2020 – a different kind of summer
Chasing the sun is harder this year. But as the Met Office launches a new decade-long warning service of winter storms that it says are clearly driven by climate-change, the skies above are becoming increasingly important to our low-carbon lives.
Whether away on a break with real travel, or at home on a coach-based staycation, this year’s weather – rain or shine – could prove to be an interesting holiday conversation topic.
After a record-wet winter, record-dry spring and an iffy summer, winter is probably still too far away to bother most people, with the exception of Met Office researchers.
In what is described as a major scientific breakthrough, a team of scientists have been hard at work making North Atlantic storm patterns much more predictable. The Met office has also shown that climate change is now definitely a driving force behind extreme UK weather events.
Elsewhere, researchers revising the 41-year-old link used since 1979 between atmospheric carbon levels and rising global temperatures have reached an important triple-conclusion.
Firstly, they confirm that there is no room for complacency at lower emission levels. Secondly, luck alone will not save us. Thirdly, the high-end worst case scenario is now considered to be less likely. However, a warming world still poses serious problems for human survival.
Net Zero carbon emissions for businesses
James Napier, the founder of CBD Expert (www.cbd.expert), has been looking closely at the carbon dioxide we release into the atmosphere. His expert field is the stringent efforts all UK companies must now make to support the UK’s legally-binding target of net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050, or sooner.
In our July Lunch & Learn online webinar – “NET ZERO – What it means and why it’s as important to SMEs” – James explained the both obligations and commercial advantages for businesses. If you missed his presentation, please go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1ZJNuh4WXk.
What Net Zero means
Under the 2015 COP21 Paris climate agreement, countries must collectively cut carbon by making Nationally Defined Commitments (NDCs) before the 2021 COP26 summit in Glasgow that are sufficient to meet the 2050 science-based net-zero target. China is part of the process; the US, with Nicaragua and Syria, is one of only three states that are not.
To play their part, large corporates such as Sky and Apple are working towards a 2030 deadline. A key argument is that if interim 2030 targets cannot be met, the 2050 goal will be unreachable.
Some 61% of UK energy is now low-carbon. However, a 7.6% year-on-year reduction is needed to stay on track – a fivefold increase on 2019 pre-Covid-19 cuts. Offsetting is insufficient. Many governments are expected to enact legislation to achieve an 80% drop by 2030, or 90% if possible. This will have a direct impact on all companies.
How companies are affected
Net Zero is important for SMEs in helping their customers to win or lose work. It is also a growing employee concern and reduces real business costs. However, starting soon is essential because 2030 is effectively just five operational years away.
And that will involve all businesses – from manufacturers to professional service providers –understanding their carbon footprints intimately and knowing how to go about reducing them.
In practice, greenhouse gas emissions are categorised into three groups or ‘Scopes’ by the most widely-used international accounting tool, the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol. Tackling Scope 1 and Scope 2 will be mandatory. Scope 3, however, is optional and much more challenging.
Scope 1 covers direct emissions from owned or controlled sources and can include gas boilers, vehicle fleets and even air-conditioning leaks. Scope 2 covers indirect emissions such as from bought-in electricity, steam, heating and cooling systems.
However, Scope 3 is potentially complex because it includes other indirect emissions which a company may not control in its cradle-to-grave value chain – typically from business travel to procurement and waste to water. In fact, an initial task is to define the parameters of Scope 3 which might, for example, be set on an organisational or lifecycle basis.
Although there are major commercial benefits to be gained within Scope 3, it can be 6.5 times larger than Scope 1!
Cost savings can be made in two areas. Cost reduction involves questioning how often clients really need to be visited, what fraction of energy bought is wasted, and looking at consumables – paper made from sugar waste can have a zero-carbon certification! Most energy providers now offer ‘green’ and ‘brown’ energy with similar cost points.
The other area is cost avoidance. COP26 is expected to confirm carbon pricing, a cost that could rise sharply. By reducing carbon emissions businesses can reduce their embedded costs.
A handy five-point reminder is: – to be efficient; reduce travel; use low carbon products; buy green energy; and recycle.
CBN Expert passionately supports SMEs on their Net Zero journey by: – helping them to calculate and report carbon emissions swiftly and accurately; providing a supporting community that offers insights and access to experts; ensuring clear targeting and progress reporting to stakeholders; being aligned with Government and UN objectives; and giving a real return on investment (ROI).
For full details of CBN Expert’s carbon footprint dashboard and other services, talk to James.
Met Office news – cold comfort
As an autumn diary note, the long-delayed Environment Bill will be considered by a Public Bill Committee on 29 September (https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2019-21/environment.html). The bill, which is the Government’s flagship post-Brexit legislative programme, has been hit by Covid-19.
With luck, we might also see a late Indian summer. The Met Office, however, has had its eye on wintery developments far out to sea.
Given the erratic extreme weather patterns of recent UK winters, it has published “How predictable are European winters?” (https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/about-us/press-office/news/weather-and-climate/2020/nao-predictability-paper), an analysis of six decades of climate modelling data which suggests that decadal variations in North Atlantic weather patterns are actually highly predictable.
As a result, it should soon be possible to know well in advance whether winters over a whole decade are likely to be stormy, warm and wet, or calm, cold and dry.
