Still focused on net-zero in the middle of a storm

Yes, net-zero is alive and well! It is three months since COP26 – which may feel like a long time in both politics and since setting tough environmental targets. But as Storm Eunice has just shown, ignoring low-carbon goals and violent winter weather can both bring nasty stings in their tails.

A lot has happened in the world since the far-off relatively peaceful days of November 2021 before the energy, supply-chain, inflation and international political crises began to bite.

Cost-cutting, maintaining energy supplies, opening up new markets, but also helping to make the most of the Government’s new levelling-up strategy, are high on the business agenda.

We must not forget global warming

But that does not mean that the urgent low-carbon climate change emission targets set at November’s UN COP26 summit hosted by the UK in Glasgow have magically gone away!

Quite the opposite. According to the noted international consultancy McKinsey, the true cost of keeping the Earth relatively cool will be circa £6.8 trillion, or $9.2 trillion a year. The alternative, it says, is very costly more extreme weather.

McKinsey calculates the world now spends $5.7 trillion annually to lower fossil fuels impacts, but must add an extra $3.5 trillion each year from 2021 to 2050 to limit global warming to 1.50C. That is equivalent to half of all 2020 corporate profits, 25% of all tax revenue, or 7% of household spending.

And it does not include the high cost of reskilling, which is one of the Chamber Low Carbon Programme’s (CLC) updated 2022 priorities (https://www.chamberlowcarbon.co.uk/).

UK private sector net-zero focus

The Government’s environmental advisor, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), is refocussing its net-zero guidance on the ‘delivery and implementation’ of ‘business action, investment and finance’.

CCC CEO Chris Stark now sees business and finance as “cross-economy enablers” in the post-COP26 net-zero transition. “The UK’s climate goals have been substantially reset, so the focus moves to delivery and implementation,” he says.

He continues: “Ministers have made clear that the lion’s share of progress will be made by the private sector, led by Government.” The CCC’s attention must, therefore, also turn towards, “… private sector delivery and implementation of the public policies to underpin it.”

The CCC’s new advice “… will differ substantially from our output of recent years,” Stark says.

CCC will produce annual UK progress reports, but also ‘sector-specific recommendations’ for ‘high-emitting and hard-to-abate sectors’ such as buildings, heavy industry, energy supply and transport.

CLC’s 2022 net-zero agenda

CLC will reflect this change. Programme manager Stephen Sykes explains how CLC’s carbon footprint cutting advice and guidance offering to both SMEs and larger companies will evolve in 2022.

The established and popular Lunch & Learn events and webinar format will continue and be expanded with a greater emphasis on ‘the journey to net-zero’, he says.

This will also be carried over into the one-to-one practical action plans tailored to individual business needs that the CLC’s team of experts help to create and implement.

However, there will be a greater involvement with larger companies. CLC is working closely with the Senator International Group (https://www.thesenatorgroup.com/) to help take its 27 Lancashire based SMEs and online further afield supply chain members to net zero. Other large companies are welcome.

Another development is that Lancashire colleges are developing net-zero courses. CLC is working closely with Blackburn College on a new two half-day sessions over two weeks programme.

“We answer basic questions to get people up and running,” says Stephen. “The first is ‘what is all the fuss about?’ The second is ‘where am I now?’ The third point is ‘how to start your own net-zero journey’.

Level regional playing fields?

Chamber CEO Miranda Barker has examined the levelling up proposals for the UK regions set out in Michael Gove’s new policy consultancy (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-unveils-levelling-up-plan-that-will-transform-uk).

“Levelling up is important to the English regions for our community life, economic and industrial performance, plus long-term custodianship of the environment,” she explains.

“To date, an awful lot of nice words have been spoken. But the Government must remember that you can only impress with words once. After that you’re done!

“It’s hard to see if there is any new money. Promises were made in the past that were withdrawn again, think Northern Powerhouse Rail. Nothing happened. So basically I am saying to government, we don’t necessarily trust you to deliver!”

A united Lancashire approach

“However, the positive news is that for the first time Lancashire’s 15 different types of local authority have agreed to support an application for a ‘county deal’ for Lancashire as part of long-term investment and devolution across the regions.”

Particularly important is the requirement to improve: ‘… environment, climate change and quality housing’.

“The guiding principles are strong local leadership, ‘sensible’ economic geography, governance, joined-up services, innovation, plus financial and administrative efficiency,” adds Miranda.

“But we must show we are serious. It is also crucial that the Government does not treat us as a second-class area compared to combined (mayoral) authorities.”

March thoughts

Next month, Miranda will look at the work of the RedCAT Lancashire Centre for Alternative Technologies initiative and its net-zero implications.

Led by the East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, RedCAT is currently supporting eight companies with investment of £1.5M of Getting Building Fund monies that should lever in over £10 million of further financial growth and investment and hopefully will create 100+ new jobs.

