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UK's first sustainable food and farming school opens in Wales

UK's first sustainable food and farming school opens in Wales

First students arrive at School of Sustainable Food and Farming in Newport, a partnership between Harper Adams University, the NFU, Morrisons, and McDonald's UK

The UK's first sustainable food and farming school is set for its inaugural intake of budding green farmers from today, thanks to a partnership between Harper Adams University, the National Farmers Union, supermarket Morrisons, and fast food giant McDonald's UK.

Based at the University's Newport campus, the School of Sustainable Food and Farming claims to be the first of its type in the UK, offering both undergraduate and short courses on regenerative farming methods for livestock, soil health, and biodiversity to help equip students with skills in climate-friendly food production.

The University claims the new school will bring together "all of the latest thinking and learning on farming using sustainable methods", covering a wide range of topics from carbon sequestration, on-farm green energy such as anaerobic digestion plants, and better understanding of the value of carbon.

The school plans to provide on-the-farm learning, led by experts in agronomy, veterinary practice, and nutrition, while also acting as a hub for sharing the latest thinking, learning, and policy engagement on sustainable farming practices.

Professor Michael Lee, deputy vice chancellor at Harper Adams University, said the nature of farming was changing and there was a need to better understand the importance of sustainable food production.

"It is time for modern agricultural institutions to develop the systems we need to support this production for the 21st Century - such as this School, which brings together the expertise we have at Harper Adams with the experience of industry, wherever it is needed in the country," he explained. "What we are doing here is pioneering, and it will help the UK to lead the world in agricultural thinking and practice."

Sophie Throup, head of agriculture at Morrisons, stressed the need to "revolutionise our food production", as she hailed the "unique" new school.

"It's the first time the NFU, restaurants, supermarkets and universities have come together to act with one voice for the greater good," she explained. "We have supported the development of this school both for our own farmers - but also for the nation's farmers. It will play an important part in helping all of Morrisons farmers to get to net zero agri by 2030, but Morrisons also wanted to help create a legacy for all of UK farming."

Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers Union, said the new school would help equip the UK with the skills and knowledge required to support the farming sector's target to reach net zero emissions by 2040, and for the country as a whole to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

It comes amid concerns were raised again last week by the NFU that the UK's free trade policies and recent deals with New Zealand and Australia could open the door to imports of food produced to lower environmental standards than in the UK, which risks undercutting British farmers and undermining green standards.

But Batters suggested the new School could play an influential role on the world stage. "It will help our farmers - both established and new - take on the role of world leaders in climate-friendly food production, paving the way for farming across the world in a sustainable and beneficial way," she said.

'Warm words don't cut it': Latest UK trade pledges derided by green groups and farmers

'Warm words don't cut it': Latest UK trade pledges derided by green groups and farmers

Campaigners express frustration with 'strengthened' Trade and Agriculture Commission unveiled by government to help maintain green standards in trade deals

The government continues to insist maintaining high environmental protection, animal welfare, and food standards in the UK "will be a red line in all our trade negotiations", as it yesterday launched a new "strengthened" Trade and Agriculture Commission that it said would help inform ratification of any future agreements.

However, the announcement faced immediate pushback from environmental groups and opposition MPs who argue the proposals are far from strong enough to support the UK's climate and environmental ambitions, while British farmers continued to voice concerns at the prospect of being undercut by food producers in other markets with less stringent environmental and animal welfare standards.

The new Commission, which was first announced last year, is tasked with providing expert scrutiny of new trade deals "once they reach the signature stage" to help "ensure world-leading British agricultural standards are upheld", according to the Department for International Trade (DIT).

It said the 12 industry and expert figures on the Commission, which is to be chaired by University of Cambridge international law professor Lorand Bartels, would have a formal role to inform MPs and the public about how new free trade deals are consistent with UK green laws.

