group, however, has the power to act and affect change from the top down. Carl vented his annoyance at the Government’s continuing use of petrol cars rather than electric vehicles (EVs); it doesn’t help when leaders don’t lead by example. Adopting the use of more environmentally conscious technologies publicly is just one way leaders can encourage others to follow suit and gain trust.

As recommended in Build better, businesses (along with other bodies) can create youth boards to ensure they diversify the opinions and concerns that feed into their decision making. As well as showing they’re working towards intergenerational equality, this enables a level of transparency and facilitates the two-way conversation needed to drive sustainable, long-term change.

Large employers also benefit from engagement with the local area, and this is something Penny said she’d be relaying back to the Met Office. Listening to voices from a range of diverse backgrounds helps those in senior positions follow a path beneficial to wider society.

And so…

As Laura so eloquently puts it, fairness should be at the heart of designing future policies with respect to the climate emergency. There is no one on earth who won’t experience the effects of the adverse changes to our environment, whether that’s directly from the increased regularity of flash floods, or indirectly through disruptions to the global supply chain.

Sound familiar?

To find out more about For Thought visit www.forthought.uk where you can sign up for updates on future events.

The British Science Festival is taking place 7 – 11 September at Anglia Ruskin University, Chelmsford. Book tickets to events at www.britishsciencefestival.org