Restoring natural environments across the UK could help the country hit its climate change targets, a new report has claimed.
Natural climate solutions such as the rewilding of native woodland, peatlands and heathlands could make a ‘significant contribution’ to reducing carbon emissions, says the report by Rewilding Britain.
The organisation has said that such schemes, funded by the redirection of farming subsidies, would help the UK save millions of tonnes of CO2 a year.
‘Rewilding cannot solve climate change on its own but it could play a pivotal role,’ wrote the report’s co-authors, Rewilding Britain’s chief executive Rebecca Wrigley and its director Alistair Driver.
‘What we are calling for is more public debate around how our countryside is managed into the future and how we balance sustainable farming with ensuring local people can make a viable living.’
Should Brexit go ahead, the UK will leave the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy subsidy system, which currently costs the government £3bn in payments a year.
According to Rewilding Britain, £1.9bn of the funding saved from leaving the subsidy system could be used to encourage farmers to create new wildlife and protect existing ecosystems covering a total of 6 million hectares.
These ecosystems could absorb and store over 47 million tonnes of CO2 a year, equivalent to 10% of the UK’s annual emissions, the report claims.
The report proposes incentivising farmers to save CO2 by designing a subsidy payment model based on carbon capture and biodiversity enhancement.
This, it says, could help the UK achieve its climate change commitments and help the land use sector meet targets set by the National Farmers Union (NFU), which is aiming for net zero emissions across English and Welsh agriculture by 2040.
Under the report’s suggested model, new woodlands would be the most valuable, worth £512 per hectare per year, while restoring peatbogs and heathland would supply £292 per hectare per year.
Earlier this month, the NFU said that improving productivity and boosting renewable energy, not hitting British food production, would be the best way for it to reach its 2040 target.
Deputy president of the NFU Guy Smith said: ‘Acting to tackle damaging climate change is vital. However, we will not halt climate change by curbing British production and exporting it to countries which may not have the same environmental conscience, or ambition to reduce their climate impact.’
A government spokesperson said: ‘Climate change is one of the most urgent and pressing challenges we face today, and the UK is a world leader in tackling this problem.’
Measures announced by the government to create and protect the UK’s natural ecosystems last year were its £50m Woodland Carbon Guarantee and a £10m fund to restore 6580 hectares of peatlands.
The UK is making ‘encouraging’ progress towards the environmental goals set out in its 25 Year Environment Plan, the government has claimed.
Publishing their first progress report into the UK’s 25 Year Environment Plan, which launched in January last year, ministers say 90% of the actions in the plan have been delivered or are being progressed in its first year.
Plans to crack down on plastic waste, protecting wildlife habits and progressing its flagship Environment Bill are just a few points of progress the government says it has made on the plan.
Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey said: ‘Through our landmark 25 Year Environment Plan and upcoming Environment Bill, we are committed to bold action on tackling plastic waste, reforming farming, protecting our landscapes and boosting wildlife. While progress is encouraging, we know there is still more to do.’
Alongside its report, the government has also published a new indicator framework to measure the outcomes of the Environment Plan, claiming that this will make the UK one of the first countries to use such an extensive tool.
Ministers are also considering the introduction of a citizen science project whereby data collected by members of the public can inform future environmental policy.
The government is currently in the middle of drafting its Environment Bill which will transfer its 25 Year Environmental Plan into law, having previously launched its new Agriculture and Fisheries bills.
While environmental campaigners have welcomed the 25 Year Environment Plan, they have stressed that the government must take further action to make sure that its environmental measures are properly implemented.
Strong legislation, resources and funding must all be provided to meet the challenges for the UK’s environment, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said.
Tom Fyans, deputy chief executive at CPRE, said: ‘The government’s 25 Year Environment Plan is a fantastic commitment to long-term investment in the health and enhancement of our countryside and environment.
‘While we welcome the openness and level of engagement by Defra over many of its proposals, so far there have been a lot of warm-words and consultation, but not enough action.
‘As political wrangling continues over the Environment Bill and with the Agriculture Bill nowhere to be seen, it is important that momentum is not lost on these crucial measures that will deliver the ambitions of the Plan.’
