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'Build back greener': Environment Agency debuts new five year plan

'Build back greener': Environment Agency debuts new five year plan

EA2025 strategy vows to strengthen UK climate resilience and enhance natural habitats in pursuit of net zero goals, as Flood Re warns flood mitigation efforts must continue to evolve

The Environment Agency has today published a new five year plan, detailing how the body plans to embed fundamental changes to its operating model that can help embed some of the environmental benefits seen during the coronavirus crisis.

Dubbed EA2025, the new strategy sets out how the agency plans to promote health, equity and environmental enhancement, while delivering on its core goals to create more climate resilient places, improve air, soil, and water quality, and deliver on its target of net zero emissions by 2030.

"Tackling climate change must become a default position for everyone. We know that life post-lockdown presents a unique opportunity to change the way we live and work for the better," said Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency.

"We have been gifted a glimpse of how we could adapt our lives and think differently about how we operate. This applies not just to us but the communities we serve, too. People are ready to think differently, and with our new five year plan we want to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime chance to lead the way."

The EA2025 strategy sets out three long-term goals: "a nation resilient to climate change; healthy air, land and water; and green growth and a sustainable future".

These overarching goals are backed by a series of annual targets, such as plans to improve more than 4,000 kilometres of river during 2020/21, create nearly 1,200 hectares of habitat, and cut carbon emissions eight per cent a year, to put it on track to deliver net zero emissions by 2030.

The organisation also said it was exploring how to retain some of the emissions savings technologies and practices it has deployed to remain operational throughout the lockdown.

For example, with the majority of staff working from home in recent months the agency has concluded legal hearings remotely and used drones to monitor regulated sites where possible.

Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency, said the new strategy would support the Prime Minister's stated aspiration to "build back better, build back greener, build back faster".

"This action plan sets out how we will help to accelerate a just transition to a low-carbon and more resilient future," she said. "Although the plan points at 2025 it starts now, and the lessons we learn along the way will help develop the whole UK workforce for the risks and opportunities of the coming decades."

The move comes just days after the Flood Re flood insurance scheme published its annual report, warning that long term flood risks are continuing to rise and the government should seize the opportunity to strengthen climate resilience as part of its economic recovery plans.  

The body said that in 2019/20 a wave of floods throughout the winter meant it processed more claims and paid out more than in the first three years of operation combined, with gross costs reaching £160m.

The scheme - which effectively provides the insurance industry with support so as to ensure households and businesses in areas with high levels of flood risk can still access affordable policies - said escalating climate impacts could have implications for the current plan that would see the scheme exit the market by 2039.

"Flood Re has had a significant impact on the affordability and availability of home insurance with more than 300,000 households in the UK who are at risk of flooding directly benefitting from the Scheme," said Flood Re Chief Executive, Andy Bord. "We are helping more families than ever before and are in a strong financial position ready to support those impacted by flooding.

"This year has been significant in many ways. We have seen the first major flooding events since our launch in 2016 as well as having to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic. In these unprecedented times, the country must build back better, developing a recovery plan that creates sustainable and resilient foundations for the future. For those at risk of flooding, it is critical that investment in flood mitigation strategies be maintained."

UN Secretary-General: Coal has no place in COVID-19 recovery plans

UN Secretary-General: Coal has no place in COVID-19 recovery plans

António Guterres warns governments risk squandering the opportunity to deliver a 'green recovery' that accelerates the net zero transition

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has today issued a stark warning that too many governments and businesses "have still not got the message" and risk engineering a carbon intensive recovery from the coronavirus crisis.

Speaking at the International Energy Agency's (IEA) virtual Clean Energy Transition Summit, Guterres warned that the opportunity to deliver a "green recovery" that accelerates climate action in support of the Paris Agreement was at risk of being squandered by countries that use stimulus funds to "prop up" fossil fuel firms and "jumpstart" coal-fired power plant development.

As such, Guterres reiterated his call for coal to have "no place in COVID-19 recovery plans", arguing there was a compelling economic, health, and environmental case for governments to "choose the clean energy route".

"Today, nations are taking far-reaching decisions as they channel trillions of dollars of taxpayers' money into recovery strategies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic," he said. "As we design and implement these recovery plans, we have a choice. We can go back to where we were, or we can invest in a better, more sustainable future.

