With COP26 set to make waves across the globe, the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation has the perfect platform for positioning the sector right at the heart of the climate change debate. By Andrew Collier
WHEN the United Nations COP26 conference takes place in Glasgow later this year, globally important decisions will be made and the event is certain to capture the attention of the entire world. For that reason, a huge number of organisations will be pressing their case for reducing emissions.
Among them will be the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO), which is determined to demonstrate that it is at the centre of the climate change agenda. Salmon is Scotland’s and the UK’s biggest food export and the body wants to demonstrate that it is on the right side of the argument.
“We have a great environmental story to tell”, says Hamish Macdonell, the SSPO’s Director of Strategic Engagement.
“We have a low carbon footprint, low water use and terrific feed conversion rate. Indeed, salmon farming should be at the forefront of environmentally friendly protein production plans. As COP26 is in Glasgow, having people at our events and being part of the wider discussions should place us where we need to be – on the right side of the argument.”
The SSPO published its own sustainability charter last October, which it regards as a concrete step in turning its words into action. It will publish a one-year-on update in time for the conference. This will show how far the organisation has come in terms of meeting the commitments it announced at that time.
“We will also have new nutritional studies completed, analysis of our sector’s carbon footprint and other key baseline information, including on the use of biodegradable and recyclable packaging,” says Mr McDonnell.
“When all this is added to the work that has already been done, it will present a compelling picture of a sector which is ready and able to help lead Scotland’s green recovery.”
He added that the UN fully understood the blue economy – the sustainable use of the ocean’s resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, while at the same time preserving the health of the marine and coastal ecosystem – and its importance in feeding the world.
“The Scottish Government also gets the blue economy and its role in a sustainable and long lasting recovery from Covid. All we want is to be seen as being part of that discussion. We want to be viewed as a key piece of the jigsaw which will start to come together at COP.”
He continued: “I want salmon farming in general – and the Scottish sector in particular – to be placed where it should be in the ongoing discussions over climate change, the environment and feeding the world. We want to be part of the solution.”
One issue, he added, was that critics of the salmon farming sector smeared the industry with allegations that it was part of the problem.
“We have railed against this and will continue to do so.
“Our task at COP is simple. It is to position the Scottish salmon sector right at the heart of the climate change debate.
“We don’t expect to force our way into the macro media agenda but being in Glasgow, having people at our events and being part of the wider discussions should place us where we need to be.”
He compared the global significance and profile of the COP26 event to the G8 meeting of the world’s leading nations that took place at Gleneagles back in 2005. “Like that G8 meeting, COP26 will be a mixture of massive international stories and small human interest events. There will be protests which will capture immediate but fleeting coverage.There will also be stunts – some imaginative, some crass – and everywhere there will be someone trying to grab the media’s attention.
“It will be a circus and there is little point in any fringe group or organisation going to COP26 in the expectation of making any sort of media splash because the story will always be elsewhere.”
However, there was considerable merit, he said, in having a presence at the event if an organisation was attending with a clear but limited aim in mind. “That is why we in the Scottish salmon sector will be there and why we hope our involvement will mark the start of a shift in perception about our sector. To appreciate what we are doing and why, it is worth considering what COP26 actually is. Although similar in size, scale and influence, it is very different from the G8. That was a leaders’ forum, an event to bring the mightiest economic powers from around the world together.
“By comparison, COP26 is an event pitched somewhere between a global movement and a statement of intent – indeed, it is almost a world campaign in the form of a governmental conference.
“It feels as if COP26 is a grassroots event which has been taken out of the hands of the people and handed over to governments and, as such, it carries with it a huge weight of expectation. It is designed to set the tone and the direction for climate change action for years to come.
“However, it is precisely because it is so much more than a meeting of the G8 that it matters so much to sectors like ours.”
The SSPO’s aim, he added, was a simple but also an ambitious one. “If we can get this right, then we will not just be on the right side of this discussion – we will be on the right side of history too.”
SSPO pushes the boat out when it comes to sustainable transition
REDUCING carbon emissions is a critical part of global sustainability, but it’s far from the whole story. A just transition needs a whole range of changes, including social and economic ones.
The Scottish salmon sector is extremely aware of this and of its own responsibilities. It is a low carbon and high technology industry and recognises that the fragile communities in which its production is located will be affected by economic changes over the next 20 or 30 years.
“We are ahead of the game on this”, says Andrew Fry, the SSPO’s Communications Officer.
“For instance, we are supporting traditional cultural and community initiatives. These things are really important to the social fabric of the Highlands.”
There is a risk, he adds, that the transition will focus on areas such as Aberdeen with its long-established oil and gas sector and that the rural economy will get left behind.
“However, industries such as aquaculture have a lot of potential in terms of helping Scotland reposition itself as a global leader. We deserve to be a part of that.”
Examples of initiatives being taken by salmon producers include building homes so that local people can stay in the local area, allowing them to work in the sector and so combating rural depopulation.
“The Scottish Government’s transition principles say that we have to plan, invest in and implement environmentally and socially sustainable jobs. That’s exactly what we are doing.
“Another principle is to create opportunities to develop resource efficiency and a sustainable economic approach. We are doing that too – it’s not in our interest to be wasteful in our businesses. That wouldn’t make either environmental or financial sense.”
Examples of this in action include sourcing fish feed sustainably, moving towards electric vehicles to reduce emissions and introducing hybrid engines to the barges operated on salmon farms to reduce the amount of diesel used.
“We have whole teams employed within the industry to ensure that we are meeting our environmental and social sustainability goals.
“Carbon is very important and I would never seek to downplay that. But the reality is that if the solution does not factor in people and communities, then it isn’t going to work. Our sector is already doing that.”