Counting down to ‘zero’

Green government? While the UK waits for details of No 10’s latest environmental agenda, Lancashire is taking a strong pro-growth message for regional businesses and developing nations to November’s COP27 climate summit in Egypt where net-zero could have a much-needed reboot.

In a last minute U-turn, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak finally decided it was important that he goes to wave the UK’s green flag at the UN’s global forum in Sharm el-Sheikh where vital decision about the environment’s increasingly precarious future need to be taken urgently.

Former PM Boris Johnson who during his premiership developed very pro-environmental credentials will also be there. But King Charles who has been a pioneering environmental campaigner for decades will not be going, even though he was a respected and popular figure at previous summits.

However, on 4th November the King hosted a reception for 200 prominent international business figures at Buckingham Palace to mark the importance of the COP27 summit.

Lancashire in Egypt

For continuity, the East Lancs Chamber team who helped to promote Lancashire’s innovative low-carbon strengths at 2021’s partially-successful COP26 summit in Glasgow will be flying the regional design and manufacturing flag again at COP27 in Egypt.

However, Chamber CEO Miranda Barker OBE and Chamber Director of Sustainability Stephen Sykes will have an important new proposal to discuss in the many one-to-one meetings where information is shared and opinions formed, as explained in a moment.

“We, along with every other climate action advocate, are hoping and praying that world leaders will make real progress at COP27 because precision little came out of COP26,” says Miranda.

But like COP26, COP27 will also be a major international opportunity to make worldwide contacts and develop new business partnerships.

Pivotal net-zero moment

During 2023, the marker point will be passed where there are 10,000 days left to meet the 2050 net-zero delivery deadline.

Whether that sounds like a large reassuring or worryingly small number, the world is currently way off course to meet its scientifically defined targets and needs to take urgent remedial action.

With multiple-crises pushing the environmental emergency on to a backburner, COP27 is the forum for an international fight-back to keep average surface temperature rises down to a manageable 1.50C this century to stop the world from overheating on an irreversible scale.

What comes out of Egypt, and whether individual countries are willing to deliver on the greenhouse gas reduction promises they made in Glasgow, could seal the fate of the planet as we know it.

News summary

The brief look below at hurdles facing Downing Street. But also a Lancashire solution in which the Government can help open vital markets for Northwest, UK and worldwide technology in developing countries where it is most needed. Both put the challenges ahead into wider context.

Meanwhile, there is a chilling warning from the UN secretary general, plus worrying reports from other UN agencies and scientific studies, of what failing to act soon will mean.

On the positive side, the Government has commissioned a three-month research programme to sharpen up the UK’s net-zero delivery. There is also a small, sad, but welcome silver lining that the war in Ukraine is accelerating the phasing out of fossil-fuels.

Remember vaccine-equity? What we need now is green-tech-equity

The Prime Minister faces a complex agenda that includes confirming the Environment Bill’s goals, avoiding a post-Brexit decline in standards, promoting greater energy-efficiency, passing the Energy Security Bill, and reviewing the High Court’s ruling that the UK’s Net-Zero Strategy is unlawful.

However, governments can also play a pivotal role in closing the large financial gap that currently prevents well-established industrial hubs like Lancashire and the Northwest from helping developing nations.

As Miranda Barker explains, the key aims of COP27 are to firm up commitments made at COP26 and deliver them in countries where global warming is causing havoc – but which with support also have a huge potential to cut their own carbon footprints.

For this to happen, low-carbon technological solutions developed by advanced northern countries are needed urgently in the Global South where the climate change battle is most likely to be won or lost. But growth is also important.

The question is how to fund this north to south transfer?

A silver lining to Covid-19?

“Fortunately, the pandemic gave us a powerful precedent,” says Miranda. “The Government – and other governments under the UN umbrella – need to step in with their financial resources to duplicate the successful distribution of Covid-19 vaccines around the world.”

“This might sound expensive, but everyone will gain,” she adds. “It will help to create new markets for our regional entrepreneurs and low-carbon technology suppliers.

“At the same time, developing nations will have opportunities to benefit from sustainable economic growth that prevents them from developing dangerously high emission footprints while going through their own 21st century industrial revolutions.

“Just to be quite clear, this will not involve any transfer or loss of valuable intellectual property. We are simply talking about financially-priming and kick-starting essential markets.

“And neither is this about loading global south nations with any more debt. It’s about the technology being given to them free of charge!”

Priorities in Egypt

When countries convene for COP27 – the 27th UN conference on climate change – they will pick up three main unresolved points carried over from COP26.

The first, as mentioned by Miranda, will cover financial loss and damage issues that need to be decided quickly to help badly affected countries recover from existing climate change destruction – and not just prepare for more distant future impacts.

