The Big Business Plastics Debate (Part Two): How can we create a 'ripple effect' of change?

4 June 2019, source edie newsroom

In the second of our two-part feature from the Big Plastics Debate at edie Live 2019, we move the conversation on to explore how businesses and policymakers can harness the momentum of environmental campaigns and protests to drive a new 'social norm' around plastics.

It does appear that we’re entering an era where a single lightning rod moment can spark global change

It does appear that we’re entering an era where a single lightning rod moment can spark global change

As the first part of this feature concluded, the global shift away from single-use plastics is already beginning to have an undeniable impact on society. Plastic straws, stirrers, cotton buds, cups, bags and bottles are all on the way out, offering a glimpse at how our current linear economy is shifting to a closed-loop, resource-efficient model. Workplaces are being transformed into ‘single-use-plastic-free’ spaces, driven by staff understanding the simple steps that they can make as individuals to reduce their plastics impact.

---READ PART ONE OF THE BIG PLASTICS DEBATE HERE---

The Bank of England is a prime example. The organisation’s head of corporate sustainability and responsibility Charles Joly has witnessed an internal change that has seen an 80% reduction in plastic item use, a difference of around two million items annually. More than 500,000 plastic coffee cups have been replaced at water fountains and internal “Green Champions” now challenge colleagues to swap out disposable items.

For Joly, a key way for any business to reduce its reliance on plastics is to integrate that view as part of a way of life for staff.

“Viewing plastics differently is now integrated into our culture,” Joly explained. “People were bringing disposable cups and bottles to meetings. Now, we can put 15 people around the table and instantly see that re-use has become the new norm in the business... advocates are waking up and taking ownership across different areas of the business. Integration is the Holy Grail.”

To achieve this Holy Grail, Joly believes communication is a vital way of “getting people used to the new world” to “open a new train of thought about new areas of resource efficiency”.

Inspirational business

Turning from the world of banking to telecoms, Sky has emerged as one of the leaders when it comes to inspiring widescale change regarding resource efficiency, both across its supply chain and amongst the wider public.

The Sky Ocean Rescue campaign's engagement stats are nothing short of remarkable: more than 33.5 million people have so far interacted with Sky Ocean Rescue across its core markets, with more than a million people engaging with Sky’s #PassOnPlastic campaign on Twitter. The broadcaster has also used its influence in the sporting world to drive the agenda to a market that is considered hard-to-reach for topics like environmental stewardship. By partnering with the Kia Oval cricket stadium, Sky was able to hand out 20,000 limited-edition re-usable bottles during the England cricket team’s match against South Africa in July 2017.

Elsewhere, Sky worked with the Premier League to commit to eliminating single-use plastics from the organisation by 2020, whilst encouraging football clubs and fans across the country to stop using certain plastics. The broadcaster announced that all single-use plastics will be removed from its products, operations and supply chain by 2020 and that it will also invest £25m into an Ocean Rescue Innovation Fund to develop remedies to the amount of waste seeping into oceans.

For Sky’s head of inspirational business and Sky Ocean Rescue, Fiona Ball, businesses should look to create a “ripple effect” by engaging other companies and consumers on plastics in a way that could eventually shift entire markets away from single-use.

“The greatest opportunity that business has is to see who else you can engage around this particular issue,” Ball said. “Take responsibility for the products you put out on the market, only in that way you will have a ‘circular economy’ approach to market products. It’s a reputational issue as well to continue doing something we know is irresponsible, so from a brand-value perception, things should start changing as well.”

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Social norms

Whether the plastics debate can be used as a gateway to improve understanding on other sustainability issues is another discussion entirely (incidentally, ZSL’s Fiona Llewellyn and Waitrose’s Tor Harris from the first part of this discussion believe it can act as one). But it does appear that we’re entering an era where a single lightning rod moment can spark global change.

Environmental charity Surfers Against Sewage’s chief executive Hugo Tagholm noted that the Blue Planet series that ignited the current wave of action on plastics dedicated just 14 minutes of airtime to plastics pollution. In a similar fashion, it took just one speech from a 16-year old schoolchild to kickstart the ongoing wave of climate youth strikes and Extinction Rebellion protests, which have opened eyes on the wider climate battle. The climate strikes have echoed across Parliament halls and it looks increasingly likely that the UK will enshrine a net-zero carbon target into law in the near future.

Tagholm is a firm believer that policymakers must also drive change to combat plastics pollution and push the nation towards a closed-loop economy.

“It took 14 minutes to change how industry considers its approach to plastics, how government is legislating and how NGOs and broadcasters have responded to the plastic crisis,” Tagholm said. “The plastic crisis is now, the plastic emergency is now, and we need radical solutions within the established business community.

“Change often relies on Westminster – it’s the place where legislation can incentivise and penalise industry for doing the right or the wrong thing. People need a new plastic eco-system where plastic is trapped in the economy rather than the environment.”

Carrot and stick

Indeed, speakers from across both of our Big Plastics Debate sessions highlighted the importance of legislation in order to set the precedent on how business and society should consume plastics. A deposit-return scheme for plastic bottles, for example, could reduce one-third of UK plastic seeping into the oceans, according to the think tank Green Alliance.