"We can invest in fossil fuels, whose markets are volatile and whose emissions lead to lethal air pollution. Or, we can invest in renewable energy, which is reliable, clean and economically smart."

Guterres praised those governments that have committed to green recovery plans, singling out the EU and South Korea for praise and highlighting how Nigeria has reformed its fossil fuel subsidy framework and Canada has placed climate disclosure conditions on its bail-out support in response to the pandemic.

But he warned that "many have still not got the message".

"Some countries have used stimulus plans to prop up oil and gas companies that were already struggling financially," he said. "Others have chosen to jumpstart coal-fired power plants that don't make financial or environmental sense."

Guterres cited new research on G20 recovery packages released this week that shows that twice as much recovery money has been spent on fossil fuels as clean energy.

He argued clean energy focused recovery plans offered multiple benefits, helping to slash air pollution, curb climate risks, and cut energy costs while creating jobs and driving economic growth.

"Per kilowatt hour, solar energy is now cheaper than coal in most countries," Guterres said. "If we had any doubt about the direction the wind is blowing, the real economy is showing us. The business case for renewable energy is now better than coal in virtually every market. Fossil fuels are increasingly risky business with fewer takers."

He also reiterated his six point plan for climate action in the run up to the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow next year, calling on governments to make societies more resilient; create green jobs and sustainable growth; ensure bailout support for sectors such as industry, aviation, and shipping conditional on alignment with the goals of the Paris Agreement; end fossil fuel subsidies and place a price on carbon; consider climate risk in decision-making; and ensure every financial decision takes account of environmental and social impacts.

Specifically, he urged investors to demand that companies reveal transition plans to reach net zero emissions and called on governments to expand renewable energy auctions and "commit to no new coal, today, and end all external financing of coal in the developing world".

"Coal has no place in COVID-19 recovery plans," he added.

Finally, he reminded Ministers and officials from around the world that nations must commit to net zero emissions by 2050 and submit more ambitious national climate plans before COP-26 next year.

Guterres was speaking this morning at the start of the IEA's annual Clean Energy Transitions Summit, which today sees Ministers from countries representing the vast majority of global GDP meet virtually to discuss measures to boost economies, create jobs, reduce global emissions and make energy systems more resilient.

"The IEA Clean Energy Transitions Summit represents the key moment in 2020 to build momentum towards international energy and climate goals," said Dr Fatih Birol, executive director at the IEA. "Rather than letting the Covid-19 crisis undermine our clean energy transitions, we need to take advantage of the massive economic recovery plans to achieve a definitive peak in carbon emissions and put the world on path to sustainable recovery."

Ofgem unveils £25bn green grid plan

Ofgem unveils £25bn green grid plan

Watchdog sets out new funding settlement, but proposals face immediate backlash from "disappointed and deeply concerned" network operators who fear plans could hamper smart grid deployment

Ofgem has today unveiled proposals that would see the UK invest £25bn over the next five years to deliver a "greener, fairer energy system" while cutting consumer energy bills. But the plans were immediately panned by network operators, who have warned the new spending regime will struggle to attract the level of investment needed to deliver the UK's net zero target.

In plans published today, Ofgem explained the upfront expenditure, generated in part from slashing network companies' returns and linking spending plans to ambitious climate targets, would support the growth of green energy in the UK while enabling ongoing maintenance and operation of gas and electricity networks.

It added that companies could access a further £10bn generated through price controls for measures that can help deliver a net zero emission grid and confirmed plans for a £630m funding pot that is set aside to support green innovation.

However, it stressed that "Ofgem will scrutinise every investment and only give the green light to measures that deliver decarbonisation at the lowest cost to consumers".

The network operator said the investments would save customers £20 on household electricity bills a year, although this would be offset by an increase in investment and charges expected to come later in the price control process.

In order to deliver this 'unprecedented' value for money for consumers, Ofgem has proposed to halve the return energy companies are allowed to make from their investments, Ofgem said, a move it estimated would save "£3.3bn over the next five years for gas and transmission sectors alone".

