Carbon, Climate – What’s the Emergency?
22 April 2021

Carbon, Climate – What’s the Emergency?

SYSTRA are developing a series of six Webinars that will run monthly in the run up to COP 26 covering the Climate Emergency and the route to Net Zero.
The first event took place on Thursday 15th April and was titled “Carbon, Climate – What’s the Emergency?” Here is a summary of what was covered.

The threat of disastrous climate change is leading the need to reduce greenhouse gas and carbon output. A shift in mindset is required by businesses and individuals to consider the impact of their choices over the next ten years. The impact of COVID-19 has inadvertently led to new models of working, but the most obvious benefit being a reduction in commuter congestion and employers finding alternative ways to communicate that have far-reaching advantages to the environment.

Part of the UK government’s strategy is ‘Net-Zero’; a call to balance all of the greenhouse gasses that the United Kingdom is emitting into the atmosphere with those that the country removes. The Climate Change Committee has highlighted that the UK needs to reach a 78% reduction in emissions by 2035 and an end to all greenhouse emissions by 2050. Emission reduction needs to occur across every sector of the economy for this to be achievable and ‘Surface transport’ is the biggest offender when it comes to emissions with around a third of emissions emitted by this sector. Whilst the UK has made good progress when it comes to switching to renewable energy; over 50% of our electricity now comes from renewable sources, emissions by surface transport have only dropped by around 2%. We all need to play our part to ensure climate change does not make our planet inhabitable for future generations of humans.

When it comes down to the individual; there are small changes we can make that can have a real impact. We can decide whether to fly or use rail to reach our destinations. We can eat less meat. We can switch to driving electric cars and change from gas to sustainable alternatives to heat our homes. However; there can be economical obstacles to this. Often these changes can only be made by wealthier households, so more incentives to ‘not’ use fossil fuel vehicles and affordability are required by the government to ensure that these options can be considered by anyone and current policies are insufficient for existing targets. Electric vehicles are also not wholly environmentally friendly , as they still produce significant levels of C02 during manufacture and maintenance; but a meaningful shift to the use of these over fossil fuel vehicles is preferable in the initial stages, however, reducing the need to travel and encouraging greater use of public transport, walking and cycling and reducing private car usage should be the medium to long term aim. This will require significant behavioural change which will require far more than just infrastructure to achieve including both ‘Carrots’ and ‘Sticks’ some of which may be unpalatable in the short term.

For transport to become more sustainable, the government needs to invest in infrastructure to encourage more public transport and shared mobility, as well as city spatial planning to ensure that what people need (for example, shops and businesses) are at reach within a shorter journey pattern, such as the 15 Minute Community concept; where travel desires can be reached within a 15 minute radius. This can only be achieved by wholesale changes to the way we plan our existing and proposed communities needing significant change in our town and transport planning practises in urban and rural communities alike. Another concept for sustainability is ‘Balancing The Grid’; where the levels of energy produced should match the demand (is harder with renewable sources). In the UK, the frequency is balanced at 50 Hertz. If that drops by 1%, it can cause damage and instability to the network. Therefore, renewable sources need to be structured to be flexible and responsive to reach these challenges; such as intelligent batteries, tariff systems, and grid-connected renewable systems where unused electricity is ‘fed’ back into the system. These methods can work alongside existing models such as smart meters.

For the UK to succeed in its aspirations to achieve Net-Zero carbon, energy, technology and transport will need to converge with Carbon reduction at the heart of all policy decisions. Over the next few months (leading up to COP26 in Glasgow), SYSTRA are undertaking monthly seminars to explore the progress the country has made and what further steps can be taken over the next few years. These will cover areas such as: Planning for 15 min communities, Transport demand management, Achieving significant Behavioural change, Responding to climate Emergency in Rural communities, Equality and Affordability, The future for public transport and the Freight sector addressing the increase in delivery vehicles.

Article written by Kat Price

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