Bank of England’s Joly claimed that any new way of consuming or disposing of plastic will come with a “grief period” but the business and policymakers alike can bridge these issues through clear communication. BaxterStorey’s Hanson, meanwhile, reiterated that legislation is required to spur action, especially in sectors where action is too slow.

“We need legislation and you need the carrot and the stick,” Hanson said. “The stick is generally more effective.”

For ZSL’s Llewellyn, the end goal for an organisation should be to create an environment where a resource efficient economy is the “new norm”, to the point that people won’t be fatigued by the conversation on plastics, especially regarding the trade-offs and uses. “I think success would look like all of us not having to talk about this,” Llewellyn said. “It is fundamentally about changing our relationship with plastic and creating a new norm where we don’t abuse it and that it becomes so ingrained that it would be ludicrous to throwaway such value.

“If we achieve our goals of moving towards a new social norm, then people won’t be fatigued by the conversation or the issue and we can address other big issues. It doesn’t have to be in silo, and we need to make it easier for people to achieve these changes.”


The Big Business Plastics Debate (Part One): Are we throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

3 June 2019, source edie newsroom

Over two days at edie Live 2019, sustainability and resource efficiency experts from across the country gathered for the Big Plastics Debate - a live, on-stage panel discussion about the drivers, challenges and opportunities behind eliminating single-use plastics. Here, we summarise the first part of what was a highly provocative discussion.

Two expert panels discussions outlined how the debate on plastics has moved on from target setting to holistic action

Two expert panels discussions outlined how the debate on plastics has moved on from target setting to holistic action

Our chair, Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment (INCPEN) chief executive Paul Vanston, set the scene for the Big Plastics Debate with an interesting comparison; likening the current scramble to ditch single-use plastics to the ongoing furore surrounding the UK’s exit from the EU.

“Over the past 18 months, the plastics discussion has felt a little bit like Brexit,” Vanston said. “It’s become very binary – you’re either a leaver, or you are a remainer; there’s no in-between. With plastics, you’re either for or against.”

The recent flurry of plastics-related documentaries – from Sky Ocean Rescue to Blue Planet via Drowning in Plastics – has placed the large majority of consumers in the ‘against’ camp when it comes to plastics. Indeed, 82% of UK shoppers now believe the amount of plastic packaging needs to be “drastically reduced”, while 57% view plastic pollution as the single greatest threat to the environment in the modern era.

This surge in demand for radical action to reduce plastics has placed business in a somewhat precarious position. Collaborative initiatives such as the UK Plastics Pact have welcomed a large number of paying corporates seeking solutions that will accelerate the transition away from single-use plastics. But moving too quickly on the issue could well cause trade-offs or unintended consequences.

Plastics pollution has been in national headlines for almost two years now, and it remains one of the few subjects of great national interest that have united MPs who are otherwise fractured over Brexit. But, as our edie Live panel began to discuss, the plastics debate has changed since the wave of momentum began, and a more nuanced conversation is starting to emerge.

“Plastics aren’t an evil product,” Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) senior marine project manager Fiona Llewellyn said. “It’s an amazing product that has changed our lives for the better in so many ways. The trouble is its durability. When we talk about throwing plastics away, there is no away, it’s always somewhere. Bottles are one of the most common items found in the ocean. They are the flagship species for ocean plastics pollution and are a gateway to engaging people with other environmental issues and the misuse of plastics.”

Spurred by conservation projects which ensure that “wildlife thrives and where humans and animals can live cohesively”, Llewellyn and ZSL have seen first-hand the devastating impact that plastics can have on the natural environment, notably marine ecosystems where plastics could outweigh fish by 2050. It is this rather distressing narrative that has seemingly ignited consumer demands for alternatives, and ZSL has been keen to trial city-wide action to combat the issue. The Society, in partnership with Marine Collaboration, has used the #OneLess campaign to galvanise businesses, policymakers, NGOs and the public to reduce single-use water bottles in the city of London. The average London adult buys 3.37 plastic water bottles every week – equivalent to more than one billion per year on a city level.

Llewellyn’s comments that plastics aren’t evil was a mirrored by numerous other speakers during edie Live’s Big Plastics Debate, with the experts pointing to unsustainable behaviours, poor infrastructure, bad design and prohibitive policy as the less immediately obvious causes of plastics pollution.

To this point, hospitality provider BaxterStorey’s head of sustainable business Mike Hanson noted that he is anti-litter rather than anti-plastic and that consumerism in general is in need of a massive overhaul, not only to reduce virgin resource use, but to “better articulate the value” of materials such as plastic. Instead, Hanson said that the current engagement and interest on the issue can be used as a springboard to start conversations that address some of the major causes of plastics pollution – namely the aforementioned issues of design, behaviour and infrastructure.

“There is no single solution, no magic bullet to combatting plastics,” Hanson said. “You need to focus on design, resource efficiency and waste management and tap into the current enthusiasm. We have a great opportunity and now is the perfect storm, awareness is absolutely massive, and we need to make fundamental change.

“But we also need to recognise that plastic has a huge role to play. We need to understand what we’re using and if we have the right waste stream for it. What we replace single-use plastics with can have a larger impact on society, on the environment and on cost, but we are at danger of almost throwing the baby out with the bathwater because the impact of an alternative could be far higher.”

