Cause Updates

22nd February 2024

Erin LynchErin Lynch

Carbon Reduction

Carbon Reduction

A win for renewables

The penultimate four months of 2023 were Britain’s lowest-carbon quarter on record. Renewables supplied over 40% of Britain’s electricity in this period. There are a few factors that contributed to this — wind output increased one-fifth compared to Q3 2022, and electricity demand fell by 5%, perhaps because of the extended warm spells. Another major factor was a reduction in consumer use because of high prices. But the carbon reduction is an upside that should only grow as renewable capacity increases, more people get electric vehicles, and the Dogger Bank wind farm begins supplying energy.

COP 28 - Methane Focus

COP28 took place in Dubai in December, with controversy surrounding the election of oil boss Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber as President of the Conference. A major focus of the conference was methane. Negotiators pledged significant sums to tackle methane with around $1 billion gathered in grant funding. It’s hoped this money can help achieve the Global Methane Pledge (GMP) goal of cutting anthropogenic methane emissions at least 30% by 2030 from 2020 levels.

Jonathan Banks, Director of the Global Methane Program at Clean Air Task Force shared his reflections on COP 28 in an episode of “Environmental Insights’, produced by the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.

Banks remarked that he was amazed at ‘how much attention and action I’ve seen on mitigation […]’ ‘We’ve never seen anything like this’.UN Secretary-General António Guterres however was quoted as saying that the pledges made at COP28 in Dubai ‘fell short’. Guterres argued the pledges made by oil and gas companies to reduce methane leaks, were a ‘step in the right direction’, but fell well short of what’s needed to meaningfully tackle the climate crisis.

CATF Reimagines Nuclear Energy

The Clean Air Task Force (CATF) released its ‘Nuclear Energy at Scale’ report in December. The report outlines nuclear energy’s potential to address climate change and highlights current flaws in the overall deployment ecosystem that prevent nuclear energy from achieving its full impact. CATF proposes six solutions to reduce cost and increase investor confidence, including product standardisation, aggregated demand, global licensing, technical support, and broader financing access. The report suggests these solutions could reduce the cost of nuclear reactors by up to 60% from first to subsequent builds.This report was unveiled at COP28 during CATF’s Zero-Carbon Future Pavilion, an event that featured a panel of government representatives and industry experts including the Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy in the U.S. Department of Energy.COP28 also provided an opportunity for CATF to showcase the “Global Playbook for Nuclear Energy Development in Embarking Countries,” a collaborative effort between CATF, EFI Foundation, and the Nuclear Threat Initiative. The Playbook details strategies and directions for the ethical, sustainable, and successful establishment of new nuclear ventures and sectors in countries newly adopting nuclear energy.

Soaring Rock Stocks

Frontier, a pioneering new fund for carbon removal investments launched by Stripe in 2022, announced their first purchase of carbon removal from enhanced rock weathering (ERW).Enhanced weathering describes a set of processes that help accelerate the natural absorption of carbon in rocks. When exposed to rain, wind, or seawater, alkaline rocks ‘weather’ by breaking down. During this slow process, the rock absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turns into bicarbonate. This usually takes hundreds or thousands of years, but with new methods, such as grinding up alkaline rocks and spreading them to increase exposure to ambient carbon dioxide, the rock weathering process can be accelerated to just a few years. It’s estimated that this process could account for 2-4 giga-tonnes of carbon removal per year by 2050, representing 40% of the global carbon removal portfolio. Enhanced rock weathering is also considered to have a few distinct advantages as a carbon dioxide removal pathway — low energy use, co-benefits in terms of soil pH management, and it helps a notoriously hard-to-decarbonise sector with heavy emissions: agriculture. Frontier will pay Lithos $57.1 million to remove 154,240 tons of CO₂ between 2024 and 2028. Lithos is a San Francisco-based carbon removal company. This is the largest purchase Frontier has facilitated and the largest enhanced weathering purchase to date.

Marine Conservation

Marine Conservation

Shipwreck Sanctuaries

A fascinating new study has highlighted the important role of shipwrecks in protecting marine ecosystems, and the devastating impact caused by destructive bottom trawling. An estimated 50,000 shipwrecks can be found around the UK’s coastline. A team from the University of Plymouth and Blue Marine Foundation found that while many areas of the seabed have been damaged significantly by heavy fishing pressure, the seabed in and around shipwrecks remained "largely unblemished". The shipwrecks have been acting as a hidden refuge for fish, corals and other marine species. The research found that the average density of marine life was 240% greater within wreck sites than in sites used for bottom towed fishing.

Blue Marine Foundation call out supermarket ‘hypocrites’

Blue Marine Foundation recently published the results of a six-month investigation undertaken with French NGO BLOOM Association and Greenpeace UK. The report, ‘The UK’s Tuna Blind Spot’, outlines huge disparities between the sourcing policies that cover UK retailers’ ‘own-label’ canned tuna, and the brand name tuna sold alongside it.

