Adaptation in action – a practical perspective

27th July 2021


The United Kingdom can be rightly proud of its record on carbon emissions reduction. Since Britain passed the world’s first legally binding climate legislation over a decade ago, estimated UK greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by 49% from the 1990 baseline. The link between carbon pollution and economic growth has been well and truly broken. As a nation we have conclusively proved that there can be a very positive relationship between economic prosperity and being environmentally responsible.

However, it is also clear that in order to achieve our net zero target by 2050, we will a need radical transformation of the whole economy. This won’t be easy, but it will be worth it! We are going to need be both creative and thoughtful, deploying every tool we have in the policy tool box to reach this challenging goal. Innovation and technology will be required on an unprecedented scale to deliver the bulk of the reductions, but it is also increasingly clear that nature-based solutions must also be part of the mix. I don’t mean the old green-wash schemes that have been around for years but new, win-win initiatives inspired and supported by nature, which are cost-effective while simultaneously providing environmental, social and economic benefits to help build resilience. Correctly harnessing the power of the natural world will be key to both mitigating the impact of dangerous man-made climate change but also adapting to the climatic changes that science tells us are already unavoidable.

So, it was with interest that I read the recent Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) ‘Independent Assessment of UK Climate Risk’ which outlines the scale of our climate adaption challenge.

As the UK’s longest serving Energy and Climate Change Minister (2010-2014) to date, I understand the difficulties of effecting real, genuinely radical change. As such, I appreciate the reality of the challenge the UK Government faces in implementing the initiatives recommended by the CCC, but also am confident that my successors are up to the task.

Countries and companies are making huge strides to decarbonise economies and businesses to reach net zero.  But until science catches up, there will still need to be a role for carbon offset, not as a ‘go to’ substitute for action, but as a method of mitigation through nature-based solutions, conducted with rigour and accountability.

Big industrial sectors like mine need to put their backs into decarbonising heavy industry and there is much to do before reaching for the “offset” button. But that doesn’t mean that offsets, particularly nature based solutions, don’t have a role. The company I chair, EN+, is the world’s largest producