Urgent calls to ‘walk the walk’ to COP26

Action is needed … soon. The UK road of good intent to November’s make-or-break global climate summit in Scotland lacks hard-hitting pragmatic policies experts warn the Government. The next three months will be pivotal.

Summer at last. Opportunities to relax, refresh and prepare for a crucially-important second half of 2021.

However, the Government is facing criticism that while its net-zero emissions aims are laudable in principle – such as reducing UK greenhouse gas (GHG) releases by 78% by 2035 – practical plans, policies and programmes must be added quickly.

It is being warned that a lack of urgent action is jeopardising the autumn climate change summit where Britain’s international reputation for environmental leadership is at stake; success is vital for UK business in general, export opportunities, plus the world’s wellbeing.

Thirteen weeks to go

On 1st August, there will be 92 days left to the start of COP26 – the UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021 hosted by the UK in Glasgow from 1st to 12th November. The Government is adamant this must be a face-to-face in-person event despite the coronavirus pandemic.

But key Whitehall and Downing Street decisions must be made first. As a recent Times’ editorial put it, “The prime minister’s urgent task over the summer must be to turn vague ideas into clear policy.”

Cop-Watch 2021 – northwest support

The Chamber Low Carbon team and the East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce naturally want COP26 to be an outstanding success that underscores our sustainable goals of cutting carbon, using green energy, valuing waste as a resource, and using technology to reduce global warming risks.

Lancashire will be well represented at the COP26 British Chambers of Commerce pavilion in Glasgow where RedCAT and other alternative technologies will be showcased, says Miranda Barker.

Local low-carbon innovations and manufacturing will also be on show from 11th to 12th October when the COP26 ‘Carbon Battle Bus’ visits the county on its ‘Zero Carbon UK Tour’ from London to Scotland.

Powerful policies needed urgently

But Miranda also emphasises the importance of creating policies to encourage the uptake of low-carbon technologies. What is needed, she says, is a solid Government procurement strategy effective at a regional, local and national level.

A number of conditions and caveats are essential, she believes. They include basing procurement decisions on net-zero status, social value and climate change impact. Low carbon baseline standards must also be deeply embedded in national and local planning policies and building practices, she says.

Other priorities include landfill tax rates that discourage wasteful waste dumping, plus an automatic minimum percentage of recycled material in all manufactured products;

A contract tendering system that encourages businesses of all sizes to think net-zero, linked to incentives, subsidies and support for all firms and not just early adopters, are also essential.

“But the Government must act now!” says Miranda.

July turns up the heat

July’s record heat and wildfires on the American western seaboard, floods in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, China, India and London, plus the Met Office’s first ever UK extreme heat warning, have underlined the importance of decisions that must be made by 197 nations in November under UK leadership.

Meanwhile, a further split in the European road means Britain could face a global environmental leadership challenge from the EU which has just released its own ultra-ambitious community-wide strategy for reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

But before looking at these and other key July developments, a quick reminder to book your 21st September, 12 noon, place now to join Chamber CEO Miranda Barker in virtual conversation with Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency, at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/a-conversation-with-emma-howard-boyd-chair-of-the-environment-agency-tickets-155915358033.

A problem shared …

A series of new IPCC reports to be released before COP26 and in 2022 will show that scientists are now worried global warming will trigger tipping points in natural systems that cannot be reversed.

Life will change for everyone in the decades ahead even if GHG emissions are cut, the International Panel on Climate Change predicts.

Tipping points occur when one impact leads quickly to a domino cascade of events with further impacts. The exact timing is little understood and the IPCC was criticised previously for not giving tipping points enough weight.

An example quoted is where rising temperatures melt arctic permafrost which then releases the powerful GHG methane that in turn causes more warming. Another is that the Amazon rainforest might quickly become savannah with relatively small temperature rises

The IPCC worries that while 1.1oC of warming since pre-industrial times has contributed to recent catastrophes in Europe and the US, the world is currently on course for a 3oC rise this century.

European disunity

As mentioned above, the EU published far-reaching draft proposals in July that its 27 member states must approve in what are expected to be months of acrimonious negotiations.

From 1990 to 2019, the EU made cuts of 24%. Now, with a 12-pronged range proposals called ‘Fit for 55’, its new target is 55% over 1990 levels by 2030, an increase of 31% in just nine years.

Many goals will resonate in the UK, with taxes on jet fuel and bans on petrol and diesel vehicles in 20 years. Other measures are a carbon border tariff, ambitious renewable energy targets, and the rapid renovation of energy-inefficient buildings.

To demonstrate its resolve, at least 30% of the EU’s €1.8 trillion budget will go to climate-related measures – but serious opposition from poorer eastern members to proposals formulated by more affluent western states must be hammered out first

Heating and road transport will become part the EU emission trading scheme (EU ETS). Carbon border taxes on steel, cement and fertilisers will match the cost of carbon permits paid by European industry. But there are a fears of trade wars with China and the US.

