I wrote a lot about Ukraine and energy and sanctions to start this week’s episode, but I’ve deleted it all. This is not the place. Events are moving too fast and I am no political expert. So this week I’ll stick to sustainability news as usual, but let’s not forget the people of Ukraine. If they are driven from their homes I hope we will have the courage, the generosity and the humanity to welcome and support them. I hope that Western governments can take action to bring this conflict swiftly to an end.
This week I look at a battle for coal in Australia, the need for long duration electricity storage, a UK government reminder about political impartiality in schools, green bonds and ghost flights. And what will the IPCC’s latest report say when it’s launched next week?
It’s not Cricket!
First, a look at a novel food, and why it may not be on your plate for a while.
A report from the National Library of Medicine tells us that “insect consumption (entomophagy) is a potentially highly nutritious and healthy source of food with high fat, protein, vitamin, fibre and micronutrient content. At least 2 billion people globally eat insects (over 1900 edible species) though this habit is regarded negatively by others.”
Solution to World Food Problem?
Some researchers claim that insect consumption might be the solution to the global shortage of food.
Most people who eat insects live in Asia. Insects are not at all attractive to Western consumers, although crickets and mealworms are increasingly available. Pulverised dried insects are sold as insect flour, which makes them more acceptable.
High Conversion Rate
Insects are relatively easy to farm and a very high proportion of the food they eat is converted into edible product. Compare this with other animal food where bones, skins and entrails are waste products, or at least largely unused for food. Insects in their entirety can be used for human food or added to livestock feed.
Where can I buy some?
The answer to that in the UK is problematical. The EU Commission originally proposed that generic authorisations should be issued for novel foods including insects, which meant that a particular food would only need to be authorised once. However, the regulation finally agreed required each company providing the product to seek authorisation, meaning that each product could be authorised several times over.
EU Novel Food Regulations
The UK, of course, has now left the EU and as it did so the Food Standards Agency (FSA) indicated that it would require separate dossiers of evidence of safety to be submitted to them, irrespective of any outcomes from the European FSA Novel Food applications. In other words, any European approvals would be ignored, and insects are classified by the UK FSA as an 'unauthorised novel food’.
There are insect farms throughout the UK. They are all small businesses and unable to afford £70,000 or more for the laboratory testing and analysis and compilation of the evidence needed for approval. In any case it is not clear whether they can legally trade while waiting the 18 months or so for authorisation to be completed.
Existing businesses have been put into a sort of limbo since all this happened on the 31st January 2021. On the one hand, since their products have been declared 'unauthorised novel food’ they cannot get insurance. On the other hand, since they are not regulated directly by the FSA but by local authorities, many of these businesses are still trading, as long as their local authorities have not been told specifically by the FSA to stop them. Presumably that could happen at any time.
Meanwhile the Woven Network, the trade body for insect farmers, has applied for approval for crickets and is preparing an application for meal worms. It’s not clear how this will benefit the industry if each organisation has to make its own application.
Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, Minister of State for Brexit Opportunities, has called for suggestions for red tape that could be eliminated now that the UK Britain is not part of the EU. Maybe the industry should suggest to him that the EU-Novel-Food-Regulations-lookalike operated by the FSA should be scrapped and that insects should be covered by standard food regulations as they are in countries like Australia and New Zealand.
Talking of Australia, listener Carol Dance tells me about a takeover battle going on over there.
Backed by the Brookfield financial group, billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes has bid $3.5 for AGL Energy, the country’s largest electricity generator which alone accounts for 8% of the nation’s emissions. Cannon-Brookes, reputedly the second-richest Australian, is not an industry insider having made his money from the software business.
The plan is to invest some $AU20 billion in decarbonising AGL and bringing it to net zero carbon emissions by 2030, five years earlier than the company’s current plans. Mark Carney, former Bank of England Governor and now vice chair of Brookfield, said, "Energy transition will be one of the biggest investment opportunities of our lifetime.”
WWF welcomed the plan, but AGL management have dismissed the bid and criticised the plans for early decarbonisation as unrealistic. Nevertheless the company’s share price rose on the news and it’s believed that investors are waiting for a better offer.
