Dr. Emma Hill, Coventry University: Тhe world commitment on COP26, while laudable, is simply not going to drive action quick enough

Larger businesses are likely, in time, to be legally required to set targets to achieve net zero.

Climate / Green Transition
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With Dr. Emma Hill, Associate Head of the Department of School Quality and Accreditation at the School of Energy, Civil Engineering and the Environment at Coventry University, UK, we discuss the results achieved and the outstanding issues that remain after the Conference of the Parties - COP26 in Glasgow.

Professionally and personally, she is committed to trying to create a better world. As a triathlete and mountaineer the environment, clean water, clean air and biodiversity are vital to her – for her it is personal.

In her current role, she works with both undergraduates and postgraduates within the Department of Geography, Environment and Disaster Management. She is module leader for Renewable Energy, Energy Policy, Electricity Production and Climate Change. She also deliver lectures on sustainable development in the UK and supervise both undergraduate and postgraduate dissertations/projects.

Her key interests lie in stakeholder engagement in climate change and energy, but increasingly in how students learn in these areas.

She has worked on climate change adaptation and mitigation for Severn Trent Water, where she is focussed on analysing current and future trends in our greenhouse gas emissions to help the business plan its carbon mitigation strategy. I have also worked on integrating adaptation to climate change into business as usual and project managed the organisation’s response under the Adaptation Reporting Power.

Specialties: Environmental education, climate change mitigation and adaptation, ISO 14001/BS8555 implementation and training, the Carbon Reduction Commitment, environmental data analysis, project management

What does she comments special for 3e-news.net:

 

Dr. Emma Hill, what did world leaders agree at COP26 about measures about deforestation?

Forests are a critical part of the world’s climate system as they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They also act as a significant source of income and subsistence for some 1.6bn people, including 60m indigenous peoples.

Forests around the world are removed for food production, mining & mineral extraction and wood products.  The IPCC estimates that some 13% of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with deforestation. Deforestation also endangers indigenous communities and leads to soil erosion and desertification.

The new pledge is a significant improvement from the declaration made in New York in 2014. That initial agreement, was only signed by 40 countries and only covered tropical forest, but between 2014 and 2018 the rate of deforestation actually increased by 48%. Leaders in those countries that did sign up or those countries that didn’t sign up but experienced significant rates of deforestation didn’t buy into the process and in some cases actively encouraged mining and logging in tropical forests and cutting funding for agencies that tracked and prosecuted illegally logging and forest clearance. It was widely accepted as a failure.

On Tuesday, 100 countries pledged to end deforestation by 2030, covering around 85% of the world’s forests. But tropical forestry is not the only focus of the new pledge. Russia for example has 23% of the planet’s forest, but has experienced an 8.4% decrease since 2000 – 17% of the global total, associated with logging, poor management and mining, but has signed the agreement.

The new pledge also offers $19bn for forest protection, support for indigenous communities and reforestation, including $1bn specifically to protect forestry in The Democratic Republic of Congo. Furthermore, financial institutions are increasingly under pressure from investors and consumers and are taking action to end investment in activities linked to deforestation.

While experts herald the COP26 deforestation pledge as a significant improvement, critics are questioning why it will take 9 years to enact. That the commitment, while laudable, is simply not going to drive action quick enough.

What does it mean for citizens and businesses?

Illegal timber trade and illegal clearance for mining and agriculture is estimated to contribute to a significant proportion of deforestation, and it is a significant proportion of what we buy. As consumers, whether individual or as a business, we need to be more aware of where our wood products and where our food comes from and making conscious decisions to ensure that we are not buying products that may have come from forests that should be protected or from businesses that are less responsible when it comes to deforestation.

Over 90 countries signed to cut 30% of the global methane emissions, but China, Russia, India, Australia did not, how will that influence the markets in the world USA, Europe, Africa, Asia?

Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases, it’s 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide, over a 100-year period, and is responsible for a third of current warming from human activities. Methane comes from agriculture, particularly rice cultivation and cattle production, but it also comes from fossil fuel production. In 2019 atmospheric methane reached record levels, around two-and-a-half times above what they were in the pre-industrial era – thought to be associated with the growth in fracking (hydraulic fracturing) for natural gas.

The UK and the US are driving this voluntary pledge, but it has not been agreed with Australia, Russia, China and India – all significant producers of methane from both agriculture and fossil fuels.

While this is a significant step, it is one of many measures that need to be taken, not a measure that is taken at the expense of others. We need solutions that reduce methane and carbon dioxide. For example, if we stop fossil fuel extraction, we will reduce a third of all human-caused methane emissions as well as reducing carbon emissions.

It’s too early to tell what impact a voluntary pledge to reduce methane will have, but the message from experts is clear - that we need to keep our focus on carbon dioxide reduction. 

