Maitland Green: Our Weekly Update – 10 May 2018
News that the government are keen to host COP26 London in 2020, have unveiled plans for a business-backed research centre to tackle plastic pollution, and are being lobbied by senior Conservatives to formally include wind turbines in the Industrial Strategy, has fuelled the impression that the UK wants to make the environment and climate change central issues on which it can lead the world.
Nevertheless, the coalition of environmental groups and NGOs, Greener UK, released their latest Brexit tracker this week. While it celebrates tentative progress, Greener UK warns that environmental protections risk being undermined unless the government puts in place a powerful environmental watchdog following Brexit.
Today the government launched a consultation on its plans for an environmental watchdog in an Environmental Principles and Governance Bill, due to be published in draft form this autumn, alongside plans for new legislation aimed at ensuring core EU environmental principles, such as the “polluter pays” principles, are adhered to after Brexit. The new legislation, Michael Gove promises, will hold government to account on environmental ambitions and obligations. Nevertheless, Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green party, has been scathing of the proposals, which she called “lacklustre”.
The government proposes the watchdog has three main functions: general scrutiny and advice, handling complaints and enforcing government delivery of environmental law. The government has also proposed two legal options for their environmental principals. The first would be that a set of environmental principals would be listed in the Environmental Principals and Governance Bill, with a statutory policy statement under that legislation to explain how they should be interpreted and applied. The second option would mean environmental principals set out and explained in a statutory policy statement issued under primary legislation. Including the principals in primary legislation would mean future governments would not be able to change a commitment without reference to Parliament, but not legislating a set of principals would offer greater flexibility for Ministers to adopt different principals as scientific knowledge and understanding of environmental challenges evolves.
- Energy and Clean Growth Minister, Claire Perry, has suggested the government is keen to host COP26 in 2020.
- Sir Michael Fallon has called on the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to include wind turbines in the government’s Industrial Strategy.
- The government has unveiled plans for a business-backed plastics innovation hub. It would bring together businesses and researchers to tackle plastic pollution.
- Leaked internal documents suggest National Rail intends to remove all “leaf fall” trees along 20,000 miles of track to avoid delays.
- Some of the UK’s biggest banks, including HSBC and Lloyds, have agreed to invest £100m in a fleet of micro gas-fired power plants across England.
- The Institution of Mechanical Engineers believe green energy would be boosted if excess electricity from wind and solar farms were used to produce hydrogen. In a report backed by the gas industry, engineers suggested electricity could be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, with the hydrogen functioning as a form of energy storage for renewables. The gas would later be blended in with normal gas supplies for heating supplies, sent to fuel cells to generate electricity, or used for topping up hydrogen vehicles.
- Brewing giant, Anheuser-Busch, has ordered 800 hydrogen-electric semi trucks. The zero emission vehicles will be able to travel between 500 and 1,200 miles and can be re charged within 20 minutes.
- Ovo believes Britain is “driving innovation” in vehicle-to-grid technology for electric cars. The CEO commented: “[In the UK,] you’ve got a very active very competitive retail market, you’ve got expertise in the automotive sector, especially the high-tech automotive sector. We’ve got a lot of renewable generation and quite a dynamic way of managing it”.
- A report by WPI Economics has recommended drivers of petrol and diesel cars should pay a levy to subsides the purchase of green vehicles by other motorists. The latest figures show that 491,300 green cars were on Britain’s roads by the end of last year, a rise of more than a quarter in 12 months. However, hybrid or pure electric cars still make up only 1.5 per cent of the entire vehicle fleet.
- Marks & Spencer has partnered with Dearman, a low emission transport refrigeration specialist, to lease a zero emission refrigeration semi-trailer.
- A father has created a device which converts household waste into fuel. The Home Energy Resources Unit takes around eight hours to complete a cycle. It can process dirty nappies and food waste and took £12,000 to build.
- Recent bank holiday sunshine powered a new solar record in the UK.
In Westminster and the EU
- Energy and Clean Growth Minister, Claire Perry, has suggested the government is keen to host COP26 in 2020 to cermet itself as a global leader on climate action.
- The government has hinted at further details for the scope of the ‘net zero’ emissions review Ministers are set to instruct the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) to carry out later this year. Experts have argued that for the UK to deliver its share towards the Paris Agreement’s goal of 1.5C or ‘well below’ 2C it would have to deliver a net zero emission economy before 2050.
- The government could target hybrid vehicles as part of its crackdown on emissions. New cars unable to do at least 50 miles on electric power may be banned by 2040.
- Sir Michael Fallon has called on the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to include wind turbines in the government’s Industrial Strategy. He believes the growing importance of green energy should be reflected in the UK’s industrial strategy.
- Documents obtained under Freedom of Information have revealed that the environmental impact of policies that led to the collapse of onshore wind was not considered by the government. Alan Whitehead, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Energy and Climate Change, commented: “This ill-considered action has thrown away a strong British industry of the future and potentially increased energy prices by effectively outlawing the cheapest form of clean energy in the country today”.
