Lancashire will need to act alone if there is poor Government leadership at November’s critical COP26 global climate summit. Northwest companies, meanwhile, are making low-carbon work in practice. And not a minute too soon according to a new report by world scientists.
The latest news from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is that the stable climate we have grown used is now almost certainly a thing of the past.
Instead, the future will be fundamentally unstable, the IPCC confirms in the first of three reports – the second two will be published early in 2022.
With many national and international crises now piling in on each other, the global environmental future might seem bleak. The alternative is to make our own regional luck.
The future in our own hands … Plan B
Making a sustainable economy work at a county level is now a strategic aim for both a highly-co-ordinated public sector and Lancashire’s innovative export-orientated private sector.
As East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce CEO, Miranda Barker, explains below, Lancashire County Council and our twelve district councils and two unitaries are planning to work together with industry and local communities to make a low-carbon transition happen.
Autumn – season of mists and intense low-carbon action
In parallel, the Chamber Low Carbon team are organising a series of autumn events to support thousands of SMEs whose individual actions will be important in averting a climate catastrophe.
They include a 21st September virtual conversation on natural solutions with Environment Agency chair, Emma Howard Boyd (https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/a-conversation-with-emma-howard-boyd-chair-of-the-environment-agency-tickets-155915358033), and an Energy and Environmental Forum with IEMA’s Chief Policy Advisor Martin Baxter on 24th September where progress on the post-Brexit Environment Bill delayed in Parliament by the pandemic will be reviewed.
But the window for action is closing fast, says Chamber Low Carbon Programme Manager, Stephen Sykes.
“The climate crisis isn’t coming, it’s already here,” he adds. “We must stop thinking about meeting 2030 and 2050 net-zero emission deadlines. The time to act is now!”
There were positive developments too in August with the publication of the Government’s new hydrogen strategy – and the curious dilemma that we need to manufacture ‘blue’ hydrogen (high-carbon) to learn to live with the technology before we are able to make sufficient ‘green’ hydrogen (almost carbon-free).
We also heard that climate change is slowing the Gulf Stream bringing us warm water across the Atlantic. But on a brighter note, the UK is one of six top global locations for surviving disasters successfully!
Enemy at the gates
The main news was that hundreds of climate scientists working through the UN have released a “code red for humanity” notice that the world faces disaster without urgent action (https://www.ipcc.ch/assessment-report/ar6/ and https://www.ipcc.ch/2021/08/09/ar6-wg1-20210809-pr/).
Their warning comes two months ahead of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow where 196 nations must make life-changing decisions to keep average world temperature rises below 1.50C … or risk irreversible global damage.
A second UN report early in 2022, showing that it will be ‘game over’ if emissions don’t peak within four years, has already been ‘leaked’ by researchers worried that their key message might be watered down.
A further hurdle is that decarbonisation alone will not be enough; millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere must be removed by untried technologies to keep the world cool.
Whipping up support
Meanwhile, the UK Government as host for the make-or-break conference, is accused of being well behind the COP26 policy and planning curve – despite a mammoth diplomatic effort by Alok Sharma MP.
As full-time President for COP26, he has already visited 30 countries this year to encourage a positive buy-in from economically-challenged states that will need financial help from richer nations to make and keep costly carbon promises.
The support of sceptical nations that still rely on high-carbon energy could also pivot on the ‘green’ authority of the US Biden administration; the current chaotic international backdrop may not be helpful.
Many countries also expect their delegations to be barred from COP26 by pandemic restrictions; digital discussions rather than ‘face-to-face’ negotiations could water down their commitments.
Action this day
Whatever the diplomatic agreements, high-level declarations and post-summit communiques, the success of COP26 will only be as good as real actions on the ground.
Lancashire is on firm ground to decarbonise, but also go much further and provide much-needed entrepreneurial low-carbon leadership with the strong support of its innovative industrial base and advanced manufacturing capabilities, explains Miranda Barker.”
“We need action now,” she says. “No more open-ended strategies. The time for talking is now done! Instead, Lancashire County Council and our district councils are coming together and what we need from them is a real action plan if we can no longer rely on policy from the Government.
“This will mean, for example, that strategic decisions on where and how to provide renewable low-carbon power, and the necessary resources, will be taken locally by councils – working closely with our world-leading private sector.
“What we need is coordination like never before,” she adds!
Made in modern Lancashire
Unlike some northwest metropolitan authorities that are restricting their focus to decarbonisation their industrial base and offsetting, Lancashire is already the home of world-leading manufacturing giants like Rolls Royce, which is part of the effort to develop small modular reactors (SMR) with a high export potential.
In future, the county could be a focus for manufacturing specialist electric vehicle (EV) batteries, ground heat pumps, plus evolving energy-from-waste and energy-from-plastic-waste technologies.
“We have a lot to gain from low-carbon technologies,” Miranda adds. “The more the market pushes in that direction, the more work we will win.” She also thinks SMR nuclear power as an interim energy source is essential.
