Net-zero will lengthen our lives by two million human-years!

Low-carbon living is good for you! The Government’s January Net-Zero Review may have rekindled the UK’s commitment to protect the environment. But other research says cutting carbon is excellent news for our health. There is also mounting pressure to save lives in the natural world.

Is January really a gloomy month? The findings of a new health study published at the beginning of 2023 suggest otherwise and contains encouraging news for our health, longevity and well-being.

According to ‘The Lancet Planetary Health’ journal (https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanplh/article/PIIS2542-5196(22)00310-2/fulltext)  a strict net-zero greenhouse gas emissions policy in England and Wales by 2050 will create the equivalent of at least 2 million extra human-years of life.

Legally-binding UK net-zero proposals first set out in 2019, and embedded in 2021’s ‘Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener’ are designed to reduce harmful environmental threats such as air pollution with additional health bonuses.

Now, for the first time researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine have modelled in detail the ways in which net-zero can affect and improve health.

Low carbon programme expands

The findings come hot on the heels of an important new review (mentioned below) that supports the wider aims of the East Lancs Chamber’s ‘Chamber Low Carbon Programme’ (CLC).

The extremely good news is that the CLC programme itself will be changing up a gear this year.

To mark five years of success, CLC will hold as a celebration event the Lancashire Business Environment Awards on Wednesday 21st June 2023 at Mecure Dunkenhalgh, Blackburn. The aim will be to recognise and reward businesses that are already working towards a greener, sustainable and prosperous future, and encourage others to do the same. More details will be released soon.

Then, from summer 2023 onwards, please watch out for new announcements!

Net-Zero Review

After three month of consultations, the new ‘Mission Zero: Independent Review of Net Zero’ led by former Energy and Clean Growth Minister Chris Skidmore (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1128689/mission-zero-independent-review.pdf) was published in January.

Among many pages of detailed analysis it makes 129 recommendations, many aimed at making the carbon-reduction target easier for SMES to achieve.

Northwest companies contributed strongly to, and should benefit from, the review’s proposals, explains East Lancs Chamber CEO Miranda Barker OBE.

“We really welcome Chris’ conclusions and recommendations,” she says. “The Government must act quickly on the intelligence local companies have provided. That is now vitally important.”

In fact, Lancashire businesses had three bites at the feedback cherry. The first was via the British Chamber of Commerce ‘Chamber Climate Challenge Group’ which Miranda chairs (https://www.britishchambers.org.uk/page/climate-challenge). The second was through the Lancashire Low Carbon and Energy Plan (LEP) she co-chairs (https://lancashirelep.co.uk/2021/06/10/lancashire-enterprise-partnership-launches-energy-low-carbon-sector-plan/).

A third channel was via RedCAT (https://www.red-cat.uk/) to stimulate the development of low-carbon technologies.

Sharp focus on biodiversity

However, not only human lives that are at stake.

As we reported at the end of December 2022, the COP15 UN biodiversity conference in Canada before Christmas agreed in the nick of time to ’30 by 30’ – a commitment to protect and conserve 30% of the world’s land and sea surface by 2030.

Later, we look at how small businesses can support this target seen as the natural world twin of the 2015 Paris Agreement to resist climate change.

Living longer

The positive Lancet news is that if net-zero targets are met, people will live with fewer health problems.

Some reasons are obvious. Retrofitting home insulation accounts for some 8636,000 extra life-years; the caveat being that ventilation measures must be provided.

Specifically, researchers looked at six net-zero policies in four different areas – electricity supply; transport; housing; and food. Modelling then took into account reduced air pollution, healthier diets, and more exercise.

The next two changes with health benefits were powering homes with renewable energy, and eating less red meat – the longevity gains were 657,000 and 412,000 life-years respectively.

Replacing car journeys with walking or cycling led to a 125,000 year gain. Switching to renewable energy for transport was linked to a 30,000 year gain.

Pathways

The researchers also looked at two different scenarios. The first, a balanced pathway, would see 60% of emissions cut by 2035. In the second, diet and travel choices changed are more rapidly.

In the first, the total life benefits were circa 2 million life-years. However, the second led to an extra 2.5 million life-years by 2050!

Net-Zero Review – changing up a gear

Chris Skidmore as Energy and Clean Growth Minister introduced new legislation in 2019 making it legally-binding for the UK to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 under the 2015 Paris climate change agreement.

‘Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener’ followed in 2021 after ‘a ten point plan for the green revolution’ was published in 2020 to help the UK meet its carbon budgets and Paris commitments.

As Chair of the newly-published net-zero review, he now hopes far-reaching changes will take the UK’s low-carbon drive up a gear to net-zero – with a central role for businesses (‘Mission Zero: Independent Review of Net-Zero’ – https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1128689/mission-zero-independent-review.pdf).

Published in mid-January, it makes 129 recommendations based on 50 roundtable table meetings and 1,800 comments from businesses and climate experts over the final three months of 2022.

Its specific aim is to ‘assess the best way for the UK to reach its legally-binding 2050 climate target while maximising opportunities for economic growth, business prosperity, innovation and social sustainability’.

Skidmore sees decarbonisation as a great opportunity.

A ‘high emission future’ with severe disruptions would mean “normal economic activity will become very challenging”. Net-zero is environmentally essential. But its global economic advantages will let UK people “… reap the benefits of this both in their communities, and in their pockets,” he says.

