What do terms like ‘net-zero’ and ‘cutting greenhouse gas emissions’ mean? Why are 2030 and 2050 critical dates? How do big global environmental problems affect our daily lives … and, importantly, how do our daily habits affect big global problems? For an increasing number of people, these are important questions.
However, there are more worrying concerns too, such as is a climate change disaster staring us in the face? If so, how can we stop it? And why is the word ‘adaptation’ suddenly high in the news?
Unfortunately, climate change and global warming are now mentioned so often that both are probably losing some of their impact. Fortunately, more people want to tackle them. The issues may sound complex. But hopefully we can make them easier to understand.
Action in our own local backyards …
Which is why – as Chairman – I am keen to promote Barnsley Council’s ‘Positive Climate Partnership’ (https://www.barnsley.gov.uk/services/our-council/our-environment/positive-climate-partnership/) which ‘champions and co-ordinates local action on climate change, bringing together individuals and organisations who collectively impact and build momentum around the zero carbon goal’.
Our goal at Enzygo (www.enzygo.com) is for all staff members to take up Carbon Literacy training on this day-long course, and I strongly urge other local groups and companies to do the same.
This is a good point to mention Barnsley’s Affordable Warmth Charter Mark which recognises what local businesses and community groups are doing to keep residents safe and warm in their homes (https://www.barnsley.gov.uk/services/housing/energy-at-home/barnsleys-affordable-warmth-charter-mark/). Joining is free, easy, very important, and is a strong statement of commitment!
Carbon Literacy …
I would also like to draw attention to the ‘Carbon Literacy’ programme (https://carbonliteracy.com/) which helps people come to grips with not only the science, but also the costs and impacts of carbon dioxide in human (anthropogenic) activities.
Importantly, it considers how we can fight back with tools like ‘adaptation’, which is an Enzygo priority.
Acting globally where every local action counts …
Local action is crucial. But nationally and internationally we must mention too the UN IPCC’s (International Panel for Climate Change) alarming March 2023 AR6 Synthesis Report. Based on a consensus of world scientists, it cautions that we face irreversible environmental damage without very urgent action (https://www.ipcc.ch/report/sixth-assessment-report-cycle/).
The UK’s Climate Change Committee (CCC) also warns in its 2023 report to Parliament that there is a ‘striking lack of climate preparation’. The Government has not included adaptation across the whole economy, it says, which potentially undermines net-zero targets and puts millions of people at risk.
The CCC wants a complete overhaul of adaptation, including the National Adaptation Programme, which it says does not match the size of the climate crisis challenge (https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/progress-in-adapting-to-climate-change-2023-report-to-parliament/).
Enzygo’s local and UK-wide input …
The third element which I think is important and mention later is the environmental ‘mitigation’, ‘adaptation’ and ‘resilience-building’ strategies that increasingly figure highly in Enzygo’s work.
In for a penny, in for a pound
It is often said that to improve something, you must be able to measure it. I would like to add the twist that to change something you must also be able to understand it!
That sounds obvious. But it is important for terms like ‘net-zero’ and ‘cutting greenhouse gas emissions’ … and, of course, ‘adaptation’. A quick overview might help to clear the fog. But I will try to keep the next bit as tight as possible!
The usual suspects
Carbon – carbon dioxide or CO2 – is one of a group of greenhouse gases (GHGs) with small amounts of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). The insulating envelop they form in the lower troposphere 5km to 6km above our heads absorbs infrared radiation. This helps to raise the Earth’s surface temperature.
GHGs also increase the rate at which the atmosphere absorbs the Sun’s short-wave radiation, although this has a much weaker effect on global temperatures.
However, this isn’t all bad. Without greenhouse gases, we would live in a chilly minus 170C!
Warmer air and seas
CO2 is released in the combustion of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas to produce electricity.
A rise of 1.10C above pre-industrial 1850-to-1900 temperature levels may not sound much. But a lot of heat is involved. One effect in recent years is a rapid increase in turbulent erratic storms that cause extensive hard-to-predict flooding … but ironically more ‘flash’ drought events too. This could limit worldwide food supply chains and the land areas on which humans and livestock can live.
Sea levels are also rising, causing not only more flooding but also coastal erosion which threatens properties and livelihoods. Equally worrying is the melting of polar ice. This could slow down deep circulating ocean currents like the Gulf Steam which brings warm water from the Caribbean. The result could be an icy future for Britain similar to Hudson Bay in Canada on the same latitude!
An age old problem
Plant Earth has warmed up many times over thousands of millions of years – eons – as it orbits closer to and further from the Sun. However, the IPCC’s research over eight years has shown that the human activity of a growing and more energy-hungry world population is now a primary cause.
What are our options? The first is mitigation (to slow down or prevent) climate change. Beyond that, the second is adaptation (learning to live with what we cannot stop). The third tool in our box is to create or increase resilience (to bounce back swiftly from increasingly adverse circumstances).
We also know from the science that to prevent potentially irreversible climate change, limiting temperature rises to a maximum of 1.50C – or 2.00C at the very most – is now essential.
The science also says that to meet these vital targets we must put no more carbon into the atmosphere than we take out – in other words net-zero – by the year 2050.
And because the task is huge, we must hit interim targets by 2030 to confirm that we are on course.
Action from the top down
To reach net-zero, countries needs their own individually-tailored carbon-cutting target – Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) – under rules set at the 2015 COP21 Paris Agreement, and further refined at Glasgow’s COP26 in 2021, 2022’s COP27 in Egypt, and COP28 later in 2023 in Dubai.