Unintended consequences

Hanson used plastic’s interdependent relationship with food as a prime example where any changes to the packaging – which are much quicker for businesses and policymakers to introduce compared to infrastructure – could cause net-negative results. Some retailers have taken steps to remove shrink wrapping from loose produce ranges, but Hanson pointed out that this type of packaging helps increase the shelf life of cucumbers from three days to 14. These “knee-jerk” approaches to the issue could create more problems than solutions across the environmental spectrum, Hanson said.

This sentiment was echoed to some extent by Waitrose’s head of CSR, agriculture and health Tor Harris. On plastics, Waitrose has committed to a 2025 goal of making all its own-brand packaging is either recyclable, reusable or home compostable and has banned the sale of single-use plastic straws and disposable coffee cups in all of its UK stores, following earlier phase-outs of products such as plastic-stemmed cotton buds and microbead-based health and beauty lines. It has additionally pledged to remove black plastic, which is notoriously hard-to-recycle, from all own-brand products by the end of 2019. But alongside this, the retailer has pledged its support for a joint commitment to halve food waste outputs by 2030, in line with the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A key aspect of this commitment is ensuring that fresh produce does not go to waste – so, packaging that extends shelf-life is only becoming more important for the retailer.

For Harris, the current furore around plastics has created an opportunity for the retailer to “push the boundaries” on what can be achieved in reducing single-use plastics, provided it doesn’t create trade-offs for food waste.

“The reason we use plastics is to protect quality and prolong shelf life for food,” Harris said. “We have to weigh up the environmental benefits of the packaging against the environmental benefits of prolonging the shelf life of a product so that we or a customer don’t end up throwing it away. We are going to be taking packaging off some items to see where we can push the boundaries and remove it without any negative impact on food waste or quality.”

Waitrose’s balanced approach to plastics has seen it home in on “problem” plastics in the first instance, such as single-use items and black plastics. As such, the firm is now trialling fibre-based packaging across its range of Italian ready meals. These will replace the black plastic trays currently used for three of its Italian ready meal products with the alternative material, which it claims is 100% FSC-certified and widely recyclable. Harris also noted that some plastic replacements are still too costly for businesses to implement. Citing coffee cups, she claimed that it is relatively easy economic shift from disposable to reusable variants, but that introducing refill stations at shops “is a much different conversation” – although Waitrose is looking to introduce refill stations at locations where refurbishing and retrofitting has been scheduled.

The panel discussion seemed to be in a consensus, then, that rapid moves away from certain plastics could create unintended consequences in the near future. Could it be that, in 10 years’ time, we are debating the use of field crops for packaging when land use for food becomes strained, or whether biodegradable and oxy-degradable are, in fact, forms of greenwash? And, as Part Two of the Big Plastics Debate goes onto explore, there is a huge societal aspect to the conversation which must also be considered.


The Electric Vehicle Revolution Is About To Get Messy

August 21st, 2019 by at CleanTecnica


Those of us who have followed the electric vehicle market for several years (or, for some of you, decades) can easily get complacent about where the EV revolution is and where it’s headed. We can be lulled into a semi-sleeping state by monthly sales reports, by routinely seeing EV market share of 1–2% in some markets, 5–10% in others, and 50% in Norway. We can be blown away by the Tesla Model 3’s success, while at the same time underestimating what it means.

As Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently mused, it’s super hard for humans to comprehend exponential growth. Indeed, we are not good at thinking in exponential rather than linear ways. It’s one reason why there are popular riddles or tricks related to exponential growth. I’d argue that, in general, we are not good at forecasting, at processing changes that take more than a day to occur. Just think about some major changes in your life that you knew were coming — your brain probably couldn’t digest them, could absorb them until the changes occurred, and even then you might have needed a while to mentally adjust.

Getting practical for a minute, much has changed in the electric vehicle industry — beyond Tesla — that has gone under-noticed for various reasons. A new Nissan LEAF today is not much different in price from a new Nissan LEAF 7 years ago, in 2012. The big difference, the big evidence of change, is that the car now has much more range, more than double the range of a 2012 LEAF. The battery inside the Nissan LEAF is much better and holds considerably more energy despite coming at essentially the same price. The same thing has happened for other models or types of vehicles.

The thing that I think we get complacent about is that we inherently assume the battery technology is now settled and static. Of course, if we think about it, we know that’s not true, but we don’t think about it much. Our brains just accept today as reality. Just as the 73 mile LEAF of 2011 wouldn’t last long and range would more than double in 7 years, EV technology of today won’t last long. In 7 years, a LEAF could have much more range or be much cheaper.

While the LEAF has gotten much better in the past 7 years, Tesla has developed and rolled out the Model 3, a car that is much better than a 2012 Model S in many regards while also being significantly cheaper. In another 7 years, imagine what continued battery improvement will do for Tesla.

In 3–7 years, the Model 3 won’t be the only EV in its class that crushes any gasoline competitor. Nissan should have a model that does so, Volkswagen certainly will, Ford should, GM should, everyone should. If the don’t, they will struggle to stay in business.

Tesla’s vehicles will keep improving and Tesla will make more money on them as underlying prices come down. Elon has said they don’t plan to bring the Model 3 any lower than $35,000. That means reduced costs will put more money into Tesla’s piggy bank for additional investments/projects. Additionally, Tesla could end up rolling out a “Model 2” for $25,000–30,000. If the Model 3 looks like a disruptive top seller, imagine the Model 2! Who could sell a gasoline car at that point?

