Blog & PodcastDealing with the Climate Crisis

Anthony Day helps you plan a sustainable future with expert guests and reports on green technologies from across a warming world.

Solar Panels

This week there’s sustainability news about food, fuel, forests and floods in China. I look again at the IEA report that Sarah Cullen mentioned in Wednesday’s interview. There’s a dark side to solar farms, a pressure group intent on depressurisation and more dangers for bees. Can we summon a wartime spirit to save our economy and save the planet, and is mega finance group Blackrock walking the green walk or just talking the green talk?

More on that IEA report

Emissions from energy and industry have increased by 60% since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed in 1992. As things stand, the world will miss the target of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5C, but last year’s Net Zero by 2050 Roadmap from the IEA sets out 400 milestones to bring progress back on track. It calls for the deployment of all available clean energy technologies and for measures including retrofitted insulation to reduce energy demand. For solar power, it suggests this would be equivalent equivalent to installing the world’s current largest solar park roughly every day from now until 2030. 

Solar Power

Solar power is certainly being installed, but whether or not it’s at the recommended rate it’s controversial. Looking at the UK, there are plans for solar farms all over the country. One, in Kent, will extend to 650 acres or 260 ha. There are protests and it is easy to dismiss them as NIMBY-ism – not in my backyard. Nevertheless there is an important debate between the use of land for generating electricity and using land for agriculture and food production.It is certainly true that some schemes will use prime agricultural land, and once established solar panels will be in place indefinitely. We already import almost half of our food. We are unlikely to ever be self-sufficient in food, but it surely makes sense not to increase our reliance on foreign producers.

I came across a case recently which involved a farm which had been in the same family for generations. They were tenant farmers and the landowner had been offered far more than the farmer was paying in rent from a company that wanted to install solar panels on part of the land. Apparently the landowner had the right to permit this. The result would be to reduce the size of the farm, making it unviable.

The farmer chose not to be interviewed by me. I understand the case is ongoing. It’s another example that proves there’s nothing simple in sustainability.

Wind Power

Looking at wind power, the UK government is expected shortly to reverse its opposition to onshore wind turbines. Its supporters have in the past been firmly opposed to onshore wind, but it’s now revealed that they like acres of solar panels very much less. According to the i-newspaper, the wind projects currently in limbo awaiting planning approval could together deliver more energy than all the Russian gas the UK imports. That sounds impressive until you remember that unlike the rest of Europe, the UK imports very little Russian gas.

Investment and Jobs

According to the IEA Roadmap, Net Zero by 2050 will require the investment of $4 trillion in clean energy by 2030, but it will create millions of jobs and raise economic growth. Writing in The Guardian, George Monbiot says that with determination and resources, rolling out a massive programme of home insulation, heat pumps, renewable energy, public transport and other mature technologies, we could transform ourselves from a high- to a low-carbon economy just as swiftly and decisively as the US transformed itself from a largely civilian economy to a military economy during the Second World War.

“The measures needed to forestall environmental catastrophe,” he says, “are the same as those required to release ourselves from dependency on the autocratic governments and ecocidal corporations that control the world’s fossil fuels.”

New Technologies 

The IEA Roadmap warns that available technologies will not be enough on their own to meet our objectives. We need to accelerate development in areas such as Cabon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS), batteries, electrolyses, fusion energy and small modular nuclear reactors. (SMR)

Monbiot wonders what would happen if governments invested in research with wartime resources and political will. “I suspect things could shift at extraordinary speed.”

Changing Behaviour

And then there’s the behavioural aspect. According to the IEA,

“Achieving net zero by 2050 cannot be achieved without the sustained support and participation from citizens. Behavioural changes, particularly in advanced economies – such as replacing car trips with walking, cycling or public transport, or foregoing a long-haul flight – provide around 4% of the cumulative emissions reductions in our pathway.”

It goes much further than personal behaviour, of course.

BlackRock and Banks

BlackRock, an investment company with some $10 trillion of clients’ funds under management, has indicated that it will pursue climate action policies and play its part in the transition to net zero. Correspondence recently uncovered suggests that it will nevertheless support the oil industry. Blackrock is not alone in controversy. Last year the State Treasurers of 7 US states made it clear that banks who did not support their coal industries could not expect to be considered for state business.

