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Net Zero Festival day one - Live Blog

Net Zero Festival day one - Live Blog

Catch up on all the latest news, top speakers and in-depth discussion from day one of the world's first Net Zero Festival from BusinessGreen, featuring a host of events and panels focusing on the topic of leadership

BusinessGreen brings you live coverage from day one of the Net Zero Festival, featuring a host of top business leaders, influential policymakers, academics and inspirational thinkers providing an invaluable guide to the economic and industrial revolution that will define the post-Covid world.

Follow this blog for the all the latest action throughout the day, which is broadly focused around the topic of net zero leadership - featuring appearances from the likes of Committee on Climate Change CEO Chris Stark, leading climate scientist Dr Emily Shuckburgh, Imagine co-founder Paul Polman, Minister for Climate Change and Corporate Responsibility Lord Callanan, and a range of leading business executives from BT, Shell, National Grid, Bank of America, Shroders, Engie, Unilever, Anglian Water, innocent drinks, Tesco, Ørsted, and many more.

Where next for the UK Climate Assembly?

Where next for the UK Climate Assembly?

Climate Assembly UK revealed public appetite for raising ambition to reach net zero, but much can also be learnt from the process itself for future climate policy making, argues Sophie Dicker from the Grantham Research Institute at LSE

Earlier this month Climate Assembly UK reported its findings on the question: 'How should the UK meet its target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050?' The Assembly was made up of a representative sample of the population, brought together to learn, discuss and make informed recommendations - an innovative approach in hearing from people across society on climate change.

As we await a comprehensive government response to the Assembly's recommendations, and to see if any will be incorporated into upcoming policy announcements, there is an opportunity to consider the ways in which the recommendations and learning from the process might be taken forward.

Positives of the Climate Assembly approach: Challenging policy assumptions and building consent

The Climate Assembly has provided significant insight into which policy measures the UK public are likely to support - even to request - when they are sufficiently informed and engaged on issues relating to climate change. Members achieved a strong level of consensus across a broad range of policy areas which, if implemented, would mark significant steps forward on the path to net zero.

Overall, Assembly members tended to agree that their understanding of and feelings about the path to net-zero had changed as a result of the process, and they backed recommendations that would entail significant cost and behavioural change. This included support for some politically contentious issues, including a frequent flier levy and reduced meat consumption - topics that even the most progressive politicians have often avoided discussing due to assumptions that they would be highly unpopular.

Assumptions of this nature are often used to shut down discussion and justify inaction; using models of informed participation like the Assembly could be a key way to overcome such assumptions. Indeed, although the views of the public, or specific groups of voters, are often thought of by politicians and policymakers as fixed, the Assembly process shows how opinions on complex issues can evolve through informed participation. Given the complex and at times controversial choices that will need to be made to reach net zero, building popular legitimacy will be central. In fact, a recent Institute for Government report identified building and maintaining public and political consent as the defining challenge for achieving the 2050 net zero target. The Assembly model, on a larger scale, could serve as a significant way to do this, as part of a broader strategy for public engagement.

The Climate Assembly model has also demonstrated its potential to address complex policy problems on a national level. Although an official evaluation of the model is forthcoming in Spring 2021, initial results are encouraging. For example, 90 per cent of the 110 participants were found to agree or strongly agree that similar assemblies should be used more often to inform governmental and parliamentary decision-making.

The Climate Assembly's influence on policy

Where the Climate Assembly model could be improved, however, is in its direct link to legislative, policy and funding decisions. In spite of the efforts of a number of MPs, including Select Committee Chairs, to promote and build on the findings, without the will of relevant Ministers to take them forward, they are likely to have little direct impact. This flaw was partly designed into the Assembly; it was commissioned by six Parliamentary select committees, with no mandate from, or direct link to, government. There are also longer standing, unresolved issues around how deliberative democratic approaches might best feed into the processes of a representative democracy, especially where competing recommendations are made.

The government is therefore likely to take an approach of 'cherry picking' the recommendations that fit with existing plans. Research has shown that both contextual and recommendation-specific factors play a role in determining the chances of proposals being taken up from deliberative processes. These include factors such as the cost of a recommendation, the extent to which it challenges existing policy, and the degree of existing support within the relevant institution. For example, it is likely that the government will not engage with Assembly recommendations which conflict with already-central components of the government's net zero strategy, such as a heavy reliance on the development of carbon capture and storage technologies for fossil fuels, which the Assembly had strong concerns over, for example, the risk of carbon leakage and a continued reliance on fossil fuels.

