The UK Government’s new net zero strategy launched today in Britain’s oil capital Aberdeen has attracted criticism for being ‘watered down’, as well as demonstrating a lack of urgent action and consistency in tackling the challenge of climate mitigation and adaptation.
Scientists have recently issued a ‘final warning’ on the climate crisis and are calling for urgent and radical actions to catch the last chance of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 degree C above pre-industrial levels.
This week, the Climate Change Committee published its report on the UK’s progress in adapting to climate change, which highlights that the UK’s National Adaptation Programme has not prepared the UK for climate change across cities, communities, infrastructure, economy and ecological systems. Recent extreme weather events in the UK, the COVID 19 pandemic, and the cost of living crisis have highlighted both how fragile the UK’s energy system is and the urgency for a resilient net-zero-emission system that is prepared for any black swan events in the future.
With the energy system being so complex, a whole-systems approach considering the integration of different sectors and all aspects of technology, policy, finance, behaviours, and the environment is essential if we are to tackle the global challenges of climate mitigation and adaptation.Dr Xinfang Wang, Lecturer in Cold Economy – University of Birmingham
With the energy system being so complex, a whole-systems approach considering the integration of different sectors and all aspects of technology, policy, finance, behaviours, and the environment is essential if we are to tackle the global challenges of climate mitigation and adaptation. I lead research at the University of Birmingham which focuses on engaging with policymakers and other stakeholders to help them visualize the complex system through a participatory approach. This is in line with the UK Energy Research Centre’s approach and is continuously applied in all research carried out by the University’s Centre for Sustainable Cooling team.
In the warming world, clean cooling and the cold chain plays a significant role in providing thermal comfort, especially to vulnerable people, as well as ensuring the food and vaccine supply chains operating effectively, efficiently, and sustainably. The Centre for Sustainable Cooling has been leading various projects on food and vaccine cold chains in the UK, EU, and the Global South with high real-world impacts. These include the projects on decarbonising food supply chain in the UK and EU such as Zero Emission Cold Chain, European food chain supply to reduce GHE emissions by 2050, and Transport, Industrial and Commercial Refrigeration. The Centre also works in Africa, India and Bangladesh on the ‘farm-to-fork’ cold chain, as well as the ‘manufacturer-to-arm’ vaccine cold chain.
Clear signals are needed from government and policymakers for long-term investment and market formation in technologies to value their future potential in the net zero emission system. Apart from the cooling infrastructure, longer duration energy storage is something that could provide the greatest benefit through the 2020s. However, technologies are at a pre-commercial stage of development – lacking the necessary policy and regulatory support to recognise their significant future value. Having any signal from the government to boost the fossil fuel industry or cut key decarbonisation interventions would cause long-lasting damage to achieve the carbon budgets and net-zero target in the UK. Carbon offsetting should not be used as an excuse to slow down emissions reduction actions that are urgently required by the government, industry, and all stakeholders, especially from the high emitters. Demand reduction should be considered first before solutions for cleaner energy system and low carbon transition.
Last but not least, the lack of skills and capacity for operating and maintaining new technologies and systems, such as for natural refrigerants and heat pumps, at a large scale, must be urgently addressed by government and relevant institutions if we are to prepare effectively for net zero transition.