Remote working – virus & climate change

Working remotely to tackle three crises together!

COVID-19 and carbon. By working from home, the Chamber Low Carbon team will maintain uninterrupted low-carbon business services throughout what we hope will be a short-term health crisis to avoid a longer-term environmental disaster – and help fight a waste crime epidemic.

As circumstances change, we will let you know about any new arrangements for quick and easy remote access to our free low-carbon advice, plus help in making important new business contacts.

Very importantly, you can continue to apply for financial support from our £4 million European Union, European Regional Development Fund part funded programme.

The team is also converting our poplar face-to-face “Lunch and Learn” low-carbon seminars into online webinars – where unfortunately you will now have to provide your own lunch at home! However, you will still hear from experts who can answer all your questions as before.

The upside of a lockdown

An estimated three billion people globally are now under transport restrictions even though they are using more energy in the home and for heating. The net result is a significant fall in emissions.

Our new Low Carbon team colleague Lizzie Hebbert has been looking at air quality improvements since the lockdown began which you can read about at https://www.chamberlowcarbon.co.uk/2020/the-corona-virus-pandemic-what-are-the-consequences-for-air-quality/.

Hard-hit New York has reported a 50% year-on-year fall in carbon monoxide from cars. Researchers also expect that May – when CO2 emissions normally peak because of leaf decomposition – could see its lowest northern hemisphere carbon figures since the 2009 financial crisis.

However, the wider question is whether gains made now are sustainable and if greenhouse gas emissions will stay permanently low when the lockdown ends?

COP-out?

The answer may not be straightforward because the relationship between the climate emergency and COVID-19 raises some potentially complicated questions.

A long-term solution may depend on our willingness as individuals to keep on curbing our energy-use when the present crisis lifts – a key Chamber’s low-carbon programme priority!

Meanwhile, an important indirect environmental victim of COVID-19 is COP26, the UN climate change conference the UK was due to host in Glasgow in November that has now been pushed into 2021 (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/cop26-postponement).

It is impossible to delay the climate crisis

Environmental campaigners and climate leaders are planning to maintain pressure on world governments to stick to the stringent and critical new Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) emission reductions that were to be put into place this year at COP26.

However, if there is a silver lining it could be that the UK which is criticised for not been well-prepared to organise the pivotal global conference now has more time.

As Nicholas Stern – author of the formative 2006 Stern Review – explains, “There is an opportunity in the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis to create a new approach to [economic] growth that is a sustainable and resilient economy in closer harmony with the natural world”. He adds, “That will be the challenge and opportunity of COP26 next year. We must use this time well.”

Avoiding US elections

There was already some uneasiness that the conference would have started within two days of the US Presidential elections scheduled for 3 November 2020. The New Scientist wonders whether a Democratic winner entering the White House might reverse President Trump’s decision to leave the 2015 Paris climate agreement and then go on to develop a stronger low-carbon plan.

However, the Financial Times worries that postponing COP26 robs the EU “of a milestone that was being used to strong-arm some of its climate laggards to get their act together this year”. Other commentators urge the UK to move ahead in areas like transport, land-use and home-heating before COP26 to prove that it really is on-track for net-zero emissions and can show true global-leadership.

Joint coronavirus and climate change solutions

The jury is probably still out on whether the cooperation and social cohesion seen during the COVID-19 pandemic will lead on to long-term behavioural improvements when more normal conditions return, or if relief, release and an urgent economic recovery will push us back into bad old habits?

The logic of the second scenario is that once free of government-imposed virus restrictions, people are unlikely to welcome them back over a longer period for less immediate climate goals.

Former UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary from 2010 to 2016, Christiana Figueres, believes that the world will rise to the challenge, “The COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed humanity’s instinct to transform itself in the face of a universal threat and it can help us do the same to create a livable planet for future generations,” she says.

Professor Mike Berners-Lee of the Lancaster Environment Centre at Lancaster University, has been quoted as saying, “Covid-19 is a re-evaluation and re-wiring opportunity. It won’t be much fun but it does give humanity an enforced chance to stop and think.”

Pros and cons

Other observers say tough climate crisis measures will be less harsh than virus rules, that we have an opportunity to create better systems and climate crisis structures, and that current “trillion-dollar” interventions show that with political will and society’s support, drastic steps can be taken quickly.

However, others caution it is too early to understand what works and what does not, the balance between behaviour and technology, and how governments will re-stimulate their economies – after the 2008-09, financial crash, carbon emissions shot up by 5% when fossil fuel use was boosted.

