In recent weeks Prime Minster Boris Johnson announced Project Moonshot: the attempt to test everyone in the country for COVID-19 almost every day. This ambitious goal seems far fetched, but the name ‘Moonshot’ is chosen fittingly. This project could potentially allow life to return to normal. The question is, if the government is willing to take on such a vast project for health, what should stop them from applying this approach to climate change?
This article looks at an even more ambitious goal: a world that attempts to be net carbon negative and the role the UK could play in this. It would entail reaching pre 1950s levels of atmospheric CO2, by the end of this century. This is a hopeful aim; most would even say impossible. However, if it took man less than 10 years to land on the moon, I know we can do a whole lot more in 80…
From legislation to encourage climate action, to education for its citizens, governments wield the magic sword. However, there is so much to be done, it is disheartening seeing the inaction taken on this worldwide. The Paris Climate accord was a massive step, every single major producer of emissions signed the pledge to keep worldwide temperature rises below 2°C, with the attempt to keep them below 1.5°C. This was impressive, however, there is nothing binding about the agreement, President Trump withdrew from it, citing it was unfair on the economy. This complete disregard to the world’s climate is not limited to America. Governments in Brazil and Australia are also examples of states that are disregarding the facts for the benefit of their economy.
If governments really cared about the world, rather than being re-elected, there could be ground-breaking change worldwide. If economies were restructured around non carbon energy sources: tax cuts for large companies that are net carbon negative, tax rises for those who have not improved their emissions in the past 10 years, the UK would see a shift in the trajectory of its own carbon emissions. For those who claim it loses our competitive advantage – climate action is expensive – only initially, once implemented most renewable energy resources are inexpensive to run with. The move to renewables should be considered an investment, a way to reduce running costs, rather than a charitable act for the planet.
To achieve this extraordinary goal, every single industry would need to change, every single person would have to do something to help in the fight against man made climate change. The first and most important aspect of this is tackling misinformation. Leading newspapers in the UK publish climate hoax theories and some of the world’s largest greenhouse gas producers refuse to see the irrefutable evidence that man made climate change will change this planet for the worse. This issue is the one of the most important reasons why climate change action is so slow. People do not realise the affect this could have on them and their children. We need to inform people on why safeguarding our planet for the future generations is not a choice, it is integral for the continuation of the human race.
So how would one go about this change? Education. Climate change conspiracy theorists rely on small snippets of facts to extrapolate untruths in order to convince people of a climate change fallacy.
A prime example of this is that climate change happens naturally. While this represents a part of the truth (that the earth does warm and cool over time), the rate which it is occurring in this era is astronomical. Recent research proves that the earth hasn’t been warming so very quickly for millennia. Educating children on chemistry and physics behind the greenhouse effect and climate change will provide impetus for the next generations to take on efforts to make our planet healthier.
Telecommunications is an industry which is growing faster than most, with the rollout of 5G set to cause some of the most revolutionary changes to the way we live. However, beneath all of this is a dark truth. The Telco industry are large consumers of energy: worldwide, telecom operators account for 2% to 3% of energy consumption, with no sign of it slowing down. Even though 5G is more efficient per Gigabyte, the new masts are expected to use over 2 times the energy that current 4G masts are using. All of this shows the need for the telecoms sector to act fast to ensure their industry isn’t the one holding back the fight against climate change.
Inefficiencies are the main cause of the loss of energy. According to a report by Nokia, only 15% of energy consumption is used for the transfer of data, with the other 85% through heat from amplifiers, equipment idling and so on. This astronomical amount of energy, 1.7% of worldwide consumption, is thrown down the drain. This has a monetary and environmental cost. As the telco market becomes more competitive, those who do not invest in more efficient technologies will be left behind.
There are organisations, however, who understand the need to change this industry. In early 2019, Telefónica released the first green bond in the Telco sector worth €1 billion. This pledge is in conjunction with Telefónica guaranteeing that 50% of all electricity used worldwide comes from renewable sources, as well as stabilising their energy consumption despite a 107% growth in the past 3 years. Thus, it is possible to implement green change in the telco sector, but this requires impetus from the companies themselves and a demand from consumers.
