Looking forward to a warmer – and cooler – 2023

In the middle of a cold winter with high energy prices it is hard not to look forward to warmer spring weather … though cooler than summer 2022. Before then, the world managed to make important decisions at COP15, the biodiversity twin of the recent COP27 climate summit.

It is hard to remember with the recent bout of cold weather that 2022 is likely to go down as one of the warmest years yet on record. However, whatever the weather, climate change is now a major challenge for biodiversity.

In early December, world leaders gathered in Montreal, Canada, for the second crucial global summit of the year to hammer out an international agreement committing 196 member states to precise targets to end the loss of species while also protecting and restoring nature

COP15 focussed on the living world through the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) – a treaty for the ‘conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity’.

The 196 broadly agreed that ecological degradation and deterioration must end in 2030. But once again, getting there, and the finance to do so, were key sticking points. Also once again, China, Russia, the US and India were absent, which makes reaching an agreement difficult.

Detailed aims are shown later (https://www.cbd.int/). East Lancs Chamber CEO Miranda Barker OBE also explains in a moment why COP15 has been so important.

Trees, revolutionary food, plus hot and wet energy

However, the natural world, biotechnology and green energy technology made low-carbon headlines for other reasons in the last month of the year.

We seem to have undervalued the true value of local neighbour trees by billions of pounds (https://www.forestresearch.gov.uk/). At the other end of the scale, carefully engineered microbes could replace most of the world’s agricultural sector – and the harmful impacts that go with it.

As we slipped from 2022 into 2023, the war to replace reliance on fossil-fuel energy from Russia also continued on numerous fronts.

The UK has concluded a deal with the US to tanker LNG supplies eastwards across the Atlantic in 2023 equivalent to some 10% of the UK’s national needs.

There is also a plan by start-up Xlinks (https://xlinks.co/) to transmit bulk solar and wind power from the Moroccan desert through a 3,800km subsea cable to meet 8% of our national power demand – unfortunately, this will now be delayed by at least a year.

Meanwhile, in the same way that offshore wind and land-based solar power cost fell rapidly in recent years to become commercially viable, the costs of a fledgling UK subsea tidal stream power sector off the Caithness coast have fallen by 40% since 2018.

With projected prices as low as £78 per MWh by 2035, compared to £92.50 per MWh from the new Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant, the industry is now gaining its sea-legs – although it will always be on a smaller scale. More details on these developments in a moment.

The COP15 mission

Why is biodiversity so important? Because it is half of the answer needed to create a sustainable world. Miranda Barker explains why COP15 was a success, albeit after a nail-biting finish!

“The main priority from a business perspective is that we don’t destroy the huge free carbon sink nature provides of billions of tonnes of captured and stored atmospheric CO2. That would make trying to reverse our existing emissions to net-zero even more difficult,” she says. “COP15 was a victory.

“The other cliff-hanger moment was watching the world edge slowly towards a ’30 by 30’ agreement to protect 30% of the planet for nature by 2030. Brazil was one of the last nations to hold back and great hopes were pinned on the new president elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

 

“It was a great relief that a deal was finally signed,” she adds.

 

“The final point is that the world needs to reverse the ecological damage already caused – there is hope for a pledge that that should happen by 2050. All this means that COP15 was being regarded on an equal footing with the importance of the 2015 COP21 Paris climate agreement.”

Businesses at COP15

As at COP27 in Egypt in November, business organisations were obviously present at COP15, not pushing for a weaker CBD agreement, but lobbying for a strong nature-positive mission statement because they recognise the negative impacts a weaker natural world will have on business.

In particular, they want to ‘Make it mandatory‘ for large businesses to disclose their nature-related activities by 2030 (https://www.businessfornature.org/make-it-mandatory-campaign).

Draft CBD COP15 objectives have been to: –

  • Set aside 30% of land and water-based habitats for ‘protection, conservation and statuses’
  • Impose stricter rules to curb the spread of invasive species
  • Mandate businesses to report on their biodiversity impacts, dependencies, and risks
  • Mandate a reduction in pesticide use in agriculture
  • Reform or eliminate subsidies for industries that deplete nature
  • Provide private finance to help redirect financial flows that harm nature
  • Provide more international finance and increasing flows from wealthy to low-income nations

UK pushes for a strong Plastics Treaty

Meanwhile, the first meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) on Plastic Pollution (https://www.unep.org/about-un-environment/inc-plastic-pollution) took place in Uruguay at the end of November and start of December. Some 160 countries came together to negotiate a new legally binding treaty to end plastic pollution, including in the marine environment.

The UK made its presence felt by continued to push for an ambitious and effective treaty to end plastic pollution, including through the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution which now has over 50 members (https://hactoendplasticpollution.org/).