Other members of the Commission boast expertise across the agricultural, food production, veterinary, animal welfare, environment, and international trade policy sectors, among others, DIT said.

The government said their advice would inform a report laid before Parliament ahead of the ratification of any free trade deals, and following the signature stage. It insisted it was going "further than ever before to work with trading partners" to ensure strong environmental standards are maintained.

In addition, the government also unveiled further measures to support farmers, including setting up a new Food and Drink Export Council, and a new cohort of "agri-food attachés" who it said would work to promote export opportunities for UK farms and producers worldwide.

It follows a raft of recommendations from the previous iteration of the Trade and Agriculture Commission back in March, which International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan described as "thorough and wide-reaching".

"I want our farmers and food producers to be positive about the export opportunities that exist and take advantage of booming demand for British exports," she said.

Yet severe misgivings about the role and strength of the Commission continue to be voiced by green groups, farmers, and the Labour Party, with campaigners raising concerns about the government's failure to deliver a formal UK trade strategy or put into law its commitments to green trade. The latest developments come in the wake of the controversial free trade deal struck with Australia earlier this year, which was roundly criticised by industry and campaign groups alike for setting a precedent that could leave the door open to the UK market being flooded with products made to less stringent environmental and animal welfare standards. Criticism of the deal was further stoked last month, when it emerged the UK government had agreed to water down specific mentions to climate change in the agreement at the behest of Australian negotiators.

Sarah Williams, who heads up the Greener UK coalition of 12 groups campaigning for a 'green Brexit', warned there were still "big questions remaining over transparency, standards, strategy and engagement" with regards to the government's latest plans for the Commission.

"We hope that hosting COP26 spurs the Prime Minister to realise that warm words don't cut it," she said. "The deal in principle with Australia will see an increase in food imports produced to lower standards, including from deforested land. The UK is unlikely to sign trade agreements that advance issues like animal welfare and pesticide use until the government establishes a set of core environmental standards and an actual strategy."

President of the National Farmers Union (NFU), Minette Batters, also said the latest announcements from the government lacked concrete commitments and practical, deliverable measures aimed at safeguarding UK environmental and animal welfare standards. "Where is the commitment to establish a clear set of core standards on which to base our free trade agreements - something farmers and the British public alike want to see?" she asked, while also querying the length of time taken to set out its plans for the new Commission, given two deals with Australia and New Zealand have already been broadly agreed with the UK.

"The government has missed the opportunity to make these new trade deals fit for the 21st century by ensuring food imports will meet the high animal welfare and environmental standards legally required of our own farmers and desired by the public," she said. "Instead of repeating the refrain that these deals will be good for British agriculture, our government now needs to explain how these deals will tangibly benefit farming, the future of food production and the high standards that go along with it on these shores."

Labour's Shadow Trade Secretary Emily Thornbury, claimed the trade deals agreed with New Zealand and Australia would "damage jobs and growth in our farming communities, undercut the competitiveness of our farmers, and undermine the standards they are required to maintain".

"In other words, these deals are exactly what the Trade and Agriculture Commission was set up to prevent, if the government would only let them do their job," she said. "Our farming communities were repeatedly promised last year that the TAC would act as their voice when assessing the government's trade deals, but those promises have today been broken."

The latest free trade negotiations come as the government's flagship Environment Bill moves closer towards becoming law, with the legislation - which sets out plans for legally-binding environmental targets overseen by a new Office for Environment Protection watchdog - expected to receive Royal Assent in the coming weeks.

Green groups have long argued the explicit commitments to upholding green standards in trade deals should be included in the Environment Bill, and that vice-versa, free trade deals should explicitly back the UK domestic environental targets set out in the legislation.

In related news, the government's latest annual assessment was published today, detailing varying levels of progress against a host of green targets and indicators set out in its 25 Year Environment Plan. While key pieces of legislation such as the Agriculture Bill and Fisheries Bill have moved into law, and efforts continue to finalise targets underpinning the Environment Bill, the report highlights ongoing battles to improve biodiversity, reduce air pollution, and move towards more efficient resource use.

