Short-term problems and long-term promises

Spring statement, stimuli, and strife. The Chancellor announced a mixed bag of economic measures in March to help with the energy and cost of living crises – including some help for low-carbon initiatives. UN scientists, meanwhile, have warned that the climate emergency is getting worse faster.

Early in March, the Government said it would draw up new energy supply measures to better align the UK’s energy mix to international pressures, and specifically the effects of war in Eastern Europe.

Although there have been extensive rumours and second-guessing about what the secure energy strategy will contain, world events have helped to push the Prime Minister final announcement into early April.

Informed speculation suggests that there could be a substantial boost for new nuclear power plants, plus a drive for onshore wind investments that would reverse a moratorium imposed six years ago.

There are also reports of some disagreements about whether strict planning laws should be loosened to encourage the rapid development of renewable resources to make the UK more independent of both energy imports and high international energy market prices.

Why heat pumps matter

One ‘certainty’ may be an extra emphasis on the efficiency and low energy use of heat pumps. Anticipating this, we would like to invite to join us at the next Chamber Low Carbon LIVE Lunch and Learn event – ‘Demystifying Heat Pumps’ – from 12.00 to 14.00 on Thursday, 14th April.

To register, please go to https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/chamber-low-carbon-live-lunch-and-learn-demystifying-heat-pumps-tickets-228865792747?aff=odeccpebemailcampaigns&utm_source=eventbrite&utm_medium=ebcampaigns&utm_campaign=4823359&utm_term=ctabutton&mipa=ABIdvVt-wLOfNPDdyjSsRZC-U7FwYRdyYO1Z63wjQQzhxo3bB27RIk3O09seUI8e-JUxo0HpvGoL2wQIE0UhWTc6oKa3HXT4iKIpA_yUbOrLpN6MlsE-omNfpGgjOTjAAI65kfBY-qDP6RXrjqa6AE-ciA976EPtHmvSblMtJGHt7oA6IcgdEOukbe7xVR9-3A1A9IBKjKJoA7OcNbs505F2tnTTJAo4qZFvo7tktSFqSnVTe-emzFa5w7Ipr4d38T1_1cDWBv1y0ENutbbxWMOgTpbCBliH5A#tickets

Rising climate impacts and biodiversity

When Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was asked to name the greatest challenge for statesmen in the turbulent 1960’s, his reply was, ‘Events, dear boy, events’. Little seems to have changed.

It is easy to forget that the climate crisis is getting worse, according to the latest IPCC report which made recent headlines but has been buried since by current news events. There is also disappointing news on international protection for biodiversity – the sister of climate change impacts.

More on both of these key issues in a moment.

The Treasury gets its retaliation in first

What did happen on 23rd March was that the Chancellor made his Spring Statement. Facing high debt levels with little financial wiggle-room, he set out what is seen as a compromise to balance cost, supply, and geo-political factors with environmental, technical and innovation priorities.

On the positive low-carbon side, he has paused VAT on energy efficiency measures to help tackle high energy bills. Homeowners will pay no VAT on solar panels, electric heat pumps and insulation installed in the next five years.

Mr Sunak said energy efficiency will make a “big difference” in curbing rising energy bills, adding that the Government will reverse the EU’s decision to take wind and water turbines ‘out of scope’; EU ‘red tape’ will be abolished too.

“A family having a solar panel installed will see tax savings worth over £1,000, and savings on their energy bill of over £300 per year,” he told MPs. Energy efficiency measures in the last decade will save UK homes £1.2 billion this year, an average of nearly £200 for six million homes, the Government suggests. It adds that it has committed £6.6 billion to energy efficiency improvements.

Greenpeace UK sees VAT on insulation, solar panels, and heat pumps as a ‘welcome start’ to end a huge waste of energy from leaky homes, keep bills down, and cut gas use.

The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) comments that, “Removing VAT on energy efficiency products such as insulation is an immediate boost for families facing soaring gas bills”, but adds that, “… there are lots more tools within the Chancellor’s grasp for getting off Russian gas and reducing household bills,” – such as low-interest loans and incentivising the switch away from gas boilers.

Moving heat – not making it

A powerful case for the widespread adoption of heat pump technology has also been made in “Why You (and the Planet) Really Need a Heat Pump” – https://www.wired.com/story/why-you-the-planet-need-heat-pump/?utm_source=pocket&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=pockethits.

It explains that heat pumps work on the same principle as refrigerators, transferring heat rather than creating heat. They keep food cold not by pumping cool air in but by pumping warm air out. In summer, heat pumps cool buildings by moving hot indoor air out-of-doors.

Similarly in winter, they warm buildings by working as ‘reverse refrigerators’, extracting outdoor heat and bringing it indoors, even on cold UK days. This is important for Northwest innovators.

Climate change impacts will be devastating … but avoidable

Going back to other continuing crises, the UN International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that many global warming effects are now irreversible, pushing humans and nature beyond their ability to adapt. But businesses can help to avoid or reduce the worst impacts.

Between late 2021 and August 2022, the IPCC will release a series of four seminal studies compiled over seven years into the causes, impacts, solutions, and lessons learned about climate change.

