Our latest newsletter is now ready, covering; last week’s Members’ Forum – how you can help us – the benefits of visiting the websites, the mysteries of the “Net” in Net Zero – Devon CC’s Waste Management consultation and the Netflix documentary “Seaspiracy”.
The history of and debate over Net Zero:
In 2015, nearly 200 countries signed up to the Paris Agreement committing “to limit the global temperature increase in this century to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C”.
Calculations were made of the maximum amount of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and equivalent gases, (collectively known as CO2e) that could still be emitted to have a chance of remaining within this temperature range and this “Carbon Budget” allocated fairly amongst signatories to decide how and when to restrict their own emissions.
Many scientists believe that reducing emissions to zero, as soon as possible, should be the prime target. However during negotiations in Paris, it was believed that this “Zero Carbon” policy would result in significant downturns in the economies of the richest countries and so, to reach consensus, countries were permitted to include methods to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. In other words, with a carbon budget of 1 tonne, you can emit 1.2 tonne as long as you can find a way to remove 0.2 tonne.
So when our government legislated for “Net Zero by 2050” the UK could still be emitting say 100 Mt (million tonnes) of CO2e per annum in 2050 (mainly from agriculture and aviation) and so must plan to remove at least the same amount to get to Net Zero.
Many scientists consider the Net Zero (also known as Carbon Neutral) methodology to be false accounting in that by anticipating removals, especially after 2050, we risk exceeding carbon budgets before 2050, causing spikes in temperature and irreversible climate tipping points thus making the later removals irrelevant. There is also concern that by providing false hope over the ability to remove emissions in the future, less effort will be made to reduce emissions now. The conclusion of a study by Lancaster University in 2019 was that trying to synchronise both emission reductions and removals, over thirty years, into a single Net Zero target was unrealistic and that the two routes should be approached separately, aiming for the best achievable result in each.
The calculation of fair national shares of the global carbon budget has also generated disagreement in that richer nations, like the UK, will calculate their share without recognising significant historic emissions still present in the atmosphere, leaving unfair shares for poorer nations that still need to emit to grow their economies.
“Removals” is the generic term for removing emissions and this is also referred to as Carbon Dioxide Removals (CDR). There are many different ways in which removals can be achieved and they can be broadly categorised as either Nature-based or Engineered.
Nature has several ways to draw down carbon dioxide from the air and store it, either short or long term. The best known is in plant growth. Trees and other land or sea plants use photosynthesis to draw down CO2 from the air for growth and to pass some to the soil or seabed as carbon as they decay. The short term cycle involves the trees and plants dying and decaying, with a release of CO2 back into the atmosphere, whereas peatlands, for example, can remove and store carbon for indefinite periods and, in the past two hundred years, we have burned such long term carbon as coal, oil or gas.
The process of natural storage, in say the soil, is known as “sequestration” and where it is stored is known as a carbon “sink”.
The government and its advisors, The Climate Change Committee (CCC), are therefore anticipating extensive tree planting and peatland restoration in the next few decades with the CCC’s 2050 net zero plan forecasting an extra 39 Mt of CO2e per annum being sequestered by natural processes in 2050.
On paper and in trials, industry has started to explore engineered ways to remove CO2 and store it. This is known as “Carbon Capture & Storage” (CCS) and the various methods of doing it “Negative Emission Technologies” (NETs).
The main group of NETs are “Bio-energy with Carbon Capture & Storage” (BECCS) which involve the creation of bio-energy from organic matter (biomass) and capturing/storing the resulting CO2, usually by pumping it into exhausted gas and oil wells. BECCS was the technology agreed outside the main Paris agreement as being the economically acceptable way to meet “Net Zero” targets.
There are several BECCS technologies however the main one involves burning wood for power. The UK’s Drax power complex provides about 6% of the country’s electricity and, moving away from coal and gas, currently burns about 20,000 tons of wood pellets a day, sourced mainly from North American forests. It has started trial CCS facilities onsite capturing about 400 tonnes of CO2 per annum with plans to eventually capture and store 16 Mt per annum.