Ericsson are another company who believe they are ahead of the game. In March this year Ericsson released a paper named “Breaking the energy curve” which, in their view, shows how they can grow exponentially without increasing energy consumption. Their view is to attack the problem from all sides, addressing some of the points made above. Ericsson believe that modernising all parts of the network will help reduce energy consumption. This is because newer technology is more efficient per gigabyte and therefore, in low-traffic areas, yield greater energy savings. Another factor is energy saving software. Ericsson currently claim to have solutions that can save up to 15% of energy without compromising user experience. Another important element is building the newest networks with accuracy and precision. This means having the correct equipment in the right place, optimising the use of equipment rather than installing extra masts. If these recommendations were to take the industry by storm, there would be a significant reduction in energy, and therefore emissions which could pave the way for other industries to follow suit.
The question that follows is why companies and governments restrict their efforts to carbon neutrality alone. Why not carbon negative? In order for us to not only prevent further climate change but to return to a healthy environment, we need to remove the emissions we have released in the first place. Only then can our efforts be regarded as a positive contribution.
The fashion industry is one that has been receiving a lot of press recently, especially pertaining to ‘Fast Fashion’. High street brands like ASOS, H&M and Primark are all known for their inexpensive, short life clothing which results is large volumes of waste through manufacturing and domestic disposal. This throw away culture is severely detrimental to the environment in terms of waste creation. In addition, the means of producing these items is terrible for the environment: a single cotton t-shirt requires around 2,700 litres of water in the process of its production.
Emissions in the fashion industry comes from cotton agriculture and the making of the garments. In a report by McKinsey, it is estimated to produce 23kg of CO2 for every kilo of garment. This equated to approximately 10% of all global emissions, more than maritime shipping and international flights combined. Furthermore, 85% of textiles go into landfill every year, showing that not only does the fashion industry add significant emissions, it also takes up valuable space and pollutes local environments.
This problem is not going away. The majority of people in developing nations still do not have a fraction of the clothing that someone in a developed country does. As a result of the buying power of these developed countries increasing, they buy more clothes. According to estimations by McKinsey, the growth of fashion in developing nations could result in a 77% increase in CO2 emissions from fashion between 2015 and 2020. This increase could result in a detrimental effect on the battle against climate change: if CO2 emissions from fashion increase by 77%, that will result in a 7.7% increase in worldwide emissions.
So, what is there to be done? There are significant efforts worldwide which are looking at creating a ‘greener’ fashion industry. Germany are a country who are going in the correct direction, collecting up to 75% of their clothing waste, managing to reuse half and recycle a quarter. This is well ahead of other developed nations, 15% in the USA and 10% in Japan. If other states can replicate this level of clothing collection, then it will be possible to create change. For clothing to be successfully recycled, they could either be ‘upcycled’ or the fabric recycled into new fibres. Both have benefits and downsides. Upcycling is a brilliant way to ensure clothes don’t go to waste, saving on manufacturing costs, however, it is a highly skilled job being able to alter slightly damaged clothing making it an expensive process. Recycling fabric allows more flexibility to create different products, however, the recycling process is currently not very efficient and releases a lot of waste, making it a less attractive proposition for firms looking to ‘go sustainable’.
What can fashion companies do? Create stylish clothes that last and are affordable too. Changing the fashion culture so that it was focused on buying a garment that lasted a long time at a relatively affordable price, rather than being focused on cheaper short term garments would have a positive impact on this. Furthermore, if renewables were implemented in developing countries where clothes are made, the carbon footprint of clothing would be greatly reduced. Investing in research to find more renewable, greener materials rather than using polyester is another way to ensure the fashion industry is an industry that can adapt to the new green age.
Industry: Big Tech
Big Tech companies are trying desperately to achieve the ‘green’ image. Recently Google has announced that its carbon footprint is zero, compensating for all the carbon it has ever created from its conception in 1998. This is an amazing feat, especially given how the most recent years would have been Google’s most power consuming. However, there are some caveats, Google have partaken in the purchasing of carbon offsets, meaning these are paying someone else to do the work. It is all good news, especially with the promise that in 2030, Google aim to run all of their worldwide operations on renewable energy, not matching energy consumption with renewables to the grid. Google aim to have every single data centre, every single office building running on renewable energy 24/7, so that every Google search, every email sent via Gmail will have no carbon footprint. This ambitious goal is the type every large and small company should be setting. If every single person/company/government makes a change, the world will only be thankful in the future.