Progress on tackling air pollutants such as fine particles, ammonia and non-methane volatile organic compounds is stalling, while the abundance of key UK 'priority' species is still on a downward trend, and pollinator species are failing to increase or are even doing backwards, the report stated. Moreover, recycling rates and the number of serious water pollution incidents are failing to show much improvement, it states.

The report concedes that not all green indicators and targets "are heading in the right direction with some areas of significant concern". "We recognise that more needs to be done - both domestically and internationally - if we are to deliver a nature positive future," the report states. "As the Dasgupta Review emphasised, a failure to engage conscientiously with the natural world has led nature to the point of crisis. The scale of action is huge and requires long term concerted action to halt the decline."

Environmental campaigners and farmers will argue that efforts to accelerate this sluggish progress are in no way helped by trade deals that could require British producers to compete with imports that are produced to lower environmental standards. The government has spent much of the past few years insisting green standards will not be compromised, but key stakeholders remain entirely unconvinced by such assurances.

Global Briefing: Climate Pledge Arena officially opens

Global Briefing: Climate Pledge Arena officially opens

From Coldplay concerts and green steel deals to Pentagon security warnings and New Zealand green finance rules, BusinessGreen rounds up all the top stories from around the world this week

Climate Pledge Arena opens with goal of becoming the world's first net zero certified sports stadium

The Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle officially opens its doors today, with a performance by British band Coldplay and a series of special events throughout the weekend.

Tha stadium, which secured its Climate Pledge moniker after Amazon secured the naming rights to the iconic Seattle arena, is home to the NHL's Seattle Kraken and WNBA's Seattle Storm. It was named the Climate Pledge Arena, in honor of The Climate Pledge, which was co-founded by Amazon and Global Optimism in 2019 and calls on organisations to develop a strategy to deliver net zero emissions by 2040.

Amazon said in a blog post that it is aiming for the arena to "set a new sustainability bar for the sports and events industry". The all-electric operations for the facility will be powered by 100 per cent renewable electricity from on-site solar panels and off-site renewable energy. In addition the stadium will use reclaimed rainwater stored in the ice system, a concept dubbed 'Rain to Rink', to create "the greenest ice in the NHL".


BMW revs up plans to source green steel from northern Sweden

BMW has this week announced an agreement with Swedish startup H2 Green Steel, which aims to see green steel delivered to the auto giant's plants in Europe from 2025.

H2 Green Steel aims to use hydrogen and renewable power harnessed from Swedish hydroelectric and wind projects to produce steel with a carbon footprint that will be up to 95 per cent lower than that produced using coal.

"Our goal is to reduce CO2 emissions in our steel supply chain by about two million tonnes by 2030," said Dr Andreas Wendt, member of the Board of Management of BMW AG responsible for Purchasing and Supplier Network. "Sourcing steel produced using hydrogen and green power can make a vital contribution to this."

The company said it was also moving forward with plans to source batteries from Sweden through its partnership with Northvolt. The Swedish battery developer is also exploiting the potential for green power in the north of Sweden to support its manufacturing plants. Battery cells produced at the Northvolt gigafactory currently under construction in Skellefteå in northern Sweden are expected to be delivered to BMW from 2024.


Pentagon raises alarm over escalating climate security risks

The US intelligence community has issued its latest stark warning over the potential impact of escalating climate impacts on global and regional security.

The intelligence and defence establishment has repeatedly warned that climate impacts could lead to increased security threats through various reports, but this week the Pentagon issued its first formal National Intelligence Estimate on Climate Change, which sought to assess potential climate-related security risks through to 2040.

The 27-page assessment represents the collective view of all 18 US intelligence agencies and concludes that the failure of the international community to co-operate in the face of escalating climate impacts could lead to dangerous competition and instability.