COP28 will be pivot. President-designate, Sultan Al Jaber, who is also CEO of national oil company Adnoc, says the world needs a ‘business mind-set’ to tackle climate change, with ‘… a major course correction and a massive effort to reignite progress’. Governments alone cannot deliver this.
Action from the bottom up
IPCC and CCC research shows that the world has made a pretty poor showing so far.
To close the gap, everyone must now make a huge effort to slash carbon emissions by abandoning fossil-fuels, switching to renewable energy, becoming much more energy-efficient, and using pioneering low-carbon technologies.
That means governments, regions, provinces, counties, cities, civic bodies, businesses … and committed and enlightened citizens in forward-looking industrial communities like Barnsley!
This is why Carbon Literacy is important. For additional information, or help in joining our Barnsley scheme, please contact me directly. I’ve given contact information at the end of this post.
What the IPCC says …
The UN IPCC’s ‘AR6 Synthesis Report: Climate Change 2023’ is the final part of its sixth assessment report. IPCC was set up in 1988 to ‘investigate the climate and provide a scientific background for international policy to solve the environmental crisis’.
UN secretary general António Guterres says, ‘Our world needs climate action on all fronts: everything, everywhere, all at once.’ He adds, ‘Humanity is on thin ice – and that ice is melting fast”.
The first three sections of AR6 were published between August 2021 and April 2022. The first explained the physical science behind the climate crisis and warned that irreversible changes are now almost inevitable – which adds more weight to adaptation.
Section two covered impacts like the loss of agriculture, rising sea levels, and damage to the natural world; section three looked at how we can cut GHGs with renewable energy, restore natural processes, and develop technologies to capture and store carbon dioxide.
The final section is a ‘summary for policymakers’ written by IPCC scientists but scrutinised by governments around the world. What is needed now is a mammoth drive across society to put the rhetoric and theory into practice!
The next IPCC report is not due before 2030. This makes the most recent 2023 report the scientific gold standard for advice for governments and other stakeholders through the rest of this decade.
Mitigation, adaptation and resilience are moving continuum; solutions can cross all three. Cutting emissions now will make it easier to adapt to future changes we cannot avoid. Mitigation can take decades to work. Adaptation measures can be much faster. Resilience is the long-term answer.
Coping with land flooding is one example. We often start with barriers and careful investment cost versus level of protection calculations to hold back water as long as reasonably possible.
But we are moving increasingly to SUDS (sustainable drainage systems) where flood water is held temporarily in large shallow areas of carefully contoured ground – parklands and meadows – until it seeps and evaporates away naturally (‘Is torrential rain a valuable resource? – https://www.enzygo.com/news/is-torrential-rain-a-valuable-resource/)
Building flooding is another problem. We often begin by controlling flows (‘When, where and for how long will it rain?’ – https://www.enzygo.com/news/when-where-and-for-how-long-will-it-rain/).
Stage two is then to install removable barriers, one-way doors, and watertight windows, while blocking open pipes and ducts. The aim here is to keep water out (‘Property flood protection – two good reasons for early planning’ – https://www.enzygo.com/news/property-flood-protection-two-good-reasons-for-early-planning/).
The next option is to let water in! Properties with living and working quarters on an upper storey can allow flood waters to enter ground floor areas used, say, as storage space (‘Flood Plain – Mitigation vs Resilience’ – https://www.enzygo.com/news/flood-plain-mitigation-vs-resilience/ and ‘The Right and Wrong Way to Manage Severe Floods’ – https://www.enzygo.com/news/the-right-and-wrong-way-to-manage-severe-floods/).
Low- and no-carbon energy is another important aspect of adaptation and we have been closely involved with major pathfinding projects such as the Velocys waste-to-jet-fuel project in Lincolnshire where Enzygo gained early and flexible planning consent (‘Enzygo secures planning permission for the UK’s first waste-to-jet-fuel facility’ – https://www.enzygo.com/news/enzygo-secures-planning-permission-waste-to-jet-fuel/).
Energy storage systems and stand-by generating capacity is also essential (‘Climate change last chance – more energy storage to cut carbon’ – https://www.enzygo.com/news/climate-change-last-chance-more-energy-storage-to-cut-carbon/).
Rising sea levels
Tides and storms can destroy good coastal land and could put some 200,000 coastal properties in England at risk by 2050. The cost of seawalls and other hard-engineering coastal defences will make many unsalvageable.
However, where erosion is slow and damage more moderate, Enzygo can help to gain planning consent for important developments within the ‘100-year erosion line’.
Help from nature and for nature
The natural world has taken a heavy battering from humans. However, the world now realises that health biodiversity is an essential prerequisite to coping with the environmental crisis. Our Ecology team is particularly active in this area (‘Biodiversity is now a frontline climate change issue for everyone’ – https://www.enzygo.com/news/biodiversity-is-now-a-frontline-climate-change-issue-for-everyone/).
Joining us in Carbon Literacy
I will mention Carbon Literacy one final time because I believe it is so important.
To join the Barnsley Council programme, please go to ‘Positive Climate Partnership’ (https://www.barnsley.gov.uk/services/our-council/our-environment/positive-climate-partnership/). Otherwise, contact me directly at Enzygo by email, or via tel 0114 321 5151.
I look to forward to hearing from you.
Matt Travis, Company Director, Enzygo Ltd