The coalition’s aims are to: – ‘restrain plastic consumption and production to sustainable levels’; ‘enable a circular economy for plastics that protects the environment and human health’; and ‘achieve environmentally sound management and recycling of plastic waste’.

Building low-carbon momentum

Another late 2022 milestone was the Government’ release of ‘Building for 2050’ (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1121448/Building_for_2050_Low_cost_low_carbon_homes.pdf). Its evidence will be used to develop low-carbon building construction policies and future emissions reductions plans.

This £1.64 million research project studies the construction of low-cost, low-carbon buildings. Its aims are to understand: – ‘the attitudes towards and challenges of this type of home’; ‘the costs and cost drivers associated with their construction’; and ‘their energy performance once occupied’.

Innovative technical developments

A key goal of the Chamber Low Carbon Programme is to promote new low-carbon technologies in Lancashire to help fill the gap created by ending the West’s dependence of fossil-fuels. However, the rest of the world is not far behind!

A new US example is Aeromine Technologies (https://www.aerominetechnologies.com/) which has designed a ‘motionless’ rooftop wind power generation system that can deliver 50% more power than comparable solar plants.

The units occupy a tenth of the space needed by a solar system and are silent – though at 3m high they still have a significant profile. However, by amplifying air flows at speeds as low as 8km/h in a similar way to aerofoils on racing cars, they work with no mechanical spinning parts.

Some more large-scale energy developments are described later. But first, modern ‘brewing’ could bring revolutionary food production changes.

Not trouble but solutions brewing – precision fermentation

Brewing may be popular in the festive season. However, its successors are pushing an old technology into the realms of replacing a large part of the world’s essential farming sector and its negative environmental impacts. Here are the basics according to its advocates: –

Enough food to feed the world – With pressure on food production in a warming world, there are estimates that precision fermentation could replace 80% of the world’s traditional farmlands and produce enough food to feed eight billion people on a small fraction of the land.

Precision fermentation – This has been described as possibly the most important green technology ever devised. It is a refined type of brewing that multiplies the quantity of microbes needed to produce very specific products.

Microbes fed on green hydrogen – Crucially, the bio-technology would use no agricultural feedstock. Instead, microbes will be fed on either hydrogen (green hydrogen) or methanol created with renewable electricity, water, carbon dioxide, and very small quantities of fertiliser.

Protein-rich – The resulting ‘flour’ is said to be circa 60% protein. In comparison, soy beans contain 37% and chick peas 20%. Importantly, microbes can be bred to create specific proteins and fats that could be more effective alternatives than plant products to replace meat, fish, milk and eggs.

Minute areas of land – By one estimate precision fermentation based on methanol will only need 1/1,700th of the land used to grow US soya beans. Extrapolating this logic, 138,000 and 157,000 less land would be needed than agriculturally reared beef and lamb.

Minimal waste and emissions – In addition, depending on sources of green power and recycling rates, water use and greenhouse gas emissions fall, while the self-controlling characteristics of the technology prevent waste overspills into the environment.

No livestock waste – The absence of livestock would also resolve the balance in favour of biodiversity and allow natural rewilding on a huge scale. Fishing from the seas could potentially be replaced too.

Downside – There are serious scientific objections too in terms of genetic modification and commercial-sensitive monopoly products, but given the size of world’s current problems could count against them.

Tidal turbines

For decades the practical difficulties of harnessing powerful tides flowing around Britain’s shorelines have put off investors and government officials searching for major renewable energy sources.

But as the costs have fallen, more people are seeing the potential of a renewable resource that creates energy as the tides ebb and flow predictably, regularly and not intermittently every day.

A report from Offshore Marine Catapult (https://ore.catapult.org.uk/?orecatapultreports=cost-reduction-pathway-of-tidal-stream-energy-in-the-uk-and-france) says tidal stream energy is at the “point of commercialisation” with companies keen to scale up turbine production and deployment.

But the sector will need careful nurturing to follow the successful trajectory of offshore wind, which in 11 years grew from generating energy for 4% of British homes to 33%. Government support played a key role then and advocates hope it will be part of ‘the perfect blueprint for tidal stream energy’ now. These three companies are precedents: –

 – Orbital Marine, which operates powerful turbines below a floating platform near Orkney, has government funding for three more turbines next year, each generating power for 2,000 homes.

– Simec Atlantis Energy plans to install up to 56 turbines on the seabed in northern Scotland by 2027; it has won a government contract to expand the site from 6 MW to 34 MW – enough to power 68,000 homes.

– Nova Innovation is doubling its seabed-mounted Shetland tidal array from three to six turbines. It has exported its first turbine to Canada and won a feasibility study for potential for an array in Indonesia.

Unlike tidal barrages and lagoons with seawall-mounted turbines, tidal stream turbines are lowered into strong tides out at sea which until now has made installing and testing them in turbulent waters costly.

Meanwhile, we wish you a warm or cold happy New Year depending on your preferences!

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