It flags how worsening extreme weather, food insecurity, and migration could all increase the risk of conflict, and also highlights how geo-engineering projects could stoke tensions between nations.

It also predicts that countries will try to defend their economies as the net zero transition accelerates, with some seeking to dominate new industries and others resisting efforts to decarbonise so as to protect fossil fuel export revenues.

In addition, the report warns that "a decline in fossil fuel revenue would further strain Middle Eastern countries that are projected to face more intense climate effects".


Quebec bans fossil fuel exploration

Canadian province Quebec has become the latest region to announce a ban on fossil fuel exploration, sparking hopes that a significant number of economies could join a new group that will pledge to end oil, gas, and coal exploration at next month's COP26 Climate Summit.

Premier François Legault announced this week that the province would "definitively renounce the extraction of hydrocarbons on its territory" during a speech to the province's National Assembly.

"Excellent news," tweeted Geneviève Paul, executive director of the Centre québécois du droit de l'environnement. "We applaud the leadership of the Quebec government, and let's remember that this can be done without compensating the companies concerned."


La Banque Postale publishes oil and gas exit strategy

La Banque Postale has become the first French bank to set out plans for exiting oil and gas investments, securing praise from environmental groups.

In a new policy published this month, the bank committed to a complete exit from oil and gas, both conventional and unconventional, by 2030, a move it claims is the first of its kind worldwide. The bank also commited to immediately suspend its provision of financial services to companies contributing to oil and gas expansion through the development of new exploration, extraction and infrastructure projects in these sectors. And it confirmed it would use the Global Oil and Gas Exit List to exclude the more than 900 companies featured on it from its portfolios.

"We welcome this groundbreaking announcement from the Banque Postale, the first bank to heed the call of the scientific community and the IEA for concrete measures which leave oil and gas in the ground," said Alix Mazounie, campaigner at Reclaim Finance. "With COP26 just days away, a strong signal has been sent to financial institutions in Paris and beyond. This new policy sets a precedent which must be followed by every investor, insurer and bank which claims to be serious in its climate commitments, whether to net-zero or to the Paris Agreement."


New Zealand ups climate funding pledge, confirms mandatory climate-related financial disclosure rules

New Zealand this week became the first country in the world to pass legislation requiring large companies to report on climate-related risks. The country's Parliament approved the new rules, which cover large listed companies and financial institutions.

Other nations are expected to adopt similar rules in the coming months and years, with the UK government having previously announced plans for mandatory climate reporting rules and the US government having signalled it is keen to introduce similar rules.

Dr Matthew Ives, Senior Researcher for the Oxford Martin Programme on the Post-Carbon Transition, welcomed New Zealand's landmark legislation and urged other countries to swiftly follow suit. "Back in 2019 we identified requiring financial institutions to disclose and act on climate-related risks as a small policy change that could have a massive snowball effect on shifting the global economy towards a net zero future," he said. "New Zealand taking this step increases the pressure on other countries that have been 'considering' this approach but are dragging their feet on implementing it.

"Given that all company directors must address all material risks for their company it seems like such a law is only a minor addition to existing regulations but it could have a huge impact - this simple change could level the playing field for clean energy and products, reduce the likelihood of stranded assets, reduce health risks associated with pollutants, and make meeting climate targets more likely."

Separately, New Zealand Climate Change Minister James Shaw announced this week that the country would quadruple the climate aid it provides to the countries most affected by the climate crisis. "We will provide $1.3bn over the next four years with at least 50 per cent going to the Pacific," he said. "This means NZ is now providing its fair share towards global climate funding."


Paris unveils €250m cycle plan

Paris this week announced a new €250m plan to boost cycling capital across the French capital. The plan, which runs through to 2026, aims to make permanent 52km of pandemic-era cycle tracks and add 130km of new lanes.

It will also add 130,000 bike parking spots, ensure all elementary school students learn to cycle, and assist businesses to use cargo bikes.