Scope for developing the Climate Assembly model

To improve their potential to influence, deliberative models need to be better embedded in government and parliamentary processes. The Institute for Government's recent report recommends that government departments build such approaches into the early stages of the policymaking process for net zero. The Climate Assembly could trigger the start of this change, demonstrating the benefits of the approach and providing a template and key lessons. This will, however, rely on political and institutional interest in doing so, which may be an unlikely priority at the moment, with Covid-19 and preparation for the end of the EU-transition period dominating the policy agenda. However, the pandemic also raises the possibility of a significant opportunity to approach responses to crises differently - and alternative models of citizen engagement could be seen in a new light.

The model could also be used on a one-off basis to answer more specific questions or to develop specific climate change policy ideas, which may be easier to secure a direct government mandate for. For example, it could be applied to questions around climate change adaptation, which was raised by the Assembly but not focused on, or pension investments in relation to climate change, which was not mentioned by the Assembly.

The influence of similar assemblies in the future could also be strengthened if they were used to feed into existing influential bodies. For example, the Institute for government's report also recommends that the Climate Assembly model be developed into a permanent resource, hosted by the Committee on Climate Change, as a standing group of citizen advisers that can be commissioned by government or parliament to consider important net zero policy areas. This is in line with a recommendation later made by the Assembly itself for a neutral body that monitors and ensures progress on net zero, including citizens' assemblies and independent experts.

The devolved administrations and local authorities could use similar participatory models, adapting them to their own contexts - indeed, such processes are already underway within a range of devolved and local bodies. For example, participatory processes could be positioned as a response to local declarations of a climate emergency, and designed to ensure a direct link to policy and funding processes. This could include adding innovative methods such as participatory budgeting to the existing Assembly approach. A range of local authorities have been engaged in deliberative processes with local citizens for a long time and have learnt lessons to be shared and built on. For example, Shared Future CIC (a community interest company) has produced a guide to support local authorities in commissioning citizens' assemblies - funded by the Place-Based Climate Action Network (PCAN) - covering how these processes might address the climate emergency, and approaches to design and delivery.

Scotland's Climate Assembly, due to kick off later this year, is mandated by the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019. The Act requires the Scottish Government to respond to the recommendations of any report produced by the Climate Assembly within six months, and as such is more directly accountable to Assembly recommendations than the UK government is, at least formally, to the UK Assembly. Whether or not this will make a significant difference in how policy recommendations are taken forward, given that the obligation is only to respond, will provide greater insight into how to design influential participatory models. Deliberative processes on climate change in other countries, including in Ireland and France, will also have lessons to offer on design.

The need for leadership

In spite of the many positives, there were some areas among the Assembly findings that would have benefited from more effective leadership and communication to build a compelling case for change. The Assembly recommendations do not always acknowledge necessary trade-offs. For example, the Assembly held unrealistic expectations about the level of electric vehicle usage likely to be possible across the UK, and recommends only small percentage decreases in car usage over the coming decades (of two to five per cent per decade). In contrast, the UK Parliament's Science and Technology Committee found that widespread personal vehicle ownership does not appear to be compatible with significant decarbonisation.

In this example, leadership is required to build an honest yet compelling narrative, developing the case for alternative forms of transport as well as measures such as localisation strategies (recommendations also suggested by the Assembly), instead of propagating the idea that driving levels can continue at similar levels to today's while achieving net zero, albeit with a switch to electric vehicles. The Assembly's recommendations also allow for continued growth in the aviation sector (supported by as yet undeveloped low-carbon technologies).

Strong leadership on climate change is therefore needed alongside any future iterations of the Assembly model, to build a compelling case for potentially unpalatable trade-offs. At the same time, the Assembly model can be used to support such leadership; as a proven way of establishing informed buy-in from people across society and building legitimacy for measures necessary to meet the UK's commitment to net zero.


Sophie Dicker is a policy analyst at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science

Shell charts pathway to net zero shipping using hydrogen fuel cells

Shell charts pathway to net zero shipping using hydrogen fuel cells

Hydrogen, liquified natural gas and technologies geared at improving the energy efficiency of ships are among Shell's proposed solutions to decarbonise its shipping business

Shell has unveiled plans to tap hydrogen fuel cells and liquified natural gas to wean its carbon intensive shipping business off heavy fuel oil as it works toward its aim of becoming a 'zero emissions company' by 2050.

In a roadmap published yesterday - dubbed 'Decarbonising shipping: Setting Shell's course' - the oil giant said it had identified hydrogen fuel cell technology as the zero emissions technology with the greatest promise for helping the hard-to-abate shipping sector achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

As such, the roadmap outlines plans to "advance its research" in hydrogen fuel, which it believes holds the potential to become more cost-competitive than alternative zero emissions fuels due its potential for the decarbonisation of multiple industries.