SME net-zero problems

The UK has some 5.5 million SMEs – more than 90% of its total number of businesses. They employ a majority of the UK workforce, and release some 40% of non-domestic emissions.

Among key benefits, the review wants a ‘Help to Grow Green’ campaign launched in 2024 as a one-stop-shop to help SMEs access Government grant and loan schemes. It is also pressing for a new mentoring scheme in 2023 for micro-businesses with less than ten staff and the self-employed.

However, many SMEs say they face critical resource, funding, and skills challenges. But the review recognises that the main difficulty for the smallest businesses is soaring costs

Bank group survey

The review needs be seen in conjunction with survey carried by Lloyds Bank ‘Net Zero Monitor’ journal in January 2023 (‘The Journey to Net Zero – A SME opportunity’ – https://www.lloydsbank.com/business/resource-centre/insight/net-zero-monitor.html).

It found that 87% of SMEs say they now understand what the UK’s 2050 net-zero target means for them. But 40% feel they have insufficient financial resources to cut their emissions as required.

Circa 72% say high energy and material costs are damaging their net-zero journey. Some 59% add that supply chain disruption takes up vital time and resources; 33% say outside collaboration is difficult. Rising interest rates were cited by 57% as a significant challenge.

Approximately 64% reported having plans to reach net-zero by 2050. But of these only 7% are already net-zero businesses; nearly all said this was difficult with multiple other crises to manage – Covid-19, recession, and adapting to Brexit.

Of those already at net zero, 37% say protecting the natural environment for future generations was the biggest benefit. A further 32% said the largest benefit is cutting waste. Circa 27% cite employee wellbeing and engagement.

Carbon data

Another problem, especially for smaller SMEs with limited resources, is data. Some 49% already measure their emissions footprint; a further 15% are researching data gathering for an emissions baseline. More than one-third are in limbo.

If you are struggling to find data sources, once again the CLC programme can help. Please contact programme manager and Chamber Director of Sustainability Stephen Sykes directly (s.sykes@chamberelancs.co.uk) who will provide you with our free data guide.

A mix of recommendations

The review says the UK “enjoys a comparative advantage over other advanced economies” in sectors that include offshore wind, carbon capture and storage (CCS), and green finance. But it makes recommendations across key sectors that could help SMEs of all sizes: – financial, energy, skills, and the circular economy.

December 2022’s COP15 agreement – what it means

It may not have been everything expected. But the COP15 international biodiversity summit in Canada did achieve a landmark ‘Paris-style’ deal to protect and restore nature globally (‘The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework – https://www.cbd.int/doc/c/e6d3/cd1d/daf663719a03902a9b116c34/cop-15-l-25-en.pdf).

In the words of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, “We are finally starting to forge a peace pact with nature.” Biodiversity refers to all the Earth’s living things and how they are connected in a complex web of life that sustains the planet.

Miranda Barker welcomed the news before Christmas as a ‘victory’, adding that “It was a great relief that a deal was finally signed.”

The question is what next? As one observer at COP15 noted, “Now it’s done, governments, companies and communities need to figure out how they’ll help make these commitments a reality.”

As Miranda explains in a moment, this is now a major responsibility and opportunity for Northwest companies.

 

– What are the international targets?

The global aim is for at least 30% of degraded land, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems to be under restoration by 2030 – and specifically to ‘eliminate, phase out or reform incentives, including subsidies harmful for biodiversity’ by 2025 … and a total of $500 billion by 2030.

The ‘sustainable use’ of biodiversity means ensuring that species and habitats can provide services for humanity, such as food and clean water. Resources from nature, like medicines from plants, must be shared fairly and equally. Money and conservation efforts must be applied where needed.

– Individual national actions

Governments must set numerical targets to restore degraded land and habitat, and similarly, expand protected areas, cut harmful subsidies, and increase resources to protect biodiversity.

They must also set their own biodiversity strategies, and by 2030 mobilise major annual funding. Harvesting and trade-of-nature must also be ‘sustainable, safe and legal’.

Reducing pollution sources, minimising climate change impacts, managing agriculture, aquaculture, fisheries and forestry sustainably, increasing green and blue urban spaces, and protecting ecosystems such as rainforests and wetlands, are other priorities.

– Business ahead of the curve

A specific target for businesses is to ‘regularly monitor, assess, and transparently disclose their risks, dependencies and impacts on biodiversity’ through supply chain and in consumer information.

Many are already in the lead. Progressive businesses and financial institutions at COP15 showed that they understand the relationship between a thriving natural environment and stable global and national economies.

In fact, businesses have urged governments to be bolder in incentivising business action, arguing there is a gap to fill and the real work is just beginning.”

– Action Northwest

“Global biodiversity is important in saving species, cutting carbon and climate change adaptation. But so is local biodiversity. We must conserve our local peatlands in the Northwest to prevent more flooding and high carbon emission levels,” explains Miranda.

Warmer than ever this year

The UK Met Office says 2023 will be hotter than 2022 – the 10th year in a row that global temperatures will be at least 1OC above average.

The reason is that the ‘La Niña’ Pacific Ocean cooling effect is expected to end after influencing the world’s weather for three years as part of a natural global weather cycle.

However, all is not lost …

 

Hazelnut and walnuts trees are taking over from vegetables on many English farms and proving to be economically viable in a warming climate.

 

They help to support farm biodiversity, increase soil health with roots that improve the soil’s ability to absorb water, and reduce the risk of wind erosion.

 

No, you are not going nuts!

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