We're on the brink of massive changes. This week I'm going to talk about the UK government, though not about its financial management. There is a report from the world meteorological organisation as more extreme weather events are reported. A new academic study warns that palm trees face extinction while in Finland more and bigger buildings are being built from timber. On the energy front the UAE is stepping up oil production, and is hydrogen the ideal clean solution for home heating, or will it be just too expensive?
Hello, I’m Anthony Day and this is your Sustainable Futures Report for Wednesday, 28th September. Let me start by welcoming Nicki-Ann Stanley, our newest patron. Hi Nicki-Ann. Many thanks for your support.
In the last few days the UK government has made waves in the international financial markets. I don't want to talk just about the UK because the climate crisis is an international crisis. Nonetheless, the UK government demonstrates how governments can have a very significant effect on protecting the environment and managing the climate crisis. Or not. Amid all the announcements about taxation and borrowing last Friday a number of other regulations were slipped out, causing an outcry from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the National Trust and the Wildlife Trusts. The RSPB launched a tirade on Twitter and its website currently bears the headline: “UK government launches attack on Nature”.
It's all about the government's plan to introduce Investment Zones to 38 local authority areas across the country. The official factsheet on investment zones [link] promises lower taxes and “The need for planning applications will be minimised and where planning applications remain necessary, they will be radically streamlined… …planning flexibilities will remove a significant barrier to economic growth…” This is all in line with Liz Truss’s promise during her leadership campaign for a bonfire of red tape: the repeal of regulations. It's been pointed out that these regulations were put in place for a reason, many by her party’s government. Some will have been adopted as part of EU legislation, but much EU legislation was initiated by Britain, while we were members. The charities fear that “planning flexibilities” will threaten wildlife, their habitats and biodiversity. The detailed changes are not yet known, but some fear that things like environmental impact assessments and protection of bats and other endangered species will no longer be allowed to hold up development.
The whole idea of investment zones has been criticised widely. If companies have invested in compliance with regulations and now find that their competitors don't have to observe these regulations because they are now located in a new investment zone, they will be justifiably upset. Even if regulations are abolished across the whole country, businesses that have invested in meeting these regulations will be aggrieved at the wasted investment.
Apparently the zones will create thousands of jobs, but given that unemployment is currently very low and there are thousands of unfilled vacancies, it is difficult to see where the workers to take them will come from. Unless of course they come from companies outside the investment zones, making it even more difficult for them to operate, and delivering no net gains.
Support for Agriculture
It was not specifically announced on Friday, but there is a strong rumour that the government will change its proposed agricultural subsidy scheme. As a member of the EU, the United Kingdom was obliged to follow the common agricultural policy and pay subsidies to farmers on the basis of acreage or maybe that should be hectarage these days. Instead the government announced that free of EU constraints it would pay farmers for specific land management, including rewilding, reforesting and environmental management. Now it seems that after all the government will revert to simple payments per hectare, regardless of how the land is used. Once again, farmers who have invested in anticipation of the new scheme will find their efforts wasted.
It's not only in the UK that the government can have a malign effect on the environment. There is an election in Brazil next month when Jair Bolsonaro is standing once again for the presidency. During his time in office a blind eye has been turned to loggers and miners who have devastated areas of the Amazon. The lands of indigenous peoples have been invaded and you’ll remember the murder of British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous expert Bruno Pereira in the Amazon rainforest in June. The good news is that the polls suggest that Bolsonaro will lose the election. The bad news is that he is already telling people, as Trump did, that the election is likely to be rigged and the signs are that if he loses he will refuse to leave office.
The first round of the election will take place on 2nd October. If no candidate achieves 50% there will be a second round on 30th October.
Of course I’m in no way suggesting that the British government would connive at breaking laws. It’s just going to repeal them.
It’s not weather, it’s climate.
I'm British. We're always talking about the weather. It’s not weather, it’s the climate that concerns us.
United in Science, a collaboration between WMO, UNEP, GCP, UK Met Office, IPCC, UNDRR presents a detailed guide to the state of the climate. There’s a link on the Sustainable Futures Report website to United in Science where there’s one of those scrolling presentations which incorporates information, videos and quizzes. Among other things it reveals that the current actions by the international community are insufficient to reach the Paris targets. The annual rate of emissions in 2020 was higher than the 10 year average and the drop in emissions during the period of Covid had a negligible effect. In any case, emissions levels went straight back to exceed 2019 levels straight afterwards. It says that in 2020 the proportion of CO2 in the atmosphere was 149% of the pre-industrial level but I don’t believe that. I think it was probably 149% in excess of the pre-industrial level. Either way it’s important. The comparable figure for methane was 262% and 123% for nitrous oxide. The World Meteorological Organisation warns that as emissions rise, temperatures rise and that leads to more extreme weather, including rainfall, ice melts, sea level rise, ocean acidification and so on. At the same time the warming climate endangers carbon sinks. “We need,” it says, “more climate action now.”
