Climate News Update May 2022
Each month, Waterman’s environmental expert, Drew Stewart, brings you a round-up of all the latest climate news, upcoming webinars and fascinating opinion pieces from across the UK and Europe, and around the world.
The race to net zero is well and truly under way. With national and regional net zero targets now covering 90% of global GDP, businesses are being compelled to act. In many cases, they can move further and faster than nations. But, of course, challenges still remain in turning ambition into action.
UK climate news bulletin
Industry organisation across the built environment sector, including the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC), BRE and RIBA, have joined forced to develop a net zero carbon standard for buildings. The cross-industry group will work together on the UK Net Zero Carbon Buildings Standard that will enable those operating within the built environment industry to prove their projects are net-zero carbon and in alignment with the UK’s wider climate targets. The new standard will cover new and existing buildings, with performance targets to be created for both operational energy and embodied carbon emissions. The industry groups aim to align these targets with the Government’s net-zero target for 2050 and the Sixth Carbon Budget of cutting emissions by 78% by 2035. The standard will also cover how the procurement of renewable energy and use of carbon offsetting to treat residual emissions can be incorporated into a net-zero building.
Reports that the UK’s forthcoming green finance taxonomy will categorise activities across the natural gas supply chain as ‘green’ have sparked widespread backlash across the green economy. The Daily Telegraph reported on Friday (13 May) that Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is “keen” to ensure that North Sea natural gas extraction is classified as ‘environmentally sustainable’ in the forthcoming finance taxonomy. Chancellor Rishi Sunak stated last October that the Treasury is planning to publish the Taxonomy by the end of 2022. At that point, it was stated that all activities which will be labelled as ‘environmentally sustainable’ would need to “do no harm” in regard to emissions mitigation and climate adaptation.
The Bank of England has just published (24 May) the results of the 2021 Climate Biennial Exploratory Scenario (CBES) to explore the financial risks posed by climate change for the largest UK banks and insurers. The CBES includes three scenarios exploring both transition and physical risks, to different degrees. The exercise considered two possible routes to net-zero UK greenhouse gas emissions by 2050: an ‘Early Action’ (EA) scenario and a ‘Late Action’ (LA) scenario. A third ‘No Additional Action’ (NAA) scenario explores the physical risks that would begin to materialise if governments around the world fail to enact policy responses to global warming. The results can be found here.
Coca-Cola Great Britain has confirmed plans to switch the packaging on 1.5L bottles of drinks to add attached lids, aiming to capture more lids for recycling. New bottles will formally begin circulation from the second half of this year. A recent study from Plant Patrol assessing the origin of over 85,000 pieces of litter collected in the UK in 2021, found that 5.5% of all brand-identifiable litter pieces were from Coca-Cola brands, with 51% of the UK’s branded packaging litter being traced back to just ten companies.
Costa Coffee have begun trialling the use of coffee cup lids made from plant-based material that are also 100% recyclable, in a bid to introduce more circular packaging while also lowering the carbon footprint of its drinks.
The UK Government has pledged to work with the aviation industry to deliver the world’s first net-zero-certified transatlantic flight in 2023, using a combination of alternative fuels and offsetting to mitigate emissions.
A new survey of decision-makers at 50 UK local authorities has found that 7 in 10 councils are struggling to finance their net zero transition, with 71% stated that financing constraints were the biggest challenge. The next most commonly cited challenges were a lack of in-house skills and a lack of resources.
Despite push back from number 10 in recent weeks, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has ordered officials to draw up plans for a possible windfall tax on more than £10bn of excess profits by electricity generators including wind farm operators, on top of a hit on North Sea oil and gas producers. Treasury officials are devising a scheme that would go well beyond Labour’s original windfall tax plan, as Sunak looks to raise billions of pounds of financial support for households struggling with soaring energy bills.
The European Commission have submitted a new €300bn plan to eliminate Russian energy imports by 2027. The plan has new ambitions on efficiency and renewables, however admittingly this would require short-term investments in new fossil fuel infrastructure to replace imports of Russian oil and gas. Combined with green legislation already on the table, the new plan, dubbed REPowerEU, will help Europe save €100 billion each year on gas, oil and coal imports, the EU executive said.
Temperatures in parts of Spain have reached their highest on record of May, with Seville airport reaching 41C last week. The city of Segovia, north-west of Madrid, also experienced its first ‘tropical’ May night on Friday as temperatures remained above 20C.”
Global oil demand could peak in three years a new report outlines, however global average temperatures are predicted to breach the 1.5C pathway of the Paris Agreement, despite net zero targets covering more than 90% of current emission levels. Meanwhile, more companies set approved science-based climate targets in 2021 than in any other year to date, with companies worth more than $38trn now committed to SBTs, with Europe leading the way.
There is a 50% chance that over the next five years, the world will temporarily warm by more than 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures, according to analysis by the UK Met Office. Meanwhile, atmospheric CO2 levels reached their highest levels on record in May – 421.33 ppm.