Improved crisis planning
On the basis that the best defence strategy is “preparation, preparation and preparation”, this should make water and flood management more effective so that the energy sector can plan for potential blackouts and power surges more efficiently, and airports can anticipate disruption.
The Met Office has also published its sixth State of the UK Climate report (https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/about-us/press-office/news/weather-and-climate/2020/state-of-the-uk-climate-report-2019). As lead author Mike Kendon explains, “Our report shows climate change is exerting an increasing impact on the UK’s climate. This year was warmer than any other year in the UK between 1884 and 1990, and since 2002 we have seen the warmest ten years in the series. By contrast, to find a year in the coldest ten we have to go back to 1963; over 50 years ago.”
Clouds, carbon and new calculations
Climate and clouds affect the warming equation in other ways. A new UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) study due to be published in 2021 suggests that a better understanding of the role of clouds could mean that worst case warming estimates need to be revised upwards (https://www.ipcc.ch/report/sixth-assessment-report-working-group-ii/).
However, another study is particularly interesting. Research published by Review of Geophysics (https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1029/2019RG000678) has revised the 1979 link between CO2 and surface temperature rises, plus the effect a doubling of the pre-industrial carbon level of 280ppm (parts per million) to circa 560ppm by 2060 could have on warming.
The expert team’s approach has been to define more accurately the likely range of warming’s most probable climate impacts, a concept known as “equilibrium climate sensitivity”.
Since 1979, the IPCC has assumed that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 would mean a 66% chance of the planet heating up by between 1.50C and 4.50C.
However, the latest work reduces the 66%-certainty range of climate sensitivity to between 2.60C and 3.90C – or 2.60C to 4.10C with more uncertainties included – and a most likely estimate a little above 30C.
The 2015 Paris climate agreement aims to keep warming below 1.50C. Sensitivity under 2.50C is largely ruled out by the new findings. But the chances of meeting the Paris goal at the high end are minimal. According to one author, the world would “… need to go into overdrive to avoid catastrophe.”
Some like it hot
With their body’s unique physiology, most humans live successfully in a narrow 110-150C temperature band around the world; a smaller number survive in 200-250C areas. That might be changing.
The World Meteorological Organisation believes that there is a 24% chance in the next five years of the average global temperature rising more than 1.50C above pre-industrial levels for at least one year (https://hadleyserver.metoffice.gov.uk/wmolc/WMO_GADCU_2019.pdf).
By 2070, circa three billion people in a projected world population of 9.4 billion could find themselves in ‘near un-liveable’ 290C, or above, conditions if global warming continues unchecked, according to Tim Michael, Professor of Climate Change and Earth System Science at the University of Exeter (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-52543589).
UK 400C heat
In July, US weather forecasters warned of a potentially life-threatening heat wave with temperatures of up to 500C in southern California, Utah, Arizona and Nevada. The UK also faces risks.
Following an all-time high of 38.70C was recorded at Cambridge University Botanical Gardens in July 2019, the Met Office Hadley Centre team has examined the likelihood of reaching 400C in the UK, the equivalent of an average summer Sahara Desert day, but with severe public health, transport and infrastructure impacts. (https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/about-us/press-office/news/weather-and-climate/2020/chances-of-40c-days-in-the-uk-increasing-due-to-human-influence).
To model the future, the team looked at a “medium RCP4.5” scenario where GHG emission rise but level off after the mid-century point, a “high emissions RCP8.5” scenario where little effort is made to reduce climate change, and a “natural climate” with no GHG emissions at all.
The UK south east, which is most at risk because of its proximity to warm European influences far from Atlantic storms and cold cloudy weather, will see temperatures above 35°C more regularly. But many northern areas could exceed 30°C at least once per decade.
However, the predicted frequency of 400C is more dramatic. Moving from today’s once in every 100 to 300 years norm, even under moderate climate change conditions where world temperatures rise but then level off in the second half of this century, the UK mercury could hit 400C every 15 years.
With high risk warming if the world decides not to cut GHG emissions seriously, this could fall to just 3.5 years; as a baseline comparison in a “natural climate” scenario with no human-induced GHG emissions the interval would be 100 to 1,000 years.
Their overall conclusion is that the probability of extremely hot UK days has and will continue to increase this century at a rate potentially 10 times higher than in a natural climate with no human influence.
Hot and wet
However, simple temperature rises are not the only problem. High humidity levels make sweating impossible. This is where wet-bulb temperature (WBT) is important – a temperature read on a thermometer covered in water-soaked cloth in an air current.
In fact, extreme humid heat overall has more than doubled in frequency since 1979, may have been under-reported and is becoming increasingly severe. A WBT of 350C can lead to hyperthermia.
Even with the advantages of walking on two legs – offering a smaller profile to the sun than quadrupeds – plus hairless skin and the ability to sweat, Homo sapiens (wise, sensible, judicious) is being pushed out of a safe ecological niche.
Cities most at risk have tried different remedies – painting roofs white to reflect heat and suppress the heat island effect (New York), using a reflective road asphalt sealant to cool tarmac (Los Angeles), planting tree corridors to channel cool air down from surrounding hills (Stuttgart) and intensive vegetation-planting (Singapore). All at a considerable cost.
The best solution is to prevent overheating in the first place. Which brings us back to James’ webinar.
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