“There are two key points I would like to make,” she says. “The first is that this is definitely not an exchange or trade-off of growth versus climate. The second is that as a nation we have to get off our backsides and act!”
Being very practical for a moment, Liz Harper from Smart Energy GB. Liz also joined us in August to explain the important benefits of smart meters for businesses.
If you missed her Lunch and Learn presentation, see it again at (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Kn3ql7b7oE. More Smart Energy information is available at https://www.smartenergygb.org/en/about-smart-meters/smart-meter-benefits-for-small-businesses?utm_medium=Email&utm_source=Newsletter&utm_campaign=Partnership&utm_content=East-Lancashire
One area where the county currently lacks resources is in the production, storage, distribution and use of hydrogen. In the first instance, a limited supply chain means that the gas will be used in hard-to-reach power sectors, such as large transport solutions and heating.
This is where the Government’s hydrogen strategy published in August could be important (UK hydrogen strategy – https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-hydrogen-strategy).
From a low-carbon perspective, ‘blue’ hydrogen made by stripping methane with the unfortunate by-product of unwanted carbon dioxide is an anathema.
Interestingly, the Government’s view, which is supported by the usually very strict Climate Change Committee, is that until sufficient ‘green’ hydrogen can be produced, ‘blue’ hydrogen will be needed to allow time for businesses to make the crossover.
Ultimately, the goal is for 5GW of low-carbon hydrogen production capacity to be in place by 2030.
“Wake up call” climate study to be released
It is important to note just why the IPCC’s August report – the most comprehensive assessment of global heating since 2013 – is so important.
What scientists do is a very precise process that involves reviewing their findings line-by-line with representatives of 196 world governments. The focus in August was human-induced climate change.
In summary, its headline findings were that: – the global surface temperature was 1.090C higher in the decade from 2011 to 2020 than 1850 to 1900; the past five years have been the hottest on record since 1850; the recent sea level rise rate is three-times higher than from 1901 to 1971.
At the same time: – human influence is “very likely” (90%) to be the main driver of a global retreat of glaciers since the 1990s, plus decreasing Arctic sea-ice; it is also “virtually certain” that hot extremes including heatwaves have been more frequent and intense since the 1950s – cold events have become less frequent and less severe.
Warning signs of a Gulf Stream collapse
One concern is that tipping points could flip the world into an unsustainable condition. Climate scientists now think they have detected warning signs for one of the world’s major potential tipping points – a collapse of the Gulf Stream that crosses the Atlantic to heat up the UK and Europe.
Specifically, research has found “an almost complete loss of stability over the last century” in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), with currents are at their slowest for at least 1,600 years.
A shutdown could disrupt the rain billions of people rely on, increase storms and lower temperatures in Europe, raise sea levels off eastern North America, threaten the Amazon rainforest, and melt Antarctic ice sheets.
Record melt and sea level rises
Greenland’s current daily Arctic ice-melt could already cover Florida in two inches of water. Some 8.5 billion tonnes were lost on Tuesday 3 August.
An all-time record temperature for the region of 19.80C was reached on Wednesday 4 August, followed by a further 8.4 billion tonne loss on Thursday, according to the Polar Portal monitoring website (http://polarportal.dk/en/greenland/).
Greenland’s normal melting season lasts from June to August. But Danish government data shows that its ice cap has shed more than 100 billion tonnes since the beginning of June 2021, adding to global sea level rises caused by human-induced climate change.
Some 7 seven billion tonnes of rain also fell for the first time on Greenland summit some two miles above the sea; it normally falls as snow. This was the heaviest precipitation since record keeping began in 1950, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC). Summit temperatures rose above freezing for the third time in less than a decade.
Good places to survive and prosper
The six best places to survive a global collapse are New Zealand, Australia, Iceland, Tasmania, Ireland … and the UK, according to one other new university study.
Researchers say “highly interconnected and energy-intensive” human civilisations face severe financial and climate shocks, the destruction of nature, pandemics worse than Covid-19 – or combinations of all of these.
To assess national resilience – and build “collapse lifeboats” – the six were ranked by their ability to grow food, protect borders from mass migration, maintain an electrical grid, and manufacture.
Islands in temperate regions with low population densities came out on top. Which is why billionaires, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, and high-spending “preppers” are buying land in New Zealand to build luxury bunkers ready for an apocalypse.
Study team member Professor Aled Jones of Anglia Ruskin University’s Global Sustainability Institute commented, “We were quite surprised the UK came out strongly. It is densely populated, has traditionally outsourced manufacturing, hasn’t been the quickest to develop renewable technology, and only produces 50% of its own food at the moment.
He added, “But it has the potential to withstand shocks.”
Sign of our times
Forget Spain and Italy. The National Trust has decided to give its staff and volunteers in the south of England more Mediterranean-style working hours because of climate change, with a long lunch breaks, earlier starting and later finishing times.
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