Heatwaves make local and global low carbon plans even more important

As soaring temperatures sear seven continents and the Government’s plan to adapt to future climatic conditions is called into question, the next phase of Chamber Low Carbon/Sustainability Programme expansion looks towards more Lancashire innovation, plus a global role in Dubai.

Luckily, so far this summer the jet stream has protected the UK from weather extremes that are generating burning temperatures around the globe. We have also escaped the high winds, floods and melting polar ice that have hit other regions. But there is no guarantee this will continue.

Two responses could make a difference. The first should be the Government’s Third National Adaptation Plan (NAP) announced in July as catastrophic weather conditions looped the planet from Japan to Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and California – plus the high Arctic in Canada and Russia.

However, the plan has been roundly criticised for its parochial vision, and lack of ambition and scale in the face of fears that world weather could be spiralling out of control.

The second is the UN’s COP28 climate summit in Dubai in November/December. COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber, although a key oil and gas industry executive, has been spelling out the terms he thinks member nations must meet to keep global temperatures rises down to no more than a critical 1.5OC.

Shoulder to the wheel in Lancashire

As we enter our sixth year of delivery and expansion, the Chamber Low Carbon team working with local companies will be actively involved in responses to both in the months and years ahead.

The Chamber Low Carbon/Sustainability (CLCS) programme will continue to focus on improving energy-efficiency, the transition from ‘dirty’ fossil-fuels to ‘clean’ renewables, minimising waste via the circular economy approach, and taking innovative technologies to UK and global markets.

However, an expanded and refurbished Low-Carbon Hub at East Lancs Chamber’s headquarters in Accrington will also be home to the RedCAT programme (https://www.red-cat.uk/) designed to bridge the technical and financial gap which often delays the commercialisation of low-carbon products, technologies, and services.

For more information about us, please talk to Nicola Greenhalgh, RedCAT Operations Manager at n.greenhalgh@chamberelancs.co.uk.

Late autumn in the Gulf

We will be present at COP28 as a strong Northwest regional team helping the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) to promote the powerful global contribution SME businesses, industry and commerce can make to combat the climate emergency.

After attending COP26 as fringe and Green Zone onlookers, and COP27 as official observers to the negotiations through the auspices of ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability) the Chamber is moving up in Dubai to become officially recognised by the UNFCCC as an Observer Organisation in its own right.

Learning to live with unavoidable change

The 196 nations due to meet at COP28 – and build on progress made at COP27 in Egypt in 2022 and COP26 hosted by the UK in Glasgow in 2021 – will try to reach consensus on complex strategies to minimise the worst effects of global warming, even if they cannot now be stopped.

Whatever happens in Dubai, some impacts may already be locked in. In response, the UK’s The Third National Adaptation Plan (NAP) is meant to map out a viable route for living with the unavoidable.

When published, the plan (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-sets-out-adaptation-programme-to-tackle-climate-impact) was criticised for ‘falling far short’ and being ‘very weak’ in safeguarding lives and livelihoods, with a ‘yawning gap” in restoring nature as a key part of living with climate change.

Failed focus

Defra must by law produce an adaptation plan every five years. But the UK is still not treating climate change as a national priority say expert Government advisors who add that the latest strategy offers no significant new money or legislation to tackle overheating and flooding.

Before the update was released, the UK Committee on Climate Change (UKCCC) (https://www.theccc.org.uk/) pressed ministers to ensure that the new plan will match the size of the challenge – commenting that its publication would be a “make-or-break moment”.

Instead, UKCCC says the update is largely a repeat of commitments made in other documents like the Environment Act, and warns that heatwaves, droughts, floods and storms will intensify until carbon emissions fall to net-zero.

Proposals include new public buildings that can withstand high temperatures, £15 million to research climate change solutions, a new climate risk information service, plus new defences against rising sea levels, green spaces to keep urban areas cool, and planting more drought-resistant crops (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/third-national-adaptation-programme-nap3/understanding-climate-adaptation-and-the-third-national-adaptation-programme-nap3).

However, Baroness Brown, Chair of the UKCCC’s Adaptation Committee, says the plan shows the Government’s approach is inadequate. She added, “In another summer of gruelling hot temperatures, water shortages and wildfires, it’s hard to make sense of that decision. We are at the stage where promising further action is not enough.”

In response, Secretary of State for Environment, Therese Coffey, described the new plan as a “step change” in preparations from health to housing. Minister for climate adaptation, Trudy Harrison, added that the strategy sets out “billions of pounds of investment to protect the most vulnerable communities.” She added, “There’s always more to do. This is a five-year plan.”

Nuclear net-zero option

To push the net-zero agenda forward, energy security secretary Grant Shapps has outlined £20 billion proposals to help end most emissions by 2050 with more nuclear energy.

But it will be six years before the 24 gigawatts project sees a green light, he conceded. Great British Nuclear (GBN) will drive the delivery of new nuclear projects, including small modular reactors that should be easier to approve, licence, and deploy.

