Vital new UK green policies unveil just before COP26

In the nick of time? With days to go to one of planet Earth’s most important ever multinational summits, the Government has released two key climate change strategy documents. It hopes the world will take notice and follow its lead before it is too late.

When Doctor Who first appeared on UK black and white terrestrial television, the Daleks were portrayed as victims of an environmental disaster they had helped to bring to on their own planet.

Entertaining? Yes. Scary? Absolutely. Possible? No, of course not – just science fiction! Unfortunately, half a century later fact is catching up very quickly with fiction.

Planet Earth will gather in Glasgow on Sunday 31st October for ten difficult days of tough COP26 negotiations – the summit that John Kerry, the first US special envoy for climate, describes as our ‘last best hope for the world to get its act together’ on climate change.

Who is going … and not going … to Glasgow

Some 25,000 people will be travel to Scotland in the hope of seeing a solution hammered out to prevent temperature rises and biodiversity-losses creating unprecedented environmental damage.

They will include political leaders, environmental action organisations, industry heads, lobbyists and the media. But some very powerful key figures have chosen to be absent – including the heads of state of China, India, Saudi Arabia and Russia.

All are major emitter countries; Saudi Arabia has now committed to reaching net zero by 2060 if its oil exports are not included.

The numbers are high for two reasons. Firstly, many small nations lack the capacity to attend remotely. And secondly, some crucial negotiations can only be carried out eyeball-to-eyeball.

Low Carbon team

Lancashire low carbon expertise will be out in force, explains East Lancashire Chamber CEO, Miranda Barker, with a cohort of our most proactive companies and industry specialists showcasing the county’s unique low carbon potential. More details in a moment.

However, if you are not going to Glasgow, you can still join a Chamber COP26-related event here in the Northwest with panels, speakers, business exhibitions, plus all important networking.

“Powering the Green Industrial Revolution”, will look at how our home region is planning to be the UK’s first to reach net zero by 2040 as it innovates at the epicentre of the low-carbon energy transition … with a unified plan!

To take part in person or remotely on Thursday, 4th November between 9,15am and 4pm at The Heath Conference Centre in Weston, please register at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/cop26-regional-roadshow-powering-the-green-industrial-revolution-tickets-190913526497.

Alternatively, you can register to take part in a second event in Manchester on Tuesday, 9th November at https://forms.zohopublic.eu/marketingmanchester/form/COP26NorthWestGreenZone/formperma/Qw7dwI7YUOo1R2pTjVUWsKE5xKQlKRY79YI0Doa08gg.

Too little almost too late from the UK?

Unfortunately, the UK as COP26 co-host, is being accused of organising a shambolic event compared to 2015’s highly-successfully COP21 in Paris, even though it had an extra year for international diplomacy and preparation when Covid-19 forced the event forward a year from 2020.

France’s triumph was to create the conditions in which 197 nations could come together and commit themselves to the Paris Agreement and confirm the need to keep global surface temperature rises down to no more than 20C, and preferably 1.50C, by the end of this century.

As the 2021 stable door closes, the Government has released two documents promised months ago. Both are meant to be far-reaching, though many observers feel they go nowhere near far enough.

Leadership crisis

Whitehall and Westminster are also facing 14 significant amendments sent back to the Commons by the Lords as a revising chamber on the Government’s flagship Environment Bill (https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/2593).

MPs are due to debate the proposed changes on Wednesday, 27th October, but seem minded to throw key points of contention out.

The Government says it has tabled changes to help improve and strengthen the Bill to build back greener and show itself to be a global leader in tackling environmental issues.

They include measures allowing ministers to introduce charges on all single-use items to cut waste and end the ‘throwaway culture’ (https://deframedia.blog.gov.uk/2021/10/21/environment-bill-strengthened-to-protect-nature-and-tackle-waste/).

Ticklish-timing

The problem the Government has in its mission to be seen as an environmental leader for the good of the world and UK’s export potential is that its new Net Zero Strategy (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/net-zero-strategy) and Heat and buildings strategy (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/heat-and-buildings-strategy) published on 19th October, plus the Environment Bill, were meant to impress in Glasgow.

Promised as the UK centre piece for COP26, they will at best be rushed through Parliament hours before the summit convenes; the Environment Bill target for Royal Assent is the end of 2021.

How these different parts will fit – or not fit – together may be clearer a month’s time in the complex Glasgow’s aftermath. Green finance is likely to be a major sticking point.

Lancashire goes north of the border

A more detailed overview of both the Net Zero Strategy and Heat and buildings strategy are given below. Before then, a closer look at what the team Lancashire will be doing might be helpful.

What differentiates the county is its capacity to design, innovate and manufacture the low carbon technologies needed to decarbonise and remove existing carbon pollution from the atmosphere.

And excellent primer is ‘Lancashire – We are Low Carbon Technology’ which can be seen on our YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVTZOi6d1cc showcasing low carbon technologies whose development has been fostered by RedCAT – more on that later on.

Green action this day!

There will be pressure on the Government, given its catalogue of delays, to move on from colourful rhetoric to real action based on firm, measurable policy targets, explains Miranda.

“We need to see a global process started at COP26 where one enlightened person puts pressure on another, and another, and another, in a global movement where instead of talking, real things really get done,” she says.