Australian billionaires announce $1.5bn climate funding pledge

Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes and his wife Annie Cannon-Brookes have this week announced plans to direct $1.5bn of their personal wealth by 2030 to financial and philanthropic ventures that cut emissions.

The Financial Review reported that the pledge includes $1bn in financial investments and $500m in philanthropic and advocacy work in support of efforts to limit global warming to 1.5C. The move comes on top of about $1bn the couple have previously invested in climate-related ventures and initiatives.

OECD nations agree to end export credit support for unabated coal power stations

OECD nations agree to end export credit support for unabated coal power stations

BREAKING: Ahead of COP26 US, EU, Japan, Canada, Australia, Turkey, and others join UK in ending export credit support for most polluting projects

The global campaign to phase out unabated coal power received a major boost ahead of the start of the COP26 Climate Summit next week, after a coalition of many of the world's richest nations today pledged to end export credit support for coal power projects.

The OECD announced it has brokered a new Arrangement on Officially Supported Export Credits, with Australia, Canada, the EU, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, the UK, and the US all signing off on the deal.

The agreement effectively bans financial support for overseas coal power projects and will come into effect once participants complete their formal internal decision making processes, which are expected by the end of this month.

The OECD said the terms of the ban cover all officially supported export credits and tied aid for: new coal‑fired power plants without operational carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) facilities; and existing coal-­fired power plants, unless the purpose of the equipment supplied is pollution or CO2 abatement and such equipment does not extend the useful lifetime or capacity of the plant, or unless it is for retrofitting to install CCUS.

The news follows both the UK government's commitment that its UK Export Finance (UKEF) body would cease support for new coal projects and China's surprise announcement last month that it too would stop financing overseas coal plants - a move that experts predicted would drastically shrink the global pipeline of new coal projects.

The move was welcomed by the UK's new International Trade Secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who writing on Twitter said she was "delighted that our international partners are following UKEF's lead and ending export credit support for new coal-fired plants ahead of COP26".

The deal comes amidst a frenzy of diplomatic efforts in the final run up to the COP26 Summit in Glasgow, with governments working to sign off a series of agreements and initiatives that are designed to ramp up climate action going into the talks.

Most notably, talks are continuing to try and ensure industrialised nations deliver on the pledge to mobilise $100bn a year of climate finance for poorer nations from 2020 - a target that many observers maintain has to be met if developing nations are to be convinced to sign off on a technical agreement on the enforcement of the Paris Agreement in Glasgow.

Insiders had expressed optimism that countries would increase funding pledges to a level where the target is met, but reports this week suggested negotiations were not yet finalised with the US said to be delaying an agreement over concerns financial pledges may have to be ratcheted up further to make up for previous funding shortfalls.

Government promises 'clamp down' on landlords who are lagging on energy efficiency

Government promises 'clamp down' on landlords who are lagging on energy efficiency

Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) announces landlord engagement campaign as it unveils plan for £10m green home innovation competition

The government has this week unveiled a series of initiatives designed to bring the UK's large and growing private rental sector in line with the country's climate goals.

The plans, which include a new £10m competition designed to boost innovation of green home technologies and financial products and a council-led energy efficiency engagement campaign targeted at landlords, are designed to encourage landlords to boost the energy efficiency of their properties.

Since April last year, privately rented homes must meet a minimum energy performance rating of EPC Band E, with landlords caught failing to comply liable for a £5,000 fine.

The government said that the "clamp down" on errant landlords could boost the fortunes of 40,000 families living in cold and draughty homes across 59 local authorities in England and Wales.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) also announced yesterday it had unlocked £4.3m in funding for councils to lobby landlords on the need to reduce the climate impact of their homes. Funds are set to be allocated to a wide range of initiatives, it said, from local radio ads, roadshows and workshops, to mail campaigns and free property surveys - with one council unveiling plans to buy a drone with thermal imaging capacity to help with on the ground inspections.