UK transport net-zero pathway

The Government published its Transport Decarbonisation Plan (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/transport-decarbonisation-plan) in July setting out additional reductions needed to decarbonise all forms of domestic transport and deliver the sector’s contribution to net-zero by 2050. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps described the plan as “just the start” and many more details will follow.

However, the Transport Action Network (https://transportactionnetwork.org.uk/) is taking the Government to the High Court on the grounds that its £27.4 billion second Road Investment Strategy (RIS2) is not consistent with achieving net-aero by 2050, the Paris Agreement, or commitments to leave nature in a better state for future generations.

UK in the dock

One of the Government’s major critics is its independent advisor, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), which warns the UK is failing in its adaptation planning to climate change. It adds that severe weather and economic impacts could be felt much sooner than expected, despite emission cuts.

The CCC says that two years after adopting its binding net-zero target, the UK still has no ‘coherent’ plan to reduce emissions this decade and is on course to deliver only one fifth of cuts needed by 2035.

No single department is moving fast enough, says the CCC, adding that the Government can’t succeed by “setting dates and making heroic technical assumptions”. Ministers, it adds, show little sign of understanding the scale of the problem or its implications.

Blunders and corrections

Specifically, the CCC says ministers are not supporting “important statements of ambition” with “firm policies”. It also points to “high-carbon blunders” in policymaking over aviation taxes, ending home improvement grants and support for a new Cumbrian coal mine.

To rectify this, the Government must publish a ream of new green policy packages in the next three months, without which its overarching Net-Zero Strategy (roadmap) will not be complete.

High on the priority list, says the CCC, are a Heat and Building Strategy promised in autumn 2020, a Hydrogen Strategy, the Nature Strategy, the Biomass Strategy, the Net Zero Aviation Strategy and the first part of the Treasury’s Net-Zero Review. It warns that publishing individual policy packages will not be enough.

CCC chair Lord Deben commented, “Between now and COP26, the world will look for delivery, not promises.”

What a waste

More encouraging news is that the waste management industry plans to reach net-zero emissions by 2040 with a £10 billion investment in new recycling infrastructure and net-zero vehicles.

The Environmental Services Association (ESA) says new technologies will increase methane capture from landfill by 85% by 2030, following cuts of 46% since 1990. Non-recyclable waste – the UK produces 27.5 million tonnes annually, excluding plastics – will be decarbonised by diverting organic waste from landfill to recycling and energy production.

In July, the sustainable leaders Aldergate Group (https://www.aldersgategroup.org.uk/) appointed Theresa May as its new chair and also released a new report – ‘Closing the Loop: Time to Crack on with Resource Efficiency’ – which says embedding circular economy principles in major policy frameworks could achieve 80% of the extra emission cuts needed to meet the UK’s Fifth Carbon Budget from 2028 to 2032.

Nuclear batteries

The world may also be on the brink of a new nuclear power age, say nuclear specialists who believe that just as centralised computers were replaced by low-cost PCs, relatively tiny, inexpensive factory-built reactors designed for plug-and-play use like oversized batteries are on the horizon.

Simple operation means that they could be left unattended to power industrial processes for five to 10 years before factory refurbishment.

Large-scale carbon-removal in Scotland

A large plant capable of suck up to a million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually is planned for northeast Scotland – equivalent to some 40 million trees. The gas could be stored permanently under the seabed off the Scottish coast.

This Direct Air Capture (DAC) project between UK firm Storegga and Canadian company Carbon Engineering is in an early development stage. With a feasibility study complete, it should begin operating in 2026 as Europe’s biggest DAC plant and potentially the world’s largest.

Committing ecocide

Global legal experts have drawn up a “historic” definition of ecocide to be used by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in prosecuting serious environmental offences. The Stop Ecocide Foundation initiative addresses concerns that not enough is being done to tackle the climate and ecological crisis.

Ecocide could be the fifth offence the court prosecutes, alongside war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression – and the first new one since Nazi leaders were prosecuted at the post-WWII Nuremberg trials from 1945 to 1946.

Old unfaithful

Some 4 million people visit Yellowstone National Park annually to see its most famous geyser blow thousands of litres of boiling water hundreds of feet into the air about 17 times a day.

A new study has found that a 10oF (4.7oC) predicted local temperature rise, less snowfall and more rain, could shut Old Faithful down completely by the century’s end. This happened circa 800 years ago when extreme heat and drought brought Old Faithful to a standstill for decades. Researcher think the past could be a mirror to the present and future.

However, the droughts that dried up Old Faithful then were potentially less extreme than what may be happening now. The last Ice Age was only 5oF to 7oF colder than today!