When fighting carbon becomes natural

Amid the haggling over finance and reluctant last minute promises to cut carbon emissions in the final run up to the world’s make-or-break COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, biodiversity and nature-based solution also have crucial roles to play.

In humankind’s two hundred year industrial history, most things that live and grow on planet Earth have been taken for granted … until now, when if we are not very careful, it will be too late.

Fifty years ago when the word ‘environment’ began to take on its modern meaning, the link between what humans do and the condition of the place where they live was still a vague concept.

Those days of innocence are gone. It is now generally understood that supporting ‘nature’ is not only ‘nice’, but also vital for our own best interests in a warming world.

The other environmental emergency

COP26, with its focus on decarbonisation, is not the UN’s only summit taking place this year to safeguard the environment.

COP15 (Convention on Biological Diversity Framework) – as a virtual conference in October and then in-person in China in May 2022 – needs to agree goals for nature and biodiversity that create a stable natural environment.

Decarbonisation and natural-solutions together are seen as a powerful climate change tool.

September guests

With the state of nature in mind, Chamber Low Carbon Programme was delighted to welcome two notable guests to speak to us recently.

Martin Baxter, IEMA’s Chief Policy Advisor, joined our Energy and Environmental Forum to update us on the Environment Bill’s progress, business implications, plus the importance of COP26 and COP15.

As explained in a moment, he looked at: – legal changes as the Bill passes through Parliament; new regulations and responsibilities for business, local authorities and government agencies; and progress in forming the new watchdog Office for Environmental Protection (OEP).

Environment Agency’s expanding responsibilities

Chair of the Environment Agency (EA), Emma Howard Boyd, also joined Chamber CEO Miranda Barker in a wide-ranging conversation on the growing importance of nature-based solutions.

The EA is probably best known as a regulator. However, its lesser known roles as an active-enabler helping business and industry to reach net-zero, reduce and trade emissions, adopt low-carbon technologies, and adapt to climate change, were also discussed.

A full recording of their conversation can be seen online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCB5PWXJIeE

Understanding, and misunderstanding, offsetting

Continuing with these themes, Jack Spees of the Lancashire Woodland Connect, plus Chantelle Bandwood of Eco Offset and another senior guest will talk to us about “Carbon Offsetting – Planting Trees is not the Answer” at our next Lunch & Learn event from 12-noon to 1.30pm on Thursday, 14 October.

To join us, please go to https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/chamber-low-carbon-live-lunch-and-learn-carbon-offsetting-tickets-166905118703?ref=enivtefor001&invite=MjA2NzIyMzkvam9uaGVyYmVydEB0d2VudHk2LmNvbS8w%0A&utm_source=eb_email&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=inviteformalv2&utm_term=attend

Energy and Environmental Forum – 21st September

Martin’s comment that: “Every single business will in some way at some point be impacted by the bill”, sets the context for the Environment Bill’s significance.

As he explained, its new framework for environmental governance will include a special emphasis on air quality, water, resource efficiency, waste, nature and biodiversity.

It will include specific targets, focus on collaboration between government, local authorities, householders and business, and create new powers for the Government to make important changes happen with the backing of new regulations to open up business and environmental opportunities.

The bill’s consultation stage began in June. After a Lords’ 3rd Reading on 13 October, comments will go to the Commons on 20 October. Royal Assent is expected by the end of 2021.

There is no doubt that the bill will go onto the Statute Book. However, Martin thinks it will be interesting to see what additions are made late in the day before it does.

– Administrative matters

On an organisational level, the new post-Brexit OEP came into legal force with interim status on 1 July https://www.gov.uk/government/news/interim-office-for-environmental-protection-to-be-launched.

Natalie Prosser is Interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Designate; non-executive appointments have been made, and the Government is consulting on Civil Procedure Rules for Environmental Review.

The OEP is operating in ‘shadow’ mode and receiving complaints about public authority activities with preliminary powers to take High Court action. Later this year, it will begin to review the Government’ 25 Year Environmental Plan in trial mode (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/25-year-environment-plan).

– Policies and principles

With Royal Assent granted, the OEP will publish a Policy Statement in Environmental Principles and Environmental Targets. Work on an underlying analysis and scenarios is underway. Consultation on proposed targets is expected in October 2021.

Important amendments

Legally-binding targets to stop the decline of species in England by 2030 will be introduced, with thoughts on how to monitor and measure an appropriate ‘basket’ of representative species at risk.

There will be a duty and powers for the Secretary of State to review, and then increase if appropriate, the minimum time new biodiversity gain sites must be secured – perhaps for circa 30 years.

What this means for businesses with then become clearer.

Environmental Due Diligence

There will be wide-ranging new powers to ‘re-focus’ habitat regulations in England. The Government must also publish a plan to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows by September 2022.

– Biodiversity net-gain (BNG)

BNG will extended to include all nationally significant infrastructure.

– COP26 and COP15

Martin stressed that while controlling global temperature rises is critical (COP26), biodiversity is at the heart of the food system (COP15). In his words, “The world does not revolve around net-zero.”

