Before looking at prospects for COP26 and other sustainability news, let's remember Sir David Amess MP, who lost his life last week while serving the public.
Hello and welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 22nd October, a week on from a very dark day in Britain. The murder of Sir David Amess MP reveals altruism and dedication as well as the risks that our public servants face in serving the public. RIP. May he rest in peace.
This week, unsurprisingly, there are many articles about the forthcoming COP26 conference in Glasgow.
The process begins at the end of the month. Even her Majesty the Queen has been quoted as being frustrated by the whole thing. Apparently she was overheard at the recent opening of the Welsh parliament saying how irritated she was by people who talk, but don't do. ““Extraordinary isn’t it?” she said, “I’ve been hearing all about Cop, still don’t know who is coming, no idea.”
Until recently it was assumed that Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison would not attend although he has now decided that he will be present. Australia of course has a very poor track record as far as emissions control is concerned and has set itself very vague targets. According to Climate Medicine, Australia is the 15th biggest CO2 producing country in the world and the second highest CO2 producer per capita.
A condition of the trade agreement recently negotiated with United Kingdom was that it would not specifically refer to respecting the provisions of the Paris agreement. This was described by the U.K.'s negotiators as a concession needed to get the deal “over the line.”
Far more important than Scott Morrison, of course, is Xi Jinping, president of China. So far he has said that he will not attend, although of course there will be a Chinese delegation. He may change his mind at the last minute. What he actually decides is crucial to the success of the conference because China is by far the world’s largest emitter. It's easy for us to criticise, but of course much of the pollution is created by factories which are making goods for our Western markets. As I commented last week, China will keep its economy going at all costs and that includes the costs of burning coal, threatening the planet and suffocating its population with particulates, soot and pollution. China recognises that net zero must be achieved but it has committed itself to 2060, a full decade later than commitments for most other countries. It has said that it will reach peak emissions in 2030, although the size of that peak has not been defined. The higher the peak and the longer it takes to reach net zero the more emissions are poured into the atmosphere, and even when we do reach net zero the intervening emissions may have made it too late for net zero to have any effect.
As preparations for COP26 continue, sponsors are complaining about poor organisation. They claim that junior civil servants with limited experience are in charge of the arrangements and that some of the commitments offered to sponsors are not being recognised. Others point out that the event is not all about sponsors it is about government commitments. To some extent all major conferences like this rubber-stamp sessions, following extensive diplomatic negotiations in the months leading up to the event. Alok Sharma, the conference chair, has been urgently visiting foreign capitals all over the world to inform, cajole, and encourage governments to redouble their efforts to fulfil and go beyond the provisions of the Paris agreement. There are plenty of naysayers, but let us recognise the crucial importance of COP26 and support anyone and everyone urging world governments to do the very, very best they can, as quickly as they possibly can.
Heat and Buildings Strategy
As host country, the British government is showcasing green credentials. It is on the point of publishing its heat and buildings strategy and it has already been revealed that from next spring consumers will be able to apply for a £5,000 grant towards the installation of a heat pump to replace a gas boiler. As you might expect, activists were quick to condemn the policy, which they see as too little, too late, pointing out that the funds allocated will be enough for 90,000 houses whereas over 20 million homes will probably need to make the upgrade. The government’s response is that the cost of heat pumps is expected to decline rapidly, making the subsidy unnecessary in the future.
Net Zero Strategy
As a result of the Parliamentary tributes paid to Sir David Amess publication of the full document has been delayed. The government’s net zero strategy is also expected in the next few days, before the financial statement, or budget, which the Chancellor will reveal next Wednesday 27th. There's comment that the Chancellor is at odds with the PM and is sceptical, to a degree, of the benefits of investing in the transition to net zero. Some claim that this plays well and to his advantage with climate sceptics within the Conservative party. If he does indeed restrict funds for investment in the transition and does so for this reason, it's about as morally defensible as ignoring the Paris Agreement in order to close a trade deal.
I reported last week that investors were removing Drax Power, which runs a major biomass-fuelled a power station in North Yorkshire, from their list of sustainable investments. Apparently unaware of this, the prime minister is set to present 12 businesses from across the UK who will showcase their green technology and innovations at a Global Investment Summit. One of the 12 is Drax Power. The Guardian reveals that Drax has been dropped from the S&P Global Clean Energy Index, amid reports that it is the most polluting site in the UK with a carbon footprint equivalent to that of Ghana.
