This week Climate Action staged the Climate Innovation Forum 2021, a three-day event. I got a press pass and I’ll share my review of some of the sessions. Also on this week’s agenda: more on the nuclear plant at Taishan, extreme weather in North America, shortfalls in the UK, and the future of the Sustainable Futures Report.
The Friendly Futurist
I’d like to draw your attention to The Friendly Futurist with Dave Monk. He talks about climate change, but in the context of many other things which are changing our future. “Each week,” he says, “we chat with experts in
Blockchain, Cryptocurrency, The Metaverse, Agtech, Future of Food, Future of Work, Future of Energy, Biotech, Transhumanism, Biohacking, AI, Quantum Computing, Regenerative Agriculture, Nanotechnology, Climate Change, Electric Vehicles, Space Exploration, Introduction of UBI (Universal Basic Income), Return to Slow Fashion and so much more.” Plenty there to exercise the intellect! Find The Friendly Futurist on Apple podcasts or your favourite podcast site. I’ve put a link on the Sustainable Futures Report website where, as you know, you’ll also find the full text of every episode of this podcast with links to all my sources.
Climate Innovation Forum 2021
I’ve just been listening to a discussion with Mark Carney, United Nations Special Envoy on Climate, and Noel Quinn of HSBC at The Climate Innovation Forum 2021. Here’s a summary of what I picked up.
Carney and Quinn commented on the G7 communiqué which identified 2021 as a turning point in the campaign against the climate crisis. Unfinished business, they said. More to be done. Was victory achievable? It has to be, they said.
In the last 12 to 18 months they said they had detected a change in mood towards the urgency of the climate crisis. There was a positive attitude; now positive action was needed. The next 5 to 10 years will see a new industrial revolution. “10 years?”, asked the chair. “Won’t that be too late?” Well, 5 to 10 years.
Mark Carney said that we faced a fundamental rewiring of the economy which would take the rest of the decade. It is now seen in business as the top strategic issue, at least once the consequences of Covid are sorted out. The execution of plans towards achieving net zero is crucial. Many financial institutions are still analysing how to achieve net zero and exactly what it means. They do not want to back technologies until they are certain that they are the right technologies and they are therefore not ready to make new investments.
There is no doubt that considerable investments will be needed and needed urgently. Major industries are faced with fundamental change. A greater understanding of new technologies and new mindsets is essential to unlock the investment to make change happen.
Apparently someone at Joe Biden’s recent climate conference had said convincing customers of all this was very difficult. However, Noel Quinn of HSBC said that customers of his bank all over the world were becoming proactive, recognising the need for change and engaging with the bank and asking for support.
Covid has demonstrated how fragile the economy is. Major industries are convinced of the need to change and SMEs, as part of their supply chains also recognise the need to change. These smaller companies need help, either from government or from their customers, to achieve the transition.
The TCFD, the task force on climate-related financial disclosure, is aiming for common standards for measuring carbon footprints and climate related data. So far 90 central banks have come on board with this and insurance companies and pension funds are following on.
Questions followed the discussion.
How to build a net-zero investment portfolio?
Financial institutions should map out a pathway to net zero, assess each investment according to its nearness to the path and drop those that are not going to succeed.
Is the aviation industry a stranded asset?
Almost certainly, without innovation. Long-haul flying needs sustainable fuels which have been shown to cut carbon by 80%. There needs to be a commitment from the industry to give the fuel suppliers the confidence to make the investment needed to deliver these new fuels.
Aren’t politicians just thinking of electoral cycles before anything else?
Mark Carney quoted an example of his native Canada where people had voted for parties committed to introducing a carbon tax. He thought the weight of public opinion was changing. Noel Quinn said he thought there was change as well. Personally I can’t see net zero and the climate crisis creating much interest at the Batley and Spen by-election coming up this week.
How can we educate consumers? asked another delegate. Apparently Sir David King, former chief scientific advisor, has said that governments have not been clear enough.
There is private sector innovation. For example the ability to track carbon through a complete supply chain is being developed.
Should the government be more assertive?
