Author Archive Clare Scurr

Urgent calls to ‘walk the walk’ to COP26

Action is needed … soon. The UK road of good intent to November’s make-or-break global climate summit in Scotland lacks hard-hitting pragmatic policies experts warn the Government. The next three months will be pivotal.

Summer at last. Opportunities to relax, refresh and prepare for a crucially-important second half of 2021.

However, the Government is facing criticism that while its net-zero emissions aims are laudable in principle – such as reducing UK greenhouse gas (GHG) releases by 78% by 2035 – practical plans, policies and programmes must be added quickly.

It is being warned that a lack of urgent action is jeopardising the autumn climate change summit where Britain’s international reputation for environmental leadership is at stake; success is vital for UK business in general, export opportunities, plus the world’s wellbeing.

Thirteen weeks to go

On 1st August, there will be 92 days left to the start of COP26 – the UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021 hosted by the UK in Glasgow from 1st to 12th November. The Government is adamant this must be a face-to-face in-person event despite the coronavirus pandemic.

But key Whitehall and Downing Street decisions must be made first. As a recent Times’ editorial put it, “The prime minister’s urgent task over the summer must be to turn vague ideas into clear policy.”

Cop-Watch 2021 – northwest support

The Chamber Low Carbon team and the East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce naturally want COP26 to be an outstanding success that underscores our sustainable goals of cutting carbon, using green energy, valuing waste as a resource, and using technology to reduce global warming risks.

Lancashire will be well represented at the COP26 British Chambers of Commerce pavilion in Glasgow where RedCAT and other alternative technologies will be showcased, says Miranda Barker.

Local low-carbon innovations and manufacturing will also be on show from 11th to 12th October when the COP26 ‘Carbon Battle Bus’ visits the county on its ‘Zero Carbon UK Tour’ from London to Scotland.

Powerful policies needed urgently

But Miranda also emphasises the importance of creating policies to encourage the uptake of low-carbon technologies. What is needed, she says, is a solid Government procurement strategy effective at a regional, local and national level.

A number of conditions and caveats are essential, she believes. They include basing procurement decisions on net-zero status, social value and climate change impact. Low carbon baseline standards must also be deeply embedded in national and local planning policies and building practices, she says.

Other priorities include landfill tax rates that discourage wasteful waste dumping, plus an automatic minimum percentage of recycled material in all manufactured products;

A contract tendering system that encourages businesses of all sizes to think net-zero, linked to incentives, subsidies and support for all firms and not just early adopters, are also essential.

“But the Government must act now!” says Miranda.

July turns up the heat

July’s record heat and wildfires on the American western seaboard, floods in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, China, India and London, plus the Met Office’s first ever UK extreme heat warning, have underlined the importance of decisions that must be made by 197 nations in November under UK leadership.

Meanwhile, a further split in the European road means Britain could face a global environmental leadership challenge from the EU which has just released its own ultra-ambitious community-wide strategy for reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

But before looking at these and other key July developments, a quick reminder to book your 21st September, 12 noon, place now to join Chamber CEO Miranda Barker in virtual conversation with Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency, at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/a-conversation-with-emma-howard-boyd-chair-of-the-environment-agency-tickets-155915358033.

A problem shared …

A series of new IPCC reports to be released before COP26 and in 2022 will show that scientists are now worried global warming will trigger tipping points in natural systems that cannot be reversed.

Life will change for everyone in the decades ahead even if GHG emissions are cut, the International Panel on Climate Change predicts.

Tipping points occur when one impact leads quickly to a domino cascade of events with further impacts. The exact timing is little understood and the IPCC was criticised previously for not giving tipping points enough weight.

An example quoted is where rising temperatures melt arctic permafrost which then releases the powerful GHG methane that in turn causes more warming. Another is that the Amazon rainforest might quickly become savannah with relatively small temperature rises

The IPCC worries that while 1.1oC of warming since pre-industrial times has contributed to recent catastrophes in Europe and the US, the world is currently on course for a 3oC rise this century.

European disunity

As mentioned above, the EU published far-reaching draft proposals in July that its 27 member states must approve in what are expected to be months of acrimonious negotiations.

From 1990 to 2019, the EU made cuts of 24%. Now, with a 12-pronged range proposals called ‘Fit for 55’, its new target is 55% over 1990 levels by 2030, an increase of 31% in just nine years.

Many goals will resonate in the UK, with taxes on jet fuel and bans on petrol and diesel vehicles in 20 years. Other measures are a carbon border tariff, ambitious renewable energy targets, and the rapid renovation of energy-inefficient buildings.

To demonstrate its resolve, at least 30% of the EU’s €1.8 trillion budget will go to climate-related measures – but serious opposition from poorer eastern members to proposals formulated by more affluent western states must be hammered out first

Heating and road transport will become part the EU emission trading scheme (EU ETS). Carbon border taxes on steel, cement and fertilisers will match the cost of carbon permits paid by European industry. But there are a fears of trade wars with China and the US.

UK transport net-zero pathway

The Government published its Transport Decarbonisation Plan (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/transport-decarbonisation-plan) in July setting out additional reductions needed to decarbonise all forms of domestic transport and deliver the sector’s contribution to net-zero by 2050. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps described the plan as “just the start” and many more details will follow.

However, the Transport Action Network (https://transportactionnetwork.org.uk/) is taking the Government to the High Court on the grounds that its £27.4 billion second Road Investment Strategy (RIS2) is not consistent with achieving net-aero by 2050, the Paris Agreement, or commitments to leave nature in a better state for future generations.

UK in the dock

One of the Government’s major critics is its independent advisor, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), which warns the UK is failing in its adaptation planning to climate change. It adds that severe weather and economic impacts could be felt much sooner than expected, despite emission cuts.

The CCC says that two years after adopting its binding net-zero target, the UK still has no ‘coherent’ plan to reduce emissions this decade and is on course to deliver only one fifth of cuts needed by 2035.

No single department is moving fast enough, says the CCC, adding that the Government can’t succeed by “setting dates and making heroic technical assumptions”. Ministers, it adds, show little sign of understanding the scale of the problem or its implications.

Blunders and corrections

Specifically, the CCC says ministers are not supporting “important statements of ambition” with “firm policies”. It also points to “high-carbon blunders” in policymaking over aviation taxes, ending home improvement grants and support for a new Cumbrian coal mine.

To rectify this, the Government must publish a ream of new green policy packages in the next three months, without which its overarching Net-Zero Strategy (roadmap) will not be complete.

High on the priority list, says the CCC, are a Heat and Building Strategy promised in autumn 2020, a Hydrogen Strategy, the Nature Strategy, the Biomass Strategy, the Net Zero Aviation Strategy and the first part of the Treasury’s Net-Zero Review. It warns that publishing individual policy packages will not be enough.

CCC chair Lord Deben commented, “Between now and COP26, the world will look for delivery, not promises.”

What a waste

More encouraging news is that the waste management industry plans to reach net-zero emissions by 2040 with a £10 billion investment in new recycling infrastructure and net-zero vehicles.

The Environmental Services Association (ESA) says new technologies will increase methane capture from landfill by 85% by 2030, following cuts of 46% since 1990. Non-recyclable waste – the UK produces 27.5 million tonnes annually, excluding plastics – will be decarbonised by diverting organic waste from landfill to recycling and energy production.

In July, the sustainable leaders Aldergate Group (https://www.aldersgategroup.org.uk/) appointed Theresa May as its new chair and also released a new report – ‘Closing the Loop: Time to Crack on with Resource Efficiency’ – which says embedding circular economy principles in major policy frameworks could achieve 80% of the extra emission cuts needed to meet the UK’s Fifth Carbon Budget from 2028 to 2032.

Nuclear batteries

The world may also be on the brink of a new nuclear power age, say nuclear specialists who believe that just as centralised computers were replaced by low-cost PCs, relatively tiny, inexpensive factory-built reactors designed for plug-and-play use like oversized batteries are on the horizon.

Simple operation means that they could be left unattended to power industrial processes for five to 10 years before factory refurbishment.

Large-scale carbon-removal in Scotland

A large plant capable of suck up to a million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually is planned for northeast Scotland – equivalent to some 40 million trees. The gas could be stored permanently under the seabed off the Scottish coast.

This Direct Air Capture (DAC) project between UK firm Storegga and Canadian company Carbon Engineering is in an early development stage. With a feasibility study complete, it should begin operating in 2026 as Europe’s biggest DAC plant and potentially the world’s largest.

Committing ecocide

Global legal experts have drawn up a “historic” definition of ecocide to be used by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in prosecuting serious environmental offences. The Stop Ecocide Foundation initiative addresses concerns that not enough is being done to tackle the climate and ecological crisis.

Ecocide could be the fifth offence the court prosecutes, alongside war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression – and the first new one since Nazi leaders were prosecuted at the post-WWII Nuremberg trials from 1945 to 1946.

Old unfaithful

Some 4 million people visit Yellowstone National Park annually to see its most famous geyser blow thousands of litres of boiling water hundreds of feet into the air about 17 times a day.

A new study has found that a 10oF (4.7oC) predicted local temperature rise, less snowfall and more rain, could shut Old Faithful down completely by the century’s end. This happened circa 800 years ago when extreme heat and drought brought Old Faithful to a standstill for decades. Researcher think the past could be a mirror to the present and future.

However, the droughts that dried up Old Faithful then were potentially less extreme than what may be happening now. The last Ice Age was only 5oF to 7oF colder than today!

G7 – green finance, waste and ‘lean’

G7 … global and local lessons

World leaders meeting in Cornwall renewed their commitment in June to low-carbon goals that England’s North West is already busy delivering! But there is plenty more yet to be done in 2021 … and the next 10 to 30 years.

The heads of the world’s top seven economies – plus the EU – have been criticised for serious omissions during their first ‘face-to-face’ meeting of minds in two years at June’s 47th G7 summit at Cornwall’s picturesque Carbis Bay.

A lack of practical implementation details needed to ‘get the job done’ was high on the list.

In contrast, copious details were available at the Chamber Low Carbon Virtual Expo also held in June, which as explained in a moment, can be seen again on our YouTube channel.

… plus two more moments not to miss …

However, before looking more closely at what the G7 said, it is important to mention that Brian Butler and John Keen’s 17th June Lunch & Learn webinar on using ‘lean’ principles to generate some £65 million worth of productivity improvements can also be seen again at (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c_LBFxAzk3M).

Looking beyond the summer holidays, now is a good time to book your 21st September, 12 noon, place now to join Chamber CEO Miranda Barker in virtual conversation with Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency, at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/a-conversation-with-emma-howard-boyd-chair-of-the-environment-agency-tickets-155915358033.

Many global gaps to fill

The G7 meeting between Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, US and EU – plus India, South Korea and Australia – reaffirmed their basic commitment of reducing emissions to minimise damaging temperature rises. Russia, and major carbon-emitter China, are not part of the group.

However, strategic solutions to essential questions that must be answered at November’s COP26 UN make-or-break global climate summit in Glasgow went unanswered – leaving green groups and activists frustrated that there is still just “a plan to make a plan”.

Lancashire shows the way

In contrast, the Chamber Low Carbon Virtual Expo on 2nd and 3rd June offered a great deal of detail which can be revisited at (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L1bbrt-bzLc&list=PLqF17bEdv5lAys0rGWeDra8tq0Pt36lEm&index=2).

For the second year running, our sustainable showcase explained how our expert team helps business organisations to cut emissions, use renewable energy, join the circular economy, and take low-carbon innovations to market.

But other G7 goals are very important to us too.