The principle behind this is that, growing, burning and capturing the CO2 from trees provides greater carbon savings than just leaving them to grow, die and decay. There are however doubts over relying upon unproven technology, the availability of sustainable sources of wood, conflicts with land for food production and the fact it takes years for new tree plantings to grow for harvesting. It is also the case that not all of the CO2 from the transporting, processing and burning of the trees, can be captured.
On the plus side the capturing and storage process itself takes energy and so the exhaust heat from the power station can provide this.
The CCC’s 2050 Net Zero plan involves engineered removals of about 58 Mt of CO2e per annum by 2050, with the various forms of BECCS providing 53 Mt and the other 5 Mt coming to scale in perhaps twenty years in the form of “Direct Air Capture & Storage” (DACCS), in which CO2 is removed from the air and stored.
In simple terms offsetting is the practice in which, instead of reducing your own emissions, you pay someone else to reduce theirs. For example, you can still do this when you fly, by paying for tree planting to offset your emissions.
In the majority of cases offsetting has involved rich industries and individuals paying their poorer cousins but it has also been done on a national basis with one country investing in the NETs of another or, as indicated by the CCC, rather than struggling to reduce its own emissions, the UK might instead increase foreign aid to assist other nations to reduce theirs.
This practice may well have been an incentive in the past for industries and nations but the majority of countries have signed up to the Paris agreement and, with fair carbon budget allocations, each can look after their own, in other words it is fallacious to pay for someone to do something they were bound to do anyway and, in order to reduce emissions as fast as possible, the best approach, as set out in the Paris Agreement, is for the rich to reduce their own emissions and assist the poor to do the same.
Dear fellow climate champions
ACT is planning its strategy over the next 6 months and could really do with some help. We are looking for a few extra people to help out for perhaps an hour or two a week with either committee or hands-on work.
You don’t have to be an expert in anything; what we need is your enthusiasm so, if you’d like to get involved, please fill in this questionnaire with some information about your interests and skills and we will get back to you.
Thanks to everyone who answered the questionnaire voting on, and suggesting, questions for the event, we’ve managed to whittle down the majority of your favourites to four themed questions, but there will be the opportunity to put other questions at the event.
Here are our panelists:
Audrey Compton – ACT lead on Ecology, Food, Farming and Forestry.
Fuad Al-Tawil – ACT lead on Energy and the Built Environment.
Dr Freya Garry – a scientist from the Met Office.
Lara Adamczyk – a Greenpeace Speaker.
To book your free ticket please register on Eventbrite and then, closer to the time, you will be sent a Zoom link.
When joining the event, your audio will be muted and we would ask that you maintain that throughout the session. Also, to save bandwidth and carbon emissions, you may wish to turn off your video.
We will be recording the session.
Looking forward to welcoming you to the event.
Our latest newsletter is now available covering next month’s members’ forum, help needed with our work with town & parish councils, the economics of biodiversity, the Interim Devon Plan, Bill Gates and his new book, TDC’s progress with the climate & ecological emergencies and the almost failed Green Homes Grant scheme.
The green homes grant scheme caught my attention as soon as it was launched in September 2020. It looked worth investigating, but my attempt to use it soon came up against obstacles. It proved difficult to find either independent advice on the most important and appropriate improvements to my home, or an installer authorised to do whatever work was needed.
Hearing that there are now authorised installers and assessors in the area, I have just tried to re-engage with the scheme. It proved frustrating.
The grant covers up to two-thirds of the cost of energy efficiency improvements you make to your home, to a maximum of £5,000 (or 100% of the cost up to £10,000 if you qualify for the low income support scheme). So it’s financially attractive (although recent stories in the Guardian show there are long delays in giving out grants and money is being withdrawn).
The biggest weakness in the scheme, and why I consider it not fit for purpose, is that eligibility is not dependent on any sort of whole house assessment. Moreover, it enables, if not encourages, you to fit a new more energy efficient source of heating, at a cost of maybe £10,000, when your home insulation remains inadequate or even non-existent, which is like putting new taps on a bath without a plug.