Food

It is not only energy that faces disruption as a result of the present conflict. Between them, Russia and Ukraine are the world’s largest producers and exporters of wheat and other food grains. Buying wheat from Russia helps to finance the war effort. Not buying wheat from Russia will cause shortages, price rises and hunger across the world. Russian exports go principally to Turkey and Egypt and and a number of developing nations. Even though Europe does not import much grain from Russia it will not be unaffected by price rises caused by shortages. Russia is also a major exporter of fertilisers, so while cutting this trade will affect the Russian economy, at the same time it will reduce the agricultural yields of other nations.

It is not clear what effect the conflict is having on agriculture in Ukraine, but the risk is that it will be disrupted, leading to reduced yields. 

If there is a shortage of oil and gas from one source it is possible to make up for it to some extent from other sources by encouraging producers to raise output. No such options exist for agriculture. If there is a shortage of food, there can be no more grown until next year.

And in Other News

Downpours in China

During lockdown, global emissions fell. That means the rate of emissions reduced, but of course the total emissions in the atmosphere continued to grow, albeit at a reduced rate. As I said earlier, there are frequently unexpected consequences from all sorts of actions. For example, an article in the journal Nature reveals that this reduction in emissions and atmospheric aerosols led to a change in the weather. In fact the authors say, “We conclude that through abrupt emissions reductions, the COVID-19 pandemic contributed importantly to the 2020 extreme summer rainfall in eastern China.”

While not exactly being natural, this reduction was not a deliberate action by the global community. This experience surely warns us that we need to be very cautious about deliberate geo-engineering, in case we unleash more unexpected and more serious side effects.

Amazon Forests

An article in Nature Climate Change warns that the Amazon rain forest is fast approaching a tipping point where trees start dying off en masse.

The researchers found that more than three-quarters of the Amazon rainforest has been losing resilience since the early 2000s, consistent with the approach to a critical transition. Resilience is being lost faster in regions with less rainfall and in parts of the rainforest that are closer to human activity. They provide direct empirical evidence that the Amazon rainforest is losing resilience, risking dieback with profound implications for biodiversity, carbon storage and climate change at a global scale. The carbon sink that is the Amazon is in danger of becoming a carbon source.

The Green Heat Network Fund

Last week the British government announced The Green Heat Network Fund.

“Heat networks”, they say, “will be vital to making net zero a reality in the UK. They are a proven, cost- effective way of providing reliable, efficient, low carbon heat at a fair price to consumers, while supporting local regeneration. In recognition of their importance to the future energy mix, the Committee on Climate Change have estimated that around 18 per-cent1 of UK heat will need to come from heat networks by 2050 if the UK is to meet its carbon targets cost effectively. 

“Heat networks are an established method of distributing heat that can utilise otherwise wasted energy, provide grid balancing services in an increasingly electrified heat market and offer low carbon heat at competitive prices to households and businesses alike.

“They are uniquely able to unlock otherwise inaccessible sources of larger scale renewable heat and work within a hydrogen economy at the same time. They can also be used to provide cooling helping UK cities to adapt to climate change and the urban heat island effect.”

This is by no means a replacement for the multi-billion Green Homes Grant which collapsed last year. It has, after all, funding of only £288 million. You will remember that towards the end of last year I shared a debate with you on district heating, the sort of technology that this scheme will support. We found that although widespread in Europe, district heating hardly exists in the UK. Such systems as do exist are frequently ineffective as there are few specialists able to operate and maintain them. Let’s hope this new initiative will correct that.

 

Tyre Extinguishers

There's a new activist group on the block. Following Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain,Tyre Extinguishers appeared this week. Their target is the SUV: the large private vehicles with poor fuel efficiency and above-average emissions. It's been calculated that if all the SUVs in the world were grouped together as a nation, they would be the seventh largest country in the world by their emissions. One of the IEA milestones on the Roadmap to Net Zero is reducing weight of average family car by 10% by 2030. In protest against the size, inefficiency and pollution of SUVs, Tyre Extinguishers let down the tyres on these vehicles across the UK, from London to Liverpool, from Bristol to Edinburgh and some 200 in Brighton alone. They left a leaflet explaining what they had done and why, but drivers were predictably angry, especially the lady who pointed out that her SUV was pure electric.