The Cornish summit agreed to phase out coal while protecting and restoring 30% of the natural world by 2030. Waste was high on the agenda. But rich nations again failed to give developing countries a promised $100 billion each year to create their own modern low-carbon economies – a controversy that could upset COP26.

It is helpful to look at the same issues from a UK and regional standpoint: –

– Nature and biodiversity – The Environment Bill returned to the Commons in May with new provisions to support our natural assets.

– Waste and plastics – The G7 was asked to set a net-zero plastic waste target matching the UN’s net-zero emissions goal. Helping companies to join the circular economy is one of our core aims.

– Green financeand the lack of it – While unveiled plans this spring for a UK post-Brexit finance hub, the Chancellor is pressing for infrastructure and technology investments to help poorer nations go green.

Return of the Environment Bill

In May, the Environment Bill returned to the Commons for its Report Stage and Third Reading after Covid-19 delays. Provisions have been added to stop water companies discharging sewage into rivers. There is also a legally-binding 2030 goal to halt the decline of hedgehogs, red squirrels, water voles, bats and all other species.

The landmark State of Nature 2019 report (https://nbn.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/State-of-Nature-2019-UK-full-report.pdf) showed that 41% of UK native plant and animal species have declined since 1970, a trend that will accelerate without intervention.

Meanwhile, Defra is to develop a Green Paper on meeting the new 2030 target to protect 30% of terrestrial natural habitats while reintroducing animals such as wildcats to England, beavers to wider parts of the country, and restoring more peatlands and woodlands.

G7 finance ministers also agreed an ambitious agenda for the COP15 UN Convention on Biological Diversity (https://www.cbd.int/) from 11th to 24th October 2021 in China. The Chancellor wants international transparency to tackle illicit finance from the illegal wildlife trade.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) recently publish a new report on spending to protect and improve biodiversity and eco-systems (https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/62/environmental-audit-committee/news/139275/eac-calls-for-climate-and-nature-investment-to-be-prioritised-in-the-economic-recovery/).

Net-zero plastic pollution

The G7 was asked to resolve a major pollution problem. Nestlé, one of the world’s largest plastic waste creators, has joined Aldi, Iceland, the Co-op, major packaging producers and charities in calling for a binding world treaty to effectively end new plastic pollution. The outcome is pending.

The letter pointed out that the world produces some 300 million tonnes of plastic waste annually; globally, circa 3 million face masks are currently thrown away every minute – 129 billion per month.

More green money?

In its final Carbis Bay communique, the G7 agreed to “Build Back Better for the World” in a goal described as a green version of the post-WWII Marshall Plan.

Under the Paris climate agreement, developed nations should provide £72 billion ($100 billion) annually in green financing. A June meeting of G7 finance ministers hosted by UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey looked at how they can be encouraged to honour this pledge.

A key problems is that funding is often extended as repayable loans – not grants – which defeats the original aim. The Chancellor is expected to ask October’s G20 meeting in Rome before COP26 to support the International Monetary Fund’s aim of putting climate change into all its financial activities. Banks and multilateral development banks are also being urged to align with climate goals.

Financial disclosures

Another G7 priority is for business organisations to improve their climate-related financial disclosures. The UK Government may make it a legal requirement for private companies to publish their climate-related business risks in line with Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) (https://www.fsb-tcfd.org/).

If TCFD comes into force in 2022 in the UK to give financial markets and investors clear information on how larger firms manage climate change risks, it will cover pension schemes, life insurance providers and asset managers.

COP-Watch November

While Covid-restrictions could limit the number of political leaders, scientists, NGOs, media and charities going physically to Glasgow, the summit may be coming to us in the form of a ‘Carbon Battle Bus’ that will criss-cross the country on a ‘Zero Carbon UK Tour’ from London to Scotland.

The Lancashire stage could include visiting the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) low-carbon demonstrator to meet partners, suppliers and companies. There will also be opportunities to see some of the technical projects being developed in partnership with RedCAT.

The aim is to help businesses of all sizes. While 45% of FTSE 100 companies are committed to reaching net zero by 2050 or sooner, only 16% have a real plan in place to do it.

Another June development has been the launch of Lancashire Enterprise Partnership’s (LEP) ‘Energy & Low Carbon Sector plan. Under the co-chair of LEP Board Director and Chamber CEO Miranda Barker. This sets out how the county’s ambitious vision will be put into practice (https://lancashirelep.co.uk/2021/06/10/lancashire-enterprise-partnership-launches-energy-low-carbon-sector-plan/.

Green technology to the rescue on a large-scale

Initial results from the UK Atomic Energy Authority show success in a world-first fusion energy breakthrough – the dream of harnessing the power that drives the stars here on planet earth by holding a super-hot nuclear plasma in a powerful magnetic field within a machine called a tokomak.

A new MAST Upgrade experiment at Culham near Oxford has tested an exhaust system that stands up to the extreme heat generated by fusion power stations. The Super-X divertor means that components will last much longer and cut the cost of fusion electricity.

It reduces exhaust heat from a ‘blowtorch to a ‘car engine’ level and is a pivotal step in putting fusion power on the UK grid by the early 2040s – and making it available to the world.

Geothermal gains ground

Geothermal energy is about using the heat of hot rocks underground. Growth has been virtually stagnant. But the new push to decarbonise heating systems could boost the technology.

High initial costs and exploration uncertainties mean that in 2019 less than 0.9% of global energy came from this huge potential source. The International Energy Agency (IEA) says it represented only 15GW of electrical capacity in 2020 compared to 737GW from solar PV. The IEA also believes the time and conditions are now right for change, particularly in the heating sector.

With support and investment, geothermal globally could rise by more than 40% by 2023, the IEA adds. Two-thirds would be in the US and China where geothermal district heating developments could help solve air quality problems. The technology is also rising up the agenda in regions like Europe where heating sectors need to decarbonise quickly for net-zero goals to be met.

There is also considerable potential in UK granite moorland areas and the abandoned deep coal mines of northern UK where ground heat from hot water is increasingly being exploited locally.

Suck it and see!

Meanwhile, a £30 million large-scale UK field trial will test whether CO2 already in the atmosphere can be ‘sucked out’ again effectively and affordably with ‘natural’ technologies (https://www.ukri.org/news/uk-invests-over-30m-in-large-scale-greenhouse-gas-removal/).

Poor-quality Pennine and west-Wales peat-lands, once re-wetted, will be replanted with ‘energy crops’ like willow and miscanthus grass. Carbon emissions when these are burned as a fuel will be captured and stored permanently underground.

To remove more carbon, stone chippings that absorb CO2 as they degrade will be scattered on farms in Devon, Hertfordshire and mid-Wales; biochar – a special kind of long-lasting charcoal – will also be buried at a sewage disposal site, on former mine sites and along railway embankments.

UK ETS post-Brexit carbon market opens with high prices

While SMEs cut carbon, it is reassuring to know that large organisation are under pressure. The new UK ETS – the world’s fourth-largest emissions trading system in volume terms – began trading in May at circa £45.25 per tonne, almost £5 higher than the EU’s ETS – the world’s largest.

Pricing carbon is seen as a major tool in limiting emissions. It was also above the Government’s anticipated threshold level and could be adjusted to avoid international problems and complaints from high-emitting sectors like building materials, mining, oil and gas.

Under the UK ETS, power plants and other high emitters will be charged for every tonne of CO2e they release above a certain limit, but can sell excess reductions for profit to other companies that have broken through their limits. The UK ETS is set to cover 155 megatonnes of CO2e in its first year.

Yuck? Or delicious?

As a final climate change pause for thought, new University of Cambridge research has suggested that “risk-resilient diets” will see us giving up wheat, maize and rice for kelp, maggots and algae.

Bon appetite!

Waste, low-carbon aviation and soils

No time to waste …

Responsible consumption and production is a key part of the low-carbon journey – which is why household bin collections will change soon. Recycled waste also has curious connections with ‘clean’ aviation. But the soils beneath our feet are a threatened carbon store.

At the thin end of the wedge, the cost of single-use plastic bags rose in May from 5p to 10p … and all businesses must now charge the levy.

More widely, the Government is consulting on plans for a major recycling boost covering plastic, paper, card, metals, food and garden waste. The aim is to reduce incineration and landfill … plus emissions of CO2 and the powerful greenhouse gas (GHG) methane.

The triple-goals will be to increase recycling rates, decrease plastic pollution and tackle litter. However, this could feed directly into sustainable air transport, as explained later.

Stop press: diary dates!

Before considering waste developments in detail, two June diary dates are important.

The first is an invitation to attend the Chamber Low Carbon Virtual Expo on 2 and 3 June where we will explain how we can help you to reduce emissions, use renewable energy, join the circular economy, and market new low-carbon technologies.

To register, please go to https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/chamber-low-carbon-virtual-expo-2021-tickets-140045697451 where the full agenda can be seen.

The second is for 11am on 29 June when the rearranged conversation between Chamber CEO Miranda Barker and Chair of the Environment agency Emma Howard Boyd will take place.

Registration is at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/a-conversation-with-emma-howard-boyd-chair-of-the-environment-agency-tickets-155915358033.

Double waste consultation

Whitehall is currently consulting on proposed changes to household and business recycling (https://consult.defra.gov.uk/waste-and-recycling/consistency-in-household-and-business-recycling/). This gives businesses an opportunity before 4 July to input and influence the final plans.

This follows a March consultation (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/landmark-reforms-to-boost-recycling-and-fight-plastic-pollution) on landmark reforms to boost recycling, tackle plastic pollution and reduce litter.

That consultation covers Extended Producer Responsibilities for packaging (https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/packaging-and-packaging-waste-introducing-extended-producer-responsibility) and puts the full cost of packaging waste management onto companies as an incentive to minimise material use and use sustainable materials.

Consumers will also be incentivised to help via a new Deposit Return Scheme for the “empties” that encourages the recycling of glass bottles and metal cans.

How waste changes will work

A major shake-up of domestic bin collections in England is designed to make it easier for millions of householders to recycle while reducing taxpayer costs. The goal is also to make collections more consistent en route to eliminating all avoidable waste by 2050.

Under the latest proposals, households will have separate food waste collections from 2023. There may also be statutory guidance on minimum service standards, subject to affordability and value-for-money.

Ordinary residential waste should be collected at least once a fortnight, although in urban areas with less space more frequent collections will be encouraged. Households could also save £100 million annual through free green garden waste collections.

The changes are designed to support 2018 Resources and Waste Strategy goals to recycle at least 65% of all municipal waste by 2035 – with a maximum of 10% going to landfill (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/resources-and-waste-strategy-for-england).

Flights of low-carbon fancy?

The UK’s new commitment to a 78% GHG emissions cut by 2035 will for the first time include aviation and shipping. Before Covid-19, aviation represented 3% of global emissions.

To avoid unfair pressures on other key parts of the economy, air and sea travel and transport must become a lot cleaner. The alternative is to minimise their use.

This ties in with a less consumer-orientated global lifestyle, but will make big demands on internet-based shopping where goods from the far side of the world are ordered at the click of a mouse.

Straight and level

One argument is that aviation can never be truly green … electric long-haul flights from, say, London to Singapore are not feasible with foreseeable technology.

But significant steps are being taken towards sustainable aviation which is where recycled household organic waste becomes important.

Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) made from domestic and municipal waste will even help to keep RAF Typhoons, F35s and Wildcat helicopters flying on a diet of recycled banana skins, potato peelings, hydrogenated fat and oils, alcohols, sugars, wood and kitchen waste, biomass and algae.

That is one part of the battle. Another is a new generation of lighter materials, efficient engines, and more streamlined aerodynamic profiles that reduce drag.

Post-pandemic flight

The challenge for the hard-Covid-hit UK aviation industry is to cut its 36 million tonne annual carbon footprint to net-zero while also carrying 100 million more passengers annually.

