Net zero – the ball passes back to businesses

 

Action needed. COP27 disappointingly did little to cut more carbon as the environmental crisis deepens. But there are new incentives, fresh support, and growing calls for responsible companies to step up urgently and reap the multiple-benefits of net zero by closing the low-carbon gap.

A global mustard shortage, mysterious exploding holes in the arctic tundra, and a lack of female bearded dragons in Australia might seem to be odd examples of global warming’s side-effects.

What they show, however, is that unchecked climate change will have unexpected and potentially quite weird impacts that we must learn to live with unless the world can turn words and promises into decisive low-carbon action … quickly!

Action this day … or sooner!

Chamber CEO Miranda Barker OBE and Chamber Director of Sustainability Stephen Sykes were busy on the ground at November’s COP27 climate summit making new export contacts for Lancashire, watching complex decisions being made, and monitoring whether the world is serious about action.

Miranda shares her observations of the major international conference in Egypt below.

Whatever the world does, concrete action is taking place across Lancashire where Chamber Low Carbon (CLC) Programme’s ‘Destination Net Zero’ workshop is being offered across the county because of its popularity in Community Renewal Fund areas. Again, details in a moment. (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-community-renewal-fund-prospectus).

There is other UK net zero progress too. The Government’s three-month autumn review designed to streamline and make net zero more ‘pro-growth’ and ‘pro-business will report before New Year.

In addition, a new internationally recognised ISO standard to make net zero easier to implement was also released at COP27. Meanwhile, from early 2023 a new Treasury Transition Plan Taskforce Disclosure Framework will actively push the UK towards a net zero future.

Reporting from Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt

Miranda and Stephen were able to work in COP27’s ultra-secure ‘Blue Zone’ where advisors worked furiously in Week One to draft proposals for political leaders to try to refine and sign in Week Two.

Their first and second YouTube reports and high-level interviews can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzLUHXacadE and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkGqcIUXg_Y.

This is also a good point to mention that if you would like to join our 13th December ‘Destination Net Zero’ workshop, please go to https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/destination-net-zero-workshop-tickets-471135558137. More will be held in 2023.

This is a leading Lancashire initiative. For the last four and a half years, the CLC programme has helped companies to cut their carbon footprints by systematically eliminating energy losses and improving the efficiency of energy – preferably renewable energy – that they do use.

Action, no action, and delayed action

The results of COP27 were mixed. The good news is that a milestone ‘loss and damage’ financial compensation breakthrough will help countries like badly flooded Pakistan as part of a long campaign for climate change justice.

However, questions of who will pay, how much, and when, must be thrashed out at 2023’s COP28 in Dubai – an oil and gas producing state. Complex international diplomacy moves at a snail’s pace!

Also on the down side, there was a failure to implement a 2021 COP26 promise to ‘phase down unabated coal power’. Successful diplomacy is fraught with difficulties and requires an enormous amount of time, commitment, leadership, management, and advanced negotiating skills.

But on the plus side, the idea that keeping world temperature rises down to 1.50C is dead and gone after COP27 is untrue, according to executive director of the International Energy Agency Fatih Birol.

“It is factually incorrect, and politically it is very wrong,” he says. “The fact is that the chances of 1.50C are narrowing, but it is still achievable,” he explains, adding that such conclusions are not borne out by the data.

Dateline Egypt

The watchword at COP27 was meant to be action, says Miranda. It was good that a strong ‘loss and damage’ agreement was reached. But it came at the expense of other priorities. Egypt was meant to be a call to action. Instead, time was wasted talking and blaming each other for a lack of progress.

“The focus must now shift urgently to actively reducing greenhouse gas emissions as agreed in the 2015 Paris climate agreement”, she says, “That means making achievable pledges to put innovative low-carbon technologies to work of the type Lancashire has a world reputation for producing,

“And we really have a year to do this because COP28 will review global progress and where we are on the pathway.”

Business to the rescue?

Between high-level events like COP27 and COP28, it is easy to forget well-meant promises and commitment. Which makes it essential to keep on delivering the UK’s ‘Nationally determined contribution’ (NDC). However, this is a business opportunity.

“We can’t keep going back to an ‘everything is normal’ state of mind,” Miranda adds. “We need a strong underlying business commitment. I think one huge mistake made at COP27 was not to write business in as responsible partners.”

County role

“Lancashire is well placed to meet two priorities. The first is developing globally viable technologies, and this is where RedCAT (https://www.red-cat.uk/) attracted a lot of interest. For advanced manufacturing, we also have AMRC (https://www.amrc.co.uk/).

“The second is that we must decarbonise Lancashire quickly, particularly transport systems, buildings, and energy systems. But we have a head start. Lancashire has the highest potential number of future regional low-carbon jobs in the UK, according to the Local Government Association.”

The UK Shared Prosperity Fund will also be important in replacing post-Brexit European funding (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-shared-prosperity-fund-prospectus/uk-shared-prosperity-fund-prospectus).

Positive UK action – good DIY energy cuts

How attitudes change. A decision made by David Cameron in 2013 will cost households up to £150 annually, according to a new Carbon Brief analysis.

