Starting early for a busy year ahead

Low-carbon lockdown opportunities

A third Covid-19 lockdown may be challenging. However, with help from our newly-expanded Chamber Low Carbon (CLC) Team, businesses can make green improvements for the immediate and long-term future at the start of a pivotal year.

The New Year may not be opening up as we planned. However, with expert input and guidance, there are potential opportunities for many companies to make much more out of less during 2021.

Working remotely, our team is in an even stronger position than in 2020 to help you and your business support your clients efficiently and sustainably until circumstances start to ease.

An enforced break can also be an opportunity to make post-Brexit adjustments ahead of a steep series of low-carbon rules, regulations and laws now coming down the line towards us at high speed.

The year to come

A number of regional initiatives will help to develop the business and commercial base we need for a swift green post-Covid economic recovery and to meet the increasingly urgent 2050 net-zero emissions agenda.

In parallel, our CLC team will provide free general consultation plus specialist advice during 2021 on renewable energy use, sustainable material procurement and resource management in the circular economy.

However, a slew of major Government announcements at the close of 2020 will be followed this spring by a long list of national consultations, plans and strategies to help meet the UK’s increasingly important mid-century climate change goals.

Energy White Paper

In December, the Government published its long-awaited energy white paper – the first since 2007 – with a new sense of urgency.

It links recent announcements with decisions to be taken soon that will plot out how low-carbon energy and an increasingly detailed climate change strategy will shape future work, business, community and leisure.

More on each of these themes in a moment – starting with county-level initiatives.

Action Lancashire

A number of Lancashire low-carbon initiatives will gain momentum early this year, explains East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce CEO Miranda Barker.

A new strategy paper looking to identify key actions for ‘Lancashire’s Energy & Low Carbon Sector’ is expected to be released in February 2021 by the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership and will focus on low-carbon solutions the environmental technologies sector can provide to help the UK reach its net-zero emissions target.

Lancashire County Council is also moving forward on its low-carbon commitments to protect the local environment and meet the climate emergency.

Miranda is meanwhile co-chairing a national Chambers’ strategy group to provide the climate and low-carbon leadership needed for a successful COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November.

“It’s extremely encouraging to have Alok Sharma, with his experience as former-business secretary, now working solely on driving COP26 forward as a crucial international milestone,” she says.

The appointment of South Ribble MP Katherine Fletcher as Mr Sharma’s Parliamentary Private Secretary is an important additional local link to create a strong Lancashire understanding of opportunities the summit will bring.

Chamber Low Carbon winter programme

The CLC programme will work remotely on a one-to-one basis with regional companies in 2021 and also organise online group activities.

Green Rose – the first is the Green Rose programme (https://www.chamberelancs.co.uk/services/chamber-low-carbon/clubs-and-forums/green-rose/) which helps organisations develop their own bespoke environmental management system over six-months to ISO 14001, ISO 14005 or EMAS accreditation standards.

Our next online cohort will start in February. For details, please contact Debbie Treadwell at d.treadwell@chamberelancs.co.uk.

Lunch & Learn – the second is the opening 2021 event in our popular lunchtime webinar series.

David Connor, Founder of 2030hub, will join us from 12.00 to 13.30 GMT on Thursday 4 February to explain the role of Certified B Corps which as community leaders are driving a global movement of businesses as a force for good.

There are currently 3,720 certified B Corps across 150 industries in 74 countries, with companies like Patagonia, Danone, Innocent Drinks, The Body Shop, Harrogate Water and Equinox Kombucha.

David will show that B Corp Certification is a powerful way to build credibility, trust and business value. To register and join us, please go to https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/chamber-low-carbon-live-lunch-and-learn-introduction-to-b-corp-tickets-136792059733

Good reasons for going in circles

Before looking at what the energy white paper means, it is important to mention briefly two other topics that will feature highly in 2021 – the circular economy and plastics.

Half of our carbon cutting targets could be reached by not extracting and dumping valuable materials. However, reducing, recovering, reusing and recycling products allows us to shrink our wider environmental footprint even more. This is an essential part of the CLC programme.

Circular evidence

New evidence from global consultancy Kearney shows that companies using circular economy models that design out waste and pollution, such as refill, resale and repair, generate an average revenue 32% higher than traditional routes.

Kearney’s survey of 150 circular economy “leaders” found that they also cut costs by an average of 38%. Unfortunately, only some 9% of the circa 100 billion tonnes of virgin materials taken from the earth annually are currently reused or recycled.

Fortunately for us, CLC programme manager Stephen Sykes is a member of a Defra national expert working group studying how SMEs can boost the circular economy in the drive to increase recycling rates in England up to 65% by 2035.

We will share information from the group during 2021; Stephen will also feedback to Defra any problems local companies experience.

Energy white paper roadmap

Like buses, after a long wait climate change policy updates focussed on the all-important 2050 mid-century net-zero greenhouse gas emissions target are now coming in droves.

However, the autumn drip-feed of individual announcements probably made not only the big picture but also significant planning and policy gaps, and how they will be filled, difficult to see.