Several factors could make a difference. Air transport is currently vital for international commerce. However, a recent YouTube survey found some 66% of former business users expect to fly less than before the pandemic (https://docs.cdn.yougov.com/c9qjhkrrpk/Marketing%20data%20tables%20-%20GSCC.pdf).

COP-watch

November’s crucial COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow is expected to be an in-person event. But flying to Scotland may not be an option if the UK follows the recent French precedent of banning short-haul flights with a rail journey alternative of is less than 250-miles.

How will future aviation work?

The net-zero by 2050 challenge is that while modern aircraft are 70% quieter and 80% more fuel-efficient than their 1960s predecessors, flight fundamentals have not changed.

A new generation of biofuel and electric turbo-generator-driven planes are beginning take off; by 2030, short-haul flights could be 10% to 15% more efficient.

But trans-world electric flights are still well beyond the limits of existing technology. Which is awkward given that 66% of pre-pandemic aviation emissions come from flights of 1,000-miles-plus.

Sustainable fuel production

SAF development advances are being made in the US, Canada and potentially in Lincolnshire where Velocys has been granted planning permission to build the UK’s first waste-to-jet-fuel plant (https://www.velocys.com/2020/06/12/nelc-formal-planning-permission-notice-issued/).

SAF, which is part of the circular economy, could potentially cut emission by 165% compared to fossil-fuel alternatives – by reducing direct aircraft emissions and also cutting landfill releases.

If the Velocys project goes ahead, it could turn 600,000 tonnes of household waste annually – including difficult-to-recycle plastics – into low-carbon aviation and road fuel.

These will cut GHG emissions by 70%, soot and particulates that cause contrails by 90%, and produce almost no sulphur dioxide.

High-fliers

The RAF could use up to 50% SAF, according to the MOD; aviation currently accounts for some two-thirds of defence sector fuel use.

Meanwhile, US aviation consumes some 21 billion gallons of jet fuel annually. Without change, global aviation will release 43 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide by 2050.

However, Boeing expects to deliver commercial aircraft that use 100% biofuel by 2030. Airbus is looking at hydrogen fuel cells, hydrogen combustion, modified gas turbine engines and cryogenic hydrogen storage; the world’s first commercial hydrogen flight is expected in 2026.

Rolls Royce is said to be considering small airborne nuclear reactors to produce hydrogen in flight.

Short-hop

Faradair in Cambridgeshire has a different flight path. Its 18-seat bioelectric hybrid aircraft (Beha) is currently based on existing technology but could eventually be carbon neutral.

Electric motors are used for take-offs and landings, but a turbo-generator powered by biofuel in level flight – with a boost from solar panels to help recharge the batteries for landing.

Bulk carbon storage beneath our feet

Soils are our friends with the potential to store twice the volume of carbon the atmosphere can hold. But rural and urban soils are under attack.

Sustainable farming and built-environment construction methods are needed. Soils are also crucial for water storage and distribution as storms and drought become more frequent and intense.

Working on our behalf

At the heart of the matter are vast microscopic communities that construct voids in soils which allow gases and liquids free passage. They also create, share and store nutrients, process pollution, support the carbon and nitrogen cycles, and detoxify pollution,

The local residents include macrofauna  – moles, mice, rabbits, centipedes, woodlice, snails and slugs; shorter-than-2mm-long mesofauna – springtails (mainly detritivores and microbivores), mites (small arachnids), and tardigrades (often called water bears or moss piglets), plus microfauna (bacteria, fungi and algae). Worms, of course, are top of the heap.

Destructive farming

Intense-farming breaks up these minute structures; compaction and more hardstanding in expanding cities is sealing off valuable ground. Acidification, salinization (salt), desertification, deforestation and pollution are also degrading soils worldwide.

It used to be thought that ploughing and aerating soils was good and increased water retention. But we now know that it allows in oxygen which microbes convert to CO₂.

No-till farming – with seeds put into holes drilled in undisturbed ground – is now seen as more beneficial. Especially when linked to an end of the bulk spreading of nitrogen and phosphate fertilisers which can cause ‘eutrophication’ algae and plant pollution in vulnerable wetlands.

Dash for the trees

However, livestock, crops and trees can work better together. Researchers are also studying how ‘silvopasture’ linking shade-tree planting with improved plant growing conditions and biodiversity support can also increase carbon storage, flood control and drought-resilience (https://www.innovativefarmers.org/news/2021/february/18/twelve-year-field-lab-into-the-benefits-of-silvopasture-launched/).

Modern farming relies on predictable weather conditions. The new aim of projects in Devon and the West Country is to plant trees surrounded and protected by foraging plants for livestock. Once established, trees provide shelter and stable conditions for soils, animals, plants, crops and wildlife.

Better urban systems

In parallel, new urban strategies are being developed where soil quality is important in schemes like SUDS (sustainable drainage systems) that replicate natural water management networks.

These store, clean and return water to local environments slowly via carefully-profiles landscape features rather than channelling heavy flood waters quickly to sea through overloaded rivers.

International action

A major hurdle is that relatively little is known about soils. What is known is that since the Industrial Revolution some 135 gigatons of soil have been lost globally from farmland according to 2019 “World Food Prize” winner, Professor Rattan Lal.

In the same period, circa 77 billion tonnes of CO2 have been released from UK soils. It is also estimated that from 1978 to 2008, UK soils emitted 10% of the carbon they were storing.

Good agricultural soils are made up of roughly 50% solids, 25% air and 25% water. It can take a century to create 5mm which can be destroyed in seconds.

However, a number of high-level initiative are homing in on the problem.

Soil and life are mutually-dependent

In April, the UN’s first “Global Symposium on Soil Biodiversity (GSOBI21)” considered the future of soil ‘hanging in the balance’ (http://www.fao.org/about/meetings/soil-biodiversity-symposium/en/).

It include Charles E. Kellogg’s 1938 quotation that “Essentially, all life depends on the soil … There can be no life without soil and no soil without life; they have evolved together.”

This followed the UN’s ‘bleak’ 2017 “The Global Land Outlook (GLO)” study with findings that a third of Earth’s land is severely degraded with 24 billion tonnes of fertile soil lost annually to intensive farming (https://www.unccd.int/actions/global-land-outlook-glo).

High human cost

The UN estimates that land degradation is damaging the wellbeing of 40% of the Earth’s human population and increasing the risks for migration and conflict.

A key lesson is that sub-soil biodiversity is essential for land surface biodiversity, but the requirements of the two differ and need to be better understood.

Another key reference is “State of knowledge of soil biodiversity – Status, challenges and potentialities. Summary for policy makers” (http://www.fao.org/documents/card/en/c/CB1929EN) which looks at the importance of biodiversity for food security and nutrition.

More optimistically, the EU’s biodiversity strategy for 2030 aims to protect nature and reverse ecosystem degradation (https://ec.europa.eu/environment/strategy/biodiversity-strategy-2030_en).

The key lesson seems to be don’t treat soil like dirt, it is far more than mere muck!

 

Full Steam Ahead to a Lower Carbon Future

Substantial heating savings for Attwater & Sons Ltd

A long-established manufacturer based in Preston, Lancashire has benefitted from a Chamber Low Carbon grant. Attwater & Sons Ltd secured a grant which has resulted in substantial steam production savings, equivalent to 65.95 tonnes of CO2e pa, with cost savings estimated to be over £6,000 pa. They were awarded £4,995 towards the installation of a new burner for heating and steam generation for production.

Established in 1868, Attwater & Sons Ltd is a manufacturer and supplier of industrial laminates, composite materials and machined components. The main industries they supply include aerospace, oil, gas and electrical distribution. They are the longest established manufacturer of industrial laminate in the UK. The current company Chairman is the fifth generation of the Attwater family that founded the business.

It was via North & Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce that they found out about the support available from the Chamber Low Carbon Programme. From the outset they knew it was a good idea that the burner and control system on their industrial boiler was replaced to improve overall energy efficiency for the company.

Pictured above (l to r) Attwater & Sons Financial Director, Martin Bate and Managing Director Andy Goode by the new burner unit on the boiler following the Chamber Low Carbon grant.

Martin Bate, Attwater & Sons Financial Director recalled how Darren Thomas from the Chamber Low Carbon Team was able to very quickly guide them through the grant process and explain what was possible and the information needed.

Subsequently they were able to secure a Chamber Low Carbon Grant for £4,995, the grant was used towards the installation of a new boiler for heating and steam generation for production. The grant received was for 30% of the overall total project cost.

For company Financial Director Martin Bate, the Chamber Low Carbon support was, “a very positive experience, particularly the assistance from the Chamber of Commerce and Darren from the Chamber Low Carbon team”. Martin went on to say, “We would absolutely recommend the Chamber Low Carbon programme support to other businesses.”

As a result, the new burner is more reliable, produces steam more efficiently and has added flexibility to both the production of steam for the manufacturing process and improved the way steam is delivered to the heating system. They have noticed that the factory is a much warmer place in the winter now that the burner is more efficient and has reduced their overall energy consumption. Following the changes their heating savings are equivalent to 65.95 tonnes of CO2e pa, with cost savings estimated to be over £6,000 pa.

Darren Thomas, Chamber Low Carbon Programme Supply Chain Manager added: “Not only is reducing the firm’s carbon impact good for the planet, but also results in substantial cost savings from a more efficient boiler system.”

Chamber Low Carbon is a £6m European Union, European Regional Development Fund, part funded programme committed to the provision of a FREE suite of services aimed to help businesses improve energy and environmental efficiencies, introduce on site renewable energy generation and save money. East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce and in partnership with North & Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, Businesswise Solutions Ltd and BOOST are supporting Lancashire businesses in saving money and reducing their carbon footprint.

Delays not cancellations

Delayed but not cancelled

Sad events are unfortunately inevitable. But with some rescheduling, new announcements and policy adjustments, low-carbon progress continued in April as more companies of all sizes were encouraged to commit to net-zero.

News of the death of His Royal Highness Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh meant that the online conversation planned for 12 April between Chamber CEO Miranda Barker and Environment Agency (EA) Chair Emma Howard Boyd could not take place.

However, the importance of the EA’s radical approach to major environmental problems and their impacts have not been forgotten and the online event will be rearranged as soon as possible.

To put this into context, EA Chief Executive, Sir James Bevan, commented recently that net-zero is no longer enough and some of the Agency’s key concerns are outlined later.

Miranda also appeared before the BEIS Select Committee on net-zero and COP26 in April. What she said – and how she surprised MPs – is reported below.

Johnson and Biden April announcements

April has seen other historic milestones.

The Prime Minister upped the global pace by setting a swingeing 78% 2035 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target that for the first time will include the high-emitting aviation and shipping sectors in the UK’s Sixth Carbon Budget from 2033 to 2037.

President Biden has also invited 40 nations to ‘knock their heads together” online at his Earth Day summit in a search for the ground-breaking carbon cuts needed to reach net-zero by 2050.

Biden says the US’ own Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) will cut emissions by “at least half” by 2030; China, Japan, South Korea and Canada are expected to unveiled their own proposals ahead of the COP26 (the 26th Conference of the Parties summit) in Glasgow.

Net—zero also featured strongly in the President’s “once in a generation investment” $4 trillion (£2.9 trillion) investment plan for America announced on 28 June.

UK policy announcements

Domestically, April has also seen a number of major low-carbon policy announcements designed to help large heavy industry support the UK’s net-zero drive.

They include the Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy and a revised Industrial Strategy which are also explained at the end of this post.

