Decision-time … the high- and low-carbon roads to COP28

The world – and UK – are not moving fast enough to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, a new UN pre-COP28 report suggests. Developing nations agree. Is the Government’s slow-lane policy viable? Or could a new Lancashire ‘green tech equity’ strategy be a good solution for everyone?

September turned out to be a more disturbing month than expected. And with the party conference season in full swing, October could bring further surprises – good and/or bad.

However, eyes the world over are now on December’s make-or-break COP28 climate summit in Dubai where some of the questions above will hopefully start to be answered.

A strong Chamber Sustainability team will be in the Gulf lobbying hard for Northwest low-carbon businesses … but also pushing for the global implementation of a pioneering Lancashire solution designed to be good for the UK, good for net-zero … and very positive for disadvantaged Global South countries.

Why put high-speed net-zero into the slow lane?

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak decided to apply the political brakes to net-zero in September just as the EV revolution is building up real momentum. He is also closing the Energy Efficiency Taskforce launched just five months ago in March to speed up home insulation and boiler upgrades.

Clearly, there are divided political and personal views. But both decisions are at odds with the five years of success and ambitious future goals of the Chamber Low Carbon and RedCAT (www.redcat.co.uk).

Unwelcome news for Dubai

The slow-down will also be bad news at COP28 where the world wants finance and efficient mitigation measures on a wide-scale to keep global surface temperature rises down to a relatively safe level.

However, the CLC team believes there are sound technical and economic reasons for sticking to a rapid fossil fuel-to-renewable energy transition timetable as East Lancs Chamber CEO Miranda Barker OBE explains below.

Challenges … but good news too on the road to COP28

Opinions were also divided at the first Africa Climate Summit in Kenya between Global South nations keen to use renewable energy and those arguing it is fair to use their oil and gas resources. More positive action was also called for from developed nations at the G20 meeting in New Delhi.

Another blow is an early report being prepared for COP28 which shows that the world’s first global stocktake of measures put in place at the 2015 COP19 Paris climate agreement is behind the curve.

This again is where Lancashire’s strategic proposition for leaders, opinion-formers and decision-makers at COP28 could potentially help to square the net-zero low-carbon circle.

Why a net-zero go-slow is plain wrong

But first, Miranda explains why in our view the PM’s electric vehicle (EV) gear-change is misguided.

Consumer consultations, she says, show that people are factoring in the phasing out of new petrol and diesel vehicles when planning to buy new cars and vans. The main constraint is the Government’s lack of investment in charging infrastructure, plus grid capacity and connectivity.

“EV and EV battery tech is a hugely significant tech sector for the Lancashire low carbon business community,” she adds “… with our expertise a draw for inward investments and firms potentially moving into Lancashire. It is also a strong supporting factor for the sector’s growth in the UK.”

By creating market uncertainty, the PM is also stalling private investment the sector needs to development … pushing the UK even further behind in the competitive international EV race.

The low carbon tech market – which is now being referred to as Industry 5.0 (Industry 4.0 is the Internet of Things [IoT]) – is the next big industrial market opportunity, says Miranda.

“It is a serious concern that the UK is being left unready on the starting line. There is a real business risk that we will miss the chance to capitalise on this, while China and the US race ahead”

Northwest innovation, rejuvenation, exports, and global sustainability

However, there are also positive points Mr Sunak should bear in mind where, with Lancashire’s help, Britain can lead and win the net-zero marathon.

The first is that the Northwest region already produces cutting-edge environmental technology.

The second is that as a region and a nation, we can use these innovations to boost both the domestic economy and our export performance.

Thirdly, and very importantly, we are intentionally developing many technologies in the Northwest so that financially-challenged less-developed countries can manufacture and use them at minimum cost in their own national net-zero drives.

The fourth and final point is that our new unique initiative – RedCAT (www.redcat.co.uk) – is designed to bridge the ‘valley of death’ financial and commercial support gap that many entrepreneurs face in taking brilliant pre-prototype ideas successfully to local and world markets

Green tech for all!

A key concept based on Lancashire’s ability to develop simple low-carbon technology which we will be taking to COP28 and discussing increasingly in the future is ‘green tech equity’.

We see this as the climate change equivalent of the ‘vaccine equity’ strategy which helped the world put up a united front against another recent common enemy – the pandemic.

RedCAT is already helping to trial products like small hydro turbines in countries such as Kenya that can be made locally for literally pennies.

We believe this can help make net-zero achievable worldwide, close the huge low-carbon financial gap that worries many nations, develop skills and small companies, and make sustainability local.

