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Fossil fuel production on track for double the safe climate limit

The world’s nations are on track to produce more than twice as much coal, oil and gas as can be burned in 2030 while restricting the rise in the global temperature to 1.5C, analysis shows.

The report said it was crucial that workers in fossil fuel industries were helped into new employment as production ramped down

The report said it was crucial that workers in fossil fuel industries were helped into new employment as production ramped down

The report is the first to compare countries’ stated plans for fossil fuel extraction with the goals of the Paris climate agreement, which is to keep global heating well below 2C above pre-industrial levels, and to aim for 1.5C. It exposes a huge gap, with fossil fuel production in 2030 heading for 50% more than is consistent with 2C, and 120% more than that for 1.5C.

Scientists have warned that even the difference between 1.5C and 2C of heating will expose hundreds of millions of people to significantly higher risks of extreme heatwaves, drought, floods and poverty.

The report was produced by the UN Environment Programme and a coalition of research organisations. It complements an earlier UN analysis showing the current Paris agreement pledges to cut emissions would still lead to a catastrophic 3-4C rise.

“We’re in a deep hole – and we need to stop digging,” said Måns Nilsson, executive director of the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), which was part of the analysis. “Despite more than two decades of climate policymaking, fossil fuel production levels are higher than ever.”

Most action to tackle the climate crisis involves reducing emissions, but Inger Andersen, head of the UN Environment Programme, said a focus on fossil fuel production was long overdue. Most of the action pledges made by countries under the Paris deal do not even mention changes to production.

The UK is a “striking” example of this mismatch, said Cleo Verkuijl, at the SEI’s centre in Oxford, UK. It was the first major economy to commit to net zero emissions by 2050, she said, but also subsidises fossil fuel production at home and abroad and intends to extract “every drop of oil and gas” from its North Sea fields. In recent years, the UK oil and gas industry has received £176m more annually in government support than it paid in taxes, the report said.

The UK Oil and Gas Authority said in a statement: “Oil and gas will remain an important part of our energy mix for the foreseeable future, including under net-zero scenarios. Maximising the economic recovery from the UK remains vital to meet those energy demands as long as they exist, and to reduce reliance on imports.”

The report’s warning was strongly backed by senior figures. “Ensuring a liveable planet for future generations means getting serious about phasing out coal, oil and gas,” said Christiana Figueres, at Mission 2020 and is the person who delivered the Paris agreement in 2015 as the UN’s top climate official. “Countries such as Costa Rica, Spain and New Zealand are already showing the way forward, with policies to constrain exploration and extraction – others must now follow their lead. There is no time to waste.”

Prof Nicholas Stern, at the London School of Economics, said: “This important report shows planned levels of coal, oil and gas production are dangerously out of step with the goals of the Paris agreement.”

The report highlights the nations that are taking some action, including the closure of most coal mines in Spain and some in China, along with the end of new offshore oil and gas exploration licences in New Zealand and some parts of the Arctic governed by Canada, the US and Norway.

Verkuijl said a global agreement to phase out production would be ideal but is difficult at present with the US under President Donald Trump, as the country is due to withdraw from the Paris agreement. But she said many Democratic presidential candidates have promised to cut fossil fuel production by restricting extraction on public land, for example, or removing subsidies. She said such a candidate beating Trump in the 2020 election would be a “gamechanger”.

The report said it was crucial that workers in fossil fuel industries were helped into new employment as production ramped down. “Leaders need to [talk with] workers and their unions to plan a just transition away from fossil fuels,” said Sharan Burrow, head of the International Trade Union Confederation.

The analysis is based on the published national plans of eight key producers: Australia, Canada, Russia, US, China, India, Indonesia and Norway, which account for 60% of global fossil fuel production. The plans of other big producers, including Saudi Arabia and Iran, are not publicly available. The researchers assumed these nations would follow similar paths as the eight countries that were covered.

Damian Carrington

This article first appeared on the Guardian

edie is part of the Guardian Environment Network 


From case-study to company-wide vision: How Absolut is expanding its carbon neutrality ambitions

EXCLUSIVE: Back in 2013, The Absolut Company achieved carbon-neutral certification for its distillery in the Swedish village of Ahus. With its sights now set on company-wide carbon neutrality by 2030, how will the company turn this case study into an overarching vision?

Pictured: Absolut’s director of sustainable performance Tina Robertsson at the company's only distillery, which has been certified as carbon-neutral since 2013. 

Pictured: Absolut’s director of sustainable performance Tina Robertsson at the company’s only distillery, which has been certified as carbon-neutral since 2013. 

