Innovation: Getting to Net-Zero

I don't know why they keep complaining about the greenhouse effect. Since they know what the problem is, why do they keep giving people permission to build them? Joe Lavin

In Nature there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are only consequences. - Robert Ingersoll (1833-1899)
Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed. - Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
Nature uses as little as possible of anything - Johannes Kepler (1571-1630)

This section of my website will be devoted to suggestions to help all of us honour the fine words devoted to reaching net-zero carbon, but also to become more environmentally conscious. Everyone working in the Life Sciences, whether in industry, academia or even at home, will know it's not an option, but an imperative. Change is now obviously, and sadly, still regarded by many as optional but in the long term it will be forced by nature if not enforced by administrations. The questions are what needs to be done, who needs to do it and who is going to meet the inevitable costs? Cash, as they say, is always king (as well as king-maker!), so I have included one business offering to support medium to larger industries obtain the investment needed for net-zero change.

I imagine many readers will already have reasoned that the changes needed have to made by every organisation and indeed, everyone. That's why I'm including this here at all. Like significant advances in science, net-zero thinking and action has to be "bottom-up" and not just driven from the top. There are the same dangers implicit in government creating new quangos and legislation to protect the environment that we have seen in public sector science and technology. Too often it results in an "Acronym Factory" and endless select committees and white papers (one of the first things administrations should do is cut the paper!). Over time I hope this section achieve focus and will grow. I can take suggestions and comments through LinkedIn

What can I do as an individual?

This is from the BBC, but if I create a link, it may disappear. The words are [ apart from mine in square brackets ] written by Helen Briggs, BBC Environment correspondent

If and when a new deal is signed at the climate summit in Glasgow, you might be left wondering what - if anything - it will mean for you. Here are some ways in which the decisions made at COP26 could change your life.

A change in the way we get around

Switching to an electric car is among a number of lifestyle changes we're likely to be making. [ But they will have to be made much more affordable ] Experts predict that new electric vehicles could cost the same as new petrol or diesel cars within the next five years. In Norway 75% of private cars are now electric or hybrid thans to government incentives. It is also possible to lease an electric vehicle, and there's a growing second-hand market, where these vehicles are cheaper. Dozens of countries, regions and car companies have agreed to ramp up the use of electric vehicles and bring in new zero-emission buses and trucks. Meanwhile, others argue we need fewer cars on the road - walking and cycling more could also be among the changes we make. Of course there are few such clean alternatives to long distance travel: either by aircraft or ship at present. But some airlines are working on this and technology may reduce the need for company "frequent fliers".

A switch to greener power

More than 40 countries have signed up to phasing down coal. A similar number have committed to ensuring that clean energy is the most reliable and affordable option for powering our homes and businesses. For countries like the UK, this will mean continuing the move towards renewable sources such as wind and solar energy - and possibly more reliance on nuclear energy. COP26 lacked a breakthrough announcement committing the world's biggest coal-users such as China and India to ending its use. However, it's hoped the announcements made at Glasgow will send a signal to the market that it is worth investing in renewable energy.

Our homes get greener

Solar panels and heat pumps could become standard in our homes. We'll build new houses using low-carbon alternatives to cement and concrete - and try to re-fit old ones. [ But in a number of significant posts it has been said there's a case now for never demolishing and rebuilding: so great is the impact on the environment of construction! ] There's also a focus on making sure our buildings, infrastructure and communities are able to withstand the current and future impact of climate change. [ Insulation in very high proportion of UK homes is woefully inadequate. All new buildings could and perhaps should meet Passiv House standards (the highest professionally recognised standard of energy saving construction) ] . Again it comes down to money. "But costing the earth" may someday not just be a catch phrase]. We also need to make sure buildings are fit for more extreme scenarios. This could include improving green space in and around our homes to absorb extreme rain or installing "cool roofs" that reflect sunlight and prevent overheating, or introducing shutters so homes can withstand hurricane winds.