The publication of the report comes after the Environmental Audit Committee raised concerns about the draft Environment Bill, which will dictate how the UK will protect its environment if it leaves the EU as planned.
A government-backed scheme will see car dealerships who provide a quality service selling electric vehicles (EVs) formally accredited.
Research by What Car? released earlier this year claimed that ‘conflicting and confusing’ information on EVs has created a ‘knowledge gap’ that is holding people back from buying an EV, so the scheme aims to build trust, improve knowledge and increase the confidence of motorists looking to buy an EV.
Successful dealerships will be known as ‘Electric Vehicle Approved’, and following a pilot scheme, in which the electric vehicle skills of 12 dealerships were audited, it’s estimated there will be 130 Electric Vehicle Approved sites across the UK by the end of 2019.
The scheme will also encourage car dealers to develop their expertise in servicing electric vehicles through training programmes.
Future of Mobility Minister Jesse Norman said: ‘Record levels of ultra-low emission vehicles on our roads are good news, as we seek to end the sale of new conventional diesel and petrol cars and vans by 2040.
‘The accreditation recognises businesses with knowledge, capability and commitment to electric vehicles, and will help to encourage more car owners to switch to a greener alternative.’
The standard for electric vehicle dealer accreditation has been developed by the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA) and the Energy Saving Trust (EST).
Sue Robinson, director at the NFDA, added, ‘It is extremely positive to join forces with the Government’s Office for Low Emission Vehicles and the Energy Saving Trust to develop EVA, an initiative which we expect to play a key role in the market transition to electric vehicles.
‘EVA will certify the efforts franchised retailers are making in the EV sector to meet the fast-growing consumer demand and will enable them to clearly communicate to their customers their expertise in the sector.’
Earlier this year, a consultation was launched to look at ways to accelerate the slow take-up of electric vehicles (EVs) in the UK.
The proposed EV Governance Framework (EVGF) will include common rules and standards – such as on smart charging and data sharing – to help the market operate more efficiently, champion innovation and boost sluggish consumer confidence in EVs.
Urban Splash has announced a partnership with Japan’s biggest housebuilder, Sekisui House, which they hope will accelerate the delivery of modular homes in the UK.
As part of the £90m deal, Sekisui will invest £55m into Urban Splash’s ‘House’ development business which they hope will provide a significant boost to the UK’s modular housing industry and speed up production.
Sekisui House has invested £22m of new equity, with £30m of equity and debt funding coming from the Government’s Home Building Fund, administered through Homes England.
Noel McKee, founder of We Buy Any Car, has also made a ‘sizeable’ investment in the new partnership and will take around a 5% stake in the company.
Yoshihiro Nakai, President and Representative Director of Sekisui House Ltd said: ‘We are extremely pleased to be able to work together with Homes England and Urban Splash to establish our operations and help to create outstanding communities in the UK.
‘Using modern methods of construction to build high-quality homes with short build times is one of our company’s great strengths. Our technology and know-how can help resolve pressing social issues in the UK, and I want to see us play our part effective immediately.
‘These operations can also help bring vitality to UK regions, and we will work to make the strongest connections with the local communities.’
Sir Edward Lister, Chair of Homes England, added: ‘When Homes England launched last year we said we’d disrupt the housing market to increase the pace of construction. By helping bring one of the world’s largest and most innovative housebuilders to UK shores, we’re putting our money where our mouth is.
‘By creating a more diverse landscape – where smaller builders such as Urban Splash get a stronger foothold – we’re rebuilding the building industry; driving up quality and improving consumer choice.’
Many councils, including Leeds and Birmingham, believe modular could be a solution to the growing social housing waiting list for people who require one-bed or two-bed properties.
However, with Shelter saying 1.2 million new council homes need to be built, UK councils have been slow to adopt modular into their social housing stock.
Read Environment Journal’s recent report on why modular housing hasn’t taken off in the same way in Scandinavian countries.
