Delays not cancellations

Delayed but not cancelled

Sad events are unfortunately inevitable. But with some rescheduling, new announcements and policy adjustments, low-carbon progress continued in April as more companies of all sizes were encouraged to commit to net-zero.

News of the death of His Royal Highness Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh meant that the online conversation planned for 12 April between Chamber CEO Miranda Barker and Environment Agency (EA) Chair Emma Howard Boyd could not take place.

However, the importance of the EA’s radical approach to major environmental problems and their impacts have not been forgotten and the online event will be rearranged as soon as possible.

To put this into context, EA Chief Executive, Sir James Bevan, commented recently that net-zero is no longer enough and some of the Agency’s key concerns are outlined later.

Miranda also appeared before the BEIS Select Committee on net-zero and COP26 in April. What she said – and how she surprised MPs – is reported below.

Johnson and Biden April announcements

April has seen other historic milestones.

The Prime Minister upped the global pace by setting a swingeing 78% 2035 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target that for the first time will include the high-emitting aviation and shipping sectors in the UK’s Sixth Carbon Budget from 2033 to 2037.

President Biden has also invited 40 nations to ‘knock their heads together” online at his Earth Day summit in a search for the ground-breaking carbon cuts needed to reach net-zero by 2050.

Biden says the US’ own Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) will cut emissions by “at least half” by 2030; China, Japan, South Korea and Canada are expected to unveiled their own proposals ahead of the COP26 (the 26th Conference of the Parties summit) in Glasgow.

Net—zero also featured strongly in the President’s “once in a generation investment” $4 trillion (£2.9 trillion) investment plan for America announced on 28 June.

UK policy announcements

Domestically, April has also seen a number of major low-carbon policy announcements designed to help large heavy industry support the UK’s net-zero drive.

They include the Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy and a revised Industrial Strategy which are also explained at the end of this post.

New uncertainties

However, Covid-19 could still jeopardise November’s COP26 global summit, although the Government is adamant that it will go ahead as a physical in-person event – though probably not with the 30,000 people who would normally attend.

The other options are for limited online forums, or for COP26 to be delayed completely for a second year running because of virus restrictions.

The Chamber and Low Carbon Team want a successful COP26 to include a demonstration live in Glasgow of how RedCAT alternative technologies developed in Lancashire can help to solve environmental and social problems in the challenged ‘Global South’ of the planet.

RedCAT is also described below as part of our regular COP-Watch reports leading up to COP26.

Definite diary dates

Meanwhile, two local online events will go ahead as planned in May and June.

To register and join us, please go to https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/chamber-low-carbon-live-lunch-and-learn-what-is-an-ems-tickets-146621303265

Chamber Low Carbon Virtual Expo

In the second event on 2 and 3 June, the Chamber Low Carbon Team will explain the support we can give to help reduce your emissions, use renewable energy, join the circular economy and bring new low-carbon technologies to market.

Sessions between 10am and 4pm on both days will be themed around energy, environment and innovation, with guest speakers from Chamber Low Carbon partners, suppliers and consultants. There will also be many breaks and networking opportunities. The full agenda is being finalised.

Again, to join us please go to https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/chamber-low-carbon-virtual-expo-2021-tickets-140045697451

Select committee appearance and low-carbon portal

Miranda Barker joined a panel of experts on 27 April giving evidence to members of the BEIS Select Committee on low-carbon, net-zero and COP26. The discussion centred on three main issues.

MPs want to know how best to explain the importance of COP26 to SMEs. A key answer, says Miranda, is not just to market the event as an abstract idea, but demonstrate the severe business threats of not prioritising net-zero, plus the very real benefits of being involved in a low-carbon future.

The second issue was maximising the COP26 sponsorship role of big corporates – SSE, Scottish Power, National Grid, Sky, NatWest Group and Sainsbury’s. Here the focus was on making the part played by supply chains much more visible and stressing the duty all suppliers to support net-zero.

However, on the question of ‘what do businesses need to actively encourage them to drive towards net-zero’, Miranda adds that her response probably went beyond what members were looking for.

“I said carrots in the form of incentives are important, but also the stick of the risks of future carbon taxes and high energy costs if they don’t make progress against the net zero agenda. I was asked if that was not adding unnecessary ‘pain’?

“I pointed out that many well-intentioned business people are already under huge commercial pressure and need both types of encouragement to prioritise on net-zero before market forces catch up with them anyway.”

The select committee’s findings should help to inform the BEIS approach to COP26. Meanwhile, if Covid-19 restrictions continue for a second year, she is adamant that a virtual summit or a delay until 2022 are still essential. The best outcome however will be a face-to-face November conference.

“There are two principal physical audiences. One is international politicians. The other is low-carbon technology exhibitors. With the best will in the world, it is hard to replace the small talk around show stands and after-dinner conversations that are crucial for sales.”

ZeroCarbonBusiness portal

Earlier, on 23 April Miranda chaired a Broadway presentation about the challenges small businesses face in delivering net-zero.

The latter event also saw the launch of the new “ZeroCarbonBusiness” portal website https://www.zerocarbonbusiness.uk/

The site is very much in an ‘alpha’ state! Your feedback will be important in fine-tuning this active and continuously updated information resource as part of a national campaign to support the low-carbon business community. Do please get in touch.

COP26 or not COP26?

Not so long ago, global warming was a Cinderella subject. Climate change warnings are now routine news. So why is low-carbon action so important at this point?

In the words of former executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Christiana Figueres, at the Tokyo Forum 2020, “The scary thing is that after 2030, it basically doesn’t matter what humans do because we will lose total control [over the Earth’s system]”.

She was referring to the UN’s landmark IPCC warning that we have only nine years left to change our global warming trajectory. Going past critical tipping points could trigger irreversible instability in the Earth’s systems, climate scientists say.