New uncertainties

However, Covid-19 could still jeopardise November’s COP26 global summit, although the Government is adamant that it will go ahead as a physical in-person event – though probably not with the 30,000 people who would normally attend.

The other options are for limited online forums, or for COP26 to be delayed completely for a second year running because of virus restrictions.

The Chamber and Low Carbon Team want a successful COP26 to include a demonstration live in Glasgow of how RedCAT alternative technologies developed in Lancashire can help to solve environmental and social problems in the challenged ‘Global South’ of the planet.

RedCAT is also described below as part of our regular COP-Watch reports leading up to COP26.

Definite diary dates

Meanwhile, two local online events will go ahead as planned in May and June.

To register and join us, please go to https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/chamber-low-carbon-live-lunch-and-learn-what-is-an-ems-tickets-146621303265

Chamber Low Carbon Virtual Expo

In the second event on 2 and 3 June, the Chamber Low Carbon Team will explain the support we can give to help reduce your emissions, use renewable energy, join the circular economy and bring new low-carbon technologies to market.

Sessions between 10am and 4pm on both days will be themed around energy, environment and innovation, with guest speakers from Chamber Low Carbon partners, suppliers and consultants. There will also be many breaks and networking opportunities. The full agenda is being finalised.

Again, to join us please go to https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/chamber-low-carbon-virtual-expo-2021-tickets-140045697451

Select committee appearance and low-carbon portal

Miranda Barker joined a panel of experts on 27 April giving evidence to members of the BEIS Select Committee on low-carbon, net-zero and COP26. The discussion centred on three main issues.

MPs want to know how best to explain the importance of COP26 to SMEs. A key answer, says Miranda, is not just to market the event as an abstract idea, but demonstrate the severe business threats of not prioritising net-zero, plus the very real benefits of being involved in a low-carbon future.

The second issue was maximising the COP26 sponsorship role of big corporates – SSE, Scottish Power, National Grid, Sky, NatWest Group and Sainsbury’s. Here the focus was on making the part played by supply chains much more visible and stressing the duty all suppliers to support net-zero.

However, on the question of ‘what do businesses need to actively encourage them to drive towards net-zero’, Miranda adds that her response probably went beyond what members were looking for.

“I said carrots in the form of incentives are important, but also the stick of the risks of future carbon taxes and high energy costs if they don’t make progress against the net zero agenda. I was asked if that was not adding unnecessary ‘pain’?

“I pointed out that many well-intentioned business people are already under huge commercial pressure and need both types of encouragement to prioritise on net-zero before market forces catch up with them anyway.”

The select committee’s findings should help to inform the BEIS approach to COP26. Meanwhile, if Covid-19 restrictions continue for a second year, she is adamant that a virtual summit or a delay until 2022 are still essential. The best outcome however will be a face-to-face November conference.

“There are two principal physical audiences. One is international politicians. The other is low-carbon technology exhibitors. With the best will in the world, it is hard to replace the small talk around show stands and after-dinner conversations that are crucial for sales.”

ZeroCarbonBusiness portal

Earlier, on 23 April Miranda chaired a Broadway presentation about the challenges small businesses face in delivering net-zero.

The latter event also saw the launch of the new “ZeroCarbonBusiness” portal website https://www.zerocarbonbusiness.uk/

The site is very much in an ‘alpha’ state! Your feedback will be important in fine-tuning this active and continuously updated information resource as part of a national campaign to support the low-carbon business community. Do please get in touch.

COP26 or not COP26?

Not so long ago, global warming was a Cinderella subject. Climate change warnings are now routine news. So why is low-carbon action so important at this point?

In the words of former executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Christiana Figueres, at the Tokyo Forum 2020, “The scary thing is that after 2030, it basically doesn’t matter what humans do because we will lose total control [over the Earth’s system]”.

She was referring to the UN’s landmark IPCC warning that we have only nine years left to change our global warming trajectory. Going past critical tipping points could trigger irreversible instability in the Earth’s systems, climate scientists say.

COP-Watch 2021

COP26 between 197 nations in Scotland could be the world’s last concerted opportunity to keep global temperature rises below 20C, and preferable 1.50C this century.

The Prime Minister wants it to go ahead physically and not be postponed for a second year. Extinction Rebellion believes the COP26 process is flawed. Campaigner Greta Thunberg will not attend if an uneven distribution of Covid-19 vaccines stops countries participating on equal terms.

So, a great deal is at stake.

RedCAT at COP26

RedCAT (the Lancashire Centre for Alternative Technologies) is an initiative launched by East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce with regional and national partners.

It ties in closely with key COP26 themes, such as financial and R&D support, to accelerate the commercialisation of low-carbon and clean transition technologies.

An example is the “River Power Pod” in-stream hydro system piloted by the EA in the UK, tested in Nepal and manufactured from recycled plastic. It now generates power in Kenya.

Working with the EA, a percentage of RedCAT’s incoming investment goes to creating a local climate resilience fund in local EA Lancashire and Cumbrian catchments.

COP26 showcase

It is hoped that a Lancashire low-carbon innovation ecosystem showcase at COP26 led by RedCAT will demonstrate how capital investment, expert support, R&D, commercialisation, export and deployment support from the Northwest of England can help the less fortunate Global South.

Specifically, the display will focus on the River Power Pod ‘from lakes in Lancashire to communities in Kenya’. There is no space to explain the project in full here. But more information about RedCAT can be found at https://www.red-cat.uk/

The showcase aim will be to highlight each stage of the development in a dynamic hour-long physical, digital and live streamed presentation that does illustrate the whole story.

Environmental Agency goals

Emma Howard Boyd has an extensive financial services, corporate finance and fund management background. As well having an important oversight role for the EA, she is an ex officio Defra board member and was recently appointed UK Commissioner to the Global Commission on Adaptation.

We look forward to her joining us in conversation soon. Meanwhile two serious EA concerns are severe flooding events and rising sea levels – both very relevant to Lancashire communities.

Duplicating nature

The EA encourages ‘natural solutions’ like SUDS (sustainable urban drainage systems) as heavy rainfall becomes more unpredictable and channelling large volumes of water away quickly to the sea via swollen river systems across flood plains with housing and industry is inadequate.

Rather than protecting individual sites and properties from local surface and sub-surface water flows, a catchment-wide approach aims to “store” water in a myriad “small places” as part of “source control”.

SUDS involves copying nature with land profiled into shallow swales, reed beds, filter trenches, retention ponds and basins that clean and store storm water before it is returned to the ground or wider environment. Increasingly SUDS is being deployed where local flooding is a growing risk.

Down to the seas yet again

However, warming also means global sea level rises.

Flooding and sea level rises combined, warns the EA, will inevitably mean some UK coastal communities will have to be completely relocated this century. This is potentially a long-term issue for regions with low-lying coastal plains like Lancashire.

One of the key goals of net-zero is to mitigate the forces that cause acute climate change impacts.

Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy

As mentioned earlier, two legislative changes are designed to further nudge the UK further towards net-zero.

As the next piece in the UK’s net-zero by 2050 jig-saw, the new Industrial decarbonisation strategy for heavy industry published in March is the first from a major economy to show how industry can decarbonise, be competitive and not export emissions (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/industrial-decarbonisation-strategy).

The immediate aim is to switch 20 Terawatt hours of UK industrial energy supply from fossil fuel to low-carbon sources by 2030.

Building on last autumn’s “The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution” (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/936567/10_POINT_PLAN_BOOKLET.pdf), the strategy explains the Government’s goal of creating prosperous, low-carbon industrial, public, construction and manufacturing sectors.

It is linked to the £1 billion Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme that has already granted £932 million to 429 projects in England (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/public-sector-decarbonisation-scheme-psds) and the £171 million Industrial Decarbonisation Challenge (https://www.ukri.org/our-work/our-main-funds/industrial-strategy-challenge-fund/clean-growth/industrial-decarbonisation-challenge/) set up to develop technologies for heavy industry and new jobs in the next 30 years.

Revamped Industrial Strategy

The Government also announced in March changes to the Industrial Strategy launched in 2017 to help businesses create jobs and skills, plus infrastructure of the future. It included ‘Grand Challenges’ and individual clean growth deals for sectors such as construction, aviation and offshore wind.

The new focus is on the UK as the first major economy to develop a specific low-carbon industrial sector, plus the first zero-carbon industrial cluster with hydrogen and carbon capture, usage and storage technologies.

The Government’s aim is to capture at least three megatonnes of carbon from industry by 2030, with a carbon pricing tool to help businesses account of their emissions in investment decisions.

An Infrastructure Delivery Taskforce – ‘Project Speed’ (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/launch-of-project-speed-challenges-rail-industry-to-cut-time-and-costs-of-rail-upgrades) was also launched in February to ensure low-carbon infrastructure is captured in planning regimes. The recently re-constituted Steel Council met in early March to consider whether the steel sector can reach near-zero emissions by 2035.

Earth Day 2021

Coinciding with President Biden’s world meeting, and with a theme of “As the world returns to normal, we can’t go back to business-as-usual”, Earth Day 2021 from 20 to 22 April reinforced the message that “Together, we can prevent the coming disasters of climate change and environmental destruction. Together, we can Restore Our Earth” (https://www.earthday.org/earth-day-2021/).

The event opened with a global youth climate summit, followed by discussions on climate and environmental issues, and a “Teach for the Planet: Global Education Summit” that focused on the role of educators in combating climate change and the need for transformative climate education.

A second digital event with workshops, panel discussions and special performances focused on natural processes, emerging green technologies and innovative thinking to restore the world’s ecosystems.

OEP, budget, COP26

From uncertainty to certainty in 2021

Follow the money, delayed legislation and critical global negotiations. As we leave a long low-carbon lockdown, a number of tricky building blocks must all fall in place to make this a successful year on the road to net-zero.

Most people love a thriller … providing it has if not exactly a happy then at least a satisfactory conclusion where the good people win and loose ends are tied up neatly.

The opening pages of 2021 have the makings of a gripping low-carbon plot. However, because this is real life, the final crucial chapter as the coming year draws to a close could have a cliff-hanger ending.

Budget, bills and bold commitments

First the money. The Chancellor delivered his annual budget for the year ahead in early March with only tweaks to the mechanics of a green recovery announced last autumn.

Instead, his current priority is to make sure the UK has a financially stable workforce and well-positioned companies to make the most of old and new jobs, skills and innovative technologies.

On legislation – or rather until time is available to pass the three-times delayed Environment Bill – England’s new post-Brexit environmental watchdog will start work on quasi-legal interim basis.

The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) will check from July rather than January that businesses and local authorities are meeting long-term UK green policy goals. A new domestic emissions trading scheme (ETS) will be launch similarly on a non-statutory footing in May.

And finally, complex international climate change politics could bring 2021 to a dramatic close depending on whether nearly 200 nations agree a plan to cut their emissions to net-zero by 2050 at the critical COP26 world summit in Scotland in November.

Happy ever after?

Anxious readers can cheat in ordinary tales by flicking forward to the last page. But many chapters of this extraordinary story will be written in the next eight months. What is certain is that the future of humanity and the natural world could be at stake.

More on the causes of this huge environmental problem in a moment, plus how Lancashire and the Northwest are helping the UK to nudge the world toward a global climate solution at COP26.

However, the real end-game is not whether world leaders reach an agreement in Glasgow but how forcefully they implement it in the next few decades, explains Chamber CEO Miranda Barker.

This long-termer goal – and moving beyond net-zero emissions – will be the focus of the British Chambers of Commerce Climate Challenge Group which Miranda co-chairs. More on this later too.

More on the budget

The Chancellor has given the Bank of England fresh responsibilities for zero emissions goals. A new National Infrastructure Bank in Leeds will invest up to £22 billion in mainly green projects; a green savings bond scheme run by National Savings & Investments (NSI) will also support carbon cutting.