The government said the funding was part of a broader campaign to protect consumers from gas price hikes, with energy efficiency improvements and low carbon heating systems set to reduce households' reliance on fossil fuels. The push is also designed to help move the UK closer to its climate goals, with the private rental sector responsible for a significant chunk of the building sector's emissions.

"Heating our homes and buildings makes up almost a third of all carbon emissions, meaning raising the energy efficiency of our properties is something we all have to contribute to help us build back greener and reach our world leading climate ambitions," said Business and Energy Minister Lord Callanan. "This funding will help councils to support landlords with these important energy efficiency changes, but also enforce these standards, helping tackle fuel poverty and ensuring everyone can live in a warm home with fair energy bills".

The government announced the landlord engagement campaign on the same day it unveiled plans for a new Green Home Finance Accelerator designed to spur innovation in green technologies and financial services that can help private landlords decarbonise the properties they own.

The £10m grant programme will support high-street lenders, financial technology businesses, and energy suppliers to build new products to make it easier and more affordable for homeowners to switch to low carbon heating systems, BEIS said. It said it plans to launch the programme, which draws its funding from the £1bn Net Zero Innovation Fund, next Spring.

Greg Hands, Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, stressed the competition would not only bring the country closer to its aim of reaching net zero emissions by mid-century, but it would also help grow the economy.

"Ensuring our buildings and homes are powered by clean energy is an essential step we need to take in order to meet our target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050," he said. "The UK government is stepping up to the challenge with a new Green Home Finance programme to help drive forward the development of cutting-edge green finance products and services for homeowners that will not only transform the nation's green property landscape, but also help create more green jobs, as we build back greener."

New NS&I Green Savings Bond goes on sale to the public

New NS&I Green Savings Bond goes on sale to the public

Chancellor says new bond will let consumer 'put their money to work in the fight against climate change'

National Savings and Investments (NS&I) has today launched the government's inaugural green savings bond, providing the public with a route to invest directly in the UK's net zero transition.

Just a day after the Treasury successfully issued its second green sovereign bond, raising £6bn for investment in low carbon projects, NS&I confirmed its new three year Green Savings Bond was now available to purchase online.

The move makes good on Chancellor Rishi Sunak's promise at the Spring Budget that the government would launch a green bond for the public to access, alongside the Treasury's new multi-billion pound green sovereign bond programme.

"Our world-first Green Savings Bonds give savers across the UK the chance to back the government's green projects and put their money to work in the fight against climate change," Sunak said in a statement. "The UK is already a world leader in green finance and these innovative new savings bonds will deliver both financial returns and environmental benefits, in a transparent and secure way."

NS&I said the new Green Savings Bonds would be on sale for a minimum period of three months and offer a three year fixed term with an interest rate of 0.65 per cent gross/AER. The minimum investment is £100 with a maximum limit of £100,000 per person. The full amount deposited is to be held for three years and cannot be withdrawn during this time.

The proceeds from the bond will be used to help finance the government's green spending projects, including efforts to decarbonise transport networks, expand renewable energy capacity, prevent pollution, enhance energy efficiency, protecting natural resources, and enhance climate resilience.

Ian Ackerley, NS&I chief executive, said the organisation was "proud to be offering Green Savings Bonds on behalf of the government".

"Green Savings Bonds will offer savers the chance to contribute towards the UK's green agenda and support six key areas to help make our environment greener, cleaner and more sustainable," he said. "As well as helping the environment, savers will see a fixed return on their investment and will also benefit from NS&I's 100 per cent security on all capital invested.

"Green Savings Bonds will be on sale for at least three months, giving savers ample opportunity to invest and the Bonds will be available to purchase and manage online."

However, the planned 0.65 per cent rate of return was roundly criticised by personal finance experts, who noted that considerably more attractive rates were currently on offer across the market.

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