With less than 10,000 permanent residents, Ahus, Sweden, is perhaps not the place you’d expect to find pioneering low-carbon technologies.

 But aside from eel-eating parties and handball tournaments, it’s where Absolut has been producing its namesake vodka for more than a century. Since 2004, the company has been using just one distillery to produce all vodka it sells across 150+ markets and, six years ago, the facility received carbon neutral certification.

Reaching this status required a number of changes: the facility was placed on a 100% renewable electricity contract which prioritises locally generated hydropower; energy efficiency systems were implemented; investments were made in carbon offsets that fund reforestation in Mexico.

Progress at the distillery has laid the foundations for Pernod-Ricard-owned Absolut to set an ambitious emissions pledge in 2016: to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030, across not only direct (Scope 1) and power-related (Scope 2) areas, but indirect (Scope 3) sources too.

Speaking exclusively to edie, Absolut’s director of sustainable performance Tina Robertsson explained that achieving carbon neutrality for the distillery was a “long journey” consisting of two key steps – namely championing operational efficiencies and then assessing lifecycle emissions across the value chain. Crucially, it was the latter of these steps that ultimately resulted in Absolut’s 2030 target.

“Initially, we were focusing on our energy efficiency – we have a philosophy that the best energy we use is the energy we don’t use at all,” Robertsson said, noting that the distillery’s energy consumption in 2018 was 40% lower than in 2004.

“Step two was taken when we realised we wanted to have wider and bigger impacts for the whole value chain.”

Challenge as opportunity

To that end, Absolut completed an analysis of its Scope 3 emissions in 2014, concluding that most were accounted for by three key activities: wheat cultivation, packaging, and transport.

“It was important for us to see the areas which we needed to focus on; as we’d worked so hard on production, we set a target to achieve carbon-neutral production without compensation [offsetting] by 2030 and begun analysing other which other aspects of the value chain we could work on,” Robertsson said.

On the first of these areas – wheat – Absolut prides itself on having a “one source story” to tell and procures all wheat from a network of farms in Skane, Sweden. This, Robertsson explains, helps to ensure traceability and consistency. But, as with most agricultural activity, it also generates CO2 emissions from fertiliser and spurs the soil itself to emit NOx.

In order to reduce these emission sources, Robertsson said, workers on Absolut’s 338 farms will shortly be required to sign an updated version of the company’s contract, which will commit them to using fertiliser produced using resource-efficient, low-carbon methods. They will also be supported to switch to biofuel tractors.

While work on wheat sustainability has been ongoing since the 1990s, decarbonising Absolut’s transport, Robertsson added, remains “the hardest part” of the puzzle. While “having the power of agreements” has helped the firm begin to transition to biogas-powered and electric road transport, container shipping will be a harder battle.

According to a report by the European Parliament, the international shipping industry is currently responsible for about 2.5% of global CO2 emissions – more than aviation. Many nations and corporates have signed the IMO’s agreement to halve emissions by 2023, against a 2008 baseline, but with slow progress in electrifying larger vessels and industrialising low-carbon fuels, high levels of offsetting remain firmly on the table as a solution.

Absolut’s final central carbon challenge, packaging, largely stems from the fact that its portfolio consists almost entirely of glass bottles and aluminium cans. While these materials benefit from higher reuse and recycling rates than plastic and are therefore less likely to end up polluting land or water, they are most carbon-intense to produce and heavier to transport. Indeed, some lifecycle analyses of beverage packaging have concluded that aluminium and glass used in this way generate 11 and 30 times more emissions than PET.

Aware of these issues but wishing to avoid the so-called ‘war on plastics’, Absolut’s head of future packaging Louise Werner is working alongside Robertsson to increase the proportion of recycled glass used in vodka bottles and to help the company’s glass manufacturer increase biogas use.

The company’s ability to do this, Werner admitted, is largely due to its geographical location and its suppliers’ “growing interest” in climate issues.

“In Sweden, more and more companies are showing an interest in biogas,” Werner said. “Here, this work is about collaboration. Yes, it’s a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity to go on a journey together.”

Continual collaborations

Aside from glass, Absolut’s latest collaborative initiative on low-carbon packaging was kick-started last month, when it joined the Paper Bottle Community. Under the initiative, the likes of Carlsberg and L’Oreal are working with material developer BillerudKorsnäs and bottle manufacturing specialist Alpla to create a paper-based beverage bottle that is both biodegradable and recyclable.

Carlsberg has created two prototype paper bottles, both with an inner “barrier” that enables them to house beer. One version prototype uses a thin recycled PET polymer film barrier, and the other a 100% bio-based PEF polymer film barrier.