- The Labour party is divided over whether to back further nuclear power stations in the UK. The high cost of the Hinkley C plant, under construction for £20bn in Somerset, has prompted questions across Westminster about whether nuclear still represents value for money.While the government has refused to rule out placing an underground nuclear waste facility beneath protected areas including national parks.
- A report by the International Renewable Energy Agency has found that the global clean energy sector created more than 500,000 new jobs in 2017, up 5.3 per cent on 2016.
- Unilever has revealed its “green brands” are growing 46 per cent faster than the rest of its business. It also revealed that 70 per cent of its revenue growth last year came from its “sustainable living” brands. Unilever’s ‘Sustainable Living’ brands as those which have the lowest environmental impact in the company’s portfolio. They include all the company’s top six brands including Dove, Lipton, Dirt is Good, Rexona, Hellmann’s and Knorr.
- Following plastic-reducing announcements from UK McDonald’s, US McDonald’s has been criticised for “dragging its feet” about phasing out plastic straws. Later this month the shareholders will vote on a proposal to launch a study into alternatives. The chain’s board of directors is urging shareholders to reject the proposal which would divert resources from other environmental initiatives such as a pledge to source all packaging from renewable or recycled sourced by 2025.
- Sainsburys has abandoned a £10m project to halve food waste in Swadlincote, a town in Derbyshire, after a year-long trial produced miserable results. Sainsburys gave out free gadgets to cut food waste and smart fridges but the experiment suggested households had cut their waste by only 9 per cent.
In Westminster and the EU
- The government has unveiled plans for a business-backed plastics innovation hub. It would bring together businesses and researchers to tackle plastic pollution. Ministers confirmed they are already working with governments including Canada and India. The government has secured millions in funding from Unilever and Waitrose while engineering giant Mott MacDonald is expected provide access to its facilities and expertise.
- Parents have expressed outrage at the news the government plans to “eliminate” wet wipes within 25 years.
- Research has revealed developed countries such as Australia, the UK and US have the most carbon-intensive diets in the world. The findings, published yesterday by food supplements retailer nu3, reveal the stark disparity between national diets around the world, and signals how countries could accelerate emissions reduction by shifting eating habits.
- Kew Gardens has reopened its Temperate House, home to some of the world’s rarest and most threatened plants, after a five-year-multi-million-pound regeneration. More than 69,000 elements were cleaned, repaired or replaced in the vast grade I-listed building, which is home to 10,000 plants.
- Leaked internal documents suggest National Rail intends to carry out a five year “enhanced clearance” programme to remove all “leaf fall” trees along 20,000 miles of track to avoid delays.
- South Goergia has been declared free of bird-killing invasive rats. It follows years of careful eradication efforts on the wild-life rich island.
- The Environment Agency has called for farmers to lose their subsidies if they pollute rivers or damage the countryside. The agency’s chairwoman, Emma Howard Boyd, is also calling for food to carry labels informing shoppers about the environmental impact of the farm on which it was produced. She commented: “bad farming was a slow motion environmental catastrophe”.
- Unearthed has alleged the UK lobbied that energy efficiency targets made by the European Commission should be reduced or made non-binding. The European Commission’s proposal would set a binding target of 30% increased energy efficiency by 2030 (compared to the ‘business as usual’ scenario). Unearthed said the UK recommended it be reduced to 27% and made non-binding.
- Greener UK, coalition of environmental groups, has declared “tentative” progress on policies dealing with domestic plastics, agriculture, and chemicals, but warns this all risks being undermined unless the government puts in place a strong watchdog to enforce green laws after Brexit.
- More climate talks have been scheduled by UN Climate officials as Bonn talks have made insufficient progress on the Paris Agreement. Countries have spent the past nine days in Bonn, Germany, negotiating the rules that will govern the Paris Agreement, with a decision due in December in Katowice. Talks have become mired in technical detail.
- A study in Nature Climate Change argues that by the end of the century global warming could wipe out many fish, mammals, birds and invertebrates living in protected parts of the world’s oceans.
- A research paper, published in Nature Climate Change, has quantified the environmental impact of tourism – from flights to souvenirs. The researchers found that it is responsible for nearly one tenth of the world’s carbon emission, concluding that reducing flights and investing in payment schemes to offset damage caused by travel will be essential to avoid “unchecked future growth in tourism-related emissions”.The global tourism industry as a whole has been growing at an annual rate of around 5 per cent, outpacing the growth of international trade.
- Some of the UK’s biggest banks, including HSBC and Lloyds, have agreed to invest £100m in a fleet of micro gas-fired power plants across England. The mini-plants are capable of quickly ramping up from idle to maximum power output in just five minutes, meaning they could play a key role in managing Britain’s transition to a more flexible power system.
- Barclays has unveiled a dedicated Green Trade Loan.
- Forbes interviews Courteney Keatinge, director of Glass Lewis’s environmental, social and governance research, on the influence reporting environmental, social and governance data has on shareholder relations.
- John Picton warns that social impact bonds could fuel uncharitable behaviour. Noting that the bonds are strongly promoted by government, he highlights that the bonds often tackle a crisis caused by the government’s own policies. A recent scandal revealed investors in St Mungo’s received cash in return for the removal of foreign rough sleepers, many of whom were homeless EU nationals.