But the budget lacked the environmental edge many had hoped for. As an example, the Chancellor chose not to extend the £1.5bn Green Homes Grant (GHG) launched last year to help householders insulate their homes and install low-carbon heating systems like heat pumps.

This is important for many SMEs. But with only 6% of the funding spent, the Treasury has no plans to roll forward the remainder. The application deadline is still the end of this month (March) with improvements completed by March 2022.

The UK’s OEP ‘rottweiler’ gets its first green teeth

The young Interim OEP will produce independent assessments of progress on the UK’s 25-Year Environment Plan; the green watchdog will also develop its own future enforcement policy.

In parallel, it will accept public complaints about public authority environmental compliance failures while managing OEP internal issues, such as staff recruitment.

The interim OEP will also decide how the permanent OEP will eventually be formed and operate, establishing its character, setting its working methods, and creating its “voice”.

Dame Glenys Stacey, formerly of Ofqual, and Natalie Prosser, previously with the Gambling Commission, will be interim chief executives.

As Dame Glenys, who will be chair, explains, “The sooner we are up and running, the sooner we can deliver as intended, and so begin to make those tangible and positive differences to the environment that we so wish to see.”

Some green groups worry that Environment Bill delays will leave the OEP with insufficient “teeth” at a point where the UK needs to accelerate action on both the climate and associated natural crises.

Emissions trading

The Government wants the UK to have its own independent emissions trading scheme, although there are concerns whether this will be large enough to be influential.

Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) – the FTSE 500 firm operating the EU ETS – will oversee the new UK post-Brexit carbon market. Its 2021 allowances auction calendar has now been published.

ICE says its approach meets the UK 2050 net-zero goal, with carbon accounted for under the Climate Change Act. The first auction is on 19 May.

The aim, says Energy Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan, is to “give businesses and operators clarity over this year’s supply of emissions allowances, enabling them to plan ahead, build back greener and better prepare for the transition to a low-carbon economy.”

The final chapter – travelling hopefully to net-zero carbon at COP26

The villain in the global drama set to reach its climax this year is carbon and other greenhouse gases. The answer to “who-dun-it?” is “we all dun-it”, and will keep on doing it without huge change.

It took 197 nations three decades to reach the Paris climate change agreement in December 2015 which was signed in 2016. This asked them to submit emission-reduction plans in line with their own economic and environmental circumstances.

These Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) must be sufficient in total to keep global temperature rises down to 20C, and preferably 1.50C, and prevent unacceptable climatic damage.

A bumpy half-decade

The Paris Agreement (known as COP21) falls within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) created at the 1992 ‘Second Earth Summit’ in Rio de Janeiro. Conference of the Parties (COP) is the UNFCCC decision-making body.

Nations have had five years from 2015 to 2020 to create and submit their NDCs. Unfortunately, the total in early 2021 is much lower than that needed to keep warming down to safe limits.

COP meetings in the last five years have not provided the motivation or momentum needed. Faced with domestic pressures, many countries have let their NDC promises slide.

One of the Paris Agreement’s weaknesses is its “bottom-up” structure which is largely voluntary and unenforceable. Admonishment is by “naming and shaming” – or “naming and encouraging”.

Time to talk turkey

Five years have now gone by – with a one year delay caused by Covid-19. The 197 nations will come together at COP26 this year to see what they have jointly achieved … and plug a massive gap.

It was already known in 2015 that Paris measures were not ambitious enough. Climate science now suggests the warming problem is greater than first thought. Carbon-cutting has to be much tougher.

COP26 (https://ukcop26.org/) from 1st to 12th will see governments, environmentalists, business leaders, NGOs – and possibly the Pope – meet to put updated flesh on five-year old strategies.

The UK is co-hosting the summit with Italy. Success in Glasgow is crucial to Britain’s environmental and commercial reputation. Which is why the regions are actively supporting COP26.

Business support

But, as Miranda explains, the net-zero target is too narrow a target to meet the world’s full climate safety needs. The aim of the British Chambers of Commerce Climate Challenge Group goes much further, a view shared by Environment Agency CEO Sir James Bevan who in March called for ‘net-zero plus’.

The primary focus of the group, she says, is to positively influence the UK’s national policy agenda and legislative framework on net-zero transition and affirmative climate action.

Specifically, it wants to see both awareness raising and appropriate fiscal support for members and the business community, plus the stimulation and facilitation of net zero/low carbon sector growth opportunities, she adds.

In April, we will show how there is also a key COP26 role for the East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce’s RedCAT – the Lancashire Centre for Alternative Technologies – which with the Chamber Low Carbon Programme offers low carbon technology innovation and commercialisation globally.

We will also keep a ‘COP-Watch’ on important COP26 developments in the next eight months.

How bad is the problem?

UN Framework Convention on Climate Change set the scene in February with a warning that emissions are set to fall by less than 1% before 2030. To reach the relatively ‘safe’ 1.50C limit, a 45% decrease is needed.

Its ‘synthesis report’ looks at how effective 48 new and updated national greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions plans will be (https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/nationally-determined-contributions-ndcs/nationally-determined-contributions-ndcs/ndc-synthesis-report).

The report says emissions by 2030 will be only 3% lower than promised in 2015 – an order of magnitude below the 45% world scientists calculate is needed to keep warming below 1.50C.

Only 75 countries out of 197 – covering 29% of global emissions – managed to meet the submissions deadline. The US and China, responsible for more than 50% of emissions, have still to submit plans.

With a new President in the White House, and China’s new five-year economic plan vague on promised green plans, it is not clear how large their contributions will be during 2021.

Remotely online or eye-to-eye in the flesh?

The onus will be on the UK at COP26 to orchestrate the world’s climatic salvation from itself. The Government’s “Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution” (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/936567/10_POINT_PLAN_BOOKLET.pdf) has impressed many countries.

However, there is a worry that Covid-19, having already pushed COP26 from 2020 to 2021, could stop a face-to-face gathering in Glasgow. Online contingency plans have been made.

This could throw carefully-choreographed political decisions, efforts to press reluctant nations into making larger NDCs, and potentially the whole UN climate process into disarray at a critical moment.

In fact, there is a concern that if key discussions do take place online during 2021, the physical summit in Glasgow could be reduced to a pre-empted rubberstamping exercise.

What can the UK do?

As COP26 president, Alok Sharma announced five priorities last year which the Government hopes will bring the low-carbon agenda back on course. Specially, these are: – adaptation and resilience; nature; energy transition; clean transport and unleashing zero-carbon economy finance.

To close the emissions gap, the UK is being urged to encourage all 197 COP countries to unite in a common multilateral climate solution, rather than the unilateral NDC-approach which is off track.

Prime Minister Johnson is also being pressed to use his presidency of June’s G7 meeting in Cornwall to make reforms that will support ‘green global finance’.

A successful ending to a busy 2021 may depend on many pieces of the kaleidoscope coming together constructively in highly unusual times.

And everything agreed will then have to be implemented in full.

Local solutions

Many solutions are global. Others extremely local. Kate Gilmartin of the Rural Communities Energy Fund North West explained how local people can actively support the zero-carbon agenda in our Live Lunch & Learn webinar “Moving towards zero-carbon in Lancashire” on 18 March.

Bottom-up community action creates vital renewable resources and valuable local assets, she says. Some 50% emission cuts must come from people, communities and individual consumer decisions. This is in addition to big top-down changes in areas such as transport.

Not-for-profit Community Benefit Societies – uniquely allowed by the FCA – raise finance for local low-carbon projects. There is no one “big solution”, she adds. Community Energy is crucial.

If you missed Kate’ presentation, it can be seen online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PkqS2VgSVB4.

Energy from oranges

The UN Environment Programme’s Food Waste Index shows that 17% – 900 million tonnes or 23 million truck loads – regularly goes into the bin.

Food waste creates some 8% to 10% of GHG emissions; the UN wants the world to change its habits. Some 60% is thrown away in our homes.

However, positive recycling news comes from Seville in Spain where 5.7 million kilograms of oranges grow on 48,000 trees, far too much for human consumption.

Methane gas generated from an initial 35 tonnes of fermenting fruit will soon be used to power one of the city’s water purification plants.

Could we look forward to similar golden harvests in a gently warmer Lancashire?

 

B-Corp and Environment Bill

Mixed news for carbon enthusiasts

The Environment Bill has been delayed yet again – this time by Covid-19. But all is not lost. Many SMEs can differentiate themselves ready for an upturn in 2021 with B-Corp certification. Meanwhile, HS2 moves a step closer to the North West.

It is difficult to blame recent bad weather on the health crisis. However, the pandemic is responsible for a disappointing six-month delay in the UK’s urgently needed post-Brexit Environment Bill.

Fortunately, the high-speed rail project designed to cut inter-regional travel times, increase freight capacity and connect Lancashire’s green recovery to world markets is on time! In a moment, Chamber CEO Miranda Barker considers why HS2 is crucial to a green regional recovery.

Also below, see viewing details for the key February presentation by award-winning PR expert Tony Garner on ‘how to build influence, tell an effective story, and stand out from the crowd’.

With a warm June not far away – hopefully – it is also time to make a diary date for Chamber Low Carbon Virtual Expo 2021. Watch this space for updates in the weeks and months to come!

Our two-day online support and advice event themed around Energy, Environment and Innovation on 2 & 3 June 2021 (10am – 4pm) will include many breaks and networking opportunities.

Finally, you are also invited on 4 March to our Lunch & Learn webinar “What is Carbon Net-Zero and why should you care” (https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/chamber-low-carbon-live-lunch-and-learn-what-is-carbon-net-zero-tickets-137288376229).

 

But first the Environment Bill.

 

Sustainable guiding star

Defra has confirmed that the legislation described by the Prime Minister as the “lodestar by which we will lead our country towards a clean green future” is delayed again, this time by the pandemic.

The bill, which business and environmental groups want enacted to help create a low-carbon economy, will go to the next Parliamentary session in May with royal assent anticipated by autumn.

 

The same again please … and more

After postponements caused by Brexit and a general election, the act designed as a clean break from the EU has been praised for new environmental protection powers added at the second reading stage.

Defra is now being urged to ramp up environmental measures that are essential for key policy packages such as the 25 Year Environment Plan and low-carbon-orientated Agriculture Act 2020.

However, there are other ways to maximise corporate, environmental and social benefits as 2021 opens up.

 

SMEs posed to benefit from B-Corp

Visitors to our first 2021 Lunch & Learn webinar on 4 February heard David Connor, founder of 2030 Hub, introduce B-Corp – the sustainable certification tool that adds “purpose to people, planet and profits”.

If you couldn’t join us, we strongly recommend that you see his presentation again at https://youtu.be/iWfQM_4JOgc.

B-Corp – short for Benefit-Corp – is a free advanced social and environmental performance and learning tool for for-profit companies.

It is gaining popularity rapidly with entrepreneurs who want to succeed commercially but also use their businesses to tackle much wider community and environmental problems/issues.

 

Bringing all the good bits together

Specifically, B-Corp helps companies to integrate all the positive parts of their commercial work and core beliefs. The aim is to ‘engage, connect and support other similarly-minded organisations’.

The underlying principle is that the most challenging problems of today’s modern complex and interlinked world cannot be resolved by government – plus the public and third-sectors – alone.

However, private businesses can provide vital innovative answers.

 

Why B-Corp in 2021?

This will be particularly important in 2021 because B-Corp Certification can build credibility and trust at a point when many small businesses are bracing themselves for unfamiliar trading conditions.

The methodology measures the full positive impact of companies the five key areas: – governance, workers, community, the environment and customers.