She adds, “We are at five minutes to midnight now with climate change. We simply can’t afford to wait until one minute to the hour!”

Companies large and small

As champions, Lancashire’s team will include sustainable businesses of many sizes. The impressive Senator Group (https://www.thesenatorgroup.com/) based in Accrington has invested a lot of time, energy and knowledge in low carbon and the real roots of the circular economy.

At the smaller end of the scale, Crystal Doors (https://crystaldoors.co.uk/) lead by MD Richard Hagan in Rochdale has puts its whole business onto a higher plain by ‘going green’ at every level.

Meanwhile, at the larger end E+R Group (https://eandr.com/), with ‘Over 100 years spent in the relentless pursuit of quality, innovation and reliability’ is helping to build manufacturing plants for the next generation of electric vehicle (EV) batteries.

Events at COP26

While high-level negotiations hopefully progress between heads of states, networking, lobbying and knowledge-sharing will take place between the many other organisations with green agendas.

These will be in the Green Zone (https://ukcop26.org/the-conference/green-zone-programme-of-events/) of the iconic Scottish Event Campus (SEC) (https://ukcop26.org/the-conference/venue/).

Glasgow Chamber of Commerce will lead two days of presentations and discussion with overseas affiliates to the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC). The focus will be on ‘Climate and business carbon power’ and include a must-see seminar on the International Campaign Against Climate Change (https://www.campaigncc.org/aboutus/missionstatement).

In a separate second two-day session, Shevaun Haviland will examine BCC’s contribution to both policy and politics. Shevaun speaks with authority having been appointed Director General of the BCC in March 2021 after working in the Cabinet Office where she led Business Partnerships.

Making new green friends and influencing people

COP26 is also a high-level networking forum and part of Miranda’s mission will be to meet and persuade the energy giants such as Saudi Aramco, BP and Shell to fund low carbon technology innovation and development in Lancashire.

She will also emphasis how RedCAT, the Lancashire Centre for Alternative Technologies https://www.red-cat.uk/ provides a pathway of financial and R&D support to accelerate the commercialisation of low carbon technologies.

Conceived in December 2019, RedCAT is led by East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce in partnership with regional bodies (AMRC North West – https://www.amrc.co.uk/facilities/amrc-north-west), national bodies including the Environment Agency, plus low carbon innovation leaders.

Net zero strategy

The Government’s new strategy maps out how the UK will meet its legally-binding commitment to reduce damaging greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions down to almost nothing – net zero – by 2050.

If successful, it should see 440,000 new jobs created by 2030, and ‘unlock’ £90 billion in investment funding to help businesses and consumers combat climate. Some key points stand out.

Vehicles – The sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans must end by 2030. The strategy adds that by 2035 all cars must be fully zero-emissions capable. A further £620 million will go to zero emission vehicle grants and electric charging infrastructure, with a focus on streets charge points.

Green power generation – By 2035, the UK should be powered entirely by clean electricity; the 2030 target is to have a 40GW offshore wind power capacity, plus more onshore wind and solar energy.

Nuclear The low carbon mix will include at least one new large nuclear plant, which could be at Wylfa in North Wales. However, a further £120m will go into developing small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs). These are a Rolls Royce technical speciality in Lancashire.

Homes – Grants of £5,000 will help 90,000 households install home heat pumps, and other low-carbon heating systems, in the next three years.

Woodlands – The aims is to triple the rate of woodland creation in England to at least 30,000 hectares a year, a target that will increase and safeguard biodiversity.

Peat – There will also be a £124 million boost for the existing Nature for Climate Fund in its mission to restore some 280,000 hectares of peat in English regions like Lancashire by 2050.

What the strategy did not mention

However, the strategy is light on details about insulating the circa 19 million homes below EPC band C urgently in need of upgrading to improve their energy efficient.

The government wants to phase out coal by 2024 to cut emissions, but still uses the black stuff when it offers better value than gas. Oil and gas exploration licences will continue, as will production.

Some £27 billion new roads and airport projects will go-ahead; the strategy is very car-focused but includes plans to increase public transport use, cycling, walking, and to electrify more railway lines.

The Government has avoided making any recommendations around meat and dairy consumption.

New forms of taxation are touched on in the strategy; the Treasury foresees a significant loss of revenue as fuel duty drops when people switch to electric vehicles. Road pricing is an option.

Heat and Building Strategy

Meanwhile, £3.9 billion will go towards decarbonising heat and buildings which are seen as two hard-to-abate sectors. Buildings alone account for 21% of annual UK emissions.

This includes a new £450 million three-year Boiler Upgrade Scheme designed to lead on to all new home heating systems being free of fossil-fuels from 2035. The three-point approach is: – energy efficiency; electric heat pumps; and energy storage.

From an SME perspective, the strategy could see up to 100,000 green jobs created by the mid-2020s, rising to 175,000 by 2030.

Funding is confirmed for the Social Housing Decarbonisation Scheme and Home Upgrade Grants, plus the Public Sector Decarbonisation, to reduce emissions from public sector buildings by 75% by 2037.

So far, little has been said about buildings standards and the role they can play in raising the overall energy efficiency of housing and other building stocks.

Follow the money

The other notable omission is a strong financial commitment from the Treasury!

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