Plastics critics have argued that switching away from glass and aluminium to pilot mixed-material packaging which contains plastics is disingenuous. But Werner sees the situation differently and emphasised Absolut’s desire not to roll out new packaging without full analyses of all environmental impacts across the lifecycle.

“As we enter a world with more single-use packaging, we need a different way of looking at our packaging portfolio,” she explained, noting that glass bottles experienced far higher reuse rates in the 1990s and prior. “When it comes to a single-use product, a paper bottle is a great thing – and when we get to the position of a bio-based and recyclable paper bottle, this could be a fantastic opportunity.”

“We’re cautious to make any predictions on timescale or impact, as this is a pioneering project and a developing project – but we’re hoping to know, within the next five years, what its full potential is; how the bottles will be transported; how they fit in to carbon reduction; how they will perform in different conditions and pressures; and so on.”

Prototypes of Absolut’s paper bottles will be completed in spring and used to house a ready-to-drink pre-mixed beverage, which Werner claims will be easier to contain using natural fibres than straight vodka, due to its lower alcohol content.

Not resting on their laurels, Absolut will also continue to collaborate with Pernod Ricard’s other brands in a bid to meet the overarching goals of the Group’s new sustainability strategy. The framework is aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and includes a science-based target to halve group-wide emissions across all Scopes by 2030 – a goal which Robertsson believes Absolut could help other brands deliver.

Absolut was a state-owned company until it was purchased by Pernod Ricard in 2008 – a move which enabled the business to expand to sell into 150 markets globally. While this expansion has undoubtedly increased emissions, Robertsson believes the Pernod Ricard takeover has ultimately been positive from a sustainability perspective, giving Absolut representatives the opportunity to sit on a sustainability steering committee and task force; access training; and collaborate in a pre-competitive way with other brands to share best practice.

She concluded: “As a brand within a group, we really try our best to have the lowest carbon emissions of all the cohort – but we don’t see this as competing. If we take the lead, we can help others; they can come to us for advice on technical solutions.

“We often have differences in the group and that is a strength.”

edie’s Net-Zero November

This article forms part of edie’s Net-Zero November, a month of content and events to inform and inspire sustainability professionals to push towards net-zero. You can read all our Net-Zero November content here.

Additionally, if you have a net-zero carbon target, or a commitment to set one, that has recently been announced you can add it to our Mission Possible Pledge Wall here.

Sarah George  


Net-Zero November: edie launches net-zero for business guide

Organisations looking to understand the various issues surrounding the hot topic of net-zero, and how it can be applied to their businesses, now have access to a crucial new edie Explains guide, which breaks down everything you need-to-know on the topic.

The new business guide, produced in association with edie’s supporting partner Centrica Business Solutions, provides an in-depth summary of net-zero and the various pathways, as well as how businesses can apply the principles, as well as the potential ever-shifting policy landscape that could impact the concept and how companies can respond.

The guide looks at: What is net-zero? How does your business need to comply and what is the UK legislative understanding of net-zero? What are the big-ticket issues such as carbon offsetting and collection emissions data? And what considerations should be taken when attempting to meet net-zero, and should you consider scope 1,2, and 3 emissions?

This free edie Explains guide gives you everything you need to know, whatever your relationship to net-zero and target setting.

The nine-page guide also incorporates a number of ‘top tips’ and concludes with an industry viewpoint, provided by Centrica Business Solutions, which provides a summary of the key findings of the report.

Writing in the viewpoint, Director at Centrica Business Solutions, Ian Hopkins, said: “The climate emergency clock is ticking. It’s time to convert all the net-zero talk into detailed strategic planning and vigorous action, so what does this involve?

“Organisations must put sustainability and resource efficiency at the heart of their growth strategies. This starts with improving energy emissions performance, which will yield major carbon savings.”


EasyJet to offset all flight emissions, pushes for electric aircraft vision

EasyJet has become the first airline to operate net-zero flights, after agreeing to offset all emissions from fuel starting today (19 November) and will continue to work on rolling out electric aircraft in the future.

EasyJet will also look to champion carbon capture technologies and sustainable aviation fuels in order to decarbonise its flights and operations. Image: EasyJet

EasyJet will also look to champion carbon capture technologies and sustainable aviation fuels in order to decarbonise its flights and operations. Image: EasyJet

EasyJet, which has reduced the carbon emissions for each kilometre flown by a passenger by 33% since 2000, has announced it will source carbon offsets as part of an “interim measure” towards decarbonising its flights.