Its aim in bringing together human, company and personal strengths is to help SMEs, firstly, sharpen their missions, and secondly, differentiate themselves clearly in highly-competitive markets.

 

More advantages

There are other benefits. These include better access to capital and making companies more attractive to talented staff who want to join forward-thinking organisations.

In short, certification doesn’t just evaluate products and services, it also assesses and projects the powerful factors – such as good employee relationships – that stand behind them.

And with its focus on benchmarking and performance, B-Corp also encourages collaboration and amplifies strengths that might otherwise remain hidden. What’s not to like?

 

And it is good to be early

The B-Corp global community of leaders now includes 3,790 companies across 150 industries in 74 countries with one unified goal.

“B-Corp is to business what Fair Trade is to coffee,” explains David. “But we are still in early adoption territory, which is a great opportunity.

“With £billions and £trillions of investment money now moving towards low-carbon, the climate agenda is rising up the priority ladder with the Biden presidency and this year’s COP26 summit.

“B-Corp can be your business radar on the environment, the next hard-to-predict crisis and a window on markets where consumers are looking for companies that focus on society and the environment,” he adds.

 

If it was easy everyone would do it!

Anyone can join, although companies must have a trading record of at least one year with 50% of their revenue derived from trade.

But B-Tech certification isn’t necessarily easy. Expect a demanding self-improvement journey of up to a year, David warns. A minimum score of 80 points out of 200 are needed and that can mean a lot of work.

But you will be joining brands that include Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, Innocent and Danone – and Crystal Doors of Rochdale (https://crystaldoors.co.uk/) which is now on the certification trail!

 

More help

If you would like further information, guidance or advice, contact David directly via david.connor@the2030hub.com, or go to www.the2030hub.com.

Two other sources of information are ‘The B-Corp Handbook’ (https://bcorporation.net/news/b-corp-handbook) and ‘How the B-Corp Business is Remaking Capitalism’ (www.amazon.co.uk/Better-Business-Movement-Remaking-Capitalism/dp/030024715X).

 

Ocado opens online B-Corp aisle

As a footnote, online supermarket Ocado launched a dedicated virtual ‘aisle’ of B-Corp certified brand products in February to help customers looking increasingly for more sustainable groceries.

 

The aisle offers some 1,100 products from circa 35 brands. They include Ella’s Kitchen, Innocent, Method, Charlie Bigham’s, Pip & Nut, Teapigs, PROPER, Alpro, Ben & Jerry’s and Cheeky Panda.

 

Generating good media coverage

One further B-Corp advantage is being able to create positive press coverage.

 

And this leads on to our second Lunch & Learn event of the year – “Effectively Telling Your Story Minus the Greenwash” presented by winning public relations expert Tony Garner of VivaPR (www.vivapr.co.uk/).

For a PDF of his key presentation points on 18 February, please go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2VskQdYpW3U

Tony says traditional media coverage and social media engagement for products or services are business fuel. Most successful low-carbon entrepreneurs know how to build influence, tell an effective story, and stand out from the crowd, he adds.

However, the media landscape is changing and companies must adjust to new ways of communicating. He discusses tools the professionals use … and avoiding pitfalls when making claims.

Avoid being obsessed with your own world and concentrate on describing complex ideas simply so “your Mother” can understand, he says. Drop the engineering jargon!

It is also important to drill down and find the right journalists or editors to build relationships with. Their time is tight. Good headlines help. Don’t use a scattergun approach. Give them plenty of notice of any events. Avoid Mondays and Fridays where possible. And get to the point quickly.

It is also important to remember that television, radio, print media and social media have different requirements. Journalists today also want proof of any low-carbon claims – don’t overegg it!

Above all, create content that delivers massive value, says Tony.

He founded VivaPR in 2002, working closely with global defence businesses, BAE Systems and Eurofighter. Tony was also Bobby Moore’s ghost writer for Italia 90 World Cup.

 

“Y” is a good answer to why HS2?

Royal assent – the last step that turns legislation into law – was granted in February for construction of HS2 Phase 2a to go ahead from the West Midlands to Crewe.

The Government is now being pressed to confirm the whole project – including “Y-shaped” HS2-North with a western leg from Birmingham via Crewe to Manchester and an eastern leg to Leeds.

“Royal assent for Phase 2a is excellent news because even reaching Crewe will take one million lorry movements off the road and reduce their CO2 impact by 76%,” says Miranda Barker.

“But we are looking forward to Phase 2b which will lead on from Crewe to Manchester, the West Midlands and Leeds, and also to Northern Powerhouse rail being progressed,” she adds.

“With associated investments, our regional manufacturers are eager to be part of the supply chain that builds our new national infrastructure.”

 

Big hitters

“Our region needs high capacity modern transport connections more than ever now for the good of both the UK and the rest of the world,” Miranda explains.

“It is important to remember that we make essential “big kit” in the Northwest and that Lancashire with British Aerospace to Rolls Royce is the world’s fourth largest aerospace cluster.

“In addition to aerospace, we have an automotive sector with an employment base that rivals the West Midlands led by companies such as BCW which produces 70% of Aston Martin’s chassis”. The region is a modern centre for low-carbon and advanced manufacturing.”

 

Bringing the world closer to Lancashire

A sustainable post-pandemic green recovery makes this even more important.

As well as helping to “level up the regions”, and being essential for importing, exporting and moving freight around the UK, HS2 will deliver economic and environmental benefits for the next 200 years.

The ultimate aim is have up to 14 400m-long trains travelling in each direction every hour carrying some 1,100 passengers at speeds reaching 250mph. Phase one from London to Birmingham is due to open between 2028 and 2031. Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds will follow in 2032-33.

 

Balancing concerns

Difficult calls are inevitable however. “Yes, we do understand the environmental concerns and threats to livelihoods which are extremely emotive, hugely disruptive and very upsetting,” Miranda adds.

“But we must invest in our economic future, welfare, people and country, plus clients and global markets, while meeting our local responsibilities,” she says.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps commented recently, “Whatever your view of this project, HS2 is now a reality – heading north, creating jobs and building a brighter future for our country.

 

Good news extra

The Circle Economy think-tank’s new ‘Circularity Gap Report 2021’ says 39% of our annual emissions can be avoided if we change our use of natural raw materials (https://www.circle-economy.com).

It underscores the link between net-zero and climate change. Some 22.8 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases come from new materials and products every year – more than double China’s emissions.

The built environment sector represents the largest opportunity for cuts; it accounts for more than one-third of world energy demand. More energy-efficient structures are needed.

Transport systems and land use also offer opportunities. Better road, flight and aviation technologies could mitigate some 5.6 billion tonnes of CO2e; 25% of emissions currently come from land.

Many nations are not factoring circular economy benefits into their green recovery plans, Circle Economy warns, and not doing enough to meet the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C trajectory.

The finding were timed to coincide with the original dates for the World Economic Forum in Davos which has been another victim of Covid-19.

 

If you would like to know more about joining the circular economy, please talk to Debbie Treadwell of the Chamber Low Carbon team (d.treadwell@chamberelancs.co.uk).

Starting early for a busy year ahead

Low-carbon lockdown opportunities

A third Covid-19 lockdown may be challenging. However, with help from our newly-expanded Chamber Low Carbon (CLC) Team, businesses can make green improvements for the immediate and long-term future at the start of a pivotal year.

The New Year may not be opening up as we planned. However, with expert input and guidance, there are potential opportunities for many companies to make much more out of less during 2021.

Working remotely, our team is in an even stronger position than in 2020 to help you and your business support your clients efficiently and sustainably until circumstances start to ease.

An enforced break can also be an opportunity to make post-Brexit adjustments ahead of a steep series of low-carbon rules, regulations and laws now coming down the line towards us at high speed.

The year to come

A number of regional initiatives will help to develop the business and commercial base we need for a swift green post-Covid economic recovery and to meet the increasingly urgent 2050 net-zero emissions agenda.

In parallel, our CLC team will provide free general consultation plus specialist advice during 2021 on renewable energy use, sustainable material procurement and resource management in the circular economy.

However, a slew of major Government announcements at the close of 2020 will be followed this spring by a long list of national consultations, plans and strategies to help meet the UK’s increasingly important mid-century climate change goals.

Energy White Paper

In December, the Government published its long-awaited energy white paper – the first since 2007 – with a new sense of urgency.

It links recent announcements with decisions to be taken soon that will plot out how low-carbon energy and an increasingly detailed climate change strategy will shape future work, business, community and leisure.

More on each of these themes in a moment – starting with county-level initiatives.

Action Lancashire

A number of Lancashire low-carbon initiatives will gain momentum early this year, explains East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce CEO Miranda Barker.

A new strategy paper looking to identify key actions for ‘Lancashire’s Energy & Low Carbon Sector’ is expected to be released in February 2021 by the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership and will focus on low-carbon solutions the environmental technologies sector can provide to help the UK reach its net-zero emissions target.

Lancashire County Council is also moving forward on its low-carbon commitments to protect the local environment and meet the climate emergency.

Miranda is meanwhile co-chairing a national Chambers’ strategy group to provide the climate and low-carbon leadership needed for a successful COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November.

“It’s extremely encouraging to have Alok Sharma, with his experience as former-business secretary, now working solely on driving COP26 forward as a crucial international milestone,” she says.

The appointment of South Ribble MP Katherine Fletcher as Mr Sharma’s Parliamentary Private Secretary is an important additional local link to create a strong Lancashire understanding of opportunities the summit will bring.

Chamber Low Carbon winter programme

The CLC programme will work remotely on a one-to-one basis with regional companies in 2021 and also organise online group activities.

Green Rose – the first is the Green Rose programme (https://www.chamberelancs.co.uk/services/chamber-low-carbon/clubs-and-forums/green-rose/) which helps organisations develop their own bespoke environmental management system over six-months to ISO 14001, ISO 14005 or EMAS accreditation standards.

Our next online cohort will start in February. For details, please contact Debbie Treadwell at d.treadwell@chamberelancs.co.uk.

Lunch & Learn – the second is the opening 2021 event in our popular lunchtime webinar series.

David Connor, Founder of 2030hub, will join us from 12.00 to 13.30 GMT on Thursday 4 February to explain the role of Certified B Corps which as community leaders are driving a global movement of businesses as a force for good.

There are currently 3,720 certified B Corps across 150 industries in 74 countries, with companies like Patagonia, Danone, Innocent Drinks, The Body Shop, Harrogate Water and Equinox Kombucha.

David will show that B Corp Certification is a powerful way to build credibility, trust and business value. To register and join us, please go to https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/chamber-low-carbon-live-lunch-and-learn-introduction-to-b-corp-tickets-136792059733

Good reasons for going in circles

Before looking at what the energy white paper means, it is important to mention briefly two other topics that will feature highly in 2021 – the circular economy and plastics.

Half of our carbon cutting targets could be reached by not extracting and dumping valuable materials. However, reducing, recovering, reusing and recycling products allows us to shrink our wider environmental footprint even more. This is an essential part of the CLC programme.

Circular evidence

New evidence from global consultancy Kearney shows that companies using circular economy models that design out waste and pollution, such as refill, resale and repair, generate an average revenue 32% higher than traditional routes.

Kearney’s survey of 150 circular economy “leaders” found that they also cut costs by an average of 38%. Unfortunately, only some 9% of the circa 100 billion tonnes of virgin materials taken from the earth annually are currently reused or recycled.

Fortunately for us, CLC programme manager Stephen Sykes is a member of a Defra national expert working group studying how SMEs can boost the circular economy in the drive to increase recycling rates in England up to 65% by 2035.