First global stocktake – another worry

The world’s first ‘global stocktake’ will show the circa 200 countries at COP28 how far away they are from net-zero promises made in the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit average surface temperature rises to 2.00C – and 1.50C if possible – to avoid the most severe and irreversible impacts.

The idea is to check the progress individual nations are making in 2023 – and then every five years after that. The aim is to sharpen ambitions and performance, starting with updated targets in 2025.

It is widely known that the world is not on track – and nations are starting to blame each other.

Impartial review needed

COP28 president, Sultan al-Jaber, says the stocktake must not only identify where action is missing, but also produce a workable plan to get individual countries on track.

The EU as a 27-country bloc wants “concrete recommendations” on actions to be take. However, some developing countries, as mentioned above, think wealthy nations should contribute more.

It is also not clear how extra investment finance will be raised, or which clean technologies will be given priority funding – questions we are watching carefully. Similarly, will sectors such as energy or heavy industry will be singled out – again areas of great interest to us.

New allies … just when we need them?

Meanwhile, could help be at hand from another unexpected source?

Bacteria that ‘eat’ methane could slow global heating, a new study finds. This could help to make deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions – but will need major investments. Methane is emitted by natural gas and petroleum energy systems, industry, agriculture, land-use, and waste management.

Researchers at California University Long Beach think bacteria known as methanotrophs could convert methane from the atmosphere into carbon dioxide and biomass, although thousands of high-performance reactors would be needed.

Bacteria called methylotuvimicrobium buryatense 5GB1C can remove methane even in very small amounts, and could work well near landfills, rice fields and oil wells at about 500 ppm – plus concentrations around cattle.

Little friends in low places

The bacteria oxidise methane to CO2 – a much less powerful greenhouse gas – that it is suggested could perhaps be used in greenhouses to grow tomatoes,

The largest barrier is technical. If output can be increased 20-fold, the next hurdles will be investment capital and public acceptance. Pilot field trials could start in three to four years.

Methane has more than 85 times more warming power than carbon dioxide in its first 20 years in the atmosphere, and has been rising rapidly for the past 15 years. It currently accounts for at least 30% of global heating.

Extreme heat can build up more in soil than air

The main concern worrying nations is rising average temperatures at the earth’s surface. However, another new study reported in Nature (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-023-01812-3) has unearthed a further large problem.

Using in-situ and newly-available satellite data, researchers have turned their eye to soil temperatures across Europe between 1996 and 2021.

They have found that soil temperature extremes are rising 0.70C faster each decade than air temperature extremes, and twice as fast in average frequency over Central Europe. This is significant, given that rising air temperatures for net-zero are calibrated in fractions of a degree.

Another finding is that during dry warm conditions, absorbed energy is used to warm the soil. This in turn increases the release of ‘sensible heat flux’ – the transfer of heat caused by differences in temperature – and elevates surface air temperatures still further.

The result is a higher atmospheric demand for water. Soil evaporation also increases. This may further dry and warm soil, and highlights the contribution made by the soil moisture-temperature feedback mechanism as the climate warms to hot extremes.

Plants find it harder to absorb CO2 with global warming

A further modelling study suggests that increases in photosynthesis have slowed since 2000 (https://www.newscientist.com/article/2386953-plants-find-it-harder-to-absorb-carbon-dioxide-amid-global-warming/)

Global warming that dries the atmosphere may have slowed a rising rate of photosynthesis around the world that involving plants taking up more carbon dioxide. It used to be thought that a faster rate would boost photosynthesis and remove greenhouse gases.

That effect is now failing, according to University of New Hampshire research which analysed ground measurements from sensors around the world between 1982 and 2016, and used satellite images and machine learning to look for small fluctuations.

Digging deep to stay cool

If all else fails, perhaps we should follow the example of the 2,500 opal miners and their families of Coober Pedy in the Australian outback 848km north of Adelaide who have built their whole town underground (https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20230803-the-town-where-people-live-underground).

After endless horizons of pink dust, soil waste heaps and occasional stovepipe chimneys are a sign that 60% of the population live in cool homes at least four metres underground for strength cut into iron-rich sandstone and siltstone rock.

This makes sense in an area that regularly reaches 520C, where birds have been known to fall from the hot sky, and electronics must be stored in fridges.

Coober Pedy is not unique historically, with many lost subterranean cities, cool caves, and reopened bomb shelters. Could it be an extreme solution for Lancashire?

Finale …

Success at COP28 may depend on how persuasively we make our extremely logical, practical and urgent low-carbon case.

Shakespeare thought it was important to be forceful. In Henry V, he wrote, “Self-love … is not so vile a sin, as self-neglecting.” In other words, it’s as bad to be overmodest as it is to be over-bold.

Today, we might put it more simply as ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’. May the force be with us!

 

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