In general, much more of the public will soon find out that you can’t buy a gas car in most classes that can hold a candle to its electric competitors, and automakers still trying to push gasmobiles onto consumers will get burnt. Tesla will still be setting the pace for the industry, but that won’t be nearly as necessary. Other automakers will have mass-market electric vehicles that regularly rank at or near the top of sales charts (like they do in Norway today), because automakers know the technology is ready and they know that if they don’t sell the cars, a competitor will, and they will die.

Of course, we can assume some automakers are still not prepared, some continue to stick their heads in the sand, and they will be punished for it. Perhaps some of them will get bailed out by their respective governments. Others won’t.

Gasoline/diesel cars that come off lease or hit the used car market will struggle, since consumers won’t want to adopt cars that are costly to fuel, polluting, and expensive to maintain. Automakers that try to hold onto the gas/diesel era will file for bankruptcy or beg for government support. Tesla will continue seeing word-of-mouth sales light its future, while other electric vehicles will offer traditional options to go electric without compromise or worry.

And then there’s autonomy.

We see growing EV sales right now, and dropping gasmobile sales in some countries and globally, but what we don’t appreciate is that multipliers come into effect as the market changes. All of a sudden, an engine factory closes, an EV factory opens, a company folds, EV leaders gobble much more of the pie. As these things occur, more people find out about the revolution, and the revolution grows. As people’s preferred brands enter crisis mode, they look for new brands, and many find Tesla. Others catchword of VW’s hot new ID lineup, or Nissan’s electric crossover and sedan, or the new & improved Jaguar I-PACE. Of course, the automakers that evolve fast and intelligently will have a lot of opportunities to grow their market share.

The change is not just coming — it’s underway. The battery evolution that brought us the Model 3, a Nissan LEAF with 2–3 times more range than a 2011 LEAF, the Hyundai Kona EV, and the coming VW ID.3 will not stop. Batteries will keep evolving. We’ve already entered the crossover point where an EV beats its competitors in about 10 ways and doesn’t lose in any significant ways. We’ve already entered the vortex. As word of mouth blows around and awareness rises, the forces pushing us from 1% to 2% EV market share will become much more powerful and demand will start to skyrocket. At that point, things get messy.

A CleanTechnica Tesla Model 3 at Volkswagen HQ in California.

I wrote last night about Volkswagen’s opportunity to actually gain market share from the EV revolution. I knew it would be a controversial, divisive article, and it was. But there’s an underlying point, which is indeed still a question. Well, let me present it as a series of questions and answers:

Is it clear electric vehicles are the future? Yes. Does Volkswagen Group agree with that? Yes, I think it does.

Is it clear that it’s a big financial challenge for traditional automakers to switch to EVs? Yes.

Is it clear that battery supplies are critical to competing in the electric revolution, if that is indeed what it is? Yes. Is Volkswagen Group working to address that problem? It seems like it, but that’s not entirely clear.

Does Volkswagen Group realize that being able to thread these needles carefully and ramp up EV production quicker than the competition (other traditional automakers) gives it the best chance of survival and financial success? I think so, and I think that’s exactly what it’s aiming to do.

What do other automakers think that they need to try to aggressively thread this needle? Which automakers think there’s a bigger threat to slow-walking the EV transition than there is to accelerating into it? That’s the big fundamental question. Some are convinced Renault is intent on being a leader (or remaining a leader). I hope so, but I’d like to see a bit more evidence of that. Some are convinced Hyundai–Kia is intent on being a leader. I know they have done a great job building competitive EVs, but I haven’t seen strong evidence they are working hard to secure the battery supplies needed (in fact, they have been really bad at this so far) or that they have a solid EV platform for quickly rolling out EVs of various classes in a financially efficient manner. PSA Group, GM, and Ford all have their supporters, but solid evidence that they are focused more on ramping up than PR is limited and scattered. There was some hope Nissan would be intent on retaining its hold on the “top-selling EV in history” title, and adding some other titles to that one, but then it apparently committed corporate self-sabotage and seems to have abetted the illogical jailing of its #1 spokesperson and one-time corporate savior. It’s hard to have much hope for Nissan these days.

Looking at that long paragraph in total, who’s likely to jump into the messy transition most enthusiastically and come out on top? Who is looking at the pace of technological change and calculating that EVs will soon be so much more competitive than gasmobiles that the early majority will be driving millions of them home from European and US dealers year after year? Feel free to place your bets, and be sure to watch closely. I’ve got my own hunch, but I’m not yet placing any bets (beyond my bet on Tesla/TSLA).


Peer-to-peer energy trading could trigger earnings boon for DER, study finds

LO3's Brooklyn microgrid. Image: LO3 Energy

LO3's Brooklyn microgrid. Image: LO3 Energy

Peer-to-peer trading could enable those with distributed energy resources (DERs) to earn up to 37% more for their electricity, according to LO3 Energy.

The energy tech firm conducted a 12-month local energy marketplace (LEM) trial in Australia looking at the associated network and market charges of P2P, which it said is one of P2P’s main challenges.

Three scenarios were modelled - one scenario where neither buyers or sellers paid network charges, one where the costs were split between the two and one where all costs were charged to the consumer.