We will share information from the group during 2021; Stephen will also feedback to Defra any problems local companies experience.

Energy white paper roadmap

Like buses, after a long wait climate change policy updates focussed on the all-important 2050 mid-century net-zero greenhouse gas emissions target are now coming in droves.

However, the autumn drip-feed of individual announcements probably made not only the big picture but also significant planning and policy gaps, and how they will be filled, difficult to see.

But December 2020’s long-awaited energy white paper – with important references to actions scheduled for early 2021 – plots out in more detail how various strategic goals are taking shape.

Sum of the parts

Post-Brexit, the UK is generating new laws and regulations founded on sustainability. The Environment Bill 2019-21 and Agriculture Act 2020 both focus on reducing carbon emissions.

But decarbonisation, green electrification and especially climate change are key interlocking threads running through recent announcements that will affect businesses and communities fundamentally at many levels.

Wider picture

The Prime Minister’s vision of “… your kettle, your washing machine, your cooker, your heating, your plug-in electric vehicle” powered by a huge offshore wind power increase set the ball rolling last autumn.

November’s climate change Ten Point Plan (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/pm-outlines-his-ten-point-plan-for-a-green-industrial-revolution-for-250000-jobs) added more climate change details. Mr Johnson also committed the UK to cut emission by 2030 by at least 68% based on 1990 levels.

However, a wider but still incomplete route planner for 2021 and beyond was set out in December’s “Energy White Paper: Powering our net zero future” https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/energy-white-paper-powering-our-net-zero-future).

Interesting by omission

Importantly, the paper lists strategies, consultations and plans due to take place in the first quarter of 2021.

They include: – a heat and building strategy, a hydrogen strategy, a smart-grid systems plan, a final net-zero economic review, a transport decarbonisation plan, a consultation on heat networks and local authorities, a Green Jobs Taskforce action plan and an industrial decarbonisation plan.

There will also be consultations on ending gas grid connections to new homes from 2025, regulations to improve home energy efficiency, and a biomass strategy.

Legislation to meet the sixth legally-binding carbon budget is another priority. The UK is on course to meet its third carbon budget ending in 2022 but behind the curve for the following two five-year budgets to 2032, plus the all-important 2050 net-zero goal.

Energy white paper

The new 2020 white paper shows big changes in the concept of “energy” since the 2007 paper when Tony Blair was Prime Minister and the Climate Change Act 2008 was still a year away.

It does not recommend a specific low-carbon energy mix, although offshore and onshore wind, plus solar PV will major. Rather, it explains the Government’s new plan to “transform energy”, provide a “fair deal”, drive a “green recovery” and support some 220,000 green jobs in the next nine years.

Crucially, achieving net-zero emissions runs through the document, and, while there is much more work to be done in this area, an overarching net-zero strategy is seen as essential.

Off target … for now

The data is important. The Ten Point Plan outlines cuts of 180 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (MtCO2e) by 2032. White paper policies might increase this to 230 MtCO2e, with further potential savings from sectors like transport.

However, further modelling suggests that the Ten Point Plan in practice could deliver savings of more than 420MtCO2e by 2032. But much tougher savings will still need to be found this year to meet 2050 goals.

UK post-Brexit emissions trading scheme

The paper also confirms the UK will have its own UK ETS emissions trading scheme, rather than a carbon tax, to replace the EU ETS for big carbon emitters.

UK ETS will open with a cap 5% lower than EU ETS. This cap will then be aligned to “an appropriate net-zero trajectory”. The aim is to give industry flexibility and policy-makers environmental certainty.

Critics are concerned that preparing UK ETS in weeks rather than years, and its limited size, could compromise any world-beating status unless it has international links … perhaps to EU ETS.

They also worry that even with a 5% reduction, the UK cap could be much higher than actual emissions, leading to a large surplus, low-prices and mistakes made when EU ETS was launched.

Nuclear options – fusion rather than con-fusion

Another key announcement is a commitment to bring “… at least one large-scale nuclear project to the point of final investment decision” by the end of the current Parliament to meet net-zero goals.

This could be Sizewell C on the Suffolk coast, although that is controversial; the UK’s only current major nuclear programme at Hinkley Point C in Somerset could face a £2.9 billion budget overrun.

Another innovative aim is perfecting a workable UK technology described as building “the sun in a box” based on the power that drives the stars to join (fusion) rather than split (fission) atoms.

Capturing elusive carbon

Support is mentioned for “at least one” operational UK power plant with effective carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology by 2030 to provide flexibility; hydrogen technology could provide further flexibility and “security of supply at low cost” by 2050 during peak energy demand times.

Infrastructure is not enough

The paper focusses on low energy bills, with automatic tariff-switching, but recognises that a future energy strategy must include demand and behaviour patterns where smart technology means that consumers with their own micro-renewable PV arrays and wind turbines will become suppliers too.

It makes clear that a more responsive energy system is needed; however, the Government calculates that a smarter more flexible system “could unlock savings of up to £12 billion per year by 2050”.

Home-warm-home

The need for low-carbon building heating systems by the mid-2030s shows how much everyday life will be affected. Heat pump installations to replace the UK’s 26 million gas boilers could rise from 30,000 annually today to 600,000 by 2028.

However, the paper says poor user experiences and a shortage of skilled tradespeople are currently barriers.

An opportunity for SMEs?

New Year resolution 2021 – 68% plus!

Cutting to the quick. With just nine years to the final climate change make-or-break point of 2030, the world – led by the UN and UK – is waking up to the need for drastic carbon cuts – an urgent priority for countries and governments … but also millions of SMEs.

If 2020 was unprecedented in modern times, 2021 will be both similar and different. In a period of immense change, the UK is taking its COP26 climate summit hosting role very seriously.

The backdrop is Brexit, a warning from the UN Secretary General that a ‘broken’ world is committing suicide, and a new environmentally-committed US President soon to enter the White House.

Britain, a recognised environmental leader and author of the Climate Change Act 2008 which other nations have since used as a template, is committed to making a difference before it is too late.

Climate Ambition Summit

The indications are that this may not be an easy task and will need some determined oomph!

On 12th December, world leaders – with notable absences – joined a virtual UN Climate Ambition Summit hosted by the Prime Minister to plot a low-carbon route to 2021’s COP26 climate summit delayed in 2020 by the pandemic.

Their brief was to make deep binding carbon-cutting commitments in unusual times to keep global temperature rises down to a relatively safe 1.5C. But only 45 of the 70 present made firm proposals.

Mr Johnson must now try to apply a three-line environmental whip at Glasgow’s real COP26 gathering next November when thousands of politicians, environmentalists, financiers, entrepreneurs finally come together physically.

Leading from the front

The success of COP26 – and the UK’s international leadership role – is now critically important to the Government as a new era starts on 1st January. We will all have keys parts to play.

The latest Government initiative is the long-awaited ‘Energy White paper: Powering our net-zero future’ (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/energy-white-paper-powering-our-net-zero-future) finally published on 14th December that we will look at in more detail in the New Year.

Before that, the PM set the ball rolling early in December by announcing a swingeing 68% UK greenhouse gas (GHG) emission cut by 2030 – a target and date that can’t be missed if the UK is to meet its legally-binding 2050 net-zero goal and important mid-term targets like 2030.

However, this demanding goal has already been superseded by the Climate Change Committee which in its 9th December Sixth Carbon Budget called for a 78% reduction by 2035 over 1990 levels.

The diplomatic task ahead is to combine a green build back better economic recovery with heightened climate change priorities at a time of new post-Brexit global trading relationships.

Stepping up to the task

This will be a mammoth but essential challenge.

On a macro-level it will include an ambitious 40% increase in UK offshore wind power – plus onshore wind – at least one new nuclear fission power station and fledgling technologies to harness the energy that drives the stars – nuclear fusion.

On a micro-level, households will need to live differently – phasing out gas boilers, installing more insulation, harvesting ground or air heat, travelling sustainably and eating far less meat.

It will also involve large companies and industries perfecting new workable solutions on a huge commercial scale – such as energy delivered by green hydrogen, plus carbon capture technologies.

Small … and medium … are beautiful

However, the strategy will only work if specialist SMEs fill many green supply chain opportunities with local niche solutions, competitive products, services and novel technologies for wider markets.

Which is the core raison d’être of the Chamber Low Carbon (CLC) programme that has now been extended to June 2023 with a newly expanded expert team that can be seen at https://www.chamberlowcarbon.co.uk/energy-environmental-advisors/.

We can now provide not only skilled general energy and environmental advice, but also direct specialist hands-on guidance in technologies such as heat pumps and photovoltaics.

Throughout 2021 and beyond, CLC will help businesses to convert to renewable energy, use less energy, make waste redundant and minimise their environmental footprints.

The CLC team also has wide experience in taking new innovative technologies to market, which will be increasingly important.

New Year

The end of a double lockdown is a good time to consider huge infrastructure projects – such as the new North Sea sub-sea cables that will bring Scottish green energy to English homes, plus the giant Dogger Bank windfarm.

It is also an opportunity to look at the brilliance of small businesses. One UK SME, for example is planning to produce high-quality diamonds out of thin air during 2021.

By capturing atmospheric carbon, and using solar and wind power plus ordinary rainwater, the Stroud-based company hopes to produce thousands of carats annually with no ‘blood diamond’ stigma.

Ultimate proof that sustainability can be profitable? Simples really – if you can combine knowhow with help of the type the CLC team will be happy to provide.

Online Lunch and Learn events

This is also probably a good point to mention that our online Lunch and Learn webinar programme will be active again in the New Year.

For those who missed it, on 10th December Chartered Environmental Surveyor David Inman FRICS CEnv presented “Delivering Sustainable Development Goals: A Guide to Business”.

David explained why putting the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) into practice is as important for small firms and the business community as it is for countries and governments. Again, everyone has a role to play.

Specifically, he outlined a tactical level low-cost SDGs approach that ties in with many of the CSR and standards initiatives companies typically already run in house.

Incidentally, if you would like more information on SDGs, please email Debbie at d.treadwell@chamberelancs.co.uk.

Two key messages for SMEs

David had a dual-message. SDGs help SMEs win public sector procurement and corporate supply chains business was the first. The second was that just as the revolutionary Health & Safety regime seemed alien in the 1970s, SDGs will become mainstream later this decade.

For reference, his company, RICS Regulated firm DIEM Ltd in Formby, delivers environmental, energy, sustainability and business risk solutions to UK based clients and their worldwide operations.

Its clients include FTSE listed companies, some of the UK’s largest brands and capital projects, Russell Group universities and family run SMEs (https://www.diemltd.co.uk/).

The presentation can be seen again on https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMBeSJ0PIVg6FVt0css7s4Q/videos.

War on carbon

The PM’s commitment to cut emissions by at least 68% has been broadly welcomed as a new global benchmark. However, scientists warn it does not guarantee dangerous climate change will be avoided. The UK is still behind its targets set five years ago. But Mr Johnson is optimistic.

“Today, we are taking the lead with an ambitious new target to reduce our emissions by 2030 faster than any major economy”, he explained, adding, “But this is a global effort, which is why the UK is urging world leaders to bring forward their own ambitious plans to cut emissions and set net zero targets.”

“Our planet is broken”

This comes on the heels of a warning from UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, that humanity is waging what he describes as a “suicidal” war on the natural world.

Mr Guterres added, “Nature always strikes back, and is doing so with gathering force and fury”; he wants to put tackling climate change at the heart of the UN’s global mission.

His plea is that every country, city, financial institution and company “should adopt plans for a transition to net zero emissions by 2050” with decisive action taken now to achieve this vision”.