Of the top ten supermarkets in the UK, only Marks & Spencer was able to show that it does not source tuna caught with the highly destructive drifting fish aggregating devices (FADs). FADs are devices used by purse seine (a large wall of netting) fishing fleets, predominantly capturing young tuna before they can reproduce. This report is particularly alarming given the current overfishing crisis in the Indian Ocean, where two-thirds of the tropical tuna populations are being overfished.

BMF is supporting parallel studies into the emissions impact of trawling and its contribution to climate change. A new paper drawing together 15 years of research in the Lyme Bay Marine Protected Area (MPA), where BMF has been deeply involved, highlighted remarkable seabed recovery from bottom trawling and outlines a clear model for marine conservation and partnerships between scientists, fishing communities, NGOs and policy makers.

Bills are rising, but could that be a good thing?

Household bills are rising in April, with the average annual water and sewerage bill expected to rise by 6% in England and Wales, representing approximately a £27 increase.

This might be a good thing. One large factor behind the increase is record investment into important water infrastructure.

David Henderson, chief executive of Water UK announced that companies would invest £14.4bn to help “ensure the security of our water supply in the future and significantly reduce the amount of sewage in rivers and seas”. Next year, Henderson promised “will see record levels of investment from water companies to secure the security of our water supply in the future and significantly reduce the amount of sewage in rivers and seas.”

This represents the highest annual investment on record and will include the construction of 10 new reservoirs, the completion of the Tideway ‘super sewer’ on the river Thames, development of the Havant Thicket reservoir in Hampshire — the first new reservoir to be built in the UK in more than 30 years, and an increase in the capacity of dozens of wastewater treatment works. More than 2,000 kilometres of pipes will be repaired and replaced. The Tideway super sewer, which should become fully operational by late 2025, is hoped to reduce sewage pollution into the River Thames by 95%.

Over 2 million householders currently receive some kind of financial support with their bills, almost double the number from last year. But it remains to be seen whether this will be sufficient as households struggle with the cost of living and inflation on household goods.

Forest Conservation

Forest Conservation

Protecting Rwandan Cranes

The Rainforest Trust’s partner, the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association has shared a series of captivating photos taken in recent weeks of the Grey Crowned Cranes (Balearica regulorum) resident in the Umusambi Village reserve. The Rainforest Trust has been working with the Association and the Rwandan government to create a new 14,857-acre National Park to protect the Rugezi marsh and the endangered Grey Crowned Crane, the only crane species in Rwanda. The Rugezi marsh is a fragile swamp ecosystem that sits 7,000 feet above sea-level and covers 15,000 acres. The marsh is a refuge for wetland-dependent species and it also plays a vital role in regulating water flow. Unfortunately, illegal poaching and drainage for tea-production have meant that cranes have struggled to find suitable nesting spots. This is a particular problem for the Grey Crowned Crane — one quarter of the Rwandan Grey Crowned Crane population depends on the marsh and its aquatic life. Thanks to the Rainforest Trust and the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association’s work the crane population recently rose to 221 individuals. The Umusambi Village (Umusambi is the Rwandan word for the crane) sits close to the Kigali airport and hosts 50 crane pairs, many of whom are disabled, rescued from the illegal pet trade. The Village aims to rehabilitate cranes and eventually reintroduce them to the wild.

Climate Resilience

Climate Resilience

The Importance of Solar Energy in Healthcare

A new study highlights the importance of SolarAid and other NGOs by discussing the importance of widespread solar energy for delivering excellent primary healthcare. The review advocates the need to “expand the facility of Solar energy to various health centers” and to ensure organisations invest sustainably and consider innovative business models for achieving scalability and faster impact, much like SolarAid has done.

Growing Solar Capacity across Africa

According to AFSIA, Africa’s solar capacity grew to 16GW in 2023, up by 3.7GW. This is a huge improvement, though South Africa accounted for nearly 3 GW of the total, and this was primarily driven by industrial and commercial (C&I) projects, rather than domestic environments. Nevertheless, this provides a great example and helps reduce reliance on dirty energy sources that harm our planet.

How Sand Dams transformed this Kenyan community

A new story highlights the important role sand dams have played in Kitui County, Kenya, where the local government has declared an intention to construct 40 sand dams across 60 wards by 2027. The sand dams have been a resounding success — with agribusiness emerging in multiple townships.

Mary Mwendwa, a mother of three from Kitui County discussed the transformative impact sand dams have had — she is now able to obtain six jerricans of clean water that, ten years ago, it would have taken her six hours to draw. This has now been reduced to one hour.