However, if you know which of the eligible improvements your home needs, the scheme could work for you. It is currently set to run until 31st March 2022. Here’s how it went for me.
The grant scheme’s website suggests you seek advice on the improvements to make. However, when you follow the link to check your eligibility you are sent to the Simple Energy Advice (SEA) website to check out the sort of improvements that might be suitable, based partly on the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) registered for your property.
After several pages of questions and, in my case increasing confusion, you are presented with a “Now build your plan” page with suggested improvements and the likely costs. You select the improvements that take your fancy and are then taken to a “Make your plan” page enabling you to download the details to present to your installer(s).
Whether I’m just unlucky, or too picky, this process didn’t work for me. For example, you are asked what type of roof insulation you have, either pitched or flat roof, insulated or not insulated, or don’t know. I have both types of roof but as the pitched roof covers the majority of the home and is insulated I chose that option.
My EPC tells me that, at 100mm, my insulation is insufficient and that it should be increased to 270mm, but by selecting the insulated option, roof insulation doesn’t appear on my plan.
Similarly, with the wall insulation question, you are asked if you have cavity or solid walls, insulated or not insulated or don’t know. I have a couple of solid walls but the majority are cavity, but the EPC is silent on whether or not they are insulated and so I chose “don’t know”. This only put cavity wall insulation into my plan, with no mention of solid wall insulation, but it’s pointless having it in the plan as I don’t know if I need it.
My hopes for floor insulation were also soon dashed. Options for answers to “What sort of floor insulation do you have?” were: don’t know, solid floor, suspended floor or none. I have a suspended floor with no insulation, so selected “none” but, mysteriously, was only presented with solid floor insulation in my plan, at a cost of £5,000.
Finally, but not exhaustively, the plan suggested a new condensing boiler (when I said I already had one) and upgrading my double glazing, neither of which qualify for the grant.
If and when you are lucky enough to be happy with your plan, you are directed to the SEA site to find an authorised installer for each of the 30 eligible improvements. In other words, you have to choose a home improvement measure before being shown appropriate installers.
It doesn’t, however, offer you authorised advisors to help you decide what sort of insulation or heating improvement you need and in what order. For this I referred to the Trustmark website, where all authorised people are registered, and where you can search in your area for retrofit assessors or coordinators under standard PAS 2035.
So, in my case, “The Plan” is to contact one of these to help work out what is best for my home and the planet, regardless of whether the green homes grant should play a part.
As the first in what we hope will be a series, we are running the above online Zoom event to cover some of the issues, relating to the climate and ecological emergencies, which are important to our members.
We want to attract as many members as possible and to get the ball rolling would ask you to complete this questionnaire to suggest topics we should cover, in the form of questions.
You’ll see we have suggested a few questions of our own that you can score and then you can add up to five of your own, in order of importance, along with any other ideas you may have.
Based on your responses we will select questions for this first forum for a panel discussion and will also give you the opportunity to participate in a question and answer “chat” session.
If you can’t make it, don’t worry, we will record the session and no doubt follow it up with others.
Hope you can join us.
Our latest newsletter is now available introducing Flavio, our Wildlife Warden Coordinator, and providing information on Zero Carbon Britain from CAT in Wales, the CCC’s 6th Carbon Budget and Pathway, our articles in the Mid-Devon Advertiser and Greta Thunberg at 18, with her documentary “I am Greta”
Our Audrey Compton gives a talk about the benefits of local people becoming more actively involved in local conservation to care for wildlife at a Parish level.
In her talk, for Dartmoor National Park, Audrey describes her own journey in discovering and conserving the benefits nature brings to our lives, culminating in the establishment of the Wildlife Warden Scheme.
Watch BBC Spotlight this evening 29 October to see a piece about our new Wildlife Wardens scheme.
Unfortunately other events overtook Spotlight and so the article was not aired that evening but quick thinking Rebekah East was able to post this video on Facebook when it did finally air on 9 November.