The Strategy of Climate Change
Posted on 17 Oct 2022
In our previous article on climate change, we examined how temperatures and weather are changing on a global scale. We will now look into how governments are reacting to this change.
“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do” - Michael E.Porter, Economist.
We are witnessing a gradual global awakening to the realities of climate change. Governments understand that the focus is on them to take the lead in providing an economic and social climate that can steer businesses and individuals onto a new path of sustainability. If the course that the government is steering is right for both our economy and climate is far from certain. What is certain however is that change is needed.
2010 to 2019 has seen the highest global temperatures on record, creating dangerous weather patterns that affect ecosystems around the world. World leaders agreed during the Cop26 climate conference that global warming should be limited to 1.5C - however to achieve this, global emissions would need to be halved by 2030.
The UK government has recently published an export strategy to achieve the targeted zero emission levels by 2050 through global cooperation. Amongst the schemes include a £2billion clean growth lending facility to help UK exporters identify new sustainable international avenues of export. Investment in the fossil fuel energy sector has been almost completely stopped.
Industries exporting wind turbines manufactured in the UK have been supported to find new markets. The Formosa 2 offshore wind farm in Taiwan has benefited from a £230 million investment to create a 376-megawatt, 47 turbine facility that will generate 20% of Taiwan’s power by 2025. A further £27million has been used to fund solar powered water pumps to provide clean drinking water to 225,000 people in Ghana.
Within the UK itself, the government is looking at a number of major areas in the race to reduce emissions.
Looking back, the UK government has had success in achieving climate change targets in the energy sector. There has been a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions between 1990 and 2019. This was mainly achieved by replacing coal fired power plants with solar, wind and nuclear equivalents.
The UK is the world leader in offshore wind, generating an estimated peak of 10 Gigawatts now, with plans to expand to 50 Gigawatts by 2030. This is enough energy to power every home in the UK. This has been achieved partly by the government streamlining the planning process needed to build new facilities.
Further technological advances will need to be made in order to achieve the 2030 target of having 95% of the country’s energy supplied by low-carbon facilities.
The main issue with wind power is however that of energy storage during times of high winds and low demand. Lithium batteries are expensive, and have a 5,000 to 10,000 cycle life span. There have been a number of alternative ideas put forward, including an ‘ocean battery’ that stores pressurized water that can be released when needed.
It is estimated that heating domestic housing contributes to 14% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. This is partially due to poor insulation, as well as the use of gas boiler heating systems.
The government has put their focus on the new ‘heat pump’ technology. These are electronically powered devices that can absorb heat from the ground, air or water around a building. For example, grants of £5000 for the air source heat pumps (ASHPs) that will cover 50% to 75% of the cost of the devices are being made available.
There will be an initial £450 million government investment that will remove 90,000 of the high-carbon footprint gas boilers, with an overall target of removing 600,000 gas boilers from UK homes.
Whether consumers decide to take advantage of this scheme remains to be seen. The heat pumps do require electricity to run, though the recent increase in gas prices might well be the deciding factor for many households.
From an environmental perspective, cars and taxis accounted for 16% of the C02 emissions in 2019. However the government seems reluctant to invest in persuading the public to move to electric cars with subsidies. There is no scrappage scheme that environmentalists have been calling for, and the grants available for new electric cars are relatively small, at £2,500, and only available for vehicles under £35,000.
The government has also said that no new petrol or diesel cars will be sold after 2030. The target of having 52% of all new vehicles being sold to be electric by 2028 could be challenging, considering that in 2021, the figure was around 11%.
Another major hurdle in the move to electric car acceptance by the general public is the availability of charging stations. Although the power supply is available nationally, the challenge is to build the infrastructure needed to bridge the gap between power grid and car, and to make charging a car as simple as for a mobile phone.
Electric cars typically take an hour to charge for 30 miles of driving. This may not be such an issue for people with driveways, but for everyone else, it could prove problematic just now. There are a number of schemes, both from the public and private sectors to install charging points in lampposts and even in the kerb. Organizations may well take a similar outlook as with free wi-fi, and allow customers free electric car charging when they park to shop at their establishments, visit a cinema etc.
Also, as people would tend to charge their vehicles overnight, off-peak energy would be used, and would have a minimal impact on the national grid. With the average UK car journey of just 8.4 miles, an overnight charge would be more than sufficient. Overnight car charging would also help use any surplus night time wind generated power.
Petrol stations may well have had their day. This may have an impact on small, rural communities where the petrol station doubles-up as a convenience store. However there have been a number of moves to reinvent old fuel stations, such as with the Hyde Park Book club.
In addition to motor powered vehicles, the government is also focusing on improving the infrastructure behind the national cycling network. The government has already invested £338million in improvements to the cycling infrastructure, as well as initiatives such as the cycle to work scheme.
The Importance of Weather
We have seen that there are major government commitments on climate change, including fundamental infrastructure changes to create a more sustainable way of living for us all. Our energy sources are moving from those existing deep underground or under the sea floor, to those we experience each day, the sun, wind and rain. Understanding these energy sources, how they change, their past and their future, their nuances is of increasing importance.
The big question seems not if the government is doing enough, but if it is perhaps trying to do too much? In our next article, we will examine some of the other major government initiatives, and ask if somehow more can be achieved with less.
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