The plans also propose cutting £8bn from companies' spending plans by setting tougher efficiency targets and barring costs that they have "simply not justified" as delivering value for money for customers

"Now more than ever, we need to make sure that every pound on consumers' bills goes further," said Jonathan Brearley, Ofgem's chief executive. "Less of your money will go towards company shareholders, and more into improving the network to power the economy and to fight climate change."

But network operators were quick to criticise the plans, which they said would struggle to attract the level of investment needed to transition to a net zero economy. Industry figures suggested they would fight for major changes to the proposals during the consultation period, which now lasts until 4 September.

Natoinal Grid said it was "extremely disappointed with this draft determination which risks undermining the process established by Ofgem".

"This proposal leaves us concerned as to our ability to deliver resilient and reliable networks, and jeopardises the delivery of the energy transition and the green recovery," it added

Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks Transition, a subsidiary of SSE, similarly said it was "disappointed and deeply concerned" by the plans. The approach "fundamentally fails to deliver on net zero, inadequately reflects stakeholder and customer needs, and falls short in seeking to attract the significant investment required," it added.

David Smith, chief executive of trade body the Energy Networks Association (ENA), said it was "concerned" by the proposals. "While network companies have historically been able to raise billions of pounds to invest in the networks and support the transition to a sustainable future at low cost to the customer, the proposals set out by Ofgem could significantly inhibit their ability to do so," he warned.

However, Ofgem countered that it was confident that its "stable and predictable regulatory regime" would ensure that the sector could continue to attract investment. "Strong evidence from water regulation and Ofgem's offshore transmission regime shows that investors will accept lower returns and continue to invest robustly in the sector," it said.

Meanwhile, some green groups hailed Ofgem's focus on the UK's net zero transition, which they said would get the UK "back on track" to meet climate goals.

Dr Jonathan Marshall, head of analysis at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said: "Shifting focus to cutting carbon at the same time as keeping a lid on network profits is good news for hard-pushed families and for efforts to get the UK back on track to meet its climate targets. Ofgem appears to have listened to criticism that it hasn't been pushing hard enough on environmental measures and has been giving the networks - which make up around a quarter of domestic bills - an easy ride."

He added that "linking returns to carbon emissions will give [network operators] nowhere to hide, and should ensure that UK resources, such as a world-leading position in offshore wind, are bolstered by smart technologies needed to balance the grid at low cost".

Under the plans Ofgem also unveiled proposals for a new £630m 'strategic innovation fund' that would support clean energy technology research and development, singling out the decarbonisation of heat infrastructure with hydrogen as a potential area for support.

The latest developments came in the same week as a number of innovative low carbon smart grid and energy storage projects continued to advance.

Statkraft and GE Power Conversion announced they had teamed up to manufacture and install two giant flywheels at a site in Keith, Moray to provide balancing services to the grid, while EDF announced it has been awarded a contract by Western Power Distribution (WPD) to supply local grid flexibility services in the Bridgwater area using a cohort of domestic Powervault batteries.

'A watershed moment': Kimberly-Clark pledges to halve environmental footprint within 10 years

'A watershed moment': Kimberly-Clark pledges to halve environmental footprint within 10 years

Personal care giant confirms science based emissions target and vows to cut forest and water footprints by 50 per cent

The maker of Andrex, Kleenex, and Huggies has this week unveiled a wide-ranging new sustainability strategy, pledging to halve its environmental footprint by 2030.

Kimberly-Clark said its new targets would see it cut its carbon, forest, and water footprint, as well as its use of virgin fossil fuel based plastics by 50 per cent within 10 years.

The carbon emissions targets have been approved as being in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement by the independent Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi).

The targets provide the centrepiece of the company's annual sustainability report, which also confirmed that it has surpassed the targets set out in its 'Sustainability 2022' strategy two years early.

"This plan for 2030 is our most ambitious yet," said Tristram Wilkinson, President for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA)  Kimberly-Clark. "We are at a watershed moment in human history when immediate steps need to be taken to tackle pressing social and environmental challenges - and recent times have reminded us how important our role in the world is."

He added that the company had made considerable progress over the past five years, cutting its emissions in the EMEA region by 17 per cent by 2015 and moving to phase out plastics from its baby wipes products and reduce packaging from its leading brands as part of its work with the UK Plastic Pact.

