Nicky Bannister, head of energy at Flogas, looks at a selection of the most influential environmental laws and regulations currently in play, and just how they are helping to save our planet.
The effects of climate change, including severe droughts and flash floods, have been well documented in the media. However, humanity has more to worry about than just global warming if we are to protect our planet. Other huge issues, including our use of plastic and overuse of natural resources are having a massive impact on our environment too.
This means that it’s no surprise that the UN’s climate talks in Poland delivered a very prominent message – world leaders must act now and drive down greenhouse emissions before it’s too late. Speaking at the summit, Sir David Attenborough reinforced this message, warning that climate change is now the greatest threat to humanity and could lead to the collapse of civilisations, and the extinction of much of the natural world.
Public awareness is thankfully growing, and not just because of legislation. The likes of environmental charities, popular broadcast programmes (e.g. Blue Planet), influential celebrities and a whole host of media are all making a major impact too – educating the masses and inspiring action on a global scale.
Of course, we still have a very long way to go to fully combat climate change, but the good news is that we are making progress. Leaders from across the globe are stepping up efforts to ensure marked changes are being made to dramatically reduce emissions and change behaviours – and fast.
The Paris Agreement
This was a landmark deal that was the first of its kind. It unites the world’s nations in a single agreement to tackle climate change from 2020. Nearly 200 countries within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) came to a consensus in 2015 to cut greenhouse emissions and have committed to limit temperature rises worldwide by no more than 2C above pre-industrial times. In fact, the aim is to limit this further, to 1.5C if possible. Progress will be reviewed every five years and financial funding from donor nations will go to less developed countries.
However, scientists have warned that the Paris Agreement must be stepped up if it is likely to meet its targets and actually curb climate change’s effects. A recent UN report suggests that the world actually needs to triple its current efforts to meet the 2C target.
The war on plastic
Plastic is a major pollutant despite all its positive uses. An estimated 12.7 million tonnes of it ends up in our oceans each year (the equivalent of a truck load every minute). This has led many countries to introduce bans or taxes to try and limit the exponential rise in plastic usage. Denmark started levying a charge on plastics bags as early as 1993, and the 2002 ‘bag tax’ in Ireland resulted in a huge 90% drop in demand for single-use plastic bags. More recently, Environment Secretary Michael Gove announced a ban on plastic straws, cotton buds and stirrers could be in place in the UK by late 2019. Looking ahead, the European Union has voiced its intention to ban a range of plastic items (including straws, plates and single-use cutlery) completely by 2021, justifying that these can be replaced with more sustainable materials.
Plastic pollution has been heavily publicised in the media and, because of this, it has risen to the forefront of public consciousness. This has led a number of major companies to make significant changes to their operations by ditching plastic (or pledging to do so rapidly). This includes food outlets such as McDonalds and Pizza Express, all Four Seasons and Hilton hotels, as well as pub chain Wetherspoons and sandwich shop Pret a Manger – to name but a few.
Ban on coal
In the UK there are currently eight coal-fired power stations in use. However, a ban on coal (which will come into force in October 2025) has presented energy companies with an ultimatum: adapt your existing assets to generate greener energy or close your power station. This rule has already set in motion the change, with some stations adapting or building infrastructure for cleaner energy generation, whilst others have decided to remain active right up until the ban.
The decision to replace coal power plants with cleaner technologies was announced during climate talks in Bonn (COP23). It was Canada, the UK and the Marshall Islands who led the way, forming a global alliance called ‘Powering Past Coal.’ One year on since its launch, the alliance now has 75 members who are committed to replacing unabated coal-fired electricity with cleaner alternatives.
Road to Zero Strategy
The highest share of greenhouse gas emissions comes from the transportation sector, meaning changes are vital if the UK is to hit its carbon reduction targets. The Department for Transport’s 2018 ‘Road to Zero Strategy,’ sets out that at least 50% (and as many as 70%) of new car sales will be ultra-low emission by 2030, and up to 40% for new vans. This policy also addresses reducing emissions from vehicles already on the roads and plans to end the sale of conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040.
There will be a major expansion of green infrastructure across the country as we move towards zero emission cars, with a primary focus on increasing the availability of charging stations for electric vehicles (EVs). The Road to Zero strategy sets the stage for what the government has hailed ‘the biggest technology advancement to hit UK roads since the invention of the combustion engine.’