The modelling was conducted alongside Siemens, Sustainable Australia Fund, CommPower Industrial, Simply Energy and Dairy Australia.

It found that trading local energy within a community incurs fewer losses and is more cost efficient than transmitting power over long distances.

When the consumer paid the costs – a scenario LO3 said is most consistent with existing markets and regulation – they could potentially save 6-12% by buying locally. And those selling the electricity generated from DERs could make 18-37% more than they currently do.

The findings could increase the adoption of DERs in much the saw way that the economics of DERs themselves have accelerated demand from consumers, LO3 said.

LO3’s blockchain-powered energy trading platform was used in the trial, with the 100 participants paying a small fee to access the platform it intends to launch commercially later this year.

The firm is involved in 10 trials worldwide, including Centrica’s Cornwall LEM trial. However, in the UK P2P trading can only go ahead as part of Ofgem’s regulatory sandbox due to regulation restricting consumers to one electricity supplier. This creates barriers for P2P, where a consumer could be buying electricity from any number of neighbours.

Belinda Kinkead, director of LO3 Australia, said: “The study showed the community wanted to embrace new technologies, wanted to keep energy spend in the community and wanted to buy their energy more cheaply.

“The test results demonstrated that even under existing restrictions a local energy market delivers that. The next step is to get these markets set up and then explore regulation changes to provide even bigger benefits.”


The next Prime Minister: Exploring Boris Johnson's enigmatic views on the environment

23 July 2019, source edie newsroom

Boris Johnson, the MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, will be announced as the new Prime Minister on Wednesday afternoon (24 July). But what are his views on climate change, the environment, and sustainability?

MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip Boris Johnson: our next Prime Minister? (Image: Wikipedia/Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip Boris Johnson: our next Prime Minister? (Image: Wikipedia/Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

At first glance, it would appear Boris Johnson, an ex-mayor of London who is passionate about cycling, would be a prime candidate for being one of the greenest Prime Ministers in history. But dig deeper and you find a number of comments and policy decisions about the environment which perhaps don’t match the public persona.

Policy positions

His opposition to Heathrow Airport expansion as mayor of London is well known, but as with many issues to do with Johnson, the true picture is unclear. Was his opposition to Heathrow expansion because of the environment, or was it because he wanted his own “Boris Island” Airport in the Thames Estuary? He has also changed his mind about Heathrow in recent months, according to reports. What happened to the man who would “lie down in front of the bulldozers” over the scheme? Such is the green contradiction at the heart of the man entering Number 10 on Wednesday evening.

It is instructive to look at his voting record on climate issues to get past the rhetoric. As an MP, he has voted against policies to include a carbon capture and storage strategy and also against the implementation of emissions-based vehicle taxes. He also voted for applying the Climate Change Levy on electricity generated from renewable sources. Interestingly, Johnson has never voted on a new high-speed rail infrastructure.

As mayor of London, his environmental record is mixed. It was discovered in 2016 that he held back a report about air pollution impacting deprived schools, but he also planned the first Ultra Low Emission Zone and slapped an additional £10 on diesel vehicles to drive into the centre of London. He also committed to electrifying the bus fleet and improving the capital’s rapid charging network, spending £330m on hybrid buses, zero-emission taxies and trees. But he also scrapped the proposed western extension of the Congestion Charge Zone, which could have had a significant impact on vehicular traffic and air pollution throughout the capital.

More recently as an MP, he has backed calls for greater regulations on fracking, and spoken out against the US’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement. However, during hustings for the leadership of the Conservative Party, Johnson also didn’t refer to the “climate emergency”, which was passed by the House of Commons, and his language has often been more muted on climate change than Jeremy Hunt, his rival for the job.

Recent actions

A news story in June again illustrated the contradiction at the heart of Johnson’s views on climate. It was revealed that 60% of climate attaches around the world were cut by the Foreign Office, just at the time that Boris Johnson was the secretary for state. Professor David King, the former chief scientist, told the Guardian that although the cuts began just before Johnson took up the role, he did not reverse them, and when challenged by King on the issue, he begged him to not go public with it. Johnson said he was unaware of the cuts.

Additionally, Johnson has received donations from Terence Mordaunt, the director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a leading climate denial group established by prominent denier Lord Lawson, and who push for greater deregulation and oppose action to climate science.

One of the other more eyebrow-raising elements of Johnson’s climate scepticism is seen in his series of articles for The Telegraph newspaper, in which he promotes the work of Piers Corbyn – brother to Labour leader, Jeremy – who is a prominent climate science denier. Corbyn believes that rising temperatures are due to solar activity creating natural climate change cycles rather than being anthropogenic – a standard view of climate deniers. Concerningly, this wasn’t a one-off Johnson “gaff”, and he has made the same point three times in Telegraph articles – originally in 2010, another in 2013, and yet again in 2015.

Johnson wrote in his 2015 Telegraph article: “In the view of Piers and his colleagues at WeatherAction, it is all about sun spots, and he is on record as believing that we are now due for a new 'Maunder Minimum' – like the famous cold spell in the 17th century, when the Thames froze several times. Whatever is happening to the weather at the moment, it is nothing to do with the conventional doctrine of climate change.”