Offsets will be delivered through verified projects accredited by the Gold Standard and Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS), covering forestry schemes, renewables and community projects.

EasyJet’s chief executive Johan Lundgren said: “Climate change is an issue for all of us. At easyJet we are tackling this challenge head on by choosing to offset the carbon emissions from the fuel used for all of our flights starting today. In doing so we are committing to operating net-zero carbon flights across our network – a world first by any major airline. 

“We acknowledge that offsetting is only an interim measure until other technologies become available to radically reduce the carbon emissions of flying, but we want to take action on carbon now.  We also need governments to support efforts to decarbonise aviation. In particular, they must reform aviation taxes to incentivise efficient behaviour, fund research and development in new technology and ensure that early movers such as EasyJet are not penalised.”

Many green groups have criticised the use of offsetting as a means for companies to avoid delivering any meaningful action on emissions reductions. The certification of carbon offsets is convoluted as many schemes offer differing prices. Up until recently, the certifications themselves were being questioned, although the introduction of the VCS and Gold Standard has added some authentication to the system. VCS-certified offsets are audited according to the Kyoto protocol, for example.

Electric vision

EasyJet is targeting a 10% reduction on carbon emissions per passenger kilometre by 2022 and used the offset announcement to shed new light on its electric aircraft vision.

The airline has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Airbus on a joint research project for hybrid and electric aircraft. It is also supporting Wright Electric, which is aiming to produce an all-electric plane which could be used for short-haul flights. Additional partnerships with Rolls Royce and Safran to reduce the carbon footprint of flying have also been introduced.

EasyJet will also look to champion carbon capture technologies and sustainable aviation fuels in order to decarbonise its flights and operations.

EasyJet is the latest airline to turn to offsets to deliver net-zero flights. Australian airline group Qantas will invest $50m in sustainable fuel over the next decade and offset growth in emissions from international and domestic flights in order to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

International Airlines Group (IAG), the parent company of British Airways (BA), became the first airline group to commit to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, as BA also announced plans to offset all domestic passenger flight emissions next year.

Several NGOs offering carbon offsetting have reported a fourfold increase in investment over the past two years. A recent edie webinar explored whether offsets were at risk of greenwashing strategies. You can read the key findings here.

Matt Mace


ENA calls for mandatory hydrogen boilers as CBI outlines new sustainability vision

Replacing existing gas boilers with hydrogen-ready devices should be mandatory when they reach the end of their life, the Energy Networks Association (ENA) has urged in its general election manifesto.

Heat currently accounts for 15% of the UK's annual greenhouse gas emissions

Heat currently accounts for 15% of the UK’s annual greenhouse gas emissions

The document, which has appeared today (19 November) ahead of the publication of the political parties’ manifestos during the upcoming week, says more must be invested in innovation trials for low-carbon heating systems and hydrogen-ready boilers made mandatory once these are complete.

It states that the UK government’s promised 2020 Heat Roadmap must “embrace short–term solutions, minimise disruption to homes and businesses, and keep costs low for the public”.

The ENA says a long-term policy mechanism is needed to boost the amount of green gas on the grid from the 2021 end of the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme, which currently provides support for such fuels.

It also says that “at least one” net-zero industrial cluster should be live by 2025 to test CCUS (carbon capture, usage and storage) technologies.

Electric vehicle (EV) smart charging tariffs must be introduced and support must be maintained for emerging local energy markets, new forms of flexibility to manage the grid and the shift to Distribution System Operators.

The network companies want the government and Ofgem to provide more direction on future-proofing energy networks so that they can provide further support for the roll-out of infrastructure such as EV charging points and green gas refuelling stations.

And the ENA joins call for Ofgem to be equipped with a new statutory duty to help achieve net zero, while the Treasury must emphasise the role of private investment in complementing public spending when it publishes its upcoming strategy for achieving decarbonisation.

ENA chief executive David Smith said: “Climate change is the defining issue of our time and the message for our political leaders is clear – the time for action is now. Our energy network companies stand ready to play a bigger role – by working together we can ensure a fair transition to net-zero.”

The publication of the ENA’s manifesto follows that of the CBI’s own wishlist, which came out ahead of the business body’s annual conference yesterday (18 November). 

This calls for the next government to pass legislation by 2021 for the Future Homes Standard for energy efficiency with full implementation in 2025.

It also urges clarity of the government’s heat policy plans during 2020 and the development of a privately financed RAB (regulated asset base) model for CCUS in the early 2020s to help bring forward such projects.

And it urges the development of a competitive market framework for supporting the development of the electrolysis for producing hydrogen, while continuing support for the development of Small Modular Reactor designs for mini-nuclear plants.