COP-Watch 2021

COP26 between 197 nations in Scotland could be the world’s last concerted opportunity to keep global temperature rises below 20C, and preferable 1.50C this century.

The Prime Minister wants it to go ahead physically and not be postponed for a second year. Extinction Rebellion believes the COP26 process is flawed. Campaigner Greta Thunberg will not attend if an uneven distribution of Covid-19 vaccines stops countries participating on equal terms.

So, a great deal is at stake.

RedCAT at COP26

RedCAT (the Lancashire Centre for Alternative Technologies) is an initiative launched by East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce with regional and national partners.

It ties in closely with key COP26 themes, such as financial and R&D support, to accelerate the commercialisation of low-carbon and clean transition technologies.

An example is the “River Power Pod” in-stream hydro system piloted by the EA in the UK, tested in Nepal and manufactured from recycled plastic. It now generates power in Kenya.

Working with the EA, a percentage of RedCAT’s incoming investment goes to creating a local climate resilience fund in local EA Lancashire and Cumbrian catchments.

COP26 showcase

It is hoped that a Lancashire low-carbon innovation ecosystem showcase at COP26 led by RedCAT will demonstrate how capital investment, expert support, R&D, commercialisation, export and deployment support from the Northwest of England can help the less fortunate Global South.

Specifically, the display will focus on the River Power Pod ‘from lakes in Lancashire to communities in Kenya’. There is no space to explain the project in full here. But more information about RedCAT can be found at https://www.red-cat.uk/

The showcase aim will be to highlight each stage of the development in a dynamic hour-long physical, digital and live streamed presentation that does illustrate the whole story.

Environmental Agency goals

Emma Howard Boyd has an extensive financial services, corporate finance and fund management background. As well having an important oversight role for the EA, she is an ex officio Defra board member and was recently appointed UK Commissioner to the Global Commission on Adaptation.

We look forward to her joining us in conversation soon. Meanwhile two serious EA concerns are severe flooding events and rising sea levels – both very relevant to Lancashire communities.

Duplicating nature

The EA encourages ‘natural solutions’ like SUDS (sustainable urban drainage systems) as heavy rainfall becomes more unpredictable and channelling large volumes of water away quickly to the sea via swollen river systems across flood plains with housing and industry is inadequate.

Rather than protecting individual sites and properties from local surface and sub-surface water flows, a catchment-wide approach aims to “store” water in a myriad “small places” as part of “source control”.

SUDS involves copying nature with land profiled into shallow swales, reed beds, filter trenches, retention ponds and basins that clean and store storm water before it is returned to the ground or wider environment. Increasingly SUDS is being deployed where local flooding is a growing risk.

Down to the seas yet again

However, warming also means global sea level rises.

Flooding and sea level rises combined, warns the EA, will inevitably mean some UK coastal communities will have to be completely relocated this century. This is potentially a long-term issue for regions with low-lying coastal plains like Lancashire.

One of the key goals of net-zero is to mitigate the forces that cause acute climate change impacts.

Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy

As mentioned earlier, two legislative changes are designed to further nudge the UK further towards net-zero.

As the next piece in the UK’s net-zero by 2050 jig-saw, the new Industrial decarbonisation strategy for heavy industry published in March is the first from a major economy to show how industry can decarbonise, be competitive and not export emissions (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/industrial-decarbonisation-strategy).

The immediate aim is to switch 20 Terawatt hours of UK industrial energy supply from fossil fuel to low-carbon sources by 2030.

Building on last autumn’s “The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution” (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/936567/10_POINT_PLAN_BOOKLET.pdf), the strategy explains the Government’s goal of creating prosperous, low-carbon industrial, public, construction and manufacturing sectors.

It is linked to the £1 billion Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme that has already granted £932 million to 429 projects in England (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/public-sector-decarbonisation-scheme-psds) and the £171 million Industrial Decarbonisation Challenge (https://www.ukri.org/our-work/our-main-funds/industrial-strategy-challenge-fund/clean-growth/industrial-decarbonisation-challenge/) set up to develop technologies for heavy industry and new jobs in the next 30 years.

Revamped Industrial Strategy

The Government also announced in March changes to the Industrial Strategy launched in 2017 to help businesses create jobs and skills, plus infrastructure of the future. It included ‘Grand Challenges’ and individual clean growth deals for sectors such as construction, aviation and offshore wind.

The new focus is on the UK as the first major economy to develop a specific low-carbon industrial sector, plus the first zero-carbon industrial cluster with hydrogen and carbon capture, usage and storage technologies.

The Government’s aim is to capture at least three megatonnes of carbon from industry by 2030, with a carbon pricing tool to help businesses account of their emissions in investment decisions.

An Infrastructure Delivery Taskforce – ‘Project Speed’ (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/launch-of-project-speed-challenges-rail-industry-to-cut-time-and-costs-of-rail-upgrades) was also launched in February to ensure low-carbon infrastructure is captured in planning regimes. The recently re-constituted Steel Council met in early March to consider whether the steel sector can reach near-zero emissions by 2035.

Earth Day 2021

Coinciding with President Biden’s world meeting, and with a theme of “As the world returns to normal, we can’t go back to business-as-usual”, Earth Day 2021 from 20 to 22 April reinforced the message that “Together, we can prevent the coming disasters of climate change and environmental destruction. Together, we can Restore Our Earth” (https://www.earthday.org/earth-day-2021/).

The event opened with a global youth climate summit, followed by discussions on climate and environmental issues, and a “Teach for the Planet: Global Education Summit” that focused on the role of educators in combating climate change and the need for transformative climate education.

A second digital event with workshops, panel discussions and special performances focused on natural processes, emerging green technologies and innovative thinking to restore the world’s ecosystems.

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