What will be the most significant thing that is going to achieve world economics at COP26?

While the Paris Agreement was signed by 192 countries and had far more buy-in than previous climate agreements, the pledges submitted do not put us on the right trajectory to keep global temperature to only a 1.5-degree rise. The UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2021 shows that pledges would put the world on track for a global temperature rise of 2.7°C by the end of the century. Therefore, the most significant thing that could come out of COP26 is a stronger and quicker commitment to and implementation of a net-zero carbon strategy by 2050. The UNEP estimates that to keep global warming below 1.5°C this century we need to halve annual greenhouse gas emissions in the next eight years.

Net zero plans will be a positive thing for the economy as estimates show such strategies will create jobs in areas such as renewable heat and power, sustainable transport, sustainable investment, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen production and reforestation.

How ambitious do business targets need to be for these new targets? 

Businesses are part of the net-zero carbon solution. Many businesses may have no de-carbonisation targets at all, let alone a net zero carbon target.

Larger businesses are likely, in time, to be legally required to set targets to achieve net zero. However, this may be driven through contractual and tendering processes. If a business wants to supply government or wants to supply another business it will need to demonstrate a commitment to decarbonisation and net zero carbon.

Setting reduction targets helps businesses understand where their emissions come from, target decarbonisation and therefore future-proof growth, save money, and boost investor and consumer confidence. In addition, target setting and striving to achieve targets drives innovation.

What will the minimum requirements be for these new targets? 

In the UK, the target is for large, listed businesses to achieve net zero. i.e. to decarbonise and what cannot be reduced or removed needs to be offset.

How difficult will this be for businesses to achieve?

For large businesses it’s likely that this won’t be that difficult. In the UK, large, listed businesses have already been legally required to measure and report their carbon emissions and energy consumption. Driven by the need to attract and retain investors, many of these businesses are disclosing their carbon emissions setting targets and have also signed up to voluntary strategies such as the Science Based Targets Initiative and the Carbon Disclosure Project.   

 

It would be easier for big businesses like the companies of Bill Gates, but what does it mean for medium and small businesses?

Yes, in many respects it will be easier for bigger businesses to set and achieve targets. Typically, they have more financial and human resource to put in place systems to govern, manage and respond to climate change. Many businesses may already have legal requirements to monitor and report their carbon emissions, and so already have systems and teams in place to collect, analyse and submit the data.

Reporting your carbon footprint is legally binding for large businesses in the UK and has been since 2013, but target setting is not. However, target setting and developing and implementing a strategy is now expected of customers, consumers and investors. Those that do not set a target, report progress and do all they can to achieve that target are likely to lose out to those who do.

It’s unlikely that smaller businesses (less than 250 employees) will be legally required to set targets. However, we are seeing larger businesses making target setting, and carbon/energy/waste efficiency, a requirement in the tender and contract process. So, if smaller businesses don’t engage, they won’t win the work.

What advice would you give to the small companies, what are the risks they could avoid and what are the opportunities for them?

Some of the biggest risks include fluctuations in the price of energy (gas for heating/hot water), electricity and/or fuel for transport or changes in the cost of waste disposal.

The less you use, the more efficiently you use it, the more money you can save.

The other consideration is that smaller businesses may be less resilient when it comes to the impact of climate change – they don’t necessarily have another building they can move into in the event of flood, or a diverse supply chain that they can rely on if one supplier is unavailable due to extreme weather. So smaller businesses should consider undertaking a climate change risk assessment to determine which of their activities, products and services could be affected by climate change and extreme weather, and then identifying ways in which the most significant of these risks can be reduced is crucial.

How can they cooperate better with government, municipalities and universities and to cooperate with other businesses?

Smaller businesses can use other businesses and universities for ideas, innovation and support either in how to calculate their carbon footprint or in identifying solutions to reduce that footprint. As a collective; small, medium and large businesses can work together to lobby government (national and local) for funding, incentives and grants for things such as renewable energy installation or changes in regulation.

How can each small business reduce its carbon footprint? What does it cost?

In the first instance, nothing. There are quick wins such as switching off lights, driving or travelling less, ensuring taps are switched off to save energy and water, all of which will reduce carbon.

Sending waste to landfill leads to methane emissions and because of the wider environmental implications it is also very expensive. So, reducing waste, re-using materials or recycling waste will all save money and reduce emissions. In some instances, businesses can make money by selling their waste to recycling companies.

Larger scale projects can also be considered. Investment in new energy efficient lighting or equipment or new electric vehicles might seem like a great expense, but the savings in the long run are significant. For example, a recent report from a large insurance company showed that, in the UK, while the cost of an electric vehicle is 22% more expensive, the fuel and tax are 58% and 49% cheaper, respectively, thus making the overall lifetime cost of an electric vehicle 21% cheaper.

 

 

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