David Blackman

This article first appeared on edie’s sister title website, Utility Week


Environmental consultancies team up to launch sector-wide ‘Pledge to Net-Zero’

The Pledge aims to unite the entirety of the sector in line with the UK's national net-zero target. Image: WSP

The Pledge aims to unite the entirety of the sector in line with the UK’s national net-zero target. Image: WSP

Environmental consultancies WSP and AECOM have teamed up to launch a new pledge campaign, urging companies from across the environmental services sector to set science-based targets and report annually on decarbonisation progress.

Called ‘Pledge to Net-Zero’, the commitment requires signatories to set approved science-based targets in line with the Paris Agreement’s more ambitious 1.5C trajectory. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) research has found that meeting this aim will require global emissions to reach net-zero by mid-century.

Signatories to the ‘Pledge to Net-Zero’ are also required to publicly report their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across all Scopes and to detail progress to reduce them on an annual basis.

The third and final pillar of the Pledge requires signatories to publish research or thought-leadership on practical steps to deliver a net-zero economy every year.

AECOM and WSP have both signed the Pledge themselves and claim it could help “showcase the UK’s environmental services sector as a world leader” in decarbonisation. 

“The environmental services sector is at the heart of delivering a sustainable and prosperous economy through its advice,” WSP’s UK director of sustainability David Symons said. “It’s tremendously exciting that the sector has now come together to take action on its own greenhouse gas emissions.”

The Pledge is not being led by WSP and AECOM, and, instead, will be led by the Society for the Environment (SocEnv), the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE), the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) and the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC). Each of these bodies will encourage their members to sign up. 

“The transition to net-zero carbon emissions is the defining challenge of our time,” IEMA’s chief policy advisor Martin Baxter added.  “We are fully supportive of the environmental services sector pledging science-based emissions reductions which align with the urgency of addressing the climate and environmental emergency.”

edie’s Net-Zero November

edie is currently running Net-Zero November, a month of content and events to inform and inspire sustainability professionals to push towards net-zero. You can read all Net-Zero November content here.

Additionally, if you have a net-zero carbon target, or a commitment to set one, that has recently been announced you can add it to our Mission Possible Pledge Wall here.

Sarah George


National Grid commits to net-zero emissions target for 2050

The National Grid has announced a commitment to reduce its direct greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050, the same timeframe as the UK Government’s legislative target.

National Grid has also pledged to spur the reduction of emissions that are outside of its direct control

National Grid has also pledged to spur the reduction of emissions that are outside of its direct control

National Grid’s net-zero target builds on an existing strategy to deliver a 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and an 80% reduction by 2050 for direct emissions from a 1990 baseline. The National Grid has recorded a 68% reduction to date.

The new target recognises the need to assist government and business on the transition to net-zero and National Grid will work to reduce gas pipeline leakage and electrify its fleet to help reach the target.

“All of the regions in which we operate have aspirations for a clean energy future, and we want to play our part in helping them get there,” National Grid’s chief executive John Pettigrew said.

“That’s why, as well as our own direct emissions, we are also committed to working with government and regulators in all the markets we serve to help them meet their own carbon reduction emission targets.”

National Grid has also pledged to spur the reduction of emissions that are outside of its direct control. The organisation will deliver energy efficiency programmes to help domestic households reduce consumption and will incentivise its supply chain to reduce the carbon impact of construction projects.

ESO 2025

The operating firm for National Grid – National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) – has claimed that the emergence and integration of new technologies mean that a zero-carbon electricity grid by 2025 would be feasible.

Outlined in a  ‘Zero carbon operation of the electricity system by 2025‘ report, the ESO claims that new systems, products and services will be put in place over the next six years to support the transition to a decarbonised grid.

In 2018, ESO provided key services that enabled numerous firsts for the UK electricity system. Wind generation exceeded 15GW for the first time, for example, while the country also ran using no coal for 72 consecutive hours in 2018.

The year saw a record-breaking amount of new UK offshore wind capacity installed, while weekly and daily generation records were continuously smashed over a 12-month period.

The latest Government statistics revealed that the renewables share of generation reached 33% in 2018, an increase of 3.9% compared to 2017. Overall, low-carbon sources (renewables and nuclear) accounted for 52.8% of total generation in 2018. 

Matt Mace


REA: Policy gaps mean Britain is failing to finance ‘crucial’ shift to flexible power system

Britain is failing to attract and facilitate investment in the transition to a flexible electricity system – a transition described as “crucial” to the delivery of the UK’s 2050 net-zero target.

