UK losing the net-zero plot? Low carbon innovators can point us back on course

The Climate Change Committee has warned that the UK is losing its global lead in avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. Part of the answer could lie in a new generation of low carbon solutions – plus the can-do green spirit displayed at our recent Lancashire Environmental Awards!

The bad news for committed low carbon advocates is that despite encouraging words, the Government is not doing nearly enough quickly enough to meet or defeat climate change and reach its own legally-binding net-zero target by 2050. Things must change, and change soon!

This is the authoritative view of the Government’s independent climate change advisors who say in a damning new report that ‘targets are being missed on nearly every front’ (‘Progress in Reducing UK Emissions: 2023 Report to Parliament’https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/2023-progress-report-to-parliament/).

Regional optimism

From a Northwest perspective, the more positive headline is that June’s Lancashire Environmental Awards which marked the end of the East Lancs Chamber Low Carbon (CLC) European Union ERDF part-funded Programme’s first successful five years, confirmed what environmental inspiration and perspiration can achieve.

The results are listed below … as are important recent interim events building up to November/December 2023’s COP28 summit in Dubai where we will be taking a leading role.

Slipping global lead

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) is critical of recent Government actions. In a letter to the Prime Minster, retiring CCC chair Lord Debden says the Government has been “too slow to embrace cleaner, cheaper alternatives and too keen to support new production of coal, oil and gas”. (https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/letter-2023-progress-report-to-parliament-to-rt-hon-prime-minister/). As a result, the UK is losing the world leadership role it created under its 2021 COP26 presidency.

Specifically, the CCC says fewer homes were insulated in 2022 under Government schemes than in 2021 despite soaring energy bills and a cost of living crisis. Little progress was also made on transport emissions, effective behaviour change, or a decision to use hydrogen for home heating. The installation of new wind and solar farms, plus electricity grid upgrades, are too slow to meet net zero.

Yeas and nays

The more positive news is that UK greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) have fallen by 46% from 1990 levels mainly because of a rapid drop in electricity production from coal. However, the CCC is now less confidence that the Government can meet its promise to cut emissions by 68% by 2030. GHG emissions have been falling by just under 3% a year, but that must double in the next eight years.

CCC believes an opportunity was missed in the energy crisis following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; rather than ‘… embrace the rapid steps that could have been taken to reduce energy demand and grow renewable generation’, the Government ‘backtracked on fossil fuel commitments’.

Lord Deben added that with mounting public anxiety about climate issues, giving greenlights to a new Cumbrian coal mine and North Sea oil and gas fields was “utterly unacceptable”. CCC also warns that the UK cannot expand any more airports without closures or reduced capacity elsewhere.

More bad tidings

The CCC is also concerned public electric vehicles charging is more costly than it needs to be, and that the Government now expects transport emissions to be higher than previously stated. These have remained ‘stubbornly high’ because of a ‘political choice’ to allow an increase in road traffic instead of encouraging public transport use.

It adds that the number of homes receiving energy efficiency improvements under the Government’s Energy Company Obligation scheme fell from 383,700 in 2021 to 159,600 in 2022. At least 1 million to 2 million homes must be upgraded each year to meet net-zero.

In reality, homes are still being built that will need retrofitting with low-carbon heating and energy-efficiency measures because the Government has failed to bring in its promised future homes standard. It notes too that no decision on using hydrogen for home heating will be made until 2026.

In addition, there is no coherent programme encouraging people to change high-carbon lifestyles, and no clear policy to decarbonise steel production, or cut emissions from other heavy industries.

Whitehall response

A Government source said the UK is cutting emissions faster than any other G7 country and attracting large sums of investment for renewables which now produce 40% of UK electricity. They added that the last year has seen the first state backing of a nuclear project in 30 years and ‘billions’ invested to kick-start new industries like carbon capture and floating offshore wind.

Ten reasons for be cheerful – the 2023 awards

Although it may be a matter of big oaks from little acorns grow, the motivation and purpose shown in this year’s environmental awards are a clear indication of what the public sector and SME private sector working separately and together can achieve and share. The ten category winners are: –

Non SME of the Year Award – Fox Brothers (https://foxbrothers.co.uk/)

SME of the Year Award – The Bee Hive (https://thebeecentre.org/)

Sustainable Social Enterprise Award – Pendle Education Trust (https://www.pendleeducationtrust.co.uk/)

Community Engagement Award – Community & Business Partners CIC (https://cbpartners.org/)

Innovation Award – B&M Longworth Ltd (https://www.bmlongworth.com/)

Green Champion Award – Grace Mellors from Melbec Microbiology Ltd (https://www.melbecmicrobiology.co.uk/)

Public Sector Award – Forest of Bowland AONB (https://www.forestofbowland.com/)

Energy Efficiency Award – Melbec Microbiology Ltd (https://www.melbecmicrobiology.co.uk/)

Destination Net Zero Award – Equestrian Surfaces Ltd (https://www.equestriansurfaces.co.uk/)

Circular Economy Award – Recycle IT (https://www.recycleit.co.uk/)

 

Atlantic Declaration – it’s good to talk

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Sunak and US president Biden ‘unveiled’ the Atlantic Declaration in June which could give UK firms access to US green funding; UK electric cars could qualify for US green tax credits and subsidies. The declaration is said to include plans to mitigate some impacts of the US flagship Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), with proposals to remove barriers to trade in EV batteries.