The UK’s cunning plan

The Government’s upgraded climate change strategy was launched in November when Mr Johnson announced a new 10-Point Plan for a UK Green Industrial Revolution with 250,000 new green jobs (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/pm-outlines-his-ten-point-plan-for-a-green-industrial-revolution-for-250000-jobs) designed to work alongside other legislation and initiatives.

Martin Baxter of IEMA joined us recently to explain the importance of the long-awaited post-Brexit Environment bill. However, the Government has also released details of its Agricultural Bill.

This has important implications for the environment and emissions and sets out how farmers and land managers in England will be rewarded in future for “public goods” – such as better air and water quality, wildlife diversity, flooding reduction and resilience.

Soil health and the use of fertilisers that create emissions and run-off will be a particular focus.

National infrastructure bank tied to net-zero

Shortly after the Ten Point Plan, the Government’s new National Infrastructure Strategy (NIS) was also unveiled (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-infrastructure-strategy). It includes proposals for a National Infrastructure Bank to replace the UK’s post-Brexit involvement with the European Investment Bank and funnel capital towards net-zero projects.

The Government pledged in March more than £100bn to be spent on infrastructure in the next five years; the pandemic delayed the NIS announcement.

Green energy superhighway boost

One of the private sector’s most impressive infrastructure programmes will be the building of multibillion-pound underwater power cables to carry Scottish renewable energy to millions of English homes (https://www.sse.com/news-and-views/2020/11/power-firms-unite-to-deliver-underwater-energy-super-highway/).

The Scottish Power, National Grid and SSE Eastern Link project will run from Peterhead and Torness in Scotland to Selby and Hawthorn Point in the north of England. Construction will start in 2024; meanwhile, the three companies will co-sponsor COP26.

The good news for Whitehall is that the interconnectors will support the prime minister’s November party conference commitment to power all UK homes with offshore wind by 2030.

When the wind blows

SSE Renewables working with Equinor has also confirmed the first two phases of the giant 3.6GW Dogger Bank windfarm which, as the world’s largest offshore windfarm, could power more than 4.5 million homes.

The importance of wind was emphasised further by Oil Gas Technology and Offshore Renewable Energy Catapults November research. This analysed what is needed to attract energy investments to the North Sea and increase output by 66% above current levels. (https://ore.catapult.org.uk/?orecatapultreports=integrated-energy-vision-for-2050).

A global CCS capacity surge despite in 2020 Covid-19

One other welcome piece of the jigsaw is that the world’s permanent carbon capture and storage (CCS) capacity saw a 33% year-on-year rise in 2020, according to Global CCS Institute think-tank research.

There are now 65 commercial CCS facilities either in operation or under development internationally, with capacity on track for a storage rate of 116 Mtpa by the end of 2020.

Diamonds in the sky

And if an even more down-to-earth example of effective long-term carbon dioxide capture is needed, Ecotricity founder Dale Vince may have just the thing.

‘Sky diamonds’ made at a ‘sky mining facility’ in Gloucestershire are the ‘world’s first zero-impact’ diamonds, he says, made by combining free carbon with wind and solar energy, plus rainwater.

His aim is to create thousands of carats of carbon-negative laboratory-grown diamonds annually ‘made entirely from the sky”. The price tag has yet to be set.

Ultimate proof perhaps that low-carbon isn’t just pie-in-the-sky.

Stock image of a man selecting green icons

Martin Baxter, US election and 10-point plan

December 2020 – a promising start for a low carbon 2021?

Green Advent. Can we expect to see progress on a pioneering UK post-Brexit Environment Bill, new US support for next year’s COP26 summit and the Paris climate agreement, plus a detailed UK green recovery plan – all before Christmas? Fingers-crossed, yes!

The final month of an unprecedentedly turbulent year could end on an expectedly up-beat environmental note – with encouraging signs for a far-from-smooth but positive new year to come.

News that a series of Covid-19 vaccines could soon begin to return us to some form of stable new normal has to be November’s most important development. But there are other positive pointers.

Post-Brexit environmental regime

The first, after multiple-delays made worse by a pandemic squeeze on Parliamentary time, is progress at last on the UK’s new and untried Environment Bill that will regulate environmental performance outside the EU.

To update us on recent developments, IEMA’s Chief Policy Advisor Martin Baxter joined us online on 5th November to discuss the bill and new UK green watch-dog, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP). More on what he said in a moment.

Good green news from across the pond

The second reason to be cheerful could come from North America where the strong indications are that a Biden White House will make an early 180 degree climate change policy turn.

The US formally left the 2015 Paris climate agreement on 4th November following a four-year notice period – a day after the 2020 Presidential election.

But the Biden team is expected to play a central role in the November 2021 UN COP26 climate summit co-hosted by the UK in Glasgow; the COP26 goal is to finalise detailed emission cuts from 189 countries to minimise global warming this century.

Green energy strategy … at last

An early present on the pre-Christmas wish-list has been the unveiling of a 10-point sustainable energy plan that builds on the Prime Minister’s October announcement of a major offshore wind power expansion.

To meet the UK’s promise to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the plan includes an early ban on new petrol and diesel vehicle sales, plus more energy-efficient homes and buildings.

It also considers the potential of hydrogen power, carbon capture technology, at least one new conventional nuclear power station, using modular mini-reactors, and the possibilities of nuclear fusion project – the energy powering the stars.

Environmental ringside seat

Martin Baxter joined the Chamber Low Carbon team and guests at the Chamber Low Carbon Programme’s “Environmental Policy Update” meeting on 5th November. If you missed it, the complete and very detailed session where he summarises both positive points and concerns can be seen again at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBx_VRThjcg.

Environmental fireworks

The updated legislative timetable means that the bill’s report stage is scheduled for 1st December; it will also be read for the first time by the Lords. Royal Assent is expected in March 2021.

On its long passage through Westminster, the bill which sets out a new UK governance framework has raised concerns over its suitability to replace the EU’s comprehensive environmental legislation.

One particular area of concern is a new green watchdog – the Office for Environmental Protection – and the amount of power that will lie in the hands of future secretaries of state.

However, whoever holds the post will also have a duty to check how effective environmental laws are in practice, monitor progress in achieving targets and report annually to Parliament. Local authority performance will also be monitored on key issues such as air quality, with High Court sanctions if necessary.

Joined up thinking

One important strength Martin noted is that the bill integrates air quality, waste and water management, resource-efficiency, carbon emissions, plus the natural environment and biodiversity.

Another is that it is also designed to embrace environmental decision-making across all government departments – from education to transport, communities and health.

New Year’s Day

From 1st January 2021 onwards, thousands of new laws, and changes to existing laws, will come into effect. Linked to a one-year Spending Review, Martin believes this could be a beneficial opportunity for the Chancellor to invest in a future based on sustainability.

“It’s positive to hear the Government talk about the importance of a green recovery with climate change at the heart of its thinking,” he said, adding, “It does give me some hope. But words and actions are not always synonymous.”

Key points in the bill

Meanwhile, he noted a number of key points within the updated bill: –

Waste and the producer’s responsibility will feature prominently, with a sharp focus on packaging waste. Water will see reductions in phosphate and nitrate pollution from farming and a drive to reduce consumption by 2050.

Air quality will include calls for more collaboration and cooperation between local authorities, plus a strong focus on reducing fine particulates in the air generally and specifically in vulnerable areas.

Biodiversity will see nature recovery networks across the UK. Reducing the rate of decline will not be good enough. Natural capital will be enhanced. A fall in the quality of SSSIs will be reversed.

UK-based businesses must also stop importing products or materials linked to global deforestation Defra announced on 11 November. Companies must prove that ‘forest risk’ commodities sourced internationally come from deforestation-free suppliers. Soy, palm oil, cocoa, beef, leather, rubber plus wood and paper are covered.

Non-regression and improved environmental standards will be a key feature which the secretary of state will have a duty to update every two years while noting global environmental developments.

Work has also started on forming legally-binding targets, with public consultations due from October 2021 to February 2022; draft legislation will go to Parliament between March and October 2022

How are we doing on net-zero?

Are we breaking the link between economic growth and environment impact? Yes, says Martin, the UK is beginning to show leadership compared to other countries.

The power sector and industry have delivered the most change; transport and other sectors are lagging behind. The challenge, he adds, is for all parts of the economy to aim for a better environment rapidly as part of the UK’s Clean Growth Strategy.

In his opinion there is still too much emphasis on “net” and not enough on “zero”. Only when “zero” is impossible should “net” be allowed, he believes.

Sixth Carbon Budget

This year will also see the Sixth Carbon Budget (9th December) presented under the Climate Change Act. It will govern the volume of greenhouse gases the UK can emit from 2033 to 2037 and be the first with a 100% rather than 80% emissions reduction target. Martin describes it as a seismic shift.

UK-US special environmental relationship?

Boris Johnson was quoted as saying recently, “I think now with President Biden in the White House in Washington, we have the real prospect of American global leadership in tackling climate change.”

Although the Republican Party may keep control of the Senate, bipartisan cooperation was successful recently in reducing the use of powerful GHG refrigerant hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and in the Bipartisan Wildlife Conservation Act designed to improve conservation and protect ecosystems.

Although the president-elect may have to make political compromises domestically, he has promised to convene a special meeting of world leaders on climate change in his first 100-days.

He could return the US quickly to the Paris climate change process with upgraded emission-reduction commitments. This would be an important foreign policy bonus for the UK as co-host of the pivotal COP26 summit which Mr Johnson is anxious should be a success for post-Brexit Britain.

With the US’ shoulder to the wheel, achieving the Paris December 2015’s COP21 aim of keeping global temperature rises to no more than 1.5C is said to be potentially achievable.

President Biden’s goals

Ideally, Joe Biden would like most US power-generation to be carbon free by 2035, with net-zero emissions by 2050; there would also be emissions cuts from four million buildings.

He also envisages heavy spending on green public transport, electric vehicle (EVs), the manufacturing sector, with new financial incentives to use clean cars.

A White House National Climate Council, a “carbon bank” to pay landowners for storing carbon, vehicle electrification via the transport department, plus a Treasury climate policy that promotes emissions cuts through tax, budget and regulatory policies are also on the cards.

Two to tango

However, for a successful partnership the UK needs to put forward its own an effective net-zero emissions strategy. No 10, No 11 and BEIS have been busy developing a radical 10-point strategy announced on 18th November designed to deliver the UK’s 2050 carbon-free goal.

It will build on the offshore wind power expansion plan the Prime Minister unveiled recently. Building at least one new conventional nuclear power station is another component.

Although six sites were ear-marked a decade ago, only one – Hinkley Point C in Somerset – is currently under construction. A second Sizewell C reactor could be built in Suffolk, with work starting in the life of this Parliament. The potential role of fusion power which joins rather than splitting atoms is also being considered.

A key change will be bringing the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles forward from 2040 to 2030. Other agenda items will be carbon capture technology to clean up some fossil-fuels, hydrogen to replace fossil-fuels, home heating targets using ground-source heat pumps, plus better home insulation and replacing 25 million household gas boilers.

Owning a Rolls

By 2025, Rolls Royce expects to create 6,000 new UK jobs by building 16 small modular reactors (SMRs) around the UK similar to the type that power nuclear submarines.

Manufactured in factories and then moved to site, these could provide 440MW of electricity, enough to power 450,000 homes, over a 60-year life span. However, they will have to compete with increasingly cost-efficient wind and solar power and may be more expensive.

SOS in a bottle

A tiny experiment carried out at the North Pole proves that we have little time to waste in facing up to the consequences of global warming.

A metal cylinder sunk into the polar ice in 2018 by passengers and crew of a nuclear icebreaker was found on the Irish coast in November after breaking free of the Arctic Circle and travelling 2,300 miles!