The past few weeks have been dominated by news from COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh. With the conference now concluded, it’s safe to say that declarations of a focus on action were not entirely fulfilled, with some countries even attempting to back-track on the 1.5°C limit agreed upon the year prior in Glasgow. So, with that considered, where do we stand on keeping net zero alive?
Emphasising loss and damage
The overarching theme at this year’s COP was accountability, with the pressing question, ‘who would pay for the climate bill?’ This was answered in the form of a ‘Loss and Damage Fund’, an agreement for wealthier nations to reimburse poorer countries for historic emissions. This is welcomed, and no doubt could play a vital role in the future of responding to extreme weather events resulting from climate change. However, while the establishment of the fund is monumental, there has been little detail released on exactly how it is to be financed.
Loss and damage only make up part of the climate picture, as mitigation and adaptation are also key. Adaptation was addressed briefly at the conference, with the reaffirmation made of $20bn towards the cause. It’s worth noting, however, that this has yet to be fulfilled after the original funding was agreed upon in 2020.
And, where mitigation is concerned, particularly in relation to how we source energy, little movement has been made since COP26. This year’s conference disappointingly ended without any sign of a comprehensive plan to address the phasing down, or better yet, out, of fossil fuels. This disappointment was perhaps inevitable given that the leaders of three of the world’s biggest fossil fuel consumers; China, India, and Russia, did not attend.
Additionally, the final text of the COP27 agreement incorporated a provision to “boost low emissions energy”. With little specificity as to what this looks like, and the real possibility that this could lead to a greater emphasis on gas due to the fact it has lower emissions than coal. This too was far from satisfactory. An opportunity to cement the role that renewables can play in lowering global emissions was missed.
The importance of localised efforts
The difficulty in achieving international consensus of any sort is by no means exclusive to COP27, or climate conferences in general. Issues of agreement, enforcement, and ultimately sovereignty have plagued international accords of all kinds since the establishment of the UN. What this year’s conference reinforces is the importance of localised efforts. It is here, that the UK should be taking its cues for action and increasing its efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change at home.
But the day before Solutions Day at COP27, the UK government released the details of its Autumn Budget which weren’t all that positive for the clean energy sector. Not only was the windfall tax extended to the profits of clean energy companies, but a revaluation of business rates will mean a “double whammy” hit on solar and wind farms. This is expected to be most acutely felt by smaller wind and solar farm owners who can expect their annual bills to practically double.
In terms of the UK’s own climate commitments, as well as those made at COP27, this move will only serve to deter investment in the clean energy sector. Solar PV and wind, with the support of battery storage, offer the fastest and cheapest route to achieving and sustaining a net zero grid. To disproportionately target green energy generators, risks undermining the sector and any hope of addressing the climate and energy crisis.
This is, of course, before you even consider the current energy outlook in the UK. Energy bills have reached record highs, and with an impending recession, this is arguably the time to accelerate the transition through increased investment and the deployment of renewables, not decelerate it. That is not to say that clean technology is the silver bullet that will solve the climate crisis, energy costs, and energy security, completely. But supporting the rollout of all clean technologies in the energy mix including onshore solar PV and wind is a key part. With the current trajectory, we’re on, all that will be achieved is an increased reliance on high-emitting and volatile international gas markets and being locked into ever increasing energy bills cycle.
Instead, we need a practical plan to remove the roadblocks that stand in the way of net zero goals and energy security. Ultimately, we need more renewable energy projects rolled out to transition to a 100% clean energy grid. To achieve this, we need to both relax the current rigorous planning policies whilst educating both local decision makers and residents, enabling more projects to be granted planning permission. In conjunction, energy storage is required to support this roll-out and ensure grid stability for periods of time when generation and demand do not align. Increasing the number of planning permission approvals will have the most meaningful and quickest impact on ensuring that we move away from volatile fossil fuels, and towards clean, supported energy.
There was always going to be tension between realising net zero aims at the COP27 conference and navigating individual nations’ own agendas. It was also expected that the energy crisis would complicate discussions, especially at a conference that had a high number of fossil fuel delegates in attendance. What is clear, however, from the outcomes of COP27 are two things. Firstly, the importance of localised effort in tangibly delivering what international accords cannot. And secondly, the UK is not doing enough in this respect. At present, we’re neither adequately abating the climate crisis nor the energy crisis, at a global or national level.