Green Brexit

One of the main reasons Boris Johnson will walk into Number 10 has been his support for Brexit.

Johnson has liked to position any potential environmental policy and shift in standards as “taking back control” and although there is hope that all EU environmental law will be ported into UK law – there is a concern that rather than keeping up with European standards, the UK may slip. This is particularly concerning under a Johnson Premiership as he has previously stated he is a fan of deregulation and reducing the role of the state. In 2018, Johnson indicated that any deal with the EU should include freedoms on the ability to change standards and legislation, including environmental laws.

Johnson has also emphasised that green growth post-Brexit “meant jobs”. He said: “We should be unabashed about talking about the achievements we are making in the environment and the jobs that we are creating in the economy. There is massive scope for employment in green technologies of all kinds.”

Speaking during a hustings event for the Conservative leadership election, Johnson said the party had “a fantastic record” on environmental improvements, and championed clean battery technology and air quality legislation. He said Tories had “done so many things…whether it’s reducing the use of plastic bags, or whatever”.

Johnson said the environment was “a winner for us” and jobs in clean technology would expand in years to come – and that was a message “we can really sell to young people”.

Lib Dems and Jo Swinson

The news about Boris Johnson becoming the next leader of the Conservative Party, and therefore the next Prime Minister of Great Britain, has coincided with the announcement of Jo Swinson as leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Swinson does not necessarily have the green credentials that might be expected of a Liberal Democrat leader, despite describing it recently as the defining issue of our time. As a former member of the coalition government with the Conservatives between 2010 and 2015, she voted against a number of climate change issues. She has voted against a moratorium on fracking permits, in favour of cutting subsidies for renewable energy and also in favour of selling off national forests.

Swinson has already said that “Britain deserves better than Boris Johnson” and her first comments on the future Prime Minister were scathing: “I rage when Boris Johnson is more interested in sucking up to Donald Trump than standing up for British values of decency, equality and respect.

“He has shown time and time again that he isn’t fit to be prime minister. Boris Johnson has only ever cared about Boris Johnson. Just ask Sir Kim Darroch or Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Whether it is throwing people under the bus or writing a lie on the side of one: Britain deserves better than Boris Johnson.”

James Evison


A New Kind Of Geothermal Energy And Faster Charging Batteries Are Coming

July 18th, 2019 by  at CleanTechnica logo

 

Renewable energy and energy storage research is going on at hundreds of laboratories around the world, so it is no surprise that new discoveries are being announced almost weekly. Here are two of the latest.

Making Electricity From The Heat Of The Earth’s Crust

Image courtesy NREL

It’s hot underneath the Earth’s crust, hot enough to boil water and in some cases turn that boiling water into steam to run turbines that generate electricity. Getting to the source of the heat deep underground is filled with technical challenges which drive up the cost of any electricity produced.

A research team at Tokyo Institute of Technology led by Dr. Sachiko Matsushita reports success using sensitized thermal cells to generate electricity at temperatures below 100º C. If the research leads to commercial grade products, a limitless supply of electricity could become available.

“With such a design, heat, usually regarded as low-quality energy, would become a great renewable energy source,” says Matsushita. “There is no fear of radiation, no fear of expensive oil, no instability of power generation like when relying on the sun or the wind.”  He and his team are excited about their discovery because of its applicability, eco-friendliness, and potential for helping solve the global energy crisis.

The sensitized thermal cells consist of three layers sandwiched between electrodes — an electron transport layer, a semiconductor layer composed of germanium, and a copper electrolyte layer. According to a report by Science Daily, electrons go from a low-energy state to a high-energy state in the semiconductor by becoming thermally excited and then get transferred naturally to the electron transport medium. The results of their research have been published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry. Here is the abstract of the study.

You can find thermal energy everywhere in the world, including geothermal energy. Here we report an amazing battery that could supply power semi-permanently by simply burying the cell in a heat source and turning the switch on and off. We examined the discharge termination process of a sensitized thermal cell (STC), a new thermal energy conversion system for generating electrical power from heat previously reported by the authors.

To observe this termination process, we constructed a new STC system using a narrow-bandgap semiconductor, germanium (Ge), and surprisingly found that the battery characteristics were restored after discharging by placing or burying the battery in a heat source. This discovery should bring us closer to solving global energy problems.

A New Take On Solid State Batteries

Researchers at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium say they have discovered a new material they call LTPS — whose chemical composition is LiTi2(PS4)3 — that has the highest lithium diffusion coefficient (a direct measure of lithium mobility) ever measured in a solid. According to Science Daily, LTPS shows a diffusion coefficient much higher than in other known materials. The results are published in the scientific journal Chem from Cell Press. Here is a summary of that report.

“Solid-state materials with high ionic conduction are necessary for many technologies, including all-solid-state lithium (Li)-ion batteries. Understanding how crystal structure dictates ionic diffusion is at the root of the development of fast ionic conductors. Here, we show that LiTi 2(PS 4) 3 exhibits a Li-ion diffusion coefficient about an order of magnitude higher than that of current state-of-the-art Li superionic conductors. We rationalize this observation by the unusual crystal structure of LiTi 2(PS 4) 3, which offers no regular tetrahedral or octahedral sites for Li to favorably occupy. This creates a smooth, frustrated energy landscape resembling the energy landscapes present in liquids more than those in typical solids. This frustrated energy landscape leads to a high diffusion coefficient, combining low activation energy with a high pre-factor.