Please keep us posted, Carol.
Long Duration Energy Storage (LDES)
Aurora Energy Research publishes its latest independent report which demonstrates the potentially critical role of long duration electricity storage in GB to ensure energy security.
The key findings of the report are that up to 24 GW of Long Duration Electricity Storage (LDES) – equivalent to eight times the current installed capacity – could be needed to integrate wind power into a secure Net Zero electricity system.
LDES includes pumped storage and a range of innovative new technologies that can store electricity for four hours or more, such as Liquid Air Energy Storage (LAES), Flow batteries and Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES).
The authors predict that introducing LDES in large quantities in GB by 2035 could reduce carbon emissions by 10 MtCO2 p.a., reduce system costs by £1.13 bn p.a. (2.5%) and reduce reliance on gas by 50 TWh p.a.
However they warn that additional policy is needed for large-scale deployment of LDES through market mechanisms, regulation or investment support. In a word, government intervention.
Guidance on Political Impartiality in Schools
The government has this week issued a new Guidance on Political Impartiality in Schools.
The introduction opens with the statement:
“This guidance does not include any new statutory requirements and is based on legal duties on political impartiality that have been in place for many years…”
…leading many people to question why such guidance is needed. Some suggest that it’s because some school children wrote letters criticising the government. Here’s the section on the Climate Crisis:
“Teaching about climate change and the scientific facts and evidence behind this, would not constitute teaching about a political issue. Schools do not need to present misinformation, such as unsubstantiated claims that anthropogenic climate change is not occurring, to provide balance here.
“However, where teaching covers the potential solutions for tackling climate change, this may constitute a political issue. Different groups, including political parties and campaign groups, may have partisan political views on the best way to address climate change.
“This part of the topic should be taught in a balanced manner, with teachers not promoting any of the partisan political views covered to pupils.”
Are teachers allowed to explain the views of Extinction Rebellion, School Strike for Climate, Insulate Britain, WWF, Greenpeace, FoE, the Green Party and the rest? Are they allowed to draw comparisons between the policies of these groups and the actions of the government?
The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has outlined proposals to secure more than £500 million for investing in climate action by issuing green bonds. The Mayor will authorise £86 million to support a substantial GLA Green Bond programme, financing direct decarbonisation investment by the GLA Group and its strategic partners as part of the Mayor’s Green Financing Facility. There will be an additional £4 million to develop high-impact green investment opportunities for the public and private sectors.
This investment will support projects making social housing and public buildings energy efficient, as well as clean, local energy projects providing solar PV, heat pumps and district heating across London. By leading the way and committing an initial £90 million the Mayor will help unlock over £500 million to finance such low-carbon projects.
I’ll watch this with interest.
Aviation is a significant cause of greenhouse gas emissions and it is one of the most difficult, if not impossible, sectors to decarbonise. It can only rely on savings by other industry sectors to cushion its own impact on the environment.
Air Travel Growth
Airline operators are still nevertheless happy to forecast growth in air travel and to support airport expansion at Heathrow, Gatwick, Leeds-Bradford, Manston, Bristol, Luton and no doubt in many other locations across the world. During lockdown and restrictions brought in because of the pandemic the number of people flying has dropped dramatically. However, airlines can only keep their landing slots if they actually use them. This means that thousands of empty flights have taken to the skies over the last 18 months or so, providing benefits to no one and adding pollution to the atmosphere.
Some have described this as ecocide - deliberate damage to the environment. Alternatively it could be called reckless stupidity. Either way it needs to be stopped.
And with that thought I leave you.
AR6 Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability
The IPCC launches its latest report at a press conference next Monday 28th February. It will be a major item in next Friday’s Sustainable Futures Report, but it will probably be overshadowed by the situation in Ukraine.
Welcome New Patron
Before I go, welcome to Ann Hodgson as the latest Patron of the Sustainable Futures Report. Thanks for signing up Ann. Do let me know what you think about the podcast, either via comments on Patreon at patreon.com/sfr or with comments on Apple podcasts. If you’d like to join Ann as a Patron you’ll find the details at patreon.com/sfr.
Until next time,
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
I’m Anthony Day.