New research by the Institute for Agricultural and Trade Policy (IATP) has uncovered that JBS, the world’s largest meat company has increased emissions by 51% since 2016, despite net zero pledge. Green groups are calling on firms that invest in or source meat products from the company to cut their ties, these include Tesco, Costco, McDonald’s, KFC, Santander, BlackRock and Barclays. In 2021, JBS’s operations and supply chains generated more emissions in 2021 than Italy.
In 2021, primary rainforests lost the equivalent size of 10 football pitches every minute. Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon hit a new record for the month of April this year, more than double the previous record set last year. In thee first 29 days of April, deforestation reached 1,013sqkm (390 sq miles). CDP have reported that despite two-thirds of reporting companies (total 865) engaging with direct suppliers to manage and mitigate deforestation risks, only 36% have policies in place.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) forecast record new renewable energy capacity to be added this year, expecting an additional 320GW to be added.
China’s state-run newspaper Global Times reports that China’s CO2 emissions per unit of GDP (known as carbon intensity) have fallen by 34% over the past decade. China has committed to hitting peak emissions before 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060.
Leader of Australia’s Labour Party, Anthony Albanese has won the Australian election after nearly a decade of dither and delay in climate action by the ruling Liberal-National coalition. Albanese has pledged to deliver ‘a big shift in climate policy’ and make the country a ‘renewable energy superpower’. He said: ‘We have an opportunity now to end the climate wars in Australia. Australian businesses know that good action on climate change is good for jobs and good for our economy, and I want to join the global effort’.
This month’s sustainable new innovations
Next-generation home wind turbines
For homeowners looking to power their house with renewable energy, wind power offers a more efficient and environmentally friendly alternative to solar panels. But while solar panels on domestic homes are an increasingly common sight in urban and suburban areas, far fewer houses are installed with wind turbines.
One potential solution to the challenges of urban, small-scale wind generation comes from UK-based engineer Joe Garrett. He has designed a new vertical-axis wind turbine that can be mounted on homes and commercial buildings. The unique design aims to minimise a phenomenon called ‘dynamic stall’, where factors such as wind shear and turbulence place a heavy load on turbine blades – reducing their lifespan. Moreover, the design is simple—reducing maintenance requirements—and offers good power performance.
The turbine is omni-directional, which means it works no matter which way the wind is blowing, and the technology is tailored to work most effectively on pitched roofs. In fact, the shape of the roof enhances the turbine’s performance, acting like an aerofoil to increase the velocity of air going through the turbine.
Long-duration solar power storage
Using a technology developed by Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology and a generator built by a team at China’s Shanghai Jiao Tong University, researchers have developed a way to store solar power for long durations so that electricity can be provided whenever needed. The new system removes the variability of a power source reliant on time of day and weather – holding energy for up to 18 years.
The technology created by the Chalmers team uses a molecule made of carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen that changes shape when in sunlight. The altered shape can then be stored in liquid, making the energy usable even when there is no sunshine. For the system to produce electricity, the Shanghai team developed a microchip that produces the catalyst to release the molecule in yet another form.
As a closed energy system, there are no emissions produced by the capture, storage, and release of the solar energy in either form – heat or electricity.
Bio-based microplastics removal
Researchers have recently discovered that the same extracts that make cooked okra gloopy can be used to remove microplastics from wastewater.
Microplastics are typically removed from wastewater in a two-step process. First, any floating pieces are skimmed off, and then the rest are removed using flocculants – ‘sticky’ chemicals that attract the microplastics and form large clumps that then sink to the bottom of the water. However, some common flocculants are themselves potentially harmful. To address this problem, a research team from Tarleton State University in Texas decided to test non-toxic alternatives.
The researchers found that extracts—known as polysaccharides—from okra and fenugreek worked best at clumping microplastics in ocean water, while polysaccharides from okra and tamarind worked best with freshwater. Overall, these plant-based polysaccharides worked either as well as or better than the traditional flocculant polyacrylamide.
Webinars & Useful Resources:
NCZ Buildings [Webinar] Net Zero Carbon Building Standard. Wednesday 25 May 10.00. Register here.
Edie [Webinar] Resource Revolution: The Circular Economy Inspiration Sessions. Thursday 26 May 12.30-16.00. The three sessions include:
- The Big Circularity Debate: What will it take to achieve our zero-waste goals? (12:30 – 13:30)
- Rethink, reduce, reuse: Business case studies to accelerate the circular economy (13:45 – 14:45)
- 45-Minute Masterclass: How to achieve your plastics and packaging goals (15:00 – 15:45)
Normative [Webinar] How to measure net zero success Tuesday 31 May 14.00-15.00. Register here.
MSCI [Webinar] Implementing your Net Zero Climate Strategy. Saturday 11 June 16:00. Register here.
Edie [Webinar] From risk to resilience : Practical solutions to climate-proof your business. Thursday 23 June 13.00-14.00. Register here.