Fueling the Fire

4th October 2021

Erin LynchErin Lynch

Prophecies of a long, hard, cold winter dominated headlines over the past few weeks after soaring wholesale gas prices and the HGV driver shortage coalesced to create chaos across Britain. Gas companies went bust, fertiliser plants were forced to shut, and millions of consumers were left fearing high bills and empty shelves and fuel tanks. While much remains uncertain, what we can be sure about is that the climate crisis will continue to engulf our everyday lives until the Government takes even more serious action to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

The emerging story around the fuel crisis not only contains elements of misfortune and geopolitical manipulation, but it’s also connected to the odd and extreme weather patterns we’ve seen across this year. Winter 2020-2021 in Europe was colder than average, prompting greater demand for heating. At home and abroad, extreme weather events such as flooding, fires, and droughts caused a greater demand for energy intensive air conditioning, and depleted fundamental infrastructure including hydropower resources. In the UK, a summer ‘wind drought’ led to lower-than-usual supply from the nation’s preferred renewable energy source.

Despite being lauded for a strong transition to renewable energy, the UK is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels and unusually precarious to the current volatility. 77% of British homes are heated with gas boilers, burdening us with a heavy carbon footprint — gas boilers emit twice as much CO2 as all the power stations in the UK. Insulate Britain protests, perhaps more famed for their methods than their message,  have been pushing the UK Government to reduce household emissions by increasing thermal insulation, calling for a nationwide switch to heat pumps and smart heating controls. Heat pumps, which run on electricity, cost more to install than gas boilers but are more energy efficient.The UK is a laggard within Europe when it comes to heat-pump uptake.

It seems like change may already be well on the way. In the past few days, news emerged that UK green energy surcharges will switch from electric to gas bills, nudging consumers to heat their homes in more environmentally friendly ways, though commentators are concerned that the switch to green energy ‘risks hitting the poor hardest’.

Amidst all this, the spectre of the upcoming COP26 looms large and many fear that the threat of global energy insecurity will undermine ambitions to curb emissions at the conference next month. We hope this won’t be the case — but nothing can be taken for granted. Many of our charities will be spending the next month turning up the pressure on governments to take serious action. Watch this space.