Despite Britain's poor ranking at present, the REA believes the correct policy support could help the nation "bounce back". 

Despite Britain’s poor ranking at present, the REA believes the correct policy support could help the nation “bounce back”. 

That is according to a report published by the Renewable Energy Association (REA) today (13 November), which tracks investment in flexibility services since 2017 across nine European nations: Britain, France, Germany, Norway, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands.

The report ranks Britain eighth of the nine countries, stating that the deployment of renewable generation, and technologies to balance the variable output of generation methods such as wind and solar, are likely to be “hampered” in the late 2020s.

Factors contributing to this impending slump include technical challenges with connecting to the network and a lack of visibility on returns – both of which, the REA claims, are underpinned by regulatory uncertainty. Particular policy concerns outlined in the report include a lack of short-term and medium-term frameworks around energy storage, electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure and compensation structures to support the shift from a “consumer” model to a “prosumer” model.

The only nation to have fared worse than Britain in the ranking, commissioned by Drax and Eaton, was France. In contrast, the Netherlands came top of the table, with the REA highlighting the fact that national policies already lay out a “clear and transparent” roadmap to a flexible energy system in which the transition impacts on all stakeholders are considered.

“Decarbonising power means delivering flexibility; in a world of very low-cost variable renewable electricity, grids need to be organised differently and some services which were once taken for granted need to be actively procured,” the REA’s chief executive Nina Skorupska said.

“Crucially, as renewable power prices fall around the world every country will be experiencing the same shift. If Britain becomes a flexibility pioneer, then a whole world of markets for exporting our products and services opens up. Whilst this index shows we’re lagging behind, there’s still time to bounce back.”

In related news, a separate report this week found that just one in ten of the world’s largest 132 coal, electricity and oil and gas companies have set time-bound net-zero targets.

Net-zero manifesto

The REA last week published a five-point manifesto detailing how the UK’s next Government could deliver this so-called “bounce back”.

The manifesto urges political parties to ensure that funding and planning need to decarbonise is a central consideration of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Office through an independent body with the ability to enforce Government to act on decarbonisation.

It additionally calls for renewable energy and clean technology to be central to a Net Zero Treasury; the reformation of Ofgem to ensure energy network operators modernise energy systems; support for local authorities to reach net-zero through ring-fenced funding, and delivering a just transition to developing a workforce that takes high-quality skilled workers from the fossil fuel sector into new green jobs across the UK.

The manifesto builds on the REA’s work with ElectraLink on its ‘Flexible Futures’ report, which was published last month and revealed that the amount of energy generated and ‘exported’ back to the British grid doubled between 2012 and 2018, largely led by renewable generation.

The REA’s Skorupska recently delivered a rousing keynote speech at edie’s SPARK! event for energy leaders, outlining the ways in which UK businesses can harness the ‘untapped’ potential of net-zero. Listen to that speech in full here

Sarah George


First steps: What must businesses focus on now to deliver a net-zero UK by 2050?

According to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the UK’s delivery against its 2050 net-zero target will require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” – but where, exactly, should the business response start?

Pictured (L-R): Jonathan Murray, LowCVP; Nick Turton, The Energy Institute; Susanne Baker, TechUK; Caroline Bragg, the ADE; Nina Skorupska, The REA; and Luke Nicholls, edie (chairing). 

Pictured (L-R): Jonathan Murray, LowCVP; Nick Turton, The Energy Institute; Susanne Baker, TechUK; Caroline Bragg, the ADE; Nina Skorupska, The REA; and Luke Nicholls, edie (chairing). 

That was the key discussion point for a panel of energy experts at edie’s SPARK 2.0 event in Birmingham late last week.

Hosted in a bid to collaboratively spark ideas and innovations to accelerate the business path to net-zero, the one-day event for members of edie’s Energy Leaders Club began with a rousing keynote speech from the REA’s chief executive Nina Skorupska and continued with a panel discussion featuring expert representatives from TechUK, the Association for Decentralised Energy (ADE), the Energy Institute and the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership (LowCVP).

With individual businesses, trade bodies and green think-tanks alike having all criticised the Government for failing to lay out sector-specific short-term and medium-term roadmaps for reaching net-zero by mid-century, members of the panel were asked to summarise the areas they believe businesses need to be focusing in on now – with or without policy support.

Here are there five key “focus areas” for businesses of all sizes and sectors, whether they’re aiming for net-zero in line with the Government’s deadline or striving to meet a more ambitious timescale.