The second is to set up a global carbon market that puts a price on the effects of emissions. Last but not least is the goal of strengthening commitments made by states to reduce coal use. Again, despite strong words, delivery is very slow.

Act now to avoid catastrophe says UN chief

UN secretary general António Guterres warned this month that Planet Earth must tackle climate change now or ‘face catastrophe’. War, energy, and compromised food supplies are already disrupting growth with “a tendency to put climate change on the back burner”. If this trend cannot be reversed, ‘we will be doomed’, he said emphatically.

UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths added that climate finance is not reaching the levels needed.

In Glasgow, 193 nations made individual pledges – known as ‘nationally determined contributions (NDC) – to cut their emissions. So far only 24 have revisited or increased these as promised.

However, a detailed UN analysis has shown that current plans will actually increase emissions by 10.6% by 2030 – putting the world on course for damaging warming of 2.10C to 2.90C with a 2.50C average.

That could mean a future with more intense flooding of the type seen globally in 2022, widespread wildfires, more droughts and heatwaves, plus the inevitable extinction of species.

Vital infrastructure left at risk

As if that was not enough, the joint committee on national security strategy says the UK Government is evading its responsibilities in a ‘severe dereliction of duty’ by failing to prepare for the increasing risks of extreme weather.

In a recent inquiry, the committee said critical national infrastructure (CNI), including railways, have been left exposed because of ‘extreme weaknesses’ at the heart of government.

Vital power, transport and construction networks need much greater resilience to avoid blackouts, flooding, landslides and buckled train lines with the potential to create a series of ‘cascading’ risks that could affect other essential infrastructure services.

Climate change’s growing threat to health

The chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, Professor Dame Jenny Harries, has also challenged the misconception that a warmer climate with milder winters will improve health generally.

On the contrary, she says, the climate emergency will increase threats from food, security, flooding and mosquito-borne diseases.

Referring to the stagnant water and sewage overflows into public water seen recently in Pakistan’s disastrous floods, she warns that the same could happen in the UK.

On the brighter side

The slightly better news is that, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will speed up the peak use of fossil-fuels by the end of this decade. This will include an end to ‘the golden age of gas’ and see a shift towards renewables and greater energy-efficiency.

But investments in renewable energy of $1.3 trillion will be needed every year up to 2030 to meet Paris Agreement goals, the IEA believes.

On the downside, the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) says methane emissions to atmosphere from ‘biological and human processes’ reached new highs in 2022, as concentrations of all three major greenhouse gases grew.

A CO2 jump from 2020 to 2021 to 415.7 parts per million (ppm) was larger than the average over the whole previous decade mainly because fossil fuel use rebounded after Covid-19 lockdown gains.

Net zero review to ‘double down’ on clean energy transition

While key UK policies are still adrift, net-zero is undergoing a makeover to make it more fit for purpose in tough times.

Former energy minister Chris Skidmore MP is leading a three-month net-zero review to sharpen up the UK’s climate change fight, but also increase energy security and affordability for private consumers and businesses – with the term pro-growth woven carefully into the text.

The emphasis will be on maximising innovation, investments, exports, jobs, and identifying the real economic costs and benefits of new policies and technologies.

The review announced in late September will call for evidence from consumers and innovators, plus individual leaders and experts in energy, land use and transport. All being well, his report and recommendations will be published before the end of 2022.

Government statistics indicate that the UK has grown its economy by 76%, but also cut emissions by 44% since 1990.

Hydrogen to be injected into a peak power station for first time

‘Peaking plants’ like the 49MW gas-fired Brigg power station in Lincolnshire generally only run when there is a high power demand, or generation from renewables falls to less than three hours a day.

Centrica working with British Gas will trial the use of hydrogen at the Brigg plant in the second half of 2023 to examine what role hydrogen can play in power production.

The pilot is one of 20 projects part-funded by an £8 million programme from the Net Zero Technology Centre (NZTC) which receives funding from the UK and Scottish governments.

The project is designed to test the practicalities of mixing hydrogen with natural gas to reduce overall carbon intensity.

End of a Rough ride?

Centrica is also reopening its ageing Rough gas storage facility 29km off the North Yorkshire which closed in June 2017 because of operational issues with the first injection of natural gas in five years.

Unlike Germany which holds an 89 day gas supply, France 103 days, and the Netherlands 123 days, the UK only keeps a nine day capacity in reserve. However, the former Rough gas field which has now been upgraded could store up to 30 billion cubic feet for UK homes and businesses this winter.

The icy end

Little of which helps to solve the world’s deep-seated warming problem directly. Humans are resourceful, however.

A group of Scandinavian engineering companies are considering a major geoengineering project to build a huge barrier that will stop warm sea water from nibbling away at the base of Greenland’s Jakobshavn glacier.

If the scheme works – and can be financed – it might be possible for monumental interventions of this kind to help slow down sea level rises from the melting Antarctic too.