It's worth having a look at this presentation to remind ourselves of the sheer range of the consequences of the climate crisis. The problem is that this is the message which we keep hearing, that the world is not doing enough. Governments are not doing enough. As we've seen some governments are clearly counter-productive.
La Niña and Hurricane Ian
Meanwhile La Niña continues to generate storms on the east coast of Australia and hurricane Ian is heading for Florida. NASA has not had any success so far with launching its largest and heaviest rocket as part of its new moon exploration project. It's going to wheel the rocket back into its hangar to keep it safe from the storm.
More success though, with its plan to deflect an asteroid from a path which would lead it on a collision course with the Earth. This week a space probe was successfully driven into the surface of a small asteroid some 7,000,000 miles away from Earth. There was no danger that this object would ever fall on Earth: the purpose of the exercise was to show whether it would be possible in fact to deflect an asteroid. A head-on collision was achieved. The next few days or weeks will show how far the asteroid’s orbit has been disrupted.
Don’t Look Up!
Anyway, in the words of the famous film, (and if you haven't seen it you should do) if you’ve any concerns about asteroids or even the climate crisis, just Don’t Look Up! There’s a link to the trailer on the Sustainable Futures Report website. It gives you the idea.
And in other news…
A new paper in the journal Nature reports how palm trees are in danger of becoming extinct. There are over 1,000 different species which are used for all sorts of purposes from housing and roofing to building bridges. Some are grown for food like date palms, and others for fuel. The researchers used artificial intelligence to predict where the trees were most likely to need protection, so that efforts could be prioritised.
An article from the BBC shows how more and larger houses are being built in Finland from timber. Construction can be quicker because it does not involve concrete and therefore there is no curing time during the construction process. Timber is also lighter and CLT cross-laminated timber is strong, and in the event of a fire it can survive more heat and is less likely to collapse than concrete.
Back in October I reported on Mjøstårnet in Norway: The Tallest Timber Building in the World. It’s an 18-storey mixed-use building featuring apartments, offices, a hotel, and a restaurant and has no steel framework.
Building with timber is truly offsetting. The carbon locked within the wood is there for as long as the building lasts, and maybe longer if the timber is reused. Meanwhile the trees that were cut down are replaced, sequestering still more carbon.
And on the energy front…
As oil prices surge the United Arab Emirates are reported to be accelerating plans to raise oil production capacity to 5 million barrels per day (bpd) five years earlier than planned. Climate crisis, what crisis? Let’s just make a quick buck.
The MCS Charitable Foundation says:
“Our vision is a world where everyone has access to affordable and reliable renewable energy and low carbon technologies – for the benefit of our environment, our communities and the general public.
“As a Foundation we work to increase public confidence, awareness and access to renewable energy and low carbon solutions across the UK. We support education and engagement programmes, fund research and facilitate innovative solutions to drive widespread adoption.”
Not sure who they are backed by, although they are linked to the MCS Company which certifies the competence of installers of renewable systems and maintains a register of recommended suppliers. Anyway, they have just published a report with Cornwall Insight, a consultancy that has been in the news during the present turmoil in energy markets. In this report they claim that hydrogen for heating will cost up to 90% more than heating by natural gas. Of course whether hydrogen is green or not, and what it costs, depends on how it is manufactured. The report does not suggest that this is a reason for abandoning hydrogen, far from it. It goes into detail about the role that it foresees that hydrogen will play in the future energy economy. There is a link to the document on the Sustainable Futures Report website and it's quite a short read.
And that's it.
For this week. Thank you for listening to another episode of the Sustainable Futures Report.
There will be another episode next week. I have no idea what it will be about, because I try to be as topical as possible. Things seem to be changing very rapidly at the moment.
If you like the Sustainable Futures Report please consider becoming a patron from as little as £1 per month, which these days is more or less the same as $1 per month. For that you get four or five episodes but more to the point I get your support in helping to keep the Sustainable Futures Report independent and ad-free. I'm particularly grateful to Nicki-Ann Stanley, our latest patron. Join her as one of our supporters by going to patreon.com/SFR.
Thanks once again for listening. I've got lots of things lined up for future episodes!
I’m Anthony Day
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
World Meteorological Report
La niña again
Hurricane Ian & NASA
Don’t Look Up!
UAE Ups production