On the one hand the government has withdrawn a grant scheme at only four days notice but on the other hand it has created an environment to encourage change like the ruling that fossil fuel cars may not be sold after 2030. The government needs to work with the private sector to define the signals and regulations that should be set up.
The final question was whether regulations and targets would be the key driver towards net zero or whether it would depend on the hope and passion of entrepreneurs and business leaders.
There was a strong response that hope and passion are no use without a plan. An organisation should decide what it will look like as a net zero organisation and determine where it is on the road to net zero.
Both Carney and Quinn agreed that this is an existential threat: it’s about human survival.
Is it too late? asked the chair.
It’s not too late - yet, said Mark Carney.
When is too late? he was asked.
Let’s not find out.
Lord Nicholas Stern
There followed an interview with Lord Nicholas Stern, author of the 2006 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change. Last week he presented a report on leadership for sustainable, resilient and inclusive economic recovery and growth to the G7 conference, on behalf of the UK PM.
In conversation with Nick Gowing he praised the UK government’s 10-point plan for dealing with the climate crisis, but warned that the urgency and the scale of the challenge was not well understood. If we continue with planned infrastructure development, for example, using current technologies and techniques we will drive warming to 3℃.
Following COVID he believes that there must be a new pattern of growth, and investment must be at centre-stage of the recovery. We must not go back to consumption-led growth and equally this is no time for austerity. The UK must set an example. Net zero carbon and 1.5° global temperature increase are the targets and were recognised in the communiqué following the G-7 conference. The G-7 also warned against austerity and said that investment was the key, although Stern believed they could have gone further with investment to support developing countries.
The government is saying the right things, but the pace of change is not yet enough. Stern gave the example of China which has just established a group under the leadership of the vice president to deliver China's net zero goals. He acknowledged that the situation was not identical to the UK, but showed the importance of the issue to government. He called for a cabinet minister to take responsibility for delivering the the UK’s net zero policies.
He reiterated that the UK government is saying all the right things, but the challenge remains to mobilise public and private investment and to move from plan to action. The 2021 Comprehensive Spending Review, expected in the fourth quarter of the year, will demonstrate the government’s commitment to its rhetoric.
I joined later sessions of the Forum. The same message about urgency and need for action was repeated.
What can business do?
Next week’s Sustainable Futures Report will be about sustainable business. What can you do in your business?
And in other news…
Nuclear power and extreme weather.
Taishan Nuclear Station
There is no doubt that a reliable supply of electricity is fundamental to the recovery and the future development of the world. Indeed, speaking on the Climate Innovation Forum, Nicholas Stern said that carbon zero electricity was the top priority. Hence a continuing interest in the new nuclear power station at Hinkley in southwest UK. It will be the largest in the country and eventually will be the first of a new fleet of similar stations as old stations are decommissioned. It’s expensive, the power it produces will be expensive, it’s way behind schedule and the two similar plants in Finland and Northern France have similar and serious problems. The saving grace seems to be the station at Taishan in China. Built to the same - new - design this station has been completed and successfully entered service in 2018.
We need this electricity. A stable, continuous source to supply base load. For the moment renewables and storage systems on their own cannot meet total demand; certainly not in winter.
It’s worrying then to learn of a radioactive leak at Taishan. It worried the markets to the extent that uranium prices fell, although this appears to have been no more than a blip. The key question is whether this incident is serious enough to threaten the whole programme or whether it’s a contained event, planned for and controlled in the normal course of operations. It’s crucial that the media delivers a true and balanced story to the public which is always sceptical of nuclear power.
I’ve reviewed a range of reports on this issue and you can find the links to the articles as usual at the end of the text on the website. According to the South China Morning Post the increase in radioactivity in Taishan did not spread outside the reactor.
Somerset Live, from the area where Hinkley C is under construction, reported a statement from EDF which is involved in all four of the sites. The statement confirmed that radioactive gases that had built up in a part of the plant were deliberately released due to a fuel rod failure, after the coating on a “small number” of the rods deteriorated. These gases were collected and treated before being released into the atmosphere in "accordance with regulations”, and the incident was described as a “common event”.
