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Rising to the Climate Emergency

05/12/2020 – by Roger Cole

We need to imagine a positive future for the climate or we can't create it, says Paul Allen an engineer and researcher from the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) at Machynlleth. He gave the North Wales Wildlife Trust's 2020 Lacey lecture titled 'Zero Carbon Britain – Rising to the Climate Emergency'. Roger Cole from the Audlem Wildlife & Ecology Group (AWEG) tuned in online and summarised the key points for ACER.

  • Current systems are locked to a high carbon system and a high carbon mind set, leading to a positive feedback effect; imagine a positive future for the climate or you can't create it.
  • Research confirms that up to 80% of current emissions originate from fossil fuel burn with the majority of the remainder coming from land use activities.
  • Zero carbon emissions by 2030 will not be achievable, but given proper political engagement it is achievable by 2040.
  • Net zero must be achieved while maintaining the ability to provide all energy demands. This can be done by reducing demand while increasing zero carbon supply methods.
  • Currently we use far more energy than we need due to waste from inefficient infrastructure and unnecessary travel.
  • Improvement of new build standards and large investment on the reduction of heat loss from existing buildings, primarily by greatly improved insulation, could reduce this waste by 60%.
  • A reduction in travel by 13% would give a 35% reduction in travel-based emissions (Paul is not advocating no fly or no travel, but more thought on what travel is reasonable combined with fuel source changes).
  • The research done at CAT indicates that the most efficient current electrical generation method is offshore wind generation. This should be combined with demand side management (off-peak charging etc) and more energy storage using such techniques as compressed air storage and release. Interestingly, Paul noted that issues of bird strikes and deaths at wind turbines can be greatly mitigated by the simple technique of painting a single blade on the unit black.
  • Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) generation plants burn a gas to efficiently produce electrical energy. The use of a synthetic methane gas produced from biomass would allow CCGT plant to operate as carbon neutral.
  • Currently 50% of land use is for livestock grazing and fodder and 50% of the emissions associated with land use are from livestock methane. The UK imports over 40% of its food and over 80% of its timber, and our diet is way out of line with scientific recommendations. The recommended diet would have vastly more fruit and vegetables and significantly less high fat and sugar items. So, if diet norms can be rebalanced then land use for grazing animals could be reduced, allowing this land to be used to grow biomass for use in synthetic methane production for the suggested carbon neutral CCGT plant. This would also allow significant increase in tree planting with the associated carbon capture benefits, and potentially recovery of peat bogs. So, again Paul was not advocating that we all become vegetarians, but that we look to rebalance the normal diet to something much closer to scientific recommendations.
  • This solution to climate emergency and emissions reductions will require positive attitude from us all and expert input for the technical solutions. This will more likely work with a local lead from the bottom up (top down political wide sweeping statements are rarely followed through at any speed).
  • As we emerge from the effects of the Covid 19 virus and Brexit is completed there are many discussions about a green recovery; clearly there are many co-benefits for both emissions reduction and significant job creation in taking a green approach to recovery from these challenges.

The CAT website has links for further useful information on the climate emergency https://www.cat.org.uk/

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