Personally I’m all in favour of protest, but I think this one was close to irresponsible. What if someone had driven off and had an accident because of flat tyres? The aim of protest is to get publicity, raise awareness and encourage the public at large to find out more about why people are protesting. Leaflets alone are not enough, but maybe leaflets disguised as parking tickets or glued very firmly to windscreens - without obstructing visibility of course - would be a safer way of raising the profile. And what are SUV drivers supposed to do? They can’t change their cars overnight for a number of reasons, not least that there’s still a very long waiting list for new cars and inflated prices for used cars as a global microchip shortage continues to restrict car production.

And finally…

Protect the Bees

…but don’t think this isn’t important. The British government, free to make its own regulations post Brexit, has decided to lift the ban on certain pesticides used to protect the sugar beet crop. The ban on these pesticides was imposed because of their effect on bees. The effect of neonicotinoids  is complex, but ultimately fatal. This pesticide affects all pollinators, not just honeybees, putting the pollination of other crops at risk. Remember, while cereals and grains are pollinated by the wind, we need insects to pollinate most fruit and vegetables. If we lose a crop of sugar beet we can import sugar and grow another crop next year. I know this is no comfort to farmers, but if we destroy or decimate our bees it is close to impossible to replace them. And I say that as a beekeeper. Sugar beet or strawberries, which would you rather have? And plums, and apples and pears and raspberries and tomatoes and cucumbers and courgettes and blackcurrants and gooseberries and peppers and cherries and figs.

Do your bit and sow some bee-friendly wild flowers in a window box or a corner of your garden. And support any petitions to get these pesticides banned.

Next Week

And with that thought I leave you for another week, although there will of course be a Wednesday interview next Wednesday. It looks as though it's going to be another very interesting one. I’ll actually be recording it on Monday and patrons will get it at least a day early.

Incidentally the number of regular listeners is growing dramatically. I don't know what I've done but obviously somebody out there likes the Sustainable Futures Report. I hope you do and I'm always open to ideas, suggestions and constructive criticism.

Oh, and Ian Jarvis, I am going to follow up your message.

That's all for this time.

I’m Anthony Day.

That was the Sustainable Futures Report.

Bye for now.

 

 

 

Sources

Net Zero 2050 roadmap

https://www.iea.org/reports/net-zero-by-2050

Solar farms

https://www.getreading.co.uk/news/reading-berkshire-news/berkshire-village-war-over-plans-23315314

https://uk.sports.yahoo.com/news/councillor-expresses-hint-caution-over-030000065.html 

https://www.kentonline.co.uk/ashford/news/campaign-group-launched-to-save-village-from-solar-farms-263617/

https://www.msn.com/en-gb/cars/news/huge-c2-a35m-solar-panel-farm-planned-for-bradford-countryside/ar-AAUgljz

Investment and Jobs

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/mar/09/addiction-russian-gas-putin-military 

Blackrock - finance sector and fossil fuels

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/mar/09/blackrock-privately-soothes-oil-industry-fears-over-its-new-green-credentials

https://www.trtworld.com/magazine/uk-us-banks-among-top-financiers-for-coal-despite-green-pledges-54774 

https://www.banktrack.org/article/citigroup_first_us_bank_to_exclude_coal_expansion_companies 

https://news.yahoo.com/states-threaten-pull-assets-banks-004941183.html 

https://www.dailywire.com/news/destroy-our-economy-republican-treasurer-cuts-ties-to-company-over-china-coal-strategies 

Food

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-60623941

https://www.rbth.com/business/332948-russia-leading-wheat-exporter 

China Rainfall

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-022-28537-9

Amazon Tipping Point

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-022-01287-8 

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-60650415

Green Heat Network Fund

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/green-heat-network-fund-ghnf 

Tyre Extinguishers

https://www.express.co.uk/life-style/cars/1577775/driver-warning-suv-tyres-let-down-reaction

https://www.itv.com/news/westcountry/2022-03-09/police-patrolling-in-bristol-after-activists-deflate-suv-tyres

https://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/people/new-group-of-activists-are-targeting-well-to-do-areas-of-yorkshire-3603000

Bees

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/mar/01/bee-harming-pesticide-thiamethoxam-uk-emergency-exemption?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other 

No thoughts on “Roadmap to Net Zero”

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A weekly podcast and blog brought to you by Anthony Day. A selection of stories and interviews aiming to be sustainable, topical and interesting.
And also, I do address conferences.

Anthony Day

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