Good Tythings

  • The US and EU have announced plans for a Global Methane Pledge which will cut methane 30% by 2030. The Clean Air Task Force call the pledge a ‘tremendous display of ambition’ and hope that this will ‘add further momentum to the expectation of a major action on methane at Glasgow’ during COP26. The IPCC report showed that methane is a key driver of global warming, and the CATF has played a key role in documenting extensive methane pollution from oil and gas sites across the world — including participants in the pledge.
  • Earlier this year Surfers Against Sewage led the Million Mile Clean in which over 50,000 volunteers cleaned 350,000 miles of beach across the UK. As part of the clean, over 25,000 items of packaging pollution were studied as part of their fascinating Brand Audit Report. The results are damning for the ‘Dirty Dozen’ companies behind 48% of branded pollution. These include Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Co, Stella Artois, Budweister, and Anheuser-Busch InBev. There were some unexpected findings too — despite significant press coverage, PPE only accounted for 2.5% of all pollution. SAS are calling for an ‘all-in’ Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) and the end of non-essential single-use and polluting plastics to help overcome plastic pollution.
  • James Deutsch, CEO of the Rainforest Trust has pledged $500m as part of the largest ever college private funding commitment to biodiversity conservation. The pledge will help ensure that 30% of the planet is protected and preserved for biodiversity by 2030. A vital component to their commitment to establishing more protected areas is respecting the rights and needs of Indigenous populations and local communities.
  • Four new tree species have been discovered in the Rio Zuñac Reserve, a protected area managed by World Land Trust partner EcoMinga. The new species have been classified within the Sciodaphyllum genus and are considered to be ‘vulnerable’. According to EcoMinga Director, Lou Jost, the discovery ‘proved once again the amazing endemism, diversity and conservation importance” of the Rio Zuñac Reserve.’
  • China has pledged to stop building new coal-fired energy plants abroad in a move that could be pivotal in tackling global emissions.
  • How green is your food? Study shows that ‘eco-labels’, which make us aware of the environmental impact of certain foods, are effective in nudging us to eat more sustainably.
  • President Biden has promised to double the amount of money the United States is providing to help poorer countries deal with climate change. Biden’s speech came right after Boris Johnson urged world leaders to ‘take concrete action’ on climate change during the UN General Assembly in New York earlier in September.
  • Excellent Development have begun construction on the first sand dam within the Mzondola community, situated on the Thangadzi River in Malawi. It’s believed to be the first sand dam in Malawi. This region experiences high poverty and food insecurity, in part because of extremely high temperatures.
  • SolarAid helped light up 500 homes in Ntichsi, Malawi last month as part of their latest programme ‘Light A Village’. SolarAid hope to be a key player in the campaign to #EndTheDarkness and light up every home, school, and clinic in Africa by 2030.
  • In what appears to be a win for the Sustainable Food Trust, The Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Efra) select committee have recommended that the UK’s abattoir network be treated as a ‘strategic national asset’ and given 6 months of funding. The Trust have campaigned for months on the importance of having robust local supply chain infrastructure and more small abattoirs for food security. The potential frozen food and meat shortages we’re currently witnessing strengthen this claim.
  • The Good Food Institute CEO, Bruce Friedrich was published in CNN discussing how alternative meats could help save the planet. Friedrich argues that cultivated meat, or producing meat from plants without industrial farms or slaughterhouses could be the highest impact scalable climate solution outside of energy. According to a recent study, the meat, dairy, and animal-based-feedstock industry is responsible for about 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions — possibly surpassing all forms of transportation.
  • After years of campaigning, the end of the EU’s biggest coal plant is nigh. The Polish General Director of Environmental Protection has cancelled the environmental permit for the Złoczew open-cast coal mine in Poland after legal action by ClientEarth, Frank Bold, and Greenpeace. The coal from Złoczew was destined for Belchatow, a notorious mega-polluter and the largest lignite-fired coal plant in the world. As of 2019, Belchatow emitted over 37m tonnes of CO2 each year – the same as a small country.
  • A recent showcase of extraordinary underwater photography shows the extreme environmental costs caused by pollution, including the particular threat of ‘ghost gear’ —one of the most harmful forms of marine debris to ocean health. There’s an estimated 640,000 tonnes of the stuff in our oceans.
  • Hubbub, alongside Ellipsis Earth, has just conducted the most robust litter survey ever taken in the UK. Using drone technology, Hubbub was able to identify 123,000 pieces of litter collected over the course of a week in Bournemouth. Their data allowed them not only to identify different types of litter but also to understand who left it and how we might reduce littering. One of their most interesting findings was that litter could be reduced by 75% just by using glow-in-the-dark bins.
  • Trees for Cities is supporting the creation of a Glasgow Children’s Woodland ahead of COP26. The project will see 151 Glasgow schools and 1,000 schoolchildren plant over 17,000 trees this month. The project will sequester nearly 6,000 tons of CO2 over its lifetime.

Ways to Engage

  1. Know someone (or a group) who has made a significant contribution to the health of the marine environment, sustainable management of marine resources or has encouraged public engagement with the oceans? If so, nominate them for an Ocean Award
  2. Interested in getting involved with the Sussex Kelp Restoration Project? Their citizen science recording scheme is now live! Watch the how-to video here****
  3. The Million Mile Beach Clean isn’t over. Sign up to help the health of our beaches
  4. Curious about cultivated crustaceans, or, as I like to call them, lab crabs? Join the Good Food Institute on October 20th for a fascinating webinar on the latest innovations behind cultivated crustaceans and seafood allergenicity
  5. The Campaign for National Parks has just launched its New Perspectives Bursary scheme to support the next generation (19-35) of National Park communicators. The scheme provides paid commissions, training, and mentoring. The first round is open for entries now.