The aim by 2050 is for biodiversity to be “valued, conserved, restored and used wisely, monitoring ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all people.”

– Target 15

Target 15 (https://www.cbd.int/sp/targets/rationale/target-15/) requires all businesses – public, private, large, medium and small – to assess and report their local and global ‘dependencies and impacts on biodiversity’.

They must then cut negative impacts by at least 50%, while increasing positive impacts to reduce biodiversity-related business risks and moving towards full sustainability in operations, sourcing, supply chains, waste and disposal.

– Outputs

Benefits will include biodiversity net gains for developments, biodiversity credits, new environmental markets, conservation covenants, and local nature improvement strategies.

Local authority must conserve and positively enhance local biodiversity; they will have new reporting requirements, plus new legally-binding biodiversity targets. Nature recovery networks will also be set up in tandem with tree planting and peat restoration strategies.

– Lessons for COP26

Martin is adamant about the local and international priorities. “The evidence is clear – we must urgently reduce emissions and take action to adapt,” he says.

There is unequivocal evidence, he adds, that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, oceans and land on an unprecedented scale, leading to many weather and climate extremes.

Adaptation is now vital to safeguard communities and natural habitats, firstly, by protecting and restoring ecosystems, and secondly, by building defences, warning systems and resilient infrastructure and agriculture to avoid the loss of homes, livelihoods and even lives!

– Prognosis

The current prognosis is that global surface temperature will continue to rise until 2050. Without early and deep greenhouse gas emission cuts, warming during this century will pass the 1.50C and 20C limits needed to prevent irreversible environmental damage.

Environment Agency

Our second guest, Emma Howard Boyd, joined Miranda on 24 September in a revealing conversation that looked at important contemporary issues which as yet are probably not widely discussed.

One was the Agency’s broad remit. The EA is known as a regulator, says Emma, but perhaps less well known by the business community for its risk management role in areas like the UK’s new hydrogen strategy, national economic recovery, emissions trade, and successful environmental commerce.

Strong green regulations are needed to underpin the UK’s green industrial revolution. But as Emma points out, “We have also thought carefully about our role in delivering net-zero”.

– Good corporate citizens

Most businesses want to operate within the law; an increasing number hope to go further in their preparations against environmental shocks. There is also a growing awareness that nature’s protection is important.

The EA’s brief is to work closely with companies by providing information and advice, professional support, strong incentives, and when necessary robust enforcement and penalties!

Green finance is another key subject which includes investing in systems that support the natural environment. Unlocking private sector money at scale is complicated but essential.

It is vital to get new efficient infrastructure investment projects rolling as early as possible. Unfortunately, there are no short-cuts. As Emma explained, “The country will get the environment it is prepared to pay for”.

– Early adopters

Early movers are important in making a green economy work, although the majority of companies are currently weighing up their priorities – except of course companies working with the Chamber Low Carbon Team who have a much clearer vision of where they are going!

For most, this involves being able to recognise opportunities and benefits, but also the costs of missing out. Many need help in knowing where to start.

Miranda noted – with a Northwest slant – that a new generation of small modular nuclear reactors, plus emerging geothermal energy technologies, will be part of the UK’s future sustainable energy mix. Their development and eventual delivery, she says, often involves working in partnership with local authorities.

She also stressed the importance of low-carbon technology being manufactured in the County – backed by grants from RedCAT ­­– the Chamber led Lancashire Centre for Alternative Technology.

– Employment

A green future will also be a prosperous future, she added, referring to President Biden’s recent comment that, “If I look at climate change, I see jobs, jobs, jobs!”

Water quality, sustainable land use and how we farm, present particularly important opportunities in helping nature to protect us from climate change, according to Emma, who thinks green standards are a starting point for economic recovery that will be important for many years to come.

“If I was a student,” she advised, “I would be looking for a job with a green theme in it.”

– Policy alignment

Money has been created by banks and investors which must now be directed towards green finance. With the formation of the Green Finance Institute (https://www.greenfinanceinstitute.co.uk/) the way to make progress, Emma believes, is collaboration between investors, civil society groups, industry, and public and private sector organisations.

“The more we are aligned, the more we get the policies we need in place,” she suggests.

– EA net-zero priorities?

The Agency EA committed itself in October 2019 to be net-zero by 2030 … and then move on to absolute-zero by 2050.

Its largest challenge is tackling air emissions in construction work (cement); it is working with contractors to use ultra-low carbon concrete. Another often overlooked carbon factor is good asset maintenance to extend the life of existing infrastructure. Retrofitting poor housing will be a priority.

The EA is also reviewing its fleet, IT functions, and travel activities.

Peat … a perfect natural solution

Lancashire peat is valuable and a major opportunity to both encourage biodiversity and the sequestration of carbon.

Wetted reactivated peat can pull carbon dioxide from the atmospheric back into stable storage. Upstream investments in the Wyre catchment are also creating better flood outcomes for businesses downstream.

As a potential ‘peat-broker’, the county’s goal now is to provide a shovel-ready ‘landing strip’ for inward ‘angel’ investors.