We’re all too aware of the consequences of plastics in the oceans and on land. However, beyond the visible pollution of our once pristine habitats, plastics are having a grave impact on the climate too, says Laurie Wright, senior lecturer, Warsash School of Maritime Science and Engineering, Solent University
Newly published research calculates that across their lifecycle, plastics account for 3.8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. That’s almost double the emissions of the aviation sector. If it were a country, the “Plastic Kingdom” would be the fifth-highest emitter in the world.
Demand is set to rise, too. At 380m tonnes a year, we produce 190 times more plastic than we did in 1950. If the demand for plastic continues to grow at its current rate of 4% a year, emissions from plastic production will reach 15% of global emissions by 2050.
Plastic across the lifecycle
More than 99% of plastics are manufactured from petrochemicals, most commonly from petroleum and natural gas. These raw materials are refined to form ethylene, propylene, butene, and other basic plastic building blocks, before being transported to manufacturers.
The production and transport of these resins requires an awful lot of energy – and therefore fuel. Greenhouse gas emissions also occur during the refining process itself – the “cracking”of larger hydrocarbons from petrochemicals into smaller ones suitable for making plastic releases carbon dioxide and methane. According to the study, about 61% of total plastic greenhouse gas emissions comes from the resin production and transport stage.
A further 30% is emitted at the product manufacturing stage. The vast majority of these emissions come from the energy required to power the plants that turn raw plastic materials into the bottles, bin bags and bicycle helmets we use today. The remainder occurs as a result of chemical and manufacturing processes – for example, the production of plastic foam suses HFCs, particularly potent greenhouse gases.
The remaining carbon footprint occurs when plastics are thrown away. Incineration releases all of the stored carbon in the plastic into the atmosphere, as well as air pollutants such as dioxins, furans, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls, which are toxic and damaging to human health.
As plastics take centuries to degrade, disposal in landfill makes only a small contribution to emissions in theory. However, as much as 40% of landfill waste is burnt in open skies, dramatically speeding up the release of otherwise locked-up carbon.
Making plastic climate-friendly
If we are to combat climate breakdown, reductions in plastic emissions are clearly needed. Thankfully, the solution with the biggest potential is already in motion, albeit slow. In showing that transitioning to a zero carbon energy system has the potential to reduce emissions from plastic by 51%, the study provides yet another reason to rapidly phase outfossil fuels.
However, beyond urgently required global decarbonisation, we need to reduce our seemingly insatiable demand for carbon-based plastic. Increasing recycling rates is one simple way of doing this. The highest-quality plastics can be recycled many times, and nearly all plastic can be recycled to some extent – but only 18% was actually recycled worldwide in 2015. Although each recycle process requires a small amount of new plastic, we can greatly increase the life cycle of the material by efficiently reusing what we make.
A more fundamental solution is to switch to making plastics from biodegradable sources such as wood, corn starch, and sugar cane. The materials themselves are carbon neutral, although renewable power is essential to eliminate the climate impact of energy costs during production, transport and waste processing.
However, a massive ramping up in the production of bioplastics – which currently make up less than 1% of total plastic production – would require vast swathes of agricultural land. With the population set to rise dramatically, increasingly coveted arable space may not be able to satisfy demand.
The bottom line, therefore, is that we will need to reduce our demand for plastic. According to the study, simply reducing the annual growth in plastics demand from 4% to 2% could result in 60% lower emissions from the sector in 2050. While a life without plastics may seem unimaginable, its worth remembering that their prevalence is a relativity recent phenomenon. The first artificial plastic, Bakelite, was developed in 1907, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that the age of plastic began. If we show a genuine appetite to address plastic pollution, the world could change again just as quickly.
Governments, corporations, and individuals must make research into alternatives a priority, and support alternatives to needless plastic waste. Were most people to carry a reusable water bottle, for example, we could eliminate the need for the estimated 20,000 single-use bottles bought each second around the world.
Of course, any of these solutions alone will not be enough. As the recent study notes, only by combining a reduction in demand, top-notch recycling, decarbonisation of energy, and large-scale adoption of bioplastics can we tackle plastic’s contribution to the climate crisis. But if we manage to do all of this, then we can cut plastics emissions to just 7% of current levels.