Road transport – particularly light-duty vehicles

As expected, LowCVP’s policy & operations director Jonathan Murray began the debate by highlighting the urgency of decarbonising what is currently the UK’s most-emitting sector: transport. The sector overtook power as the most-emitting sector in 2016, with key barriers to decarbonisation on roads including the upfront cost of electric vehicles (EVs), range anxiety and a lack of supporting investment in infrastructure.

Amidst this challenging backdrop, Murray urged businesses to focus on decarbonising their light-duty vehicles by 2025 “ideally” and 2030 “at the latest”, arguing that this sub-sector is “a sweet spot for policy and technology, where most of the progress has been focused”.

While admitting that “the Department for Transport hasn’t figured out how net-zero fits into its strategy” and that the body currently has “a plan for a plan”, businesses across the automotive sector have helped to bring technologies such as innovative fuels, retrofitting solutions and modern EVs to industrialisation – making them ready for investment.

As for heavier vehicles, Murray believes progress in this space is likely to continue to be slower. Citing the examples of UPS and John Lewis & Partners, he said: “There are some great solutions out there and some fleets that are really leading the way. Those are fantastic, but what we need to do is highlight these champions and use them as best practice examples, to bring that whole industry along. It’s a challenge because fleet managers, traditionally, managed diesel. We’ve got to get off that hook because this will start to set the direction of travel.”

The skills gaps of the present and future

BT is currently running a communications campaign – its biggest in two decades – which states that the jobs people will be taking in ten years’ time are likely to be vastly different from those required today.

That point was echoed by The Energy Institute’s external affairs director Nick Turton, who said: “The sort of roles that are going to be needed for this herculean task [of meeting net-zero] are very different today to what they were ten years ago, and will be very different, again, in ten years’ time.

“Convergence between sectors and the complexity this will require, particularly in terms of data, are going to be fundamental differences.”

In order to prepare for this shift, Turton urged listeners to ensure their organisations are taking a people-focused approach to net-zero, supporting their existing staff with training and constantly horizon-scanning to determine how their future teams could be laid out. He additionally highlighted the importance of “embedding” the spirit of public-led climate activism across all aspects of the business, demonstrating to prospective employees that your organisation sees reaching net-zero as “existentially and reputationally” vital.

Misconceptions and negative perceptions

The REA’s Skorupska also spoke of the importance of a people-focused approach, arguing that businesses should focus on bringing their customers and the general public on the net-zero journey as well as their staff.

She said: “One of our members did a survey of 2,000 members of the UK general public – 73% of whom said ‘the climate emergency is really important, so guess what? We should tackle plastics.’

“That is the only thing which they think, at the moment, will help address net-zero. Only 4% of them were aware about switching to a renewable energy provider.

“We’ve got a lot to do, but businesses have fantastic opportunities in all their different touch-points with the public to help get this message across – that net-zero isn’t a burden, but quite an exciting opportunity.”

Context-specific definitions, partnerships and innovations

TechUK’s associate director for climate, environment and sustainability Susanne Baker echoed Turton’s sentiments around “riding the swell of public interest” in climate issues and agreed with his assertion that this movement seems to be “more permanent” at present than it was when the original Climate Change Act was ratified in 2008. For Baker, this shift is bolstered by the creation of the UK’s post-Brexit climate watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP).

But she also noted that even the best-prepared businesses for this movement are struggling to identify how they could take the “unprecedented” transition to net-zero.

“For the tech sector, the focus in recent years has been around science-based targets,” Baker said. “That has been challenging enough, but net-zero is a whole different kettle of fish, and, to be honest, a lot of our members are still working out what this means for them.”

Baker explained that the majority of the companies which work with TechUK could single-handedly develop a context-specific definition of net-zero, along with a roadmap detailing key partnerships which will need to be forged and innovations which will need to be implemented, within a two-to-three-year window. She emphasised the importance of starting on such a piece of work immediately.

Flexible energy approaches

In line with the REA’s calls to action in its recent ‘Flexible Futures’ report, the Association for Decentralised Energy’s (ADE) senior policy manager Caroline Bragg emphasised the importance of business contributions to the creation of a more flexible energy system being made within the coming years.

She said that network operators are now “actively trying to understand how they get businesses more involved to help it meet system operability challenges” as more renewable generation comes online and as sectors such as transport are electrified, with the operating firm for the National Grid notably targeting net-zero by 2025.

“It’s a really good opportunity for us to set out what we need from the ESO to participate effectively,” Bragg said. “What we also have are the DNOs, who, again, have gone from putting cables in the ground to exploring what a being a DSO means and how they can get business involved to avoid putting cables in the ground.”