Insulate Britain has suspended its direct action which has closed motorways to the intense frustration of motorists over the last few weeks. The point is that this nonviolent action by a group which numbers less than 120 people has gained wide attention. No doubt they will be present at COP26 continuing to make the point that it's not about heating homes as much as about stopping our homes from leaking out expensive energy. When the Heat and Buildings Strategy finally comes out it will be interesting to see what it says about insulation.
And in Other News…
Much favourable comment about the EarthShot Prize following the first award ceremony last weekend. The Earthshot prize's name is a reference to the "Moonshot" ambition of 1960s America, which saw then-President John F Kennedy pledge to get a man on the Moon within a decade.
Each year for the next decade, the prize is awarding £1m each to five projects that are working to find solutions to the planet's environmental problems.
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, is closely involved with Earthshot. "Time is running out," he said. "A decade doesn't seem long enough, but humankind has an outstanding record of being able to solve the unsolvable.”
Earlier this week, the duke suggested that rather than the world's top minds setting their sights on space tourism, they should instead focus on saving Earth.
Manure struck by Lightning
Coming right down to earth, we learn that manure can be improved by being struck by lightning. That makes a good headline, but in fact the story is about a process using artificial lightning or plasma to change the composition of manure. The result is an increase in available nitrogen in the product which means that the processed manure has more benefits as a fertiliser than just as a soil structure improver. The process also removes ammonia and reduces carbon emissions. The key question is whether it's cost-effective.
Steel is widely used in the construction industry particularly for the framework of high-rise buildings. The dilemma is that steelmaking is one of the industries with a major carbon footprint. It may be possible to reduce this by replacing coal in the process with hydrogen, but that leads to issues both with the production of green hydrogen and the cost of investment in new plants to work with hydrogen rather than coal. Would it be possible to build high without a steel structure?
A company in Norway has shown that it certainly would. Mjøstårnet: The Tallest Timber Building in the World is an 18-storey mixed-use building featuring apartments, offices, a hotel, and a restaurant.
Of course, the timber used is rather special and has been treated. The Glulap beams have a similar strength to steel and a better performance in fire. They simply char, whereas when steel gets hot it can buckle.
According to Wikipedia, the Japanese wood products company Sumitomo Forestry is proposing to build the W350 Project, a 350 m (1,150 ft), 70-floor tower to commemorate its 350th anniversary in 2041. There will be some steel, but it will be 90% wood. While groundbreaking will take place in 2024, completion is not expected before 2041. Not sure why it will take so long to build!
I’ve received news of a new documentary on droughts and water shortages in California. It's released early in November but I have a link to the trailer which you will find on the Sustainable Futures Report website.
The Role of H2O
And another story about water. Listener Ian Jarvis draws my attention to a paper published by the International Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences entitled “The Impact of CO2, H2O and Other “Greenhouse Gases” on Equilibrium Earth Temperatures”. Greenhouse gases is in inverted commas, and when you read the final sentence of their conclusion you will understand why. It says,
“There is no impending climate emergency and CO2 is not the control parameter of global temperatures, that accolade falls to H2O. CO2 is simply the supporter of life on this planet as a result of the miracle of photosynthesis.”
Controversial stuff. Has anyone told the IPCC? I don’t know anything about the International Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and I don’t know whether the articles it publishes are peer-reviewed. I am also not qualified to comment on the detailed and extensive calculations which the authors use to support their conclusion. Are you? There’s a link as always on the Sustainable Futures Report website. Have a look and tell me what you think.
And that’s it…
That's it for another week. As I wrap this up the government has just published its Net Zero Strategy. No time for review, I’m afraid, I’ll have to cover it in future. That may not be until 5th November. It’s half term and family commitments mean I shall be hard pressed to get an episode out. However, next Wednesday you can hear my interview with Ori Ben Ner about managing irrigation with artificial intelligence, and you’ve already had my Ecosia interview earlier this week. I’ve already recorded a further interview which will go out on 3rd November. I know that I’m producing more and more material, but I’m trying to make episodes shorter so they’re easier to handle. If only so many things would just stop happening!
I’m Anthony Day
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
Until next time.
HM on COP26
Heat and Buildings Strategy
Cost of Zero
Water Shortage - new film