Large-scale low-carbon heat projects

The National Grid’s Electricity System Operator (ESO) says the UK could reach net-zero by 2046, with the caveat is that it must speed up the rollout of low-carbon technologies and carbon capture to account for ‘megatrends like urbanisation and climate change’.

Of four possibilities in its new ‘Future Energy Scenarios’ report (https://www.nationalgrideso.com/document/283101/download), two foresee the UK meeting net-zero by 2050. A third – ‘Leading the Way’ could hit the target early in 2046, with annual emission savings of (minus) -34Mt CO2e by 2050. A fourth – ‘Falling Short’ – is less optimistic

ESO thinks carbon-negativity can be reached without offsets from abroad but rapid decarbonisation of electricity, heating, transport, and heavy industry, plus a major effort to capture and store carbon on farms and in green spaces. ESO does not currently think the UK is on track for 2050.

What is the UAE’s COP28 climate action plan?

As COP28 president, Sultan Al Jaber outlined his COP28 strategy at a July meeting of world governments in Brussels, although the detail of how they will be implemented is not yet clear.

It covers priorities in the 2015 Paris agreement divided into ‘four pillars’, or four ‘Fs’, to: – fast-track the low-carbon transition; fix climate finance; focus on people, lives and livelihoods; and full inclusivity.

Limiting temperature rises to 1.5OC – Al Jaber explained that his plan is based on the ‘tougher and safer’ goal of 1.5OC rather than any dilution to 2.0OC. Describing this as “a single north star”, he said delivery will need a “transformational plan for mobilising finance.”

National plans – governments will be asked for a “global stocktake” of their progress in meeting emissions cutting promises – nationally determined contributions (NDCs) – made in Paris. These will show the world is way off track. But the presidency will not name and shame individual countries. Instead, they will be ask to submit updated NDCs in September that meet the 1.5OC goal. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) of which Dubai is a part has updated its own NDC with emissions cuts of 40%.

Phase out, or phase down – Al Jaber said “the phase down of fossil fuels” is “inevitable and essential”; he previously spoke of “the phase out of fossil fuels”. The wording, which it is thought could allow oil extraction to continue with carbon capture, is still ambiguous and will disappoint the 80-plus countries that want COP28 to commit to “phasing out fossil fuels entirely”.

Clean energy – new commitments to double energy-efficiency, triple global renewable energy capacity to 11,000GW, and double hydrogen production to 180 million tonnes annually by 2030 are expected to be agreed at COP28 – though there is concern this does not translate automatically into lower fossil-fuel use.

Fossil-fuel company leaders – Al Jaber, as head of UAE’s Adnoc oil and gas company, has argued that fossil-fuel executives must be part of COP28 and wants to work with them to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in line with 1.50C. It is said success would make COP28 “…one of the most important summits in history.”

All emissions – previously, the president spoke of oil and gas companies becoming less carbon-intensive by improving factors like their extraction efficiency and plugging methane leaks. These are Scope 1 emissions under a company’s own control. This has now moved on to Scope 2 bought-in emissions, and Scope 3 emissions through extended supply chains that have the greatest impacts.

Climate finance – this is a major point of contention. Developing countries lack finance to become low-carbon economies. Al Jaber wants “a comprehensive transformation” of the World Bank and other finance institutions, plus private sector funding, to meet the promise that should have been met by 2020 for richer countries to provide $100bn (£76.5bn) annually.

COP27 also agreed to set up a loss and damage fund for rescue and rehabilitation in countries worst hit by climate impacts. The president says it is “absolutely imperative” COP28 meets this, with fund distribution soon after.

Inclusivity – although UAE is not a democracy, Al Jaber says civil groups will be welcome at COP28, highlighting the role of Indigenous people, youth, faith-based organisations, local leaders – plus the private sector including oil companies. The jury is out over what the results might be.

Running out of carbon budget

The world is exhausting its “carbon budget” – the CO2 that can be released to stay below the vital 1.50C threshold, according to a new study (https://essd.copernicus.org/articles/15/2295/2023/).

Only some 250 billion tonnes more can now be emitted – a figure down from 500 billion tonnes a few years ago. With the world currently releasing about 54 billion tonnes a year, it could run out of ‘track’ by 2030 without really tough decisions.

Study lead author, Prof Piers Forster, director of the Priestley Centre for Climate Futures at the University of Leeds, says the annual increase in emissions rate has slowed, but much stronger action is needed. “Time is no longer on our side,” he adds.

Fungi absorb up to a third of emissions

Plants could bring us better news. They transfer vast amounts of CO2 to fungi growing in extensive networks around their roots. However, this huge carbon sink has been largely overlooked, say University of Cape Town researchers.

Most land plants have a symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi in the soil around them, exchanging atmospheric carbon for nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus; between 3% and 13% of this carbon ends up locked in fungal tissue.

But how much CO2 is transferred semi-permanently into fungi? The surprisingly large answer is circa 13.1 gigatonnes annually – equivalent to some 36% of total global fossil-fuels emissions.

Encouraging findings … if we are ready to help nature to help us.