Converging or diverging green goals?
While it is hard to tell whether severed and separate post-Brexit UK and EU policies will mean an environmental gap or close business cooperation across the English Channel, many British SMEs already have impressive global sustainability credentials!
Mind the policy gap!
Environmental manoeuvres are underway on both sides of the Strait of Dover.
On the British side a literally ‘ground-breaking’ focus on soil protection at the core of the upcoming Agricultural Bill (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/agriculture-bill-to-boost-environment-and-food-production) has been trailed as the first sign of the new UK Government’s independent approach to tough carbon management.
Soil, it is estimated, holds three times more carbon than the atmosphere, but an important feed-back loop means that some could be released gradually in a warming world.
The new incentive is financial. As an alternative to the EU Common Agricultural Policy based on land ownership, by rewarding farmers via a revised grant system for protecting soil vulnerable to intensive farming and deforestation, ministers are hoping to tackle carbon at a grassroots level.
Similarly, there will be rewards for services to society – clean air and water, flood protection and thriving wildlife – with changes phased in over seven years. However, the farming community is still said to be anxiety about future imported food standards.
In the coming weeks, a drip-feed of new UK environmental announcements is expected to include more details about the delayed Environment Bill (https://deframedia.blog.gov.uk/2019/10/29/environment-bill-moves-forward/) initially introduced to Parliament in January 2018.
The Continent goes its own way
However, in a figurative re-run of the legendary British newspaper headline “Fog in Channel – Continent Cut Off”, a smaller “Europe” is also trying to breathe life into a new ambitious and comprehensive but controversial community-wide green vision.
Described by incoming EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen as “Europe’s man on the moon moment” to “reconcile the economy with our planet”, the new European Green Deal (https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/european-green-deal_en) is designed, she says, to integrate continuous economic growth with genuine solutions for the climate crisis and emergency.
If successful, the deal will be the largest policy overhaul since the modern EU was founded, stretching from air and food to travel and construction and setting a new template for how Europe lives healthily, works productively and consumes sustainably.
Other key aspects will include specific manufacturing standards, generating a circular economy, plus banning unnecessary plastic and other wastes.
Size isn’t everything
The EU’s size will almost certainly give it global clout. However, one down side already evident is that with so many participants, achieving consensus is difficult. Eastern states object to losing coal, leading to concerns about new north-south and east-west divides.
A key element of the policy is the Just Transition Mechanism formulated to ensure that no part of the reshaped community is left behind – perhaps echoing Downing Street’s new emphasis on special steps for the North of England.
Agreeing to differ?
What this will all mean for future trade time will tell. The Prime Minister has made clear that the UK will “diverge from EU rules and standards” with a raft of changes altering 40 years of EU environmental regulations
EU negotiating language urging the UK to stay in “lock-step” with European environmental policies as they develop and state aid, with an “ambition to improve over time” in “dynamic alignment” is unlikely to be received well at No 10.
What’s in it for companies?
Meanwhile, Microsoft has decided that “carbon neutrality” is not good enough for the business sector. By 2050 it wants to go further than meeting the world’s ’net-zero’ carbon emissions goal; as soon as 2030 the tech giant hopes to become “carbon negative” and recover from the environment all the carbon that it has ever emitted.
But modest SMEs should not be intimidated. Many UK companies already have strong sustainability credentials that until recently have been largely eclipsed by Brexit.
UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
An independent UK might have national goals. But whole communities, individual cities and local companies perhaps surprisingly have a significant global green value.
In September 2019, world governments working under the UN agreed to make a huge global “Decade of Action” push for 17 comprehensive Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) from September 2020. The aim is to tackle monumental challenges and change society and life in general for the better.
A full detailed list of the 17 covering poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice can be seen at https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/.
Ending hunger globally and locally
SDGs probably sound remote and daunting. Which is a pity because many ordinary UK firms make substantial SDG contributions. SDG2 is an example – to end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030, while minimising waste.
Hunger is not confined to the developing world. Closer to home in Northwest England limited access to food means that an increasing number of people and families now rely on food banks. However, the converse is also true. With “farm to fork” policies to reduce large volumes of avoidable food waste, major supermarket chains are knowingly or not helping to meet SDG2.
In fact, drilling down into the SDGs it becomes clear that by becoming increasingly resource-efficient with lower energy use and smaller carbon-footprints, ordinary firms contribute hugely to SGDs.
And they deserve credit for it! As environmental and sustainable awareness grows, staff morale can be boosted significantly by knowing that they are involved directly in creating a better world.