Other highlights from the past year include the completion of over 30 emission reduction projects that together cut carbon emissions by 7,000 tonnes a year and the phasing out of coal as a fuel following the installation of a new gas boiler at an Enstra manufacturing facility in South Africa.

The company also reported that its water footprint has fallen 21.5 per cent at water stressed sites since 2015.

And it has adopted new packaging targets to use an average of 20 per cent recycled content across all plastic packaging and to make 100 per cent of its packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

Sally Uren, chief executive at Forum for the Future, welcomed the new strategy. "There is also no doubt that we have entered a decade where action will be critical if we hope to survive and thrive through the next century and beyond," she said. "It's exciting to see such strong focus on human well-being, from a business with so many touchpoints to health. Achieving such goals while rebuilding natural systems will not be easy, but Kimberly-Clark has a strong track record on keeping its promises. I look forward to tracking their progress."

Waiting for Rishi

Waiting for Rishi

The government's commitment to a green recovery is a big step forward, but impatience is growing as green businesses continue to wait for key policies and spending decisions that have been in the pipeline for months

Veteran followers of economic statements will be familiar with the format. The Chancellor gets about halfway through their speech and then pivots to underscore their commitment to climate action, before announcing a handful of green policy measures.

They then return to their central argument and more headline-grabbing giveaways, as environmental groups prepare their reaction statements welcoming the latest policy moves while warning a bolder and more comprehensive plan is still urgently required. 'Next time,' everyone tells themselves, 'the big green decisions will come in the next Budget/Spending Review/Spring Statement'.

Over the years these green sections have tended to get longer and the rhetoric in support of climate action more committed. Meanwhile, those policy measures that have been announced have delivered tangible results, driving down UK emissions faster than any other G20 economy. But too often the Treasury's environmental pledges have felt like a bolt-on to the main event. And as a result the long-promised transformative net zero-compatible strategy has never quite materialised.

Hopes were running high that yesterday would be a little different. That the government is serious about engineering a 'green recovery', of delivering a step change in the UK's decarbonisation rate and establishing the UK as one of the world's premier clean tech hubs. But ultimately the same format applied.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak did at least nod to environmental aspirations, declaring that the government will deliver "a green recovery with concern for the environment at its heart". But then once again the accompanying policy measures singularly failed to match the rhetoric.

The trailed £3bn energy efficiency package was hugely welcome, even if questions remain over precisely how it will be administered and what will happen when the single year Budget is exhausted. Similarly, the new £100m fund for direct air capture R&D, support for zero emission vehicle innovation, and funding for greener courts and thousands of new jobs in nature recovery are not to be sniffed at. Green businesses will also welcome the new funding for skills programmes and incentives to bring back furloughed staff.

It is all good stuff and it is particularly encouraging to see the Treasury finally accept the argument for a more interventionist approach for driving energy efficiency improvements. But it does not add up to "a green recovery with concern for the environment at its heart". There was nothing on clean energy and smart grids, nothing on hydrogen and industrial emissions, nothing on aviation and shipping, nothing on electric vehicles and green buses, nothing on carbon capture and negative emissions, nothing on agricultural impacts and diets, nothing on green building standards and biodiversity offsets, nothing on green finance and corporate reporting, nothing on green VAT cuts and carbon levies, nothing on climate resilience and COP26.

In fairness, the government is working on policies and programmes that would deliver progress on all of these fronts. But evidently none of them were ready for public consumption today. We will have to wait a few more months yet.

Sunak has evidently calculated that no further macroeconomic moves are needed between now and the autumn to keep the embryonic recovery from advancing - that vouchers for double glazing and Nandos can keep things ticking over, giving him a few more months to gauge how big the spending blitz has to be to deliver the promised 'rebuild' phase.

This represents a big gamble both economically and environmentally.

Taking Sunak's pledge at face value it is reasonable to expect the autumn will finally see the emergence of a full spectrum green recovery package. A comprehensive programme that features the planned National Infrastructure Strategy, Energy White Paper, and Green Heat Strategy, as well as mooted increases in support for hydrogen, EVs, renewables, and a lot more besides. A vision that when stitched together puts the UK on track to meet its net zero emissions targets and provides the basis for a world-leading national climate action plan to submit to the UN before the year is out.

