It is hard to believe that five years have elapsed since 196 international nation states signed up to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. A lot has happened since 2016. For example, in 2020 America withdrew from the agreement under Donald Trump only for it to re-commit under new US President Joe Biden earlier this year. And China – which burns more coal than every other nation in the world combined and is responsible for a quarter of global CO2 emissions – has since promised to be carbon neutral by 2060. Without the involvement of these two industrial giants, global efforts would be seriously diminished.
When you consider that Britain is responsible for only 1% of global CO2 emissions, its target to become carbon neutral by 2050 looks relatively easy. Nonetheless, critics of the UK’s position have been out in force. Even the new Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, went on record as saying that Boris Johnson’s 10-point Plan revealed last year was “not definitive or watertight.”
The Government’s Energy White Paper published in December also left crucial questions unanswered. Commentators argued that it majored on “headline-grabbing emerging technologies” like Hydrogen and Carbon Capture utilisation and storage but provided “no clarity on policy frameworks.”
In the latest episode, a few days ago (on March 17) Mr Kwarteng announced that the UK was aiming to become the first major economy to have its own low-carbon industrial sector that would show the world “how we can cut emissions, create jobs and unleash private and economic growth.” He expects his strategy to create 80,000 jobs over 30 years and to cut emissions by two-thirds in 16 years. He wants the steel industry to reach net zero emissions.
He backed this bold vision with a pledge to spend more than £1bn helping schools, hospitals and industry to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and encourage growth of new low-carbon technologies. While commentators have been quick to point that this is not a new amount of money, and that more needs to be done to help households do the same, a strategy is emerging. And bearing in mind the world has been distracted by the more immediate threat of COVID-19, these are huge commitments both in environmental and financial terms.
The reckoning will come in November when the same nations gather in Glasgow for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26). Every country’s green strategy will come in for scrutiny.
As for UnitBirwelco, we introduced processes that enabled the group to achieve carbon neutral status last year alongside our 14001 accreditation. It can be done, but we need fewer empty promises, less political posturing and more action.