There is also a general view that shutting down the economy is not an alternative to helping people live low-carbon lifestyles and investing in sustainable infrastructure.

Breaking down resistance

Leo Murry, Director of Innovation at the zero carbon society campaign group, Possible (https://www.wearepossible.org/) has a specific slant. He says that in the short- and long-term, people will deal with COVID-19 challenges that define their behaviour, and that “getting consumers in rich nations to shift to more sustainable lifestyles is incredibly difficult, even at the best of times.”

He adds that “almost all forms of direct entreaty or psychological nudge to individuals to voluntarily change their behaviour to combat climate change do not work, or at best have very limited impacts”.

Significant behaviour changes need “structural changes to the choice architecture in which individual consumers make decisions, such as regulations to ban certain products or activities, large price hikes, or new infrastructure”.

“Moments of change”

One exception he suggests is “moments of change” – moving house or job – where old behaviour and habits are disrupted and new, active choices are made that can create fresh patterns.

Intervening at these moments can help to steer people into lower carbon patterns more effectively than trying to prise them out of existing habits, he says.

COVID-19 has interrupted hundreds of millions of lives and is an example of mass “habit discontinuity”, especially in personal mobility which is an area that is difficult to shift, he believes.

However, he adds that while ending lockdown might be a good time to question old lives and make better ones, coping with economic problems and other crisis impacts could make this challenging.

Avoiding waste crime – a crisis in the making

On 6 March, Environment Agency guest experts described the impact, cost and disruption caused by an accelerating number of large-scale waste crimes to attendees at our last face-to-face Lunch & Learn seminar.

If you were not at “Waste Crime and Duty of Care”, please contact our team for advice. You might also find it helpful to look at the following websites: –

Good carbon news

New BEIS figures released on 26 March (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/875485/2019_UK_greenhouse_gas_emissions_provisional_figures_statistical_release.pdf) show that year-on-year UK domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions fell by 3.6% in 2019; renewable energy use reached a record 36.9% of all electricity generation. A recent Carbon Brief analysis concluded that we have reached a level last seen in 1888 while the economy grew by a fifth.

The main reason was a 29% fall in coal use in 2019 which brings total coal carbon emissions over a decade down by 80%. Oil and gas emissions fell by 6% and 20%.

However, Government projections show the UK will miss its legally-binding carbon targets later this decade without a further 31% fall by 2030. Current data suggests we are on track for a 10% cut.

“In the past decade, we’ve seen unprecedented changes in Britain’s power system, which has transformed at a speed never seen before,” Dr Iain Staffell of Imperial College London comments. He adds, “If this pace of change can be maintained, renewables could provide more than half Britain’s electricity by the end of this decade and the power system could be practically carbon free.”

High-carbon homes!

Transport is the main UK carbon emissions source. However, some 28% is linked to lighting, cooling and heating buildings. A further fifth come from heating and powering homes.

Nearly two thirds of UK homes do not meet long-term energy efficiency targets, according to BBC data. More than 12 million fall below the C grade on Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) from A-G. Many householders spend much more on energy bills than necessary and release tonnes of CO2. Huge retrofitting measures are needed for homes built before 1990.

The situation is said to be so bad that the 65.9 million tonnes of carbon emitted by UK homes in 2018 were higher than emissions from the power stations generating our energy supply.

We now need to apply many of the low-carbon principles used in business at home! BEIS also announced on 2 March plans to power millions of additional homes with renewable energy (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/millions-more-homes-to-be-powered-by-renewables?utm_source=2b2369ba-24a9-4747-b057-2e9151ff992e&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=govuk-notifications&utm_content=immediate).

The UK’s first climate change refugees?

Flooding, the COVID-19, oil price wars and wild financial markets made March a difficult month. Persistently wet ground has caused a growing number of potentially dangerous landslides on sloping ground, plus subterranean sinkholes.

Environment Agency chair, Sir Bevan, says the current policy of housing and property developments on floodplain land must stop. However, for some coastal communities it is already too late.

Pity the poor people of Fairbourne in Gwynedd, a village on the west coast of Wales, who have been called the UK’s first climate change refugees after the Government announced they will must leave 450 houses, a pub, post office and several shops by 2054 because of sea-level rise threats and coastal flooding linked to climate change.

According to CNN the problem could be global and affect us all (https://edition.cnn.com/2020/03/02/world/beaches-disappearing-climate-change-sea-level-rise/index.html?utm_campaign=Carbon%20Brief%20Daily%20Briefing&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Revue%20newsletter) with half of the world’s beaches disappearing by the end of the century!

The environment remains a key priority.

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