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Environmental news round up - 21 July 2023

CCC report says no local authorities in England believe their climate plans are fully aligned with the UK’s net zero targets

A report published this week by the Climate Change Committee reveals the results of research undertaken by the Centre for Sustainable Energy and the Town and Country Planning Association into existing barriers to delivering climate mitigation and adaptation through the planning system at local authority level.

The results are striking as none of the local authorities polled said their local climate plan was ‘fully aligned’ with the UK’s net zero targets, and only 8% said their plan was ‘mostly aligned’.

Further to this, 29% of the local authorities said they did not know their local baseline carbon emissions; none had a policy in place to monitor embodied carbon from new development (although 17% were in the process of developing one); and 31.3% said they were unable to quantify the carbon emissions their local plan would create.

The report is clear that the planning system has the potential to be a key driver for net zero and climate resilience, and over twenty recommendations are made to the CCC. The recommendations are split into two sets: those which relate to ‘systemic change required to align the planning system with climate policy’ and those which relate to ‘more specific measures, directed at parts of the current system’.

A lack of clarity about the prioritisation of climate change in decision making in the current local policies is pointed to as the root of a number of the existing problems.

Another unsurprising theme that crops up is the lack in capacity and skills in local authorities to deal with the challenge of planning for climate change. Proper resourcing is needed alongside a long-term strategy for skills and resources. The ‘frontrunner’ authorities demonstrate that buy-in from leadership is a key enabler and climate literacy training is recommended for senior leaders at all local authorities.

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill and promised new NPPF are highlighted as potential opportunities for these recommendations to be addressed. However, as the LURB is already on its reporting stage in the House of Lords (with only a third reading in the Lords left before it can receive Royal Ascent), we will wait to see how many of the recommendations are picked up.

The report can be read in full here.


Nature’s capital: GFI’S new financial initiative drives investments in nature-based solutions 

As we are well and truly in the era where addressing climate change has become paramount the need for sustainable finance is now playing an ever-increasing central role in tackling the issue.  Organisations such as the Green Finance Institute (GFI) are helping to drive the transition towards a greener and more sustainable economy.  The GFI is a relatively new organisation established in 2019 and operates as an independent, commercially focused body working with both public and private sectors to drive the development of green finance solutions.  It focuses on key sectors such as energy, infrastructure and nature-based solutions and recognises the vital role of nature in climate change mitigation and adaption.  Following on from other initiatives it has already launched, on 14th July 2023 the GFI Nature Programme launched the UK Financial Institutions for Nature Group initiative.

The aim of the Group (which has representation across the financial sector) will be to support delivery of investment into UK nature recovery to support the UK government’s broader vision to support an economic transition to one that values and invests in nature.  The Group will develop a national database tracking private investments in nature related projects.  Financial institutions already part of the group include the like of Aviva, Barclays, Lloyds Banking Group, Climate Asset Management, Nat West Group to name but a few.  It is understood that the existing members of the Group will endeavour to increase their own commitments to restoring, conserving and creating habitats.

The Group will further identify barriers to the UK government ambitions on increasing private sector finance and will also provide feedback and input where relevant on key government initiatives such as:-

  • the development of high-integrity domestic nature markets;
  • the Land, Nature and Adapted Systems Advisory Group’s recommendations in the development of the UK’s green taxonomy
  • UK uptake of the TNFD framework

The establishment of the Group could contribute significantly to addressing the biodiversity crisis in the UK.  PwC have already reported that more than half of the world’s GDP is dependent on nature and described the potential impacts of nature’s decline on the global economy as “far reaching”.    By the GFI launching this new initiative it could well have the effect of unlocking new investment opportunities through innovative financing mechanisms such as green bonds, impact investment funds and biodiversity offsets.  This could interest investors in seeking sustainable and impactful projects, ultimately driving investment towards nature-based initiatives. 

Critics may raise concerns about competing priorities such as renewable energy and that limited resources and attention should be directed towards areas with more immediate and significant impact on climate change mitigation.  They may also cast doubt on the level of investor demand for nature-based initiatives.

However there is no question that nature based solutions have enormous potential to address climate change and by helping shift financial investment away from activities that harm the environment and towards investment in initiatives that support biodiversity conservation, protect water resources and enhance soil health can only assist in accelerating global as well as UK transition to a more sustainable future.

Great British Nuclear officially launched

Great British Nuclear (“GBN”) is the new arm-length body dedicated to drive a rapid expansion of new nuclear power plants and overseeing the competition for funding.