But December 2020’s long-awaited energy white paper – with important references to actions scheduled for early 2021 – plots out in more detail how various strategic goals are taking shape.

Sum of the parts

Post-Brexit, the UK is generating new laws and regulations founded on sustainability. The Environment Bill 2019-21 and Agriculture Act 2020 both focus on reducing carbon emissions.

But decarbonisation, green electrification and especially climate change are key interlocking threads running through recent announcements that will affect businesses and communities fundamentally at many levels.

Wider picture

The Prime Minister’s vision of “… your kettle, your washing machine, your cooker, your heating, your plug-in electric vehicle” powered by a huge offshore wind power increase set the ball rolling last autumn.

November’s climate change Ten Point Plan (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/pm-outlines-his-ten-point-plan-for-a-green-industrial-revolution-for-250000-jobs) added more climate change details. Mr Johnson also committed the UK to cut emission by 2030 by at least 68% based on 1990 levels.

However, a wider but still incomplete route planner for 2021 and beyond was set out in December’s “Energy White Paper: Powering our net zero future” https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/energy-white-paper-powering-our-net-zero-future).

Interesting by omission

Importantly, the paper lists strategies, consultations and plans due to take place in the first quarter of 2021.

They include: – a heat and building strategy, a hydrogen strategy, a smart-grid systems plan, a final net-zero economic review, a transport decarbonisation plan, a consultation on heat networks and local authorities, a Green Jobs Taskforce action plan and an industrial decarbonisation plan.

There will also be consultations on ending gas grid connections to new homes from 2025, regulations to improve home energy efficiency, and a biomass strategy.

Legislation to meet the sixth legally-binding carbon budget is another priority. The UK is on course to meet its third carbon budget ending in 2022 but behind the curve for the following two five-year budgets to 2032, plus the all-important 2050 net-zero goal.

Energy white paper

The new 2020 white paper shows big changes in the concept of “energy” since the 2007 paper when Tony Blair was Prime Minister and the Climate Change Act 2008 was still a year away.

It does not recommend a specific low-carbon energy mix, although offshore and onshore wind, plus solar PV will major. Rather, it explains the Government’s new plan to “transform energy”, provide a “fair deal”, drive a “green recovery” and support some 220,000 green jobs in the next nine years.

Crucially, achieving net-zero emissions runs through the document, and, while there is much more work to be done in this area, an overarching net-zero strategy is seen as essential.

Off target … for now

The data is important. The Ten Point Plan outlines cuts of 180 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (MtCO2e) by 2032. White paper policies might increase this to 230 MtCO2e, with further potential savings from sectors like transport.

However, further modelling suggests that the Ten Point Plan in practice could deliver savings of more than 420MtCO2e by 2032. But much tougher savings will still need to be found this year to meet 2050 goals.

UK post-Brexit emissions trading scheme

The paper also confirms the UK will have its own UK ETS emissions trading scheme, rather than a carbon tax, to replace the EU ETS for big carbon emitters.

UK ETS will open with a cap 5% lower than EU ETS. This cap will then be aligned to “an appropriate net-zero trajectory”. The aim is to give industry flexibility and policy-makers environmental certainty.

Critics are concerned that preparing UK ETS in weeks rather than years, and its limited size, could compromise any world-beating status unless it has international links … perhaps to EU ETS.

They also worry that even with a 5% reduction, the UK cap could be much higher than actual emissions, leading to a large surplus, low-prices and mistakes made when EU ETS was launched.

Nuclear options – fusion rather than con-fusion

Another key announcement is a commitment to bring “… at least one large-scale nuclear project to the point of final investment decision” by the end of the current Parliament to meet net-zero goals.

This could be Sizewell C on the Suffolk coast, although that is controversial; the UK’s only current major nuclear programme at Hinkley Point C in Somerset could face a £2.9 billion budget overrun.

Another innovative aim is perfecting a workable UK technology described as building “the sun in a box” based on the power that drives the stars to join (fusion) rather than split (fission) atoms.

Capturing elusive carbon

Support is mentioned for “at least one” operational UK power plant with effective carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology by 2030 to provide flexibility; hydrogen technology could provide further flexibility and “security of supply at low cost” by 2050 during peak energy demand times.

Infrastructure is not enough

The paper focusses on low energy bills, with automatic tariff-switching, but recognises that a future energy strategy must include demand and behaviour patterns where smart technology means that consumers with their own micro-renewable PV arrays and wind turbines will become suppliers too.

It makes clear that a more responsive energy system is needed; however, the Government calculates that a smarter more flexible system “could unlock savings of up to £12 billion per year by 2050”.

Home-warm-home

The need for low-carbon building heating systems by the mid-2030s shows how much everyday life will be affected. Heat pump installations to replace the UK’s 26 million gas boilers could rise from 30,000 annually today to 600,000 by 2028.

However, the paper says poor user experiences and a shortage of skilled tradespeople are currently barriers.

An opportunity for SMEs?

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