New Year resolution 2021 – 68% plus!

Cutting to the quick. With just nine years to the final climate change make-or-break point of 2030, the world – led by the UN and UK – is waking up to the need for drastic carbon cuts – an urgent priority for countries and governments … but also millions of SMEs.

If 2020 was unprecedented in modern times, 2021 will be both similar and different. In a period of immense change, the UK is taking its COP26 climate summit hosting role very seriously.

The backdrop is Brexit, a warning from the UN Secretary General that a ‘broken’ world is committing suicide, and a new environmentally-committed US President soon to enter the White House.

Britain, a recognised environmental leader and author of the Climate Change Act 2008 which other nations have since used as a template, is committed to making a difference before it is too late.

Climate Ambition Summit

The indications are that this may not be an easy task and will need some determined oomph!

On 12th December, world leaders – with notable absences – joined a virtual UN Climate Ambition Summit hosted by the Prime Minister to plot a low-carbon route to 2021’s COP26 climate summit delayed in 2020 by the pandemic.

Their brief was to make deep binding carbon-cutting commitments in unusual times to keep global temperature rises down to a relatively safe 1.5C. But only 45 of the 70 present made firm proposals.

Mr Johnson must now try to apply a three-line environmental whip at Glasgow’s real COP26 gathering next November when thousands of politicians, environmentalists, financiers, entrepreneurs finally come together physically.

Leading from the front

The success of COP26 – and the UK’s international leadership role – is now critically important to the Government as a new era starts on 1st January. We will all have keys parts to play.

The latest Government initiative is the long-awaited ‘Energy White paper: Powering our net-zero future’ (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/energy-white-paper-powering-our-net-zero-future) finally published on 14th December that we will look at in more detail in the New Year.

Before that, the PM set the ball rolling early in December by announcing a swingeing 68% UK greenhouse gas (GHG) emission cut by 2030 – a target and date that can’t be missed if the UK is to meet its legally-binding 2050 net-zero goal and important mid-term targets like 2030.

However, this demanding goal has already been superseded by the Climate Change Committee which in its 9th December Sixth Carbon Budget called for a 78% reduction by 2035 over 1990 levels.

The diplomatic task ahead is to combine a green build back better economic recovery with heightened climate change priorities at a time of new post-Brexit global trading relationships.

Stepping up to the task

This will be a mammoth but essential challenge.

On a macro-level it will include an ambitious 40% increase in UK offshore wind power – plus onshore wind – at least one new nuclear fission power station and fledgling technologies to harness the energy that drives the stars – nuclear fusion.

On a micro-level, households will need to live differently – phasing out gas boilers, installing more insulation, harvesting ground or air heat, travelling sustainably and eating far less meat.

It will also involve large companies and industries perfecting new workable solutions on a huge commercial scale – such as energy delivered by green hydrogen, plus carbon capture technologies.

Small … and medium … are beautiful

However, the strategy will only work if specialist SMEs fill many green supply chain opportunities with local niche solutions, competitive products, services and novel technologies for wider markets.

Which is the core raison d’être of the Chamber Low Carbon (CLC) programme that has now been extended to June 2023 with a newly expanded expert team that can be seen at https://www.chamberlowcarbon.co.uk/energy-environmental-advisors/.

We can now provide not only skilled general energy and environmental advice, but also direct specialist hands-on guidance in technologies such as heat pumps and photovoltaics.

Throughout 2021 and beyond, CLC will help businesses to convert to renewable energy, use less energy, make waste redundant and minimise their environmental footprints.

The CLC team also has wide experience in taking new innovative technologies to market, which will be increasingly important.

New Year

The end of a double lockdown is a good time to consider huge infrastructure projects – such as the new North Sea sub-sea cables that will bring Scottish green energy to English homes, plus the giant Dogger Bank windfarm.

It is also an opportunity to look at the brilliance of small businesses. One UK SME, for example is planning to produce high-quality diamonds out of thin air during 2021.

By capturing atmospheric carbon, and using solar and wind power plus ordinary rainwater, the Stroud-based company hopes to produce thousands of carats annually with no ‘blood diamond’ stigma.

Ultimate proof that sustainability can be profitable? Simples really – if you can combine knowhow with help of the type the CLC team will be happy to provide.

Online Lunch and Learn events

This is also probably a good point to mention that our online Lunch and Learn webinar programme will be active again in the New Year.

For those who missed it, on 10th December Chartered Environmental Surveyor David Inman FRICS CEnv presented “Delivering Sustainable Development Goals: A Guide to Business”.

David explained why putting the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) into practice is as important for small firms and the business community as it is for countries and governments. Again, everyone has a role to play.

Specifically, he outlined a tactical level low-cost SDGs approach that ties in with many of the CSR and standards initiatives companies typically already run in house.

Incidentally, if you would like more information on SDGs, please email Debbie at d.treadwell@chamberelancs.co.uk.