Similarly, 27-year-old farmer Alice Wayua was able to earn Sh20,000 a week selling vegetables, a remarkable profit given the average monthly wage in Kenya sits around Sh20,000.

For Sand Dams to achieve their full impact, it is vital that local governments impacted by drought consider taking on similar commitments.

Food & Agriculture

Food & Agriculture

Pressure on DEFRA and Supermarkets

The Sustainable Food Trust has been mounting pressure on DEFRA to ensure that future food-labelling depicts the true impact food items and their sourcing processes have on the climate.

This follows after the IGD (Institute of Grocery Distribution) released its long-awaited recommendations to DEFRA about consistent eco-labelling on food in the UK. It is relatively uncontroversial that some standardisation is necessary with regard to eco-labelling. Consumers should be able to see where their food comes from, and make informed choices accordingly. The IGD report represents 2 years of research and consultation with government, industry, academics, and technical experts. Campaign groups like the Sustainable Food Trust were consulted, but they feel their voices were not adequately taken into account, as their points are not reflected in the report. The report recommended that food labels should:

  • Capture the most significant environmental impacts of the food system
  • Be relatively simple to understand and use the fewest number of indicators possible
  • Make the best use of available data

The IGD felt that overly informative labels would be counterproductive, putting consumers off, whereas simpler labels would have the greatest impact.

The Sustainable Food Trust sits within a broader coalition expressing serious concern about the proposals. In a letter to Rt Hon Steve Barclay MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the UK Government, the coalition said that

While some of our organisations have been consulted in the development of these recommendations, the outputs do not reflect our input provided to the process and furthermore, we consider that these recommendations, if enacted, could confuse and mislead consumers and potentially create unintended environmental outcomes.

Dr Lesley Mitchell, Policy Director at the Sustainable Food Trust, added:

"Supply chains and consumers need robust and comprehensive information to support positive environmental choices. We urge the Government to adopt an approach that focuses on biodiversity, animal welfare and other core aspects of sustainability, alongside carbon impacts.”

The concerns are that the new eco-labelling guidelines could mislead consumers and are weighted too heavily toward carbon while not paying adequate attention to biodiversity, soil, water health, and animal welfare.

Indeed, many fear that retailers might end up putting all of their resources into the single indicator provided on the label, and have little incentive to work on the other, very important concerns.

Seafood Innovation in India

The Indian government just announced a groundbreaking collaboration with Neat Meatt Biotech, a startup specialising in cultivated meat technology. The initiative aims to reduce India’s increasing seafood demand, reduce pressure on wild fish populations. and develop sustainable solutions to food and climate change issues through the development of early cell lines of high-value marine fish species. This is a landmark project. India is the world’s third-largest seafood consumer, with seafood consumption swelling by 88% over the past ten years. There are, as we mentioned in the marine conservation section, significant concerns about the overfishing crisis in the Indian Ocean, where two-thirds of the tropical tuna populations are being overfished.

Education & Advocacy

Education & Advocacy

Youth Opportunities

Action for Conservation are highlighting a number of exciting opportunities for young people to get involved in environmental projects.

Kew Gardens is offering £500 ‘Grow Wild 2024 Youth Grants’ to young people aged 14-25 with project ideas that celebrate UK native plants and/or fungi. The scope is wide and applications are encouraged from those with ideas in film, photography, sewing, science, or cooking. Individuals or groups of up to 6 can apply. Applications are due by 3pm, Tuesday 19th March 2024. The Grant Programme will offer participants with support, online training, opportunities to network and connect with other young nature enthusiasts, and the opportunity to complete Kew’s Young Environmental Leader Award.

ClientEarth Awaiting Greenwashing Verdict

ClientEarth is eagerly awaiting the verdict from a lawsuit it brought against KLM back in 2022. ClientEarth, along with igners Fossielvrij Netherlands and Reclame Fossielvrij, accused the Dutch airline of misleading (’greenwashing’) marketing that misleads the public by “giving the impression that the airline is tackling climate change, despite the fact that its plans for air traffic growth will exacerbate the crisis”. The final judgement is due in 2 weeks.

Global Canopy Increases Scrutiny on Financiers and Deforestation

Data from Global Canopy’s latest Deforestation Action Tracker has found that just 10% of institutional investors with climate commitments have a deforestation policy in place for these high-risk commodities. However Niki Mardas, Executive Director at Global Canopy, is optimistic. He believes that the EU’s Deforestation Regulation is a harbinger of good things and will mean that investors will no longer be able to ‘close their eyes’ to deforestation. The Regulation will apply to companies trading in cattle, cocoa, coffee, oil palm, rubber, soya and wood from 2025. Similar legislation is proposed in the UK and US. Global Canopy assessed over 700 financial institutions in 2023 on the strength and implementation of their policies on deforestation, conversion, and associated human rights abuses.