It explains that, “Cutting the so-called ‘green crap’ has left UK households highly exposed to soaring global gas prices and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Energy efficiency and cheap renewables are the fastest and most effective ways to cut gas imports – and household bills.”

With an international failure at the top, the onus for cutting carbon has fallen on to the shoulders of individual nations, people and companies. However, there is encouraging UK news.

Through November, gas and electricity consumption fell by more than 10%, energy suppliers report. E.ON and Telecom Plus – which owns Utility Warehouse – recorded ‘double-digit’ cuts in recent weeks.

E.ON says it is “seeing reductions of 10% to 15% against seasonal averages” by its 5.6 million customers. CEO Michael Lewis said E.ON expected to find “people putting their heating on for shorter periods or turning down the thermostats in their houses. These are the two big levers.”

Telecom Plus CEO Andrew Lindsey explains that gas use dropped by some 10%, and is expecting a further fall as “people self-regulate”. However, “unseasonably mild weather” in October and November has made analysing consumer behaviour more difficult.

But, as Lindsey adds, “…they can’t self-regulate to zero”.

Net zero review

In October, we mentioned the Government’s autumn net-zero review focused on maximising ‘pro-growth’ and ‘pro-business’ innovation, investment, exports, jobs, and the real economic costs and benefits of new policies and technologies (‘Review of Net Zero’ – https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/review-of-net-zero).

Official statistics show there are already some 400,000 low-carbon jobs in UK companies and supply chains, with an estimated 2020 turnover of £41.2 billion.

Net zero guidelines to help deliver action

However, the introduction of new international net zero standard will also help. For small organisations, knowing how to achieve net zero practically can be difficult – which is why the Chamber Low Carbon programme is both popular and successful with Lancashire companies!

Meanwhile, at the other end of the scale, many ‘creative’ organisations have been accused of ‘greenwashing’ and setting themselves vague sustainability targets.

Announced at COP27, the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) has now stepped in and published a set of definitions and guiding principles for the creation of ‘credible’ net-zero targets and plans for ‘all actors and organisations’ in the public and private sectors (see ‘Net Zero Guidelines‘ – https://www.iso.org/netzero); ‘Defining net zero‘-https://www.iso.org/contents/news/2022/06/defining-net-zero.html; and ‘IWA 42:2022 – Net zero guidelines’ – https://www.iso.org/standard/85089.html).

What the guidelines do

Offered as a free download, or for online browsing, the guidelines – known as a ‘single core reference text’ – the guidelines provide common terms, definitions, and specific recommendations on net zero guiding principles.

They give advice on incorporating net zero into strategies and policies, plus what net zero means at different levels for organisations that including countries, regions, cities … and SMEs.

Guidelines technical author Kaya Axelsson explains that, “People are tired of having the wool pulled over their eyes when it comes to false climate claims.”

She adds, “These new guidelines mean when we see products and labels that say ‘net zero’ or ‘carbon neutral’ we now have a rubric against which to question whether these organisations are actually doing what it takes to get there.”

A common understanding of ‘net zero’

The Net Zero Guidelines set ‘a common path’ for the definition of ‘net zero’ – and related terms such as greenhouse gas removal, offsetting, value chain, etc. They also clarify the differences between direct emissions (Scope 1), indirect emissions from purchased energy (Scope 2), and other indirect emissions created during business activities (Scope 3).

They consider high-level principles for ‘all actors who want to achieve climate neutrality’. Similarly, they provide ‘actionable guidance’ for reaching net zero as soon as possible, or by 2050 at the latest. Transparent communication, credible claims, and consistent reporting on emissions, reductions and removals is a further priority.

A ‘stick’ with benefits

However, the ISO ‘carrot’ is tempered with a new action ‘stick’. The Treasury’s Transition Plan Taskforce Disclosure Framework (https://transitiontaskforce.net/uk-transition-plan-taskforce-launches-new-gold-standard-for-best-practice-climate-transition-plans-by-private-sector-firms/) is designed to drive the UK towards a net zero future (also see https://www.e3g.org/wp-content/uploads/TPT-Implementation-Guidance_embargoed.pdf. Its three guiding principles are ‘ambition, action and accountability’.

Issued in November, in February 2023 after a period of consultation the framework will require that businesses produce and implement ‘concrete, short term’ net zero action plans formatted to deliver their emission cut promises. The aim is to identify risks, opportunities and vital investment areas.

While helping to make the UK a true net zero economy and global leader, the initiative is regarded as a significant step in enabling the world reach net zero.

Broad action call

To do this, the guidance urge businesses to develop plans covering their own decarbonisation priorities, but also how these fit into the UK and global net zero transition – in many cases businesses may have to go much further than their current net zero planning.

With a focus on strategy and planning, the guidelines want businesses to consider practical actions needed to realise their plans. Behavioural change and change management will figure highly. TPT plans will act as bespoke net zero roadmaps, and allow businesses to be compared to each other.

The underlying message is that impressive pledges will no longer be enough!

Keen as mustard

To clarify statements made above, Canada, one of the world’s main brown mustard seed suppliers, has suffered an intense drought. Meanwhile, spontaneously exploding methane released from melting permafrost is now thought to cause massive craters.

And bearded dragons are one species where global warming is turning nearly all eggs into females!

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