Levelling up and net-zero

“The ‘innovation’ element is particularly important in our net-zero goals. But what happens next depends on what further Government finance is available, for net-zero investments but levelling up as a whole,” Miranda explains.

“Two definitions of levelling up are important. The first is of parity investments in local priorities like transport infrastructure. However, real levelling-up is a much longer-term goal. We must concentrate on both to make genuine progress.

“In the successful regeneration of Wigan, joined-up thinking led to a commercial renaissance, health improvements, higher educational aspirations and achievements, plus a crime fall because of rising local ‘ownership’.

“The lesson for me is that short-term Government involvement doesn’t work! It has to be long-term Government.”

Stormy stings in the tail

Meanwhile, while battling price rises and supply difficulties, companies in the North have had to content with disruptive winter weather.

Red weather warnings have so far been rare; the Met Office sees no evidence of increasing long-term storm activity. However, there are warning that UK storms could bring new long-term risks.

Adverse jet stream-driven weather blowing across the Atlantic could contain ‘sting jets’ – small, narrow airstreams inside storms that generate intense winds over distances smaller than 100 km.

Sting jets, first discovered in 2003, may have been factors in the Great Storm of 1987, more recently, Storm Arwen in 2021, and now 2022. Lasting from one to 12 hours, they are difficult to forecast and the dangerous result of mid-latitude low-pressure ‘extratropical’ cyclones.

Meteorologists want to understand more about sting jets which could influence UK weather significantly in a warming climate. However, a low-pressure polar vortex in the Arctic is currently thought to be the main recent weather culprit.

An increasing threat?

Is climate change making storms worse?

Scientists differ over whether storms themselves will become stronger but agree their impact will increase for two reasons. Firstly, rainfall in winter storms is more intense and linked by many studies to climate change. Secondly, sea-level rises are making storm surges higher and more damaging.

As professor of climate science Richard Allan at the University of Reading explains, “Once-in-a-decade storms like Eunice are certain to batter the British Isles in the future, but there is no compelling evidence that they will become more frequent or potent in terms of wind speeds.

But he adds that more intense rainfall and higher sea levels as the planet heats up, plus flooding from coastal storm surges and prolonged deluges, will worsen when ‘these rare, explosive storms hit us in a warmer world’.

Creating commercial value from thin air

But cheers. The good news is that vodka, jet fuel and protein are products that a new group of Californian ‘carbon-to-value’ start-ups now claim can be manufactured from thin air

Twelve (https://www.twelve.co/) founded in 2015 takes CO2 from the atmosphere, and with water and renewable electricity, turns it into synthesis gas (syngas) of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. This is used to make familiar products that traditionally come from fossil fuels, including the world’s first carbon neutral, fossil-free jet fuel, the founders say. Oxygen is the only by-product.

High-end goods are said to include vodka, diamonds and clothing, plus concrete, plastic, foam, carbon fibre and even food. The firm is also looking at making parts for car interiors with Mercedes-Benz, laundry detergent ingredients and sunglasses lenses.

Warming UK coastal homes with capillary heat exchangers

The UK could become a leader in technology that draws warmth from the seabed to heat coastal towns. An international study involving Nottingham Trent University (NTU) shows that capillary heat exchangers could be used with heat pumps in shallow waters to provide an endless heat supply.

The study shows that a winter seawater temperature of only 3.7°C can deliver up to 60W/m2 of heat energy to nearby coastal properties. Average UK homes need 100W/m2. Office for National Statistics (ONS) data shows that more than 5.3 million people live in English and Welsh coastal towns.

The research carried out in partnership with Chinese institutions builds on the development of ground-source and air-source heat pumps as alternatives to emission-producing gas boilers.

Warmth would be delivered to homes through air-conditioning units – the same technology could cool properties in hot countries by utilising cooler seabed temperatures to supply cold air.

The carbon magic of mushrooms

One giant but overlooked sequester of carbon is the world’s huge underground network of fungi which it is now estimated takes up some 5 billion tons of CO2 every year.

The dimensions of the complex filaments called mycelium are staggering, with a total end-to-end length in the top 10cm of Earth’s soil of more than 450 quadrillion km, or roughly half the width of our Milky Way galaxy.

About 25% of Earth’s species live underground in stable ecosystems that store approximately

75% of all terrestrial carbon.

The humble blue milk cap mushroom (Lactarius indigo) could help to save forests, fight climate change, and be a rich protein source. Instead of farming and forestry being in direct conflict, we could develop a system of food production and trees on the same land.

This is the focus of new research looking at how fungi that grow in a mutually beneficial partnership with trees could produce 7.31kg of protein per hectare per year, compared to 4.76 to 6.99kg from beef.

High in dietary fibre and essential fatty acids, the blue cap’s striking pigmentation makes then easy to identify safely; extracts also show antibacterial properties and an ability to kill cancer cells.

Food for thought?

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