Despite the delays from last week, the government has now officially launched GNB on 18 July. GBN will initially be led by Simon Bowen and Gwen Parry-Jones, interim Chair and CEO.

The initial focus of GBN is on Small Modular Reactors (SMR). These advanced nuclear reactors are considered: 1) “Small” because their capacity is up to 300MW(e) per unit, which is only about one-third of a traditional nuclear reactor, and 2) “Modular” because its systems and components can be factory-assembled. The technology for SMRs is currently being developed by companies like General Electric and Rolls-Royce.

As one of its first tasks, GBN will oversee the competition process to select the manufacturing companies that will receive government funding to develop SMR technologies. Since 18 July, companies can register their interest with GBN to participate in this competition for funding. Further details about this competition are available here.

The government also announced that £157M in grants will be available for funding the nuclear industry. More details on how these funds will be split are available here.

Is Defra about to Signal Pause on Extended Producer Responsibility?: Implications for Waste Management and Sustainability

According to reports from various sources it is now looking highly likely that the UK government will be announcing before its summer recess that it intends to ‘pause’ the implementation of the new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) which was due to start in 2024.

Certain industry sectors such as supermarket and supplier bosses have already been calling for the implementation of EPR to be delayed due to the additional costs to business that it will cause with some saying it would increase the cost of food by an estimated £2billion or more. Under the proposed scheme producers would be required to take responsibility to finance the collection, recycling and proper disposal of their products once they become waste. This shift in responsibility places a burden on the producers with Local Authorities no longer having to bear the full burden of waste management for those specific products covered by the scheme. It was anticipated that the EPR would drive producers to adopt more sustainable packaging materials, reduce excessive packaging and improve the recyclability of their products.

However, the National Audit Office recently issued what some have described as a ‘damning report’. The report refers to delays by Defra, its lack of planning which is making it increasingly difficult for businesses to prepare for investment and regulatory changes that will be required to achieve the department’s long-term plans. Auditors gave as examples “Defra’s insufficient planning” its inaction on eliminating waste at source adding “stakeholders from across the waste management sector, local authorities and environmental groups expressing concern at this lack of prioritisation”. The NAO report also referred to the collapse of Scotland’s plans for the first Deposit Recovery Scheme leaving inherent uncertainties about the benefits of EPR. It also commented upon that despite the UK government’s ambition to recycle half of household waste by 2020 this rate remains stuck at the 2011-12 level of 43%-44% and according to the NAO “Defra still lacks effective long-term plans to reduce waste which contributes to climate change”.

The Chartered Institute of Waste Management (CIWM) has written to the Prime Minister urging him to push ahead with EPR and warning that further delay will also see consistent collections reforms scrapped and that any further delay would cause “paralysing uncertainty” and “totally undermine confidence in these reforms”.

If Defra does decide to ‘pause’ on the implementation of EPR it certainly could have several implications such as reduced circular economy potential, missed opportunities on climate action particularly the reduction of land filling, a decrease in recycling and the promotion of sustainable consumption patterns. It could also create a ‘policy gap’ which could lead to inconsistencies in waste management practices and hinder long-term planning.

A Defra spokesperson has said that “we are pushing ahead with our programme of reforms to reduce waste and improve our use of resources – building on our commitments clearly set out in our Environment Improvement Plan earlier this year”.

It seems therefore that we will have to await the anticipated announcement from Defra before drawing any final conclusions on the future of EPR.

UK’s new climate adaptation plan not enough?

Criticism by advisers on the government’s new climate adaption plan is another story that’s been reported widely in the news this week, following its leaking to the press prior to publication. The full report has now been published here.

The report sets out the government’s approach including some new proposals. The plan includes the Green Infrastructure Framework for nature-based solutions to climate change, £15m investment in research for climate change solutions, and tripling international funding for climate adaptation between 2019-2025 to mitigate impacts overseas which might affect the UK. The government will also create a cross-governmental Climate Resilience Board and sets out its Green Finance Strategy which it hopes will encourage more private investment into climate adaptation.

The BBC has reported that the chair of the Adaptation Committee, Baroness Brown, said that the plan demonstrates that climate adaption preparation still needs given much greater prioritisation. Other high profile critics include former Green Party leader, Caroline Lucas, and Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the London Climate Resilience Review.

The government minister for climate adaptation suggested that there will always be more to do but that the plan sets out billions of pounds of investment towards protection.

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