On the other hand the FT called for greater transparency, pointing out that lack of transparency was involved in the Chernobyl disaster as well as the original COVID outbreak. A Chinese official told the FT that local people still did not know what had actually happened at the plant.
The Leaflet, published in Delhi, warned of implications for India’s nuclear programme as the Taishan incident reignited debate in India about both its own nuclear plans and nuclear expansion in China, which some Indians consider to be close to a rogue state. This is probably coloured by ongoing disputes at the Sino-Indian border.
I continue to monitor reports. For the moment the incident seems nowhere near as serious as the Fukushima disaster, which led to Germany cancelling all new nuclear plants and accelerating the closure of its existing fleet. We still don’t know all the details. I’ll keep you informed as far as I can.
You're probably aware of reports of the heatwave in North America which have been coming in over the past few days from all across the United States. On 26th June Portland, Oregon, in the Pacific Northwest reported its all-time hottest day at 108F (42.2C). Stores sold out of portable air conditioners and fans, some hospitals cancelled outdoor vaccination clinics, cities opened cooling centres, baseball teams cancelled or postponed weekend games, and utilities braced for possible power outages.
On 29th June Lytton in British Columbia, Canada, recorded 49.6C - that’s 121.3F. Like the north-west of the United States, this area is just not used to such temperatures - hotter than Dubai. Most houses do not have air-conditioning. Vancouver police reported that over the previous weekend more than 130 unexpected deaths occurred, largely attributable to the extreme heat.
According to meteorologists the heat over western parts of Canada and the US has been caused by a dome of static high-pressure hot air stretching from California to the Arctic territories. No single incident, even one as serious as this, can be said to be caused by climate change. However, it is wholly consistent with the theory that says that climate change is causing more extreme weather more frequently.
If temperatures exceed 39℃ day and night, human survival is threatened.
Climate Change Committee
The U.K.'s Climate Change Committee published its third Independent Assessment of UK Climate Risk last week. It identified risks to human health, well-being and productivity from exposure to heat in homes and other buildings as immediate and ongoing. They warned that “new evidence shows that the gap between the level of risk we face and the level of adaptation underway has widened. Adaptation action has failed to keep pace with the worsening reality of climate risk.”
That sounds a bit less optimistic than Carney and Quinn whom I quoted earlier.
Taking the Sustainable Futures Report forward.
I took last week off and didn't produce an episode of the Sustainable Futures Report. I decided to use the time to look at ways of extending the reach this podcast into new areas and new audiences, something I should have done a long time ago. A little research revealed that there are masses of resources out there and I have begun to exploit them. One approach will be to do mutual shout outs on complementary podcasts like the one for the Friendly Futurist that you heard at the beginning of this episode. Dave Monk is going to mention the Sustainable Futures Report on his podcast in return. I have a number of interviews lined up with podcasters and we will either interview each other on each other’s shows, or we will create a single interview which both podcasts will publish.
I might consider paid advertising, but I'll see how the other avenues work first. My research emphasises that before I do anything I need to identify my listener. I've come to the conclusion that listeners to the Sustainable Futures Report fall into three groups. They are:
Senior executive, particularly sustainability managers, health and safety, risk managers, procurement, finance, consultants and standards professionals.
Sustainability Activists and Lobby Groups
XR - School strike - Members of Greenpeace, FOE, WWF etc - Elaine MacArthur Foundation
People aware of the issues and eager to take action (recycling, preserving wildlife, beach cleaning etc.)
Some people will fall into two or more of these groups.
I’ll let you know how my promotion develops.
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For all of you have listened this far, many thanks. And special thanks to Patrons for your support. As always, your feedback is eagerly awaited. You can mail me direct or you can share your comments on Apple podcasts or on the Sustainable Futures Report website.
And That’s It…
…for this week. There will be another Sustainable Futures Report next Friday.
I’m Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
Until next time.
The Friendly Futurist
Climate Innovation Forum 2021
Stern Report for G7
Climate - Extreme Weather
Western states face drought, smog and scorching temperatures
Portland records hottest ever day as heatwave scorches Pacific north-west
CCC third assessment
Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/geralt-9301/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=725143">Gerd Altmann</a> from <a href=“https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=725143">Pixabay</a>