Plastics need not be completely demonised as environmental scourges. Affordable, durable, and versatile, they bring a raft of societal benefits, and will undoubtedly serve an important role where replacements are unable to be found. But decades of unbridled use and a throw-away culture are having grave consequences that go far beyond the visible pollution of our land and water. It is essential that we drastically reduce our use of avoidable plastics, and eliminate the carbon footprint of the ones we need to use. Our relationship with plastic may be toxic, but it doesn’t need to be forever.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here.
UK scientists will head to Vietnam again to study the economic and environmental benefits of natural flood defences.
Researchers, led by environmental economist Dr Tobias Börger from the University of Stirling, will study the effectiveness of blue and green infrastructure (BGI) – which include wetlands, urban parks and vegetated river banks – at protecting communities from flooding and rising water levels.
The team will also seek to place an economic value on the added environmental benefits brought by such schemes, such as improved air quality, new recreational opportunities, controlling water pollutants and increasing resilience to heat waves and noise pollution.
The project will be based in Can Tho in Vietnam and is being funded by Natural Environment Research Council’s (NERC’s) Newton Fund, involving academics from Loughborough University’s School of Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering, Hue University and Can Tho University.
Since 2014, the UK and Vietnam have each spent £5m on over 15 Newton Fund schemes, with a particular focus on agricultural resilience in the face of climate change and other man-made factors.
Dr Börger said: ‘Traditional flood defence and mitigation measures in Vietnam and globally, have favoured hard infrastructure like dykes, concrete barriers and raised structures – all of which are costly to build and maintain, and may have adverse environmental impacts.
‘While we already know a lot about predicting and modelling floods, evidence demonstrating the success of blue and green infrastructure is mostly collected from laboratory tests or small scale urban installations.
‘There is little known about the natural capital and added economic value that alternative BGI measures for flood defence and mitigation can provide.’
Vietnam’s low-lying coastal cities such as Ho Chi Minh City are particularly vulnerable to increased flood risk due to rapid urbanisation and climate change, with flooding a common sight on its famously congested roads.
The research, which will involve high-resolution modelling tools and scenario development, stakeholder workshops, biodiversity surveys and the creation of a framework to measure natural capital, is set to be complete in June 2021.
Read Environment Journal’s report on how researchers from the University of Hull worked alongside academics from Can Tho University on a project aimed at understanding sediment discharge in the Mekong Delta.
A facility that uses fungus to break down plastic and a project that uses mussels to filter microplastics in the sea are some of the winners of Waitrose’s £1m fund to tackle plastic pollution.
The £1m fund was raised from the sale of 5p carrier bags and will be split between the five winners who will receive funding between £150,000 and £300,000.
The supermarket worked with environmental charity Hubbub for the competition which attracted 150 applications, with the winners chosen by expert panel made up of representatives from academia, industry, non-governmental organisations and business.
The five winners are below:
Blue Marine Foundation: SAFEGEAR (Plymouth, Devon)
An initiative that aims to stop ghost fishing gear (fishing nets that have been left or lost in the ocean) at source by attaching beacons to buoys to make fishing gear visible. SAFEGEAR allows fishing vessels to inexpensively monitor their gear at sea, receive alerts if their gear starts to move, and contact vessels in the proximity.
If gear is lost due to towing, or bad weather, the beacon allows the fishing vessel to track the gear and recover it.
Onion Collective CIC and Biohm: Community Bio-Recycling (Watchet, Somerset)
A new plastic biorecycling facility in Somerset, that will use mycelium (a vegetative part of a fungus or fungus-like bacteria) to break down synthetic plastic waste and turn it into new products – for environmental, social and economic benefit.
This process will entirely eliminate petrochemical plastic while demonstrating a new way of doing business.
Women’s Environmental Network (WEN): Environmenstrual Plastic Free Periods (UK wide)
The environmenstrual campaign ‘Plastic-Free Periods’ aims to bring about a UK revolution in education about health-conscious, environmentally-friendly menstrual products.
This is a collaborative project between Women’s Environmental Network (WEN) and City to Sea aiming to bring about widespread behaviour change that reduces plastic pollution from period products.