Two key messages for SMEs

David had a dual-message. SDGs help SMEs win public sector procurement and corporate supply chains business was the first. The second was that just as the revolutionary Health & Safety regime seemed alien in the 1970s, SDGs will become mainstream later this decade.

For reference, his company, RICS Regulated firm DIEM Ltd in Formby, delivers environmental, energy, sustainability and business risk solutions to UK based clients and their worldwide operations.

Its clients include FTSE listed companies, some of the UK’s largest brands and capital projects, Russell Group universities and family run SMEs (https://www.diemltd.co.uk/).

The presentation can be seen again on https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMBeSJ0PIVg6FVt0css7s4Q/videos.

War on carbon

The PM’s commitment to cut emissions by at least 68% has been broadly welcomed as a new global benchmark. However, scientists warn it does not guarantee dangerous climate change will be avoided. The UK is still behind its targets set five years ago. But Mr Johnson is optimistic.

“Today, we are taking the lead with an ambitious new target to reduce our emissions by 2030 faster than any major economy”, he explained, adding, “But this is a global effort, which is why the UK is urging world leaders to bring forward their own ambitious plans to cut emissions and set net zero targets.”

“Our planet is broken”

This comes on the heels of a warning from UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, that humanity is waging what he describes as a “suicidal” war on the natural world.

Mr Guterres added, “Nature always strikes back, and is doing so with gathering force and fury”; he wants to put tackling climate change at the heart of the UN’s global mission.

His plea is that every country, city, financial institution and company “should adopt plans for a transition to net zero emissions by 2050” with decisive action taken now to achieve this vision”.

The UK’s cunning plan

The Government’s upgraded climate change strategy was launched in November when Mr Johnson announced a new 10-Point Plan for a UK Green Industrial Revolution with 250,000 new green jobs (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/pm-outlines-his-ten-point-plan-for-a-green-industrial-revolution-for-250000-jobs) designed to work alongside other legislation and initiatives.

Martin Baxter of IEMA joined us recently to explain the importance of the long-awaited post-Brexit Environment bill. However, the Government has also released details of its Agricultural Bill.

This has important implications for the environment and emissions and sets out how farmers and land managers in England will be rewarded in future for “public goods” – such as better air and water quality, wildlife diversity, flooding reduction and resilience.

Soil health and the use of fertilisers that create emissions and run-off will be a particular focus.

National infrastructure bank tied to net-zero

Shortly after the Ten Point Plan, the Government’s new National Infrastructure Strategy (NIS) was also unveiled (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-infrastructure-strategy). It includes proposals for a National Infrastructure Bank to replace the UK’s post-Brexit involvement with the European Investment Bank and funnel capital towards net-zero projects.

The Government pledged in March more than £100bn to be spent on infrastructure in the next five years; the pandemic delayed the NIS announcement.

Green energy superhighway boost

One of the private sector’s most impressive infrastructure programmes will be the building of multibillion-pound underwater power cables to carry Scottish renewable energy to millions of English homes (https://www.sse.com/news-and-views/2020/11/power-firms-unite-to-deliver-underwater-energy-super-highway/).

The Scottish Power, National Grid and SSE Eastern Link project will run from Peterhead and Torness in Scotland to Selby and Hawthorn Point in the north of England. Construction will start in 2024; meanwhile, the three companies will co-sponsor COP26.

The good news for Whitehall is that the interconnectors will support the prime minister’s November party conference commitment to power all UK homes with offshore wind by 2030.

When the wind blows

SSE Renewables working with Equinor has also confirmed the first two phases of the giant 3.6GW Dogger Bank windfarm which, as the world’s largest offshore windfarm, could power more than 4.5 million homes.

The importance of wind was emphasised further by Oil Gas Technology and Offshore Renewable Energy Catapults November research. This analysed what is needed to attract energy investments to the North Sea and increase output by 66% above current levels. (https://ore.catapult.org.uk/?orecatapultreports=integrated-energy-vision-for-2050).

A global CCS capacity surge despite in 2020 Covid-19

One other welcome piece of the jigsaw is that the world’s permanent carbon capture and storage (CCS) capacity saw a 33% year-on-year rise in 2020, according to Global CCS Institute think-tank research.

There are now 65 commercial CCS facilities either in operation or under development internationally, with capacity on track for a storage rate of 116 Mtpa by the end of 2020.

Diamonds in the sky

And if an even more down-to-earth example of effective long-term carbon dioxide capture is needed, Ecotricity founder Dale Vince may have just the thing.

‘Sky diamonds’ made at a ‘sky mining facility’ in Gloucestershire are the ‘world’s first zero-impact’ diamonds, he says, made by combining free carbon with wind and solar energy, plus rainwater.

His aim is to create thousands of carats of carbon-negative laboratory-grown diamonds annually ‘made entirely from the sky”. The price tag has yet to be set.

Ultimate proof perhaps that low-carbon isn’t just pie-in-the-sky.

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