With two still to be released in 2022, they already make disturbing reading (https://www.ipcc.ch/).

The first in August 2021 on the physical science of global warning found conclusive evidence that human activity is an ‘unequivocally’ cause of accelerating climate change.

The second released recently – “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” – focusses on causes and solutions, and details how we can adapt and protect against some negative effects (https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg2/).

Companies on the frontline

‘Irreversible’ impacts include melting ice caps and glaciers, plus cascade effects where wildfires, dying forests, drying peatlands, and thawing permafrost release further emissions that amplify the initial warming.

Businesses are being asked to set sustainable long-term goals to cut energy consumption, use renewables, reduce waste and early obsolescence, reassess transport needs, develop green supply chains, and adopt low-carbon and heat-free technologies.

Options

IPCC authors caution that the Earth’s ability to adapt to impacts will diminish rapidly the higher temperatures rise, and quickly reach ‘hard’ limits after which adaptation will be impossible.

However, they stress over-heating is not inevitable if the world can come together to suppress the release of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to atmosphere – and carbon dioxide and methane in particular.

A third assessment due in April 2022 will cover how greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced; a fourth in October will then help to show countries meeting at Egypt’s COP27 climate summit how to make the cuts that were not achieved at COP26.

Bleak picture

Emphasising that the chances of avoiding the worst impacts are narrowing rapidly, the UN panel said in their ‘bleakest warning yet’ that the global climate emergency is deteriorating much faster than previously expected.

They added that no inhabited region will now escape severe rising temperatures and extreme weather. More than 40% of people – 3.3 billion to 3.6 billion– already live in ‘highly vulnerable’ areas. Millions will face food and water shortages if current heating levels continue.

Worse still, circa half the planet’s population now suffer severe annual water shortages. One in three are exposed to deadly heat stress, a figure that could rise to 50% or 75% by 2100.

An additional 500,000 people every year now face serious flooding risks. This figure is projected to reach a billion on low-lying coasts by 2050. Rising temperatures and rainfall will also increase the spread of crop, livestock, and wildlife diseases.

Threats to the natural world

Meanwhile, nature is also under siege in more ways than one.

The jet stream moves eastwards in the Northern Hemisphere at 110mph driven by the Earth’s rotation. However, it has now started an unprecedented shift northward which could bring more droughts and heat waves to southern Europe and the eastern US.

A recent study (https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2104105118) suggests that the delicate balance of warm and cold air which keeps the stream in place is changing. Without a curb on emissions, the stream will break out of its normal range by 2060.

The result could be increasingly severe climate risks that may affect the polar vortices which cause sudden intense cold snaps.

Water on the move

Climate change is also amplifying the earth’s water cycle above predicted rates. Rising temperatures have pushed at least twice the normal amount of freshwater from warm regions towards the poles.

The intensity of the global water cycle has increased by 7.4% compared to previous modelling estimates of 2% to 4%, the journal Nature reports. As a result, sub-tropical regions will get drier.

From 1970 to 2014, the estimated volume of additional freshwater transferred from warmer regions is somewhere between 46,000 and 77,000 kms3.

NGOs want biodiversity action by UN members

Environmental interest groups have asked the UN to adopt a Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) to “achieve a nature positive world by 2030”. The Nature Conservancy, WWF International, Conservation International and Wildlife Conservation Society want to reverse species losses.

Unfortunately, late-March talks between 195 countries in Geneva were described as a ‘major disappointment’ with failure to agree on any of 21 new targets.

This means that the second part of the UN’s convention on biological diversity (CBD) due to start on 25th April in Kunming, China has been delayed for a fourth time and moved back to August 2022; the first part closed in October 2021. The ambition is to halt nature loss by 2030, with a net-positive gain to follow so that humanity can ‘live in harmony with nature’ by 2050.

Seen as the natural equivalent of net-zero for emissions, the agreement is now more than 18 months behind schedule due to Covid-19.

About 50% of living creatures might now be moving towards higher ground or the poles. Some 14% of species may face a very high extinction risk with a temperature rise of 1.50C, increasing to 29% at 30C. The extinction risk of animals in vulnerable biodiversity hotspots could double at 20C, and increased tenfold at 30C.

Forests do more than store carbon

Trees, particularly in tropical forests, play a more complex role in tackling climate crisis than previously thought because of their physical effects on global and local temperatures, according to new research. They act as ‘carbon sponges’, but also help to keep air nearby and farther away cool and moist by the way they physically transform energy and water.

Researchers have found that, overall, forests keep the planet at least 0.50C cooler when biophysical effects of chemical compounds, turbulence and reflected light are combined with carbon dioxide.

Hedging bets

In cooler northern climes, gardeners can do their bit to future-proof towns and cities by planting hedges between properties, says the Royal Horticultural Society that is studying which species best tackle the climate crisis and pollution.

Hedges reduce pollution, improve air quality, slow the flow of rainwater, assist flood management, provide shelter for wildlife, and help to regulate temperatures through shading and cooling.

In fact, the humble hedge is now seen as a garden hero that provides important environmental services relatively cheaply over long periods on small ground footprints.

So, the message to save the world is simple. Don’t sit on the fence!

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