The increased lithium mobility is a direct result of the unique crystal structure of LTPS. This discovery opens new avenues of inquiry in the field of lithium ion conductors including the search for new materials with similar diffusion mechanisms.

The researchers say there is a need for further study to improve the material for future commercialization. If it is as successful in practice as it is in the lab, it could lead to new lithium ion storage batteries that can be recharged much faster than current li-ion batteries and eliminate the risk of fire or explosion inherent in today’s batteries.

There’s an interesting twist to this story. The research was conducted in collaboration with and financially supported by Toyota. Wouldn’t it be interesting if a company that has downplayed the significance of electric cars for years should be the one that fosters the solid state battery breakthrough that could make electric cars cost less and charge faster?


All the World’s Carbon Emissions in One Chart

May 31, 2019  By 
global carbon emissions

All the World’s Carbon Emissions in One Chart

Two degrees Celsius may not seem like much, but on our planet, it could be the difference between thriving life and a disastrous climate.

Over two centuries of burning fossil fuels have added up, and global decision-makers and business leaders are focusing in on carbon emissions as a key issue.

Emissions by Country

This week’s chart uses the most recent data from Global Carbon Atlas to demonstrate where most of the world’s CO₂ emissions come from, sorted by country.

RankCountryEmissions in 2017 (MtCO₂)% of Global Emissions
🌐 Rest of World10,02827.7%
#1🇨🇳 China9,83927.2%
#2🇺🇸 United States5,26914.6%
#3🇮🇳 India2,4676.8%
#4🇷🇺 Russia1,6934.7%
#5🇯🇵 Japan1,2053.3%
#6🇩🇪 Germany7992.2%
#7🇮🇷 Iran6721.9%
#8🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia6351.8%
#9🇰🇷 South Korea6161.7%
#10🇨🇦 Canada5731.6%
#11🇲🇽 Mexico4901.4%
#12🇮🇩 Indonesia4871.3%
#13🇧🇷 Brazil4761.3%
#14🇿🇦 South Africa4561.3%
#15🇹🇷 Turkey4481.2%
🌐 Top 1526,12572.2%

In terms of absolute emissions, the heavy hitters are immediately obvious. Large economies such as China, the United States, and India alone account for almost half the world’s emissions. Zoom out a little further, and it’s even clearer that just a handful of countries are responsible for the majority of emissions.

Of course, absolute emissions don’t tell the full story. The world is home to over 7.5 billion people, but they aren’t distributed evenly across the globe. How do these carbon emissions shake out on a per capita basis?

Here are the 20 countries with the highest emissions per capita:

Emissions per capita
Source: Global Carbon Atlas. Note: We’ve only included places with a population above one million, which excludes islands and areas such as Curaçao, Brunei, Luxembourg, Iceland, Greenland, and Bermuda.

Out of the original 30 countries in the main visualization, six countries show up again as top CO₂ emitters when adjusted for population count: Saudi Arabia, the United States, Canada, South Korea, Russia, and Germany.

The CO₂ Conundrum

We know that rapid urbanization and industrialization have had an impact on carbon emissions entering the atmosphere, but at what rate?

Climate data scientist Neil Kaye answers the question from a different perspective, by mapping what percentage of emissions have been created during your lifetime since the Industrial Revolution:

Your Age% of Total Global Emissions
15 years oldYou've been alive for more than 30% of emissions
30 years oldYou've been alive for more than 50% of emissions
85 years oldYou've been alive for more than 90% of emissions

Put another way, the running total of emissions is growing at an accelerating rate. This is best seen in the dramatic shortening between the time periods taken for 400 billion tonnes of CO₂ to enter the atmosphere:

  • First period: 217 years (1751 to 1967)
  • Second period: 23 years (1968 to 1990)
  • Third period: 16 years (1991 to 2006)
  • Fourth period: 11 years (2007 to 2018)

In order to be a decarbonised economy by 2050, we have to bend the (emissions) curve by 2020… Not only is it urgent and necessary, but actually we are very nicely on our way to achieving it.

— Christiana Figueres, Convenor of Mission 2020


The Landfill Ban in Scotland - what next for the 1M tonne Gap

It seems fairly clear that the looming landfill ban to be enforced in Scotland by legislation, enacted in 2012 (The Waste (Scotland) Regulations 2012) and which comes into force on 1st January 2021 will leave around 1 million tonnes of biodegradable residual waste stranded. In England there is no absolute ban yet, but the Committee on Climate Change has urged government in Westminster to follow Scotland's lead by 2025 and legislate by implementing a legally binding ban. Governments in Scotland and England have encouraged the reduction of landfilling biodegradable waste and thus the production of environmentally damaging methane by gradually increasing landfill tax in the expectation that private enterprise would step in and build more and better recycling; and energy recovery facilities (ERF's) for the inevitable material that cannot be recycled. To an extent this has been successful, but not entirely so and various estimates suggest that there will be a shortfall in available recycling and ERF's of 1M tonnes in Scotland and at least 8M tonnes in England.

In the last few months there has been an increasing media interest in what will happen in Scotland on 1st January 2021 when the ban comes into force. Various suggestions have been made including shipping to Europe, transporting it, by road or ship, to English landfill or derogation on the ban in those areas which are not served by recycling and ERF's.