However, with zero emission fuel unlikely to be commercially available until the 2030s, the oil and gas giant emphasised it would also take steps in the short-term to make its shipping operations more energy efficient. This will involve investing in a range of solutions, such as wind assist, air lubrication, advanced engine lubricants and digital optimisation technologies, it said.

Shell said it would develop a set of performance standards for future new-build vessels for all ship types in order to meet an aim of delivering "up to 25 per cent emissions savings".

Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is also set to play a "critical role" in making Shell's shipping operations more sustainable, according to yesterday's update. The firm estimates the fuel can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by between 15 to 21 per cent - depending on the size of the ship's engine - compared to heavy fuel oil that has traditionally powered ships. In addition, LNG can be used with fuel cells to aid the development of the technology, it said.

Shell therefore said it would double its existing LNG bunkering infrastructure on key international trade routes by the mid-2020s.

Grahaeme Henderson, global head of Shell's shipping and maritime business, stressed the decarbonisaton of the shipping industry would require stakeholders from across the sector to collaborate on new innovations at a breakneck pace.

"The shipping industry needs to develop the new technologies, fuels and infrastructure required for a net-zero emissions sector at a pace never previously seen," he said. "This will require the determination of all of those at the forefront of this transition."

Shell also committed to establishing a consortium that will develop and trial fuel cells on a commercial deep sea vessel, and implementing an emissions data collection programme across Shell's internationally traded and voyage charters, with a view to ultimately publish annual carbon intensity data.

The company also pledged to "build the commercial case" for carbon neutral lubricants through the development of its nature-based solutions portfolio, and to collaborate with "those at the leading edge of the transition in the sector" in order to accelerate decarbonisation, in particular the Getting to Zero coalition working to make US and Canadian cabotage shipping operations more sustianable.

It came as Shell today announced plans to cut 7,000-9,000 jobs across its global oil and gas business, as the company reels from plummeting demand for oil in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis which has impaced the entire sector. 

But in the meantime the firm has continued to increase its interest in the green economy and towards furthering its net zero goals, for which yesterday's shipping roadmap marks just the latest move.

Henderson said the firm had developed its "ambitious course" on shipping after consulting with customers and partners in the sector. "I hope that by doing so, openly and transparently, others will be encouraged to join us and help create a net zero emissions future for shipping," he added.

The oil giant also urged the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to raise the industry's decarbonisation ambition by setting out a "clear trajectory" for how the industry can deliver net zero emissions by 2050.

In response, a spokesperson from the UN agency told BusinessGreen the IMO had adopted a greenhouse gas strategy with "ambitious goals". "The Organisation's immediate focus is on finalising the short-term greenhouse gas reduction measure to ensure achievement of the 2030 level of ambition of reducing carbon intensity by 40 per cent compared to 2008, followed by discussions on other candidate measures listed in the Strategy, including possible market-based measures," the spokesperson said.

IMO also flagged that Shell, as a company, cannot make submissions directly to IMO. Submissions must be made by "by Member States and NGOS in consultative status", it said.

US election: Trump and Biden clash over climate change in first Presidential debate

US election: Trump and Biden clash over climate change in first Presidential debate

Trump acknowledged the role of greenhouse gases in driving climate change while Biden embraced a number of specific climate measures in debate marred by interruptions and personal attacks

Donald Trump and his Democratic Party challenger Joe Biden clashed over their radically divergent visions for confronting the global climate crisis in the first US Presidential debate of the 2020 election yesterday, in what was one of the more coherent stretches of a debate marred by interruptions, wildly inaccurate claims and personal insults.

Yet despite the relatively poor quality of political insight on show last night and the broadly critical response from commentators, the debate marked the first time climate change had taken centre stage in a US Presidential debate, indicating the issue is likely to sit centre stage in the run up to the critical election day on 3 November.

The issue had not been among the six topics up for discussion which were released ahead of the event, but it was introduced by moderator Chris Wallace towards the end of an event that was characterised primarily by crosstalk, interruptions and insults.

Even so, the discussion saw Trump offer arguably his most extensive and substantive comments on the topic of climate change. He began with generalisations on the need for "crystal clean water", "beautiful air" and "the lowest carbon". But Wallace refused to allow him to dodge questions on the merits of climate science, asking the President: "Do you believe greenhouse gas emissions contribute to the global warming of this planet?"

"I think a lot of things to do but I think to an extent yes," President Trump responded. He focused on the wildfires that have scorched the western USA in recent years, saying "we have to do better management of forests" and that "we're planting a billion trees."