British EV manufacturers using UK-made batteries, or products sourced from countries like Japan with US deals on critical minerals, should qualify for tax credits of $3,750 per vehicle under IRA legislation designed to promote green technology.

Reuter also reports that the two leaders agreed to launch a new civil nuclear partnership as part of clean energy cooperation to establish new infrastructure and cut reliance on Russian fuel. The two nations will also begin negotiations on a critical minerals agreement.

On the road to COP28

Although it is five months until the COP28 climate summit is convened in Dubai where many crucial decisions need to be taken, a number of interim meetings are helping to pave the way, including: –

The Bonn Climate Change Conference – June 2023 (https://unfccc.int/sb58) hosted the latest round of UN climate negotiations but ended ‘without an agreed final agenda for technical discussions’, says Reuters, ‘… ‘clouding optimism that the 10-day meeting would result in a clear programme’ for COP28.

The talks were ‘seen as a mid-way check for how ambitious international climate talks will take shape at COP28’. But despite months of discussions since COP27 in Egypt in March 2023, there was no agreement on adopting agendas proposed by the COP permanent subsidiary bodies.

Other sources of contention included a resolution to phase out fossil fuels, the role of renewable energy, plus loss and damage issues to rescue and rehabilitate poor countries hit by climate disaster.

The Summit for a New Global Financing Pact (https://nouveaupactefinancier.org/en.php) was a meeting of more than 40 world leaders meet in Paris also in June to overhaul the global financial system needed to tackle climate change. Their eight-page summary again reported only limited progress on reforms to increase support from rich countries to poor countries facing crises. However, four important outcomes included: –

– Swifter cash access

In 2021, rich countries made access to $100 billion in Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) available to all IMF members experiencing emergencies to prevent them adding to their debt burdens. Poorer countries facing climate-driven disasters often have minimal access to SDRs. The sums committed coincidentally add up to around $100 billion; France gave away 40% of its SDRs.

– Catastrophe toolkit

As the impacts of change become more extreme, many countries are forced to take on greater debt to deal with the damage – a vicious cycle known as the ‘climate-debt trap’. To break the cycle, Paris focused on solutions to both problems simultaneously. They include advanced warning systems for extreme weather to help authorities better prepare, save lives and reduce damage.

– International taxes

French president Emmanuel Macron also raised the idea of imposing international taxes on shipping, aviation or even financial transactions, to pay for global problems. Momentum for a tax on shipping emissions was rising, he said, even though it would increase importing costs.

Too hot? Move the Earth away from the sun

While global talks are deeply mired in political and financial detail, other practical suggestions are more vigorous!

One radical proposal for cooling the Earth is to move it three million miles further away from the sun. Albert Zijlstra, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Manchester, thinks we could use the slingshot effect of an asteroid’s gravity to speed up Earth’s orbit so it spirals further into space.

But there would be side effects. Extending the Earth’s orbiting distance from 93 million miles (150 million km) to at least 96 million miles (155 million km) would also extend a year to 380 days.

In hot water … hopefully

The UK is also being encourage to kick-start a geothermal energy revolution by developing a network of plants that could help to both improve energy security and deliver levelling up.

Deep geothermal projects involve drilling boreholes some two miles below the Earth’s surface so cold water can be pumped through hot rocks; the resulting recovered heat can then be used either directly, or converted into electricity.

A new report from Conservative MP Kieran Mullan has identified 45 potential UK locations suitable for deep geothermal energy infrastructure; 44% are within the Government’s top 100 levelling up priority areas, and six within its top ten – Redcar and Cleveland; Middlesborough; East Lindsey; Hartlepool; Northumberland, and Bassetlaw.

“Like wind and solar at their outset, long-term financial incentives would help unlock millions in capital investment and kick start the industry,” Mullan argues.

He wants the Government to “look closely” at geothermal technology as a way of delivering its levelling up pledges and increasing energy security. Only a handful of UK projects are currently being developed. Expansion could generate more than 280,000 jobs for skilled oil and gas sector workers.

Fishy ending

The technology group ABB has designed a ship propulsion system around the dynamic motions of a whale’s tail. It says this will cut engine power by 22% compared to conventional shaft line and propeller systems.

Its Dynafin electric propulsion mimics the movements of whales’ tails through the independent control of five vertical blades during each revolution.

Nature knows best.

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