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July 2020

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China, Batteries & Hydrogen

Tom Tugendhat MP: A leaked draft of the EU’s forthcoming Hydrogen Strategy shows where the next energy competition is coming from. After Germany’s announcement last week of €9 billion investment in hydrogen technology, eyes are turning to the UK. This isn’t just a new technology, it’s a chance for the UK to achieve energy independence, or remain reliant for another generation. As Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, looks for investment ready projects to boost growth in coming months and transform our future, he should be looking north east. Along the North Sea coast UK cities are transforming our energy options and our ability to lead. Our dependence on oil is set to end. The G7 have targeted phasing out all fossil fuel use by 2100. In the UK, coal powered power stations will close by 2024, new gas heating installations will be banned from 2025, and petrol, diesel and even hybrid cars will be banned by 2035. As we decarbonise our economy, the decisions we take about our energy supply today will determine the next phase of our energy security. Nowhere is that risk more pronounced that the transport industry. Just as Churchill set the course towards oil, so today, the push towards battery-powered vehicles risks the UK becoming totally reliant on batteries, those that produce them, and, crucially, those that control the critical rare base metals needed to make them. Despite the world-leading contribution of UK companies, such as JLR, and the cutting-edge research they’re doing in this field, and the welcome prospect of a Gigafactory in Wales, at the heart of each battery electric vehicle are resources, components and technology sourced largely from China. China now controls 73 per cent and rising of the world’s lithium cell manufacturing capability, and just one Chinese company has control over nearly half the global production of lithium itself. We are fast facing a situation where Beijing’s market share over a component that makes up roughly half the price of every vehicle is so dominant we’re dependent on a country which as today’s change in Hong Kong shows, is not interested in free societies or markets. Berlin’s Gigafactory shows Tesla is boosting battery production on the continent but has a long way to go if it will catch up. Projects like H21 led by the Northern Gas Network are exploring how 3.7 million English homes, as well as businesses, can become emission-free by 2034 through conversion from natural gas to 100 per cent hydrogen. Other pilot projects include the British rolling stock company Porterbrook’s Hydroflex train – the UK’s first hydrogen-powered train, developed in partnership with the University of Birmingham. Ballymena-based Wrightbus is building emission-free hydrogen buses, with a proposition to bring thousands of hydrogen buses to our roads over the next five years.

Times 2nd July 2020 read more »


20 UK retailers to jointly plot course to net-zero ahead of national deadline

Boots, Next and Marks & Spencer (M&S) are among the 20 major retailers who have this week pledged to jointly develop a net-zero roadmap for the retail sector, with a target more ambitious than the national 2050 requirement.

Grocery, food-to-go and fashion retailers are particularly well-represented in the cohort

Grocery, food-to-go and fashion retailers are particularly well-represented in the cohort

In a declaration coordinated by the British Retail Consortium (BRC), the coalition of retailers vowed to publish a roadmap in the run-up to COP26 in Glasgow, which was due to take place this winter but has now been postponed to November 2021.

The group will work with each other, environmental experts from the BRC and third parties to define the roadmap’s overarching pre-2050 deadline and create specific, time-bound measures towards complete net decarbonisation.

Three key areas, regarded as the UK retail sector’s largest sources of emissions, will be analysed: upstream supply chains, customers and direct operations. The latter of these pillars covers shops, distribution centres, warehouses, transport and logistics.

The BRC claims that there is currently no other net-zero roadmap for the UK’s retail sector that encompasses all of these emissions sources.

“We recognise that as retailers we are uniquely placed to support the UK’s journey to a low-carbon future,” the Consortium’s declaration states.

“By working collectively with our employees, customers, suppliers, Government and other stakeholders, we are confident we can overcome the shared barriers we face to tackling climate change and help the UK lead the way towards a better society and a better planet.”

Signing the declaration are Aldi UK, Amazon UK, the Booksellers Association of the UK & Ireland, Boots UK, Central England Co-operative, Co-op, Costa Coffee, Dixons Carphone, Greggs, IKEA UK & Ireland, Kingfisher, Lidl GB, M&S, Missguided, Musgrave, Next, Ocado, TJX, WH Smith and Morrison’s. Several of these firms have already unveiled net-zero targets deadlined at 2050 or sooner.

The BRC’s hope is that, once published, additional retailers will commit to following the roadmap on a voluntary basis. The Government could then mandate some or all of its facets, or simply run communications promoting the tool.

Feeling the crunch

The announcement for the BRC comes at a challenging time for the retail sector. Non-essential retailers in the UK were first permitted to open after lockdown on 23 June, meaning that those without online channels faced a complete halt in sales. Even businesses with online stores have faced challenges with social distancing in warehouses or the supply chain, and with changing consumer demands as lifestyles and budgets altered overnight.

According to the BRC, lockdown cost non-essential retailers a collective total of £1.8bn per week in lost sales. As the UK emerges into some form of ‘new normal’, many retailers have taken the decision to reduce their estates and staff bases, including John Lewis and Harrods. Others, such as TM Lewin, Bensons for Beds and Laura Ashley, have filed for administration.

Nonetheless, the BRC does not believe that climate change has fallen down the agenda for the sector.

Sarah George

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