Bragg additionally highlighted the importance of continued energy efficiency improvements in any business model for flexible energy, calling for a “patchwork of solutions”.

UK-based organisations already offering flexible energy services or assets include the likes of Asda, Glasgow City Council and a string of SMEs in Cornwall, where the local DSO and the National Grid ESO this month procured flexible green energy from businesses and households simultaneously for the first time. 

edie’s Net-Zero November

SPARK 2.0 forms part of edie’s Net-Zero November, a month of content and events to inform and inspire sustainability professionals to push towards net-zero. You can read all our Net-Zero November content here.

Additionally, if you have a net-zero carbon target, or a commitment to set one, that has recently been announced you can add it to our Mission Possible Pledge Wall here.

Sarah George


Formula 1 targets net-zero by 2030

Formula 1 (F1) has today (12 November) set a 2030 net-zero target that covers the on-track activity of its cars and the series’ wider operations.

Details on how F1 plans to meet its 2030 target are detailed in its first sustainability strategy. Image: F1

Details on how F1 plans to meet its 2030 target are detailed in its first sustainability strategy. Image: F1

Developed after a 12-month collaboration with F1 teams, promoters, motorsports’ governing body (the FIA) and other key stakeholders, the net-zero plan states that F1 will begin work on key carbon reduction projects “immediately”.

The operators of the series have committed to use 100% renewable electricity, heating and cooling within their offices, facilities and factories by 2030, and to ensure that all logistics are ultra-efficient and either low or zero-carbon by the same deadline. Logistics notably account for 45% of F1’s annual carbon footprint.

As for race-day emissions, the plan includes measures to divert 100% of event waste from landfill by 2025 and an incentives package to support fans to use low-carbon transport to travel to and from events.  

On decarbonising the on-track activities of its cars, F1 as committed to “accelerate progress and develop technologies that reduce and eliminate carbon emissions from the current internal combustion engine (ICE)”. The series has used a hybrid power unit, combined with energy recovery systems, in all cars since 2014 – but believes it could improve this model to deliver a “net-zero carbon hybrid power unit”.

Given that all hybrids burn fuel of some description, the plan states that offsetting to some extent will be required to create such technology. F1 has said it will invest in offsets which further carbon sequestration, both in natural and man-made ways.

As a first step towards these targets, F1 has begun measuring its entire carbon footprint, its energy consumption mix and its waste footprints for the first time.

“Over its 70-year history, F1 has pioneered numerous technologies and innovations that have positively contributed to society and helped to combat carbon emissions,” F1’s chief executive and chairman Chase Carey said.

“From ground-breaking aerodynamics to improved brake designs, the progress led by F1 teams has benefitted hundreds of millions of cars on the road today. We believe F1 can continue to be a leader for the auto industry and work with the energy and automotive sector to deliver the world’s first net-zero carbon hybrid internal combustion engine that hugely reduces carbon emissions around the world.”

FIA president Jean Todt added that F1’s new plans are “not only very encouraging for the future of motorsport, but it could also have strong benefits for society as a whole”, noting that low-carbon F1 technologies are now being applied in sectors outside of transport and sport.

Sustainable sports

Sustainable sport may sound like an oxymoron, given that gathering crowds of thousands of fans in one place will inevitably generate more carbon and waste than if these people had all stayed at home.

The FIFA World Cup 2018, for example, accounted for the emission of 2.17 million tonnes of greenhouse gases – 57% of which were generated through transporting fans, teams, staff and products internationally.

Nonetheless, operational emissions from such large-scale events can be reduced, and these spectacles can also be used to showcase emerging technologies and drive behaviour change at scale around habits ranging from packaging recycling to electric vehicle (EV) adoption. For example, France’s governing body for professional football, the Lique de Football Professionnel (LFP), is working with WWF to engage its audiences with sustainability issues, while the FA Premier League is working with Sky to deliver a plastic-reduction campaign.

In motorsports specifically, Formula E is using its platform to champion the electrification of transport off the track and the potential for a circular economy for batteries. The all-electric series is working with recycling firm Umicore and Williams Advanced Engineering to showcase battery recycling and, since its inception, has been communicating the benefits of EVs to fans.

Be part of edie’s Net-Zero November

In light of the UK’s net-zero commitment and the huge opportunity this has presented to sustainability and energy professionals across the country, edie is running Net-Zero November: an entire month’s worth of content dedicated to informing and inspiring our readers to position themselves at the forefront of the net-zero revolution.

View all of our exclusive Net-Zero November content here

Make a net-zero-themed pledge on behalf of your organisation here.

Sarah George

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