Plymouth Marine Laboratory: Mussel Power (Plymouth, Devon)
An initiative that aims to develop an ecological solution to microplastic pollution whereby beds or rafts of mussels are deployed in estuaries and coastal sites to filter out microplastics from the water.
The project will help determine whether these ‘bioreefs’ will work in the fight against plastic waste.
YHA (England & Wales): Message in a Bottle (England and Wales wide)
A project that will see water bottle refill stations installed in 60 major youth hostels across England and Wales, eradicating the use of single-use plastic bottles from packed lunches, cafes, bars and vending machines.
Tor Harris, Head of CSR, Health & Agriculture, Waitrose & Partners, said: ‘It’s important for us to tackle unnecessary plastic both in our shops but also in the wider world.
‘All these inspirational projects have the ability to create real impact in tackling environmental issues and encouraging behaviour change so we can collectively achieve our goal of reducing plastic pollution.’
Should they win a General Election, the Labour Party will install solar panels on a million social homes to tackle fuel poverty, providing residents with free energy and saving them an average of £117 a year on their bills.
They say any unused electricity generated by the programme will be used by the national grid, which Labour would take into public ownership, raising an additional £66m per year for local authorities, they claim.
The programme will be funded with interest-free loans, grants and changes to regulations.
Labour estimates its policy will create 16,900 jobs and save 7.1 million tonnes of CO2, equivalent to taking 4 million cars off the UK’s roads.
The plans will be announced tomorrow on a visit to Yorkshire by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Rebecca Long Bailey, Shadow Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary.
Jeremy Corbyn said: ‘In this country, too often people are made to feel like the cost of saving the planet falls on them. Too many think of green measures as just another way for companies or the government to get money out of them, while the rich fly about in private jets and heat their empty mansions.
‘By focusing on low-income households we will reduce fuel poverty and increase support for renewable energy. Social justice and climate justice as one. Environmental destruction and inequality not only can, but must be tackled at the same time.’
The Conservative government has been criticised in recent months for a luke-warm position towards solar energy.
Their popular Feed-in Tariff subsidy scheme, which has seen almost a million households paid for the electricity they have generated, closed for new applicants in March and there has been uncertainty surrounding the government’s planned Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) scheme which will replace it.
The Scottish government already have a programme of installing solar panels on social homes, and in March, announced a multi-million-pound solar scheme for social housing in Aberdeenshire.
The City of Edinburgh Council has set an ambitious aim to make Edinburgh a carbon-neutral city by 2030.
Alongside this carbon target, which includes a ‘hard’ target of 2037, the city’s council has agreed to embark upon a three-phase approach to improve Edinburgh’s sustainability.
Recommendations on the city’s Sustainable Approach, drawn up by the city’s Corporate Policy and Strategy Committee, were accepted by councillors yesterday (Tuesday May 14).
Speaking at the cross-party meeting, council leader Adam McVey said: ‘Cities and towns all over the world are recognising the horrifying scale of the climate change challenge facing us all. We have to act and act fast.
‘We are quite clear the 2030 target should be the target adopted by everyone in the city – public, private sector and third sector. We can achieve a zero-carbon city by 2030 but we cannot afford for this to be delivered any later than 2037 so we have set this as an absolute limit on reaching this goal.’
Edinburgh is already on course to meet its current target of reducing its carbon emissions by 42% by 2020, having reduced its emissions by 33% already since 2005.
It is expected that Edinburgh will enjoy further emission reductions due to projects such as a new Low Emission Zone – set to come into force at the end of next year – and an expansion of its tram line to the city’s Newhaven district.
However, in its report, the City of Edinburgh council said that it believes it needs to do more to respond to the ‘sense of urgency’ regarding climate change and carbon emissions.
‘Our task as a whole council is to work cross party to tackle this together, along with our partner organisations across the city – we owe it to future generations to get this right,’ McVey said.
‘It’s a massive and definitely daunting piece of work so it needs a clear direction of travel if we’re to do this properly. I know we can achieve great things if we take an ambitious but realistic approach.’
Phase 1 of Edinburgh’s Sustainable Approach will look to make sure the council ‘consolidates and better co-ordinates’ its approach on sustainability and climate change.