Shipping waste to Europe particularly from more remote areas, involves multiple handling, road transport and storage and is increasingly, and rightly, recognised as an irresponsible solution for waste disposal. There is now a public awareness of the dangers of waste export, making headline news with the 'Blue Planet' and 'Drowning in Waste' and other documentaries, and highlighting a fact long known within the industry that not all waste exported is treated responsibly. Responsible waste handling/disposal aside, fossil fuelled shipment of waste overseas is costly both in terms of cash and carbon emissions and is simply unsustainable and environmentally damaging. We must recycle what we can and recover energy with what is left. But, what of the landfill ban and the stranded 1M tonnes in Scotland?

There are a number of options for this waste which excludes shipping it overseas for the above reasons:

  1. Ship the waste to England for landfill - can only be a temporary solution as England is likely soon to implement a legal ban. Furthermore, this will be a costly exercise adding at least £50/tonne to the cost of landfilling in Scotland today. The most striking result however will be the flight of landfill tax out of Scotland and into the English exchequer and this surely would be politically and economically unacceptable.
  2. Lift the ban on landfill - but this would be environmentally unacceptable and probably constitute political suicide on the part of the sitting Scottish Government
  3. Allow a managed derogation of the ban - in certain areas where there is no or insufficient recycling/ERF facilities. Derogated landfilling would be subject to close scrutiny by SEPA and subject to an additional landfill tax designed to accelerate the building of recycling and ERF's to replace landfill. In other words simply an acceleration and intensification of the drivers currently in place that have been largely, but not wholly successful.

Of the options suggested above, we believe that derogation of the landfill ban is now inevitable in certain areas. It keeps landfill tax in Scotland, avoids costly transport and breaking of the proximity principle and will increase and enhance the financial incentive for private enterprise and councils to build and operate recycling and energy recovery facilities. As soon as such facilities are in place then landfills in the catchment area can be immediately closed and the derogation for them removed.


Scottish Government Climate Change Bill - Revised Target for 2045

NEWS

Climate Change action

Published: 02 May 2019 00:01

Scotland will go greener, faster with world-leading targets.

Scotland will stop contributing to climate change within a generation under new, tougher climate change proposals.

Amendments to the Climate Change Bill have been lodged to set a legally binding target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 at the latest with Scotland becoming carbon neutral by 2040.

The existing targets proposed in the Bill were already world-leading. In response to calls from young people, scientists and businesses across the country, Scottish Ministers have adopted the advice of independent experts, the UK Climate Change Committee.

This means that in addition to the net-zero target for 2045, Scotland will reduce emissions by 70% by 2030 and 90% by 2040 – the most ambitious statutory targets in the world for these years.

The Committee’s recommended targets for Scotland are contingent on the UK adopting a net-zero greenhouse gas emission target for 2050.

Climate Change Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said:

“There is a global climate emergency and people across Scotland have been calling, rightly, for more ambition to tackle it and safeguard our planet for future generations. Having received independent, expert advice that even higher targets are now possible, and given the urgency required on this issue, I have acted immediately to set a target for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for 2045 which will see Scotland become carbon neutral by 2040.

“I have been consistently clear that our targets must be ambitious, credible and responsible. We must take an evidence-based approach and balance our climate, economic and social responsibilities. We have already halved greenhouse gas emissions from Scotland while growing the economy, so we know we can do it. I am committed to meeting the most ambitious targets possible, and doing so while continuing to build an inclusive and fair economy.

“Every single one of us now needs to take more action – not just the Scottish Government but also all businesses, schools, communities, individuals and organisations. The UK Government must also act.

“The Committee on Climate Change say that Scotland’s ability to meet these world-leading targets is contingent on the UK Government also accepting their advice and using the relevant policy levers that remain reserved. As such, I call on the UK Government to follow our lead, accept the Committee’s advice, and work with us to achieve this goal.

“We can, and we must, end our contribution to climate change. I invite everyone to accept the advice we’ve received and work with us in a just and fair transition to a net-zero economy.”


£24Bn Tax Bill for Decommissioning Oil and Gas Assets in UK Waters

The OGA estimates that the total cost of decommissioning around 320 installations, including offshore platforms, will be between £45 billion and £77 billion. But operators can use decommissioning costs to offset corporation tax they have paid since 2002 and petroleum revenue tax, which is a tax on profits made on oil fields commissioned before 1993. In November 2017, HM Treasury changed tax rules so that companies buying assets could offset decommissioning costs against taxes paid in the past by the operator selling the assets, a change that was intended to make buying and selling assets more viable for operators.

The NAO notes that operators’ expenditure on decommissioning is rising: they have spent more than £1 billion on decommissioning in each year since 2014. In 2016/17, the government paid out more to oil and gas operators in tax reliefs than it received from them in revenues for the first time – a repayment of £290 million.

Revenues recovered in 2017/18 – the Office for Budget Responsibility expects net annual receipts from the oil and gas sector to  rising from £1.2 billion in 2017/18 to £2.4 billion in 2022/23 - but the government’s tax relief payments are increasing as tax revenues fallen due to a combination of lower production rates, a reduction in oil and gas prices and operators incurring high tax-deductible expenditure.