However, Trump reiterated his rejection of the Paris Agreement on climate change - which he has sought to exit the USA from - calling it "a disaster from our standpoint." The President has repeatedly argued that the US is being asked to shoulder an unfair burden in tackling climate change, and the US is set to leave the Paris Agreement the day after the election next month, although Biden has promised he will re-enter the accord if elected president.

Trump also highlighted his support for electric cars, saying "I'm all for electric cars, I've given big incentives." He defended his apparently contradictory decision to roll back fuel economy standards, arguing it made cars "much less expensive" and "much safer". He also defended his dismantling of Obama's Clean Power Plan, which limited carbon emissions in power plants, because "it was driving energy prices through the sky".

Challenger Joe Biden, who was Vice-President when Obama introduced the Clean Power Plan in 2015, highlighted several specific climate measures his administration would take, including rejoining the Paris Agreement, electrifying the federal vehicle fleet, and improving the energy efficiency of four million buildings.

"We're going to put 500,000 charging stations on all of the higways we're going to be building in the future," Biden said.

He also emphasised the shift to renewable energy: "Nobody's going to build another coal-fired plant in America, nobody's going to build another oil-fired plant in America, they're going to move to renewable energy," he said, adding that: "we can get to net zero in terms of energy production by 2035."

Biden also raised concerns about deforestation in the Amazon, saying "more carbon is absorbed in that rainforest than every bit of carbon that's emitted in the United States."

However, despite support for policies to tackle these issues, Biden rejected Trump's claims that he backed proposals for a Green New Deal, saying: "that is not my plan." Trump had falsely claimed the Green New Deal would cost "not $2bn or $20bn" but "$100bn".

One estimate from the American Action Forum, run by a former director of the Congressional Budget Office, has estimated that the Green New Deal would cost between $51tr and $93tr over ten years.

Previously, Biden's campaign had called the Green New Deal a "crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face", but had stopped short of explicitly endorsing it.

Green Homes Grant: Demand expected to soar as energy efficiency scheme launches

Green Homes Grant: Demand expected to soar as energy efficiency scheme launches

The government's Green Homes Grant scheme opens for applications today, but demand from homeowners expected to outstrip 600,000 vouchers available

The government's flagship energy efficiency scheme offering homeowners grants of up to £5,000 to help pay for home energy efficiency upgrades and low carbon technology installations has officially launched for applications today, but concerns have been raised that demand for vouchers could far outstrip supply.

First announced over the summer, the £2bn Green Home Grants scheme is aimed at decarbonising the UK's draughty households and making them cheaper to run, with a target to upgrade more than 600,000 homes though by supporting installation of measures such as insulation, double glazing and heat pumps. Homeowners can receive up to £5,000 towards the costs of upgrades, with low income households offered up to £10,000.

The government also estimates the grant scheme will support over 100,000 jobs in green construction for local plumbers, builders and tradespeople across the UK. 

Welcoming the launch of the scheme today, Business Secretary Alok Sharma said the move formed part of the government's plan to "build back better" and that boosting energy efficiency would boost jobs and help cut bills and CO2.

However, a fresh poll released today by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) indicates demand for grants through the scheme is likely to far outstrip demand, as homeowners seek financial support to upgrade their homes.

The YouGov poll of 1,400 adults in England found well over half of home owners (62 per cent) are interested in accessing Green Home Grants. If the poll reflects actual demand across England for grants, then it would mean around six million householders would be applying for grants, more than 10 times greater than the number of grants available, according to ECIU.

In total, the government is expected to make 600,000 vouchers for energy efficiency improvements to homes available with a budget of £2bn to support the scheme.

"With England's housing stock in such a bad way - over half are below the Government's EPC band C target - there's lots of work to be done, so it's not surprising the Green Homes Grant looks to be popular among the public," said ECIU analyst Jess Ralston. "This can only be good news for consumers and traders alike as bills will be reduced and jobs created all over the country, whilst also benefitting the environment by reducing carbon emissions: installing energy efficiency and low carbon heating really is a win-win scenario, and hopefully something that will continue."

Peter Smith, director of policy and research at the fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA) urged the government to invest further in the scheme.

"The UK Government's recent investment to improve the energy efficiency of our leaky housing is hugely welcome," he said. "Our recent polling also demonstrates strong public support for fixing Britain's homes with three in four people supporting the UK Government urgently investing further resources. Two thirds also support the local jobs this could create. This additional investment will be vital to ensure the momentum of the new Green Home Grant is sustained and we continue to improve the UK's building stock otherwise it will remain notoriously inefficient."