We may start paying more for carbon

Our lifestyles contribute to carbon emissions, whether we're shopping for imported food, or flying away on a foreign holiday. In future, we may see the cost of a product's carbon emissions being added to the price we pay - whether or not it's made in the UK. So if a business doesn't try and reduce the emissions of the goods it's selling, its prices may have to go up. It's hoped that will make consumers and businesses think again about how we consume and where we put our money. In response to this, some big household names like Amazon, Unilever and Ikea have now said they're looking to ensure the cargo ships they use to deliver goods will run on cleaner fuels.

More space for nature

Nature's role in fighting climate change and the need to restore the natural world - from forests to peatland - was high on the agenda at Glasgow, and we may see the benefits in greener spaces around our towns and cities. Nature can be helping us here if we looked to actually treat it with the respect it deserves The arguments to make space for nature are now clearer and louder than ever. There is now renewed momentum about the need to protect forests and other precious habitats and put nature in recovery.

More expensive food?

Breaking the link between cutting down forests in the global south and products consumed in the global north, such as soybeans, beef and palm oil, could end the era of cheap food. More than 100 countries have signed up to the Glasgow Leaders Declaration on Forests, which aims to halt deforestation. Experts say that a hard choice could be faced - deforestation will never be stopped if sustainability concerns are always out-competed by price. "Consumers will inevitably have to absorb some of these costs if we want to deliver on the COP 26 declaration - by paying more and consuming less". (Toby Gardner of the Stockholm Environment Institute). [One of the highly noticeable issues is packaging (containers, foams, foils, bottles). Although we have evidently reduced plastic bags, many forms of non-recyclable or poorly recyclable plastic is still entering the environment.]

Your pension and investments could be moving

More than 400 financial institutions - controlling an estimated $130tn of private finance - agreed at COP26 to provide more money for green technology. It means that many major pension providers are going to be looking at investing your money in more environmentally friendly sectors. This might include "helping customers identify ways to improve the energy efficiency of their home: investing in companies developing new, sustainable ways of living and working" (Janet Pope of Lloyds Banking Group). [Investors big and small can contribute to Net-zero by moving their funds into companies and managed investment trusts that with high ESG rating (Environment, Sustainability & Governance). Investment platforms should be checking (and requiring) ESG of the businesses supported in their managed funds and providing ESG information to ordinary investors through their investment platforms].

A change of thinking?

Dr Stephanie Sodero of the University of Manchester says the goal of sticking to 1.5 degrees - above which scientists say climate impacts will become more dangerous and unpredictable - could galvanise community action. "On the ground, in UK communities and beyond, led by youth activists, I think there will be sustained and intense pressure to scrutinise all governance decisions - from local transport to national energy - through a climate lens" Matthew Hannon from the University of Strathclyde says the drive to net zero is likely to yield benefits such as cleaner air, quieter streets and better mental and physical health. "Delivering a just, net zero transition should ultimately result in happier, healthier lifestyles," he says. "The question should therefore be less about what will I lose under net zero and more about what could I gain?"

What can we do as a species (Global changes)?

Some things individuals can do, but some require collective (political and corporate action)