It is the promise of this long-awaited reward that meant most green groups yesterday resisted the temptation to criticise the gap between Sunak's bold environmental promises and limited new policies.

But be in no doubt that concerns and frustrations are growing. Many of the necessary policies have been in the pipeline for the best part of a year - a year during which the government's wider decarbonisation progress has been far too slow, according to the most recent Committee on Climate Change report.

Meanwhile, both Germany and France have already launched wide-ranging green stimulus packages and the EU yesterday unveiled a sweeping green hydrogen strategy to go alongside its fast-evolving multi-billion Euro Green Deal plans. Their plans are not perfect, but they have notably eschewed the phased approach of the British government, instead rushing to provide businesses and investors with confidence that multi billion Euro green recovery plans are being mobilised.

In contrast, British green businesses that are poised to mobilise billions of pounds of low carbon investment and create hundreds of thousands of jobs are asked to wait another three months for clarity on the scale and direction of the government's plans - a period which, as ever, will see another one per cent of the available time to build a net zero emission economy ebb away.

There are good reasons to hope that the wait for a truly comprehensive, net zero-compatible plan may be nearly over. Sunak's interest in a green recovery seems genuine and the Treasury has shown itself to be more radical in its policy thinking and more wary of long term risks than at any point in recent history.

And yet it is easy to understand why campaign group Plan B yesterday warned the government it is preparing legal action over the Ministers continued failure to adequately act on the UK's net zero targets. People are getting tired of waiting. 


A version of this article originally appeared in the BusinessGreen Overnight Briefing newsletter, which is available to all BusinessGreen subscribers.

EV-mail: Royal Mail boosts zero emission delivery fleet

EV-mail: Royal Mail boosts zero emission delivery fleet

More than 120 years after it first dabbled in electric delivery vehicles, Royal Mail has confirmed it will test the London Electric Vehicle Company (LEVC)'s new zero emissions model

Royal Mail is set to dispatch a new type of electric vehicle (EV) from later this month, as the company steps up efforts to curb the emissions and air pollution generated by its fleet of delivery vans.

The firm announced earlier this week that it had signed a deal with London Electric Vehicle Company ­(LEVC) to test prototypes of a new electric taxi-van over the next six months, across various urban centres around the UK.

LEVC's VN5 plug-in hybrid model is equipped with 'range extender' technology that allows drivers to travel longer routes that a typical electric van, a feature that will allow postmen and women to deliver mail and parcels to remote locations in an environmentally responsible manner, the companies said.

The trial, which beings this week in Hockley near Birmingham, will further boost Royal Mail's 295-strong fleet of EVs.

The 2.9 tonne VN5 is set to hit the market in late 2020, a launch that will mark a major milestone for LEVC's transformation from taxi manufacturer to commercial EV producer.

In the meantime, the London Electric Vehicle Company is trialling the prototype with more than two dozen companies across the UK, including through a recently announced partnership with parcel delivery firm DPD.

The Coventry-based brand formerly known as the London Taxi Company is best known for producing London's iconic black taxicabs.

Royal Mail's fleet director Paul Gatti toasted the partnership, which he said would contribute to a number of decarbonisation iniatives at the delivery firm. "We are committed to making changes to our operations that reduce our environmental impact, whilst ensuring we continue to meet customer expectations," he said. "Alongside the introduction of electric vans in locations across our business, this trial is part of a programme of initiatives that allow us to experiment with ways to achieve this, whilst enabling us to continue to deliver letters and parcels safely, efficiently and responsibly."

Joerg Hofmann, chief executive of LEVC, added: "Royal Mail is one of the oldest postal services in the world and, like our London black cab, is part of British history and culture. It is great that these two iconic brands are joining forces for this trial."

EVs were first trialled by Royal Mail more than 120 years ago, when the company experimented with a raft of technologies that would allow it to transition from delivering post by horse-drawn mail coach and foot.

After a brief dalliance with vehicles powered by traction engines - self-propelled steam engines - the company settled on oil-driven motor vehicles in 1904. But the company is now hoping its fleet can come full circle and eventually switch fully to zero emission technologies.

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