NetZero has been the subject of much discussion. The recent UN conference on Climate Change (COP26) re-affirmed the goal of achieving 'Net Zero' by around mid-century. But what exactly does this mean, and how does this goal relate to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals?
In this first of two articles Estelle Detrembleur gives us some answers. And in the second part, Estelle will explain what we need to do as a project community, both in terms of a carbon commitment, and in terms of alignment with Sustainable Development Goals.
What are UN Sustainable Development Goals?
The SDGs or 'Global Goals' are a collection of 17 interlinked global goals designed to be a 'blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all'. The goals (set out in a resolution known as 'Agenda 30') were set up in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly and are intended to be achieved by the year 2030. The SDGs were developed in the Post-2015 Development Agenda as the future global development framework to succeed the Millennium Development Goals which ended in 2015.
The SDGs comprise an urgent call for action by all countries - developed and developing - in a global partnership. They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.
The importance of carbon management to companies
Carbon management is the process of measuring and reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions both related to operations and the supply chain. Carbon management offers many practical benefits including lowering operating costs, meeting customer demands, improving brand perception, responding to investor pressure and compliance with regulations. Indeed organisations cannot remain competitive unless they join the community of organisations already committed to carbon reduction.
The step-by-step guidance, and the putting in place of controlled processes that is necessary, is clearly within the skillset and remit of the project manager competency.
The UK Net Zero Strategy
In November 2020, the Prime Minister set out his 10 point plan for a green industrial revolution, laying the foundations for a green economic recovery from the impact of COVID-19 with the UK at the forefront of the growing global green economy.
This strategy built on the underlying objective of keeping us on track for UK carbon budgets (carbon targets), our 2030 Nationally Determined Contribution (our climate action plan as part of the global effort), and net zero by 2050. It includes:
- our de-carbonisation pathways to net zero by 2050, including illustrative scenarios
- policies and proposals to reduce emissions for each sector
- cross-cutting action to support the transition
The 2021 Committee on Climate Change (CCC) report to Parliament set out progress over the prior twelve months, and in conjunction with the Government response to the report, paved the way for the UK Net Zero Strategy ('Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener'), published 19th October 2021
This strategy sets out how the UK will deliver on its commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050, and highlights the importance of setting goals and action plans to achieve those. A stated objective is for the UK to lead in the climate change space, and in parallel turning this mission into the greatest opportunity for jobs and prosperity for the country since the industrial revolution.
In his foreword the Prime Minister stated that
'The United Kingdom is not afraid to lead the charge towards global net zero at COP26, because history has never been made by those who sit at the back of the class hoping not to be called on'
And the Secretary of State BEIS underlined that
'We cannot tackle climate change alone. We will take a coordinated approach, working across local and national government, the devolved administrations, and with businesses and civil society organisations.'
Why do we need to act?
From heating our homes to filling up our cars, burning fossil fuels releases the greenhouses gases that increase global temperatures. We are already seeing the effects here in the UK, with devastating floods in the West Midlands in January and torrential downpours submerging London Underground stations earlier this summer.
People are rightly concerned, with the latest IPCC report showing that if we fail to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the floods and fires we have seen around the world this year will get more frequent and more fierce, crops will be more likely to fail, and sea levels could drive mass migration as millions are forced from their homes. Above 1.5°C we risk reaching climatic tipping points such as the melting of arctic permafrost – releasing millennia of stored greenhouse gases – meaning we could lose control of our climate for good.
The good news is that there is yet time to avoid catastrophic climate change. The science could not be clearer: by the middle of this century the world has to reduce emissions to as close to zero as possible, with the small amount of remaining emissions absorbed through natural carbon sinks like forests, and new technologies like carbon capture. If we can achieve this, global emissions of greenhouse gases will be 'net zero'.
Delivering this requires urgent global action, including ending coal fired power generation, retiring petrol and diesel engines from all cars, and halting deforestation. These are the steps that the global community called for at COP26.
So what can the project community do?
In the next article, Estelle explains essential steps for the project community.
About the author
Estelle Detrembleur is Associate Director Project Controls at Mace (global experts in shaping the built environment), and was part of the Nuclear global team tasked with increasing awareness of the importance of energy mix and the need for nuclear to reach NetZero at the COP 26 conference.
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