Keep fossil fuels in the ground
This means in essence phasing out mining the ancient organic decomposition products: coal, oil and natural gas, the burning of which releases CO2. Existing alternatives have to be used and others found. A huge area for innovation.
Hold back methane emissions
A more damaging greenhouse gas than CO2the worst offenders are burning of natural gas during oil recovery, landfill and high intensity livestock farming. All within our control, but will increase costs like all climate change action
Switch to renewable energy
Certainly wind and solar power development is well under way, but needs more investment: both in plant and research. Storage (battery) development is a key area and will obviously be critical for transport and the transition to space heating
Phase out fossil fuel use for transport
Petrol and diesel as energy sources for private and commercial vehicles contributes significantly to climate change. The major challenge for innovators will be air travel
All nations need to reduce deforestation and actively plant trees which are obvious carbon sinks as well as providing less environmentally damaging building materials. Increasing the acceptance, resilience and utility of wood in construction is another area for innovation. We also need to look carefully into moisture control in buildings.
Remove existing greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere
Direct-air capture facilities are in operation now (e.g. Climeworks in Iceland) and need major investment. Finding economic use for captured CO2 instead of the proposed deep burial is a huge opportunity for economic advance
Financial help for poorer nations
Wealthy Western nations cannot impose environmental rules and restrictions on poorer nations without serious financial and other forms of aim. In a majority of poorer nations it was the wealthy nations that created many of the present environmental issues through inequitable exploitation of labour, geological and biological resources in these countries. Mostly they lived in harmony with nature before their natural resources were exploited by others. It is time to pay off that debt!
We need an ecological polity; not a party political, ideological or theological one
All human attempts at organising society along the lines of conventional politics, ideology-based or religion have led to dystopia of one sort or another. To survive and reach the end of this century (leave alone the next millennium) we need a new form of politics: Not one based on ideologies or legacy notions, but one that faces openly the realities of ecology, physics and psychology. Intellectuals from all nations and many times in the past have urged that we respect our place in nature and not try to control it, but have faced repudiation, martyrdom or have simply just been ignored. We can either accept, respect and take our place as lifeforms completely dependent upon our biology and nature or, to put it bluntly, face an earlier extinction than necessary! The wonder is, uniquely in the case of our species, the choice is ours.

A very brief summary of the outcome of COP26 and what it means for companies and organisations.

  • Nations with most of the world's forests committed to stop and reverse deforestation by 2030
  • 100 nations agreed to substantially curb methane release
  • India to get 50% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030
  • US and China agreed to issues including methane release, moving to clean energy generation and decarbonisation
  • Coal to be phased down (but not out) by China and India by 2030
  • 20 nations to end overses funding of fossil fuels by 2022
  • 40 nations committed to give developing countries the technology and share innovations needed to reach net zero
  • In the UK all large companies and public enterprises will have to publish a net zero transition plan by the end of 2024

Investors large and small will now be looking even more closely at the companies (whether publically - owned or held privately) that they support through investments. Investment management companies have signed up to groups such as the Net Zero Asset Managers Initiative. Small investors will be looking both at investment trusts and funds to see that they are run by fund managers that consider the impact on climate change of businesses in their portfolios. Where private investors hold shares in companies, they should be influenced by the published corporate plans to move toward net zero in any decision to retain or sell their holdings.

I imagine many readers will already have reasoned that the changes needed have to made by every organisation and indeed, everyone. That's why I'm including this here at all. Like significant advances in science, net zero thinking and action has to be "bottom-up" and not just driven from the top. There are the same dangers implicit in government creating new quangos and legislation to protect the environment that we have seen in public sector science and technology. Too often it results in an "Acronym Factory" and endless select committees and white papers (one of the first things administrations should do is cut the paper!). Over time I hope this section achieves focus and can grow (sustainably!). I can take suggestions and comments through LinkedIn

Essential Reading!

  • Plato's Revenge: Politics in the Age of Ecology William Ophuls (2011) Massachusetts Institute of Technology ISBN 978-0-262-01590-5
  • Where have All the Intellectuals Gone? Frank Furedi (2004) Continuum press ISBN 0-8264-6769-5
  • Becoming Human: Evolution and Human Uniqueness Ian Tattersall (1998) Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-850472-1

Web links

NetZero Funding Ltd

We're a specialist finance company that gets funding for environmentally-minded businesses. Our goal is to help companies grow while also helping the environment by providing funding solutions that are net-zero carbon emissions. Our finance options are designed for companies looking to reduce their carbon footprint and get ahead of the curve on sustainability. Get the funds you need for your business while helping the environment.