A pressing issue that needs addressing too is that computers, phones and tablets are being sold at a higher and higher rate every year, resulting in the growth of E-waste. According to the World Economic Forum, E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the world, with an estimated 48.5 million tonnes being released in 2018. This waste is an opportunity, every circuit board, wire, CPU has valuable metals and minerals which take vast energy resources to mine. If companies allowed customers to resell their products to them, damaged or not, for them to then extract the valuable metals and reuse, it could help significantly in the fight against climate change. Apple have a recycling scheme that offers to take in people’s old devices and recycle them sustainably. Unfortunately, it seems that this trend hasn’t caught on very well; as an old phone is still worth some value, even with a cracked screen. If Apple were to offer some incentive, like they do with their newer phones, to encourage people to recycle all their old devices, it could save Apple significant income in the form of materials, while also helping in the fight against climate change.
Data centres are extremely energy intensive, with vast quantities of energy going in to keeping them cool. Microsoft have recently announced that their underwater servers, placed in the sea back in 2018, had a lower failure rate than on land servers. This revelation opens the door for server farms to be placed just of the coast of cooler countries: Scotland, Ireland, Iceland etc. and will allow companies to vastly reduce their energy consumption. A more outlandish idea could be to place them next to offshore windfarms allowing them to benefit from the renewable energy source eliminating fossil fuel consumption.
What else can Big Tech do? Big Tech are in a prime location to benefit from any government climate incentives. If they do lobby the government to encourage companies to go green, by either a climate tax, or incentives, then they will be doing themselves a favour as well as the environment. A more generous approach would be to share their efforts with smaller, less powerful companies, allowing them to turn green without the significant upfront costs it may cause. This ‘charity’ would not only improve climate prospects but would improve the perceptions of what some would call “greedy money hungry firms”, improving PR and thereby improving profits.
How could the British government tackle this climate crisis?
Worldwide they should look at promoting green energy solutions. Ensuring bilateral aid is used to develop nations infrastructure to rely on renewables rather than fossil fuels. Brokering trade deals which benefit countries who are investing in renewables rather than coal. Helping developing nations skip the fossil fuel age and directly progress to the renewable age. If the UK government adopted this policy, it would push all those who would like to trade with us towards renewable energy and if replicated across many developed nations, could see a historic shift in the fight against climate change.
At home, we could start investing heavily in the latest energy solutions, looking at hydrogen – rather than diesel – to power trains and trucks. The government could step up investment in rail technology, as well as subsidising the railways so that it becomes affordable for people to travel by rail rather than car. Moving to electric cars sooner, rather than the date 2035, would see people encouraged to buy electric cars, as well as manufacturers forced to innovate quicker to keep ahead of the curve.
The government could invest in batteries to ensure renewable supply never exceeded demand. This would ensure that the UK would be able to cope in the calm, dreary days that may come about. It could also be possible to build electrolysis plants for the formation of hydrogen from water, allowing excess energy from renewables to be used to create a green fuel, which in turn could be used to power boilers up and down the country. Furthermore, ensuring any new boilers installed had to be Hydrogen compatible thereby future proofing homes for the foreseeable future.
Carbon negative policies also need to be implemented. Reforestation of parts of the UK to help capture carbon in the atmosphere and lock it in for generations to come. Investing in carbon capture technology to put the excess carbon back where it belongs – underground in old oil wells. Creating city forests that clean the air of our most polluted areas, as well as adding essential green spaces for the people living there. These are all solutions which could ensure this country is at the forefront of innovation, development and ambition.
It is clear that after years of knowing about climate change, limited action has been taken given the grave threat it poses to the world as we know it. If some of the changes outlined above were implemented worldwide, it would cause an astonishing impact upon the world, propelling us towards targets we have only set ourselves. If the world looked back at the mistakes made, learnt from them and actually implemented meaningful change, the climate crisis may not be a crisis at the end of this century…