This is an area where the Chamber Low Carbon Team is very pleased to help. Expect to see much more on SDGs through 2020. Meanwhile, please contact us directly via tel 01254 356 487, or firstname.lastname@example.org for support and more information.
More on the EU Green Deal
Climate change and environmental degradation are now seen as an existential threat to Europe and the wider world. Which is why the EU Green Deal will aim to connect public and private sector funding, with the Commission presenting a Sustainable Europe Investment Plan in early 2020, plus a Green Financing Strategy to facilitate private sector funding.
Going further, the European Investment Bank hopes to add a reinforcing EUR 100 billion injection over the next seven years as a springboard for all sectors and regions to catch up and join the new pan-European vision. Total deal funding is estimated to be EUR 260 billion annually – circa 1.5% of 2018 EU GDP. At least 25% of the EU’s long-term budget could be dedicated to climate action.
However, the EU says there is already good news – emissions in 2018 were 23% lower than in 1990; GDP grew by 61% in the same period.
Follow my new leader
Von der Leyen wants to make the EU an international role model which other major global economic players like India and China will want to join. As well as transport, energy, agriculture and buildings, the deal will include steel, concrete, ICT, textiles and chemicals.
In March 2020, a “Climate Pact” will also be launched to give EU citizens a voice and role in action plans, share information, launch grassroots activities and showcase solutions. Some 77% of European citizens now say protecting the environment can boost economic growth.
Key deal elements will include: – a Biodiversity Strategy for 2030; a New Industrial Strategy, a Circular Economy Action Plan; a Farm to Fork Strategy; and proposals for a pollution-free Europe. Work is due to start immediately to upgrade Europe’s 2030 environmental targets.
Many EU regions relying heavily – like the North of England – on very carbon intensive activities, which means that reskilling programmes, employment opportunities and new commerce sectors will be a priority
Breaking the detail down further, at least 40% of the common agricultural policy budget and 30% of fisheries subsidies will be dedicated to climate change and cutting greenhouse gases, with much tougher air quality restrictions, plus more freight transport by “green” rail and water.
Crucially, a carbon border tax could be levied on imports to the EU from exporters with weaker carbon targets.
The UK Government has already indicated that the environment will be a high priority, with 40GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030. The 19 December Queen’s Speech called for progress towards the net-zero emissions goal ahead of the November 2020 UN COP26 summit in Glasgow.
As in Europe, recent polling data published by The Independent showed that some 70% of people questioned support net-zero emissions by 2030; 7% oppose. Views expressed crossed all ages and social groups in parts of Britain with no regional, generational or urban/rural split.
In response to the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) annual progress report, the Prime Minister plans to steer a new internal committee to establish governance and enforcement mechanisms accelerating cross-government efforts to meet the net-zero 2050 target.
The new Environment Bill designed to protect and improve the environment for future generations will have legally binding targets for better air quality. It should also set out how UK green standards and environmental protection laws would look post-Brexit, plus their effects on future trade deals. The bill includes a policy framework for a new “watchdog” Office for Environmental Protection (OEP).
There will also be a new commitment to “ban the export of polluting plastic waste to countries outside of the Organisation for Economic Collaboration and Development.
The Aldersgate Group is a politically impartial, multi-stakeholder alliance. It champions a competitive sustainable economy, the business case for a decarbonised UK economy, greater resource efficiency and investments in the natural environment.
The group’s executive director, Nick Molho, has commented that “With ample cross-party consensus, two major global summits in 2020 and growing business and public calls for more action, this government has the historic opportunity to push forward the most ambitious environmental and climate policy agenda on record.”
Another strong advocate is the Environmental Services Association which supports the principle of responsible exporting and wants to work with the Government to ensure that the proposed plastic ban, and other measures to stimulate domestic demand for recyclable materials, deliver new infrastructure and ensure that good recyclable material does not go for disposal.
Meanwhile, the influential Environment Audit Committee (EAC) MP sub-committee that until now has scrutinised Government climate action will be looking for a new chair after Labour MP Mary Creagh lost her Wakefield seat to the Conservatives.
For the 49th year running, the world’s great and good, charities and academics – plus politicians, celebrities and other elite figures – have gathered in the Swiss mountain town of Davos in January for the by-very-strict-invitation-only World Economic Forum (WEF) to attempt to sort out the world’s most pressing problems.
Although the WEF’s glitter has been tarnished since the financial crisis by the role of some participants, this year’s key theme has been the environment. Perhaps not surprisingly, US President Donald Trump and Swedish environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg made strongly opposing points.
However, the only UK cabinet member present has been Chancellor Sajid Javid, not the Prime Minister who barred other ministers from attending.
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