Labour's Shadow Minister for Energy and the Green New Deal, Alan Whitehead, also welcomed the government's move to offer funding to boosting household retrofits, but slammed the Green Home Grants scheme as a "dog's breakfast" which did not do enough to deliver the long-term changes to home energy efficiency "that are desperately needed".

"Rather than boom and bust we need a properly focused, stable and long-term programme able to create jobs, cut bills and prepare the country for its net zero future," he said.

The Green Homes Grant scheme is part of a wider £3bn package of measures announced by the government aimed at helping to decarbonise UK buildings, including £1bn to boost the energy efficiency of public buildings such as schools and hospitals through a new Public Sector Decarbonisation Fund.

And £50m has been earmarked to improve the energy efficiency of social housing, alongside new measures launched for consultation today to ensure nearly three million privately rented homes are upgraded to modern energy efficiency standards by 2028.

With the private rented sector awash with draughty, fuel poor homes amid weak enforcement of existing Energy Performance Certificate (EPC)  regulations, the moves announced today by the government to raise the minimum EPC target for landlords to achieve at least band 'C' by 2028 will be warmly welcomed by climate and fuel poverty campaigners alike. 

"We promised to support jobs and protect the environment - and the Green Homes Grant delivers on this," said the Chancellor Rishi Sunak. "We're giving homeowners, landlords and local authorities the funding they need to hire local tradespeople and make our homes more energy efficient. By supporting the green van men and women, we'll save money, save jobs and save the planet."

All aboard: UK's first hydrogen train rolls onto the tracks in Warwickshire

All aboard: UK's first hydrogen train rolls onto the tracks in Warwickshire

Trials of the zero carbon HydroFLEX train kick off today in the Midlands as part of a government-backed project

The first hydrogen-powered train to run on the UK's mainline is set to roll out onto the tracks today in Warwickshire as part of a series of trials of the technology part-funded by the government, which hailed the milestone as a "big step forwards in the UK's net zero targets".

Trials of the zero carbon HydroFLEX train follow almost two years of development work backed by £1m investment from both Britain's rolling stock company Porterbook and the University of Birmingham, as well as a £750,000 grant from the Department for Transport (DfT).

Following successful completion of the trials, the technology behind the zero carbon trains is pencilled in to be made available by 2023 to retrofit current in-service trains to run on hydrogen in order to help decarbonise the rail network and make journeys more efficient, according to the DfT.

Announcing the start of the trials today, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps also revealed the government's ambition for Tees Valley in North East England to become a "trailblazing" Hydrogen Transport Hub to help drive forward the use of hydrogen as an alternative fuel.

Bringing together figures from academia, industry and government, the Hub is aimed at embracing the use of hydrogen as a transport fuel to steer the region towards becoming a global leader in the green hydrogen sector, which the DfT said would create hundreds of new jobs in the region.

To kick start the Tees Valley Hydrogen Transport Hub, DfT has commissioned a masterplan for publication in January to understand the feasibility of the Hub and the potential for it to power a buses, heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), rail, ships and planes, it said.

Meanwhile, today's announcements also include £6.3m funding for a green hydrogen refuelling station and 19 hydrogen-powered refuse trucks in Glasgow, the government said.

"As we continue on our road to a green recovery, we know that to really harness the power of transport to improve our country - and to set a global gold standard - we must truly embed change," said Shapps. "That's why I'm delighted that through our plans to build back better we are embracing the power of hydrogen and the more sustainable, greener forms of transport it will bring."

It follows news yesterday that the government is considering a major overhaul of the UK's Industrial Strategy - which was only recently agreed under Boris Johnson's predecessor in Number 10, Theresa May - in a bid to place a heavier focus on science and technology.

A major driver behind revamping the Industrial Strategy is a desire from Johnson's government to accelerate the push towards green energy as well as other forward-looking technologies frequently hailed by the PM such as carbon capture and storage (CCS), hydrogen fuel cells and offshore wind, according to the Financial Times.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) confirmed to BusinessGreen that the government was looking to "refresh" the strategy in order to support a "green recovery from the coronavirus" and put the UK "at the forefront" of global technological opportunities.

"We are working to refresh the Industrial Strategy, published in 2017, to ensure it remains relevant, responds to current and emerging issues in the UK, and reflects this government's priorities," BEIS said in a statement. "We will set out our approach in due course."

Meanwhile, there is yet again growing speculation the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is eyeing up a potential 2p hike in fuel duty next year to help plug the growing hole in the government's finances in the wake of the Covid-19 recession, according to The Mirror.

Such a move has long been supported by green campaigners as a means of discouraging private car use, and was also speculated prior to the Spring Budget earlier this year but failed to materialise, amid concerns from some backbench Conservative MPs about the backlash from constituents.

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