The second phase will see the council looking for immediate improvements within its existing climate plan while developing its 2030 sustainability strategy with citizens and partners.
Once this is complete, Edinburgh will look to implement and deliver the plan in the final phase of its approach.
Edinburgh is currently one of the UK’s most trailblazing cities when it comes to setting sustainability and climate change goals.
Wastewater and sewage aren’t the most appealing of subjects, but it’s certainly one where the old adage of ‘where there’s muck, there’s brass’ rings true when it comes to its suitability as a renewable energy feedstock, explains Tim Broadhurst, CCO of CooperOstlund.
For most people, wastewater and sewage is considered to be an unpleasant by-product of our human existence, hardly a cheery topic of conversation and certainly not something that’s associated with having value. But the reality couldn’t be more different – in terms of its worth at least. It’s actually a hugely valuable industry, providing jobs and sanitised water and, importantly, supplying a prime source of renewable energy.
This is because, as with any organic material, sewage and sludge releases a significant volume of methane during its decomposition. Using anaerobic digestion (AD) technology, this gas can be captured and stored. It’s then possible to transform this flammable gas into renewable, clean energy using combined heat and power (CHP) engines.
The economic and sustainable benefits
Sewage and sludge is particularly appealing as an energy source because its organic matter is fertile and contains almost 10 times the energy needed to treat it. During the processing of wastewater, the UK generates more than two million tonnes of sludge every year.
The financial benefits for its use are compelling – AD not only creates energy from the sludge, but it also reduces the solids content by up to 30%, reducing the energy costs involved in its transportation. Water and wastewater AD facilities themselves can also rapidly translate into profit with a typical payback of 12-18 months, not bad for a process that is also kind to the environment – a crucial consideration given today’s appetite for sustainable practices.
How the process works
By treating sewage sludge with AD, it is possible to reduce the amount of organic matter and the number of disease-causing microorganisms present in the solids.
The sludge is fed into large tanks and held for a minimum of 12 days to allow the digestion process to perform the four stages necessary to digest the sludge. These are hydrolysis, acidogenesis, acetogenesis, and methanogenesis. In this process the complex proteins and sugars are broken down to form more simple compounds such as water, carbon dioxide, and methane.
Treated sewage produces biogas that can be cleaned and injected into the gas grid or combusted via CHP to generate low-carbon electricity. The raw methane that is produced can also be used for on-site processes, such as heating tanks or running machinery engines, boosting the circular economy.
Effective maintenance is crucial
Regular and expert maintenance is vital if AD sites are to operate at their maximum capacity and generate their true potential of renewable energy. Poorly maintained engines can see efficiencies fall by as much as 20%. Indeed, a well-managed 500kW engine could be generating an additional £35,000 in revenues every year. From poor system calibration and incorrect timing patterns, to the wrong fluid choice and inappropriate air/methane balance, missing the finer details has a considerable impact on engine performance. CHP maintenance is certainly not a ‘nice to have’ option – it could be the difference between profit and loss.
Obtaining maximum value
As CHP experts, we’re often asked to assess existing facilities with the aim of suggesting changes to improve site outputs. Advances in technology continue to provide solutions to meeting this challenge. One example can be seen in the use of state-of-the-art open protocol control panels that provide immediate digital access, allowing engineers to easily control each setup, via the internet, without the need for specialist support.
This means that the settings of each system can be flexibly modified to suit operational requirements, for example to meet increasing or decreasing feedstock levels. Electric turbo compounding (ETC) products are also available for CHP systems, providing energy-efficient performance uplifts and reducing system emissions. Crucially, both control panels and turbo systems can be retrofitted to a wide variety of existing CHP engines, negating the need for substantial investment in brand new machinery.
AD is widely considered the most effective solution for the long-term management of organic waste and, unsurprisingly, sewage and sludge is a feedstock that isn’t likely to become scarce anytime soon! Set against the backdrop of continually diversifying energy markets and a focus on renewable energy, its transformation into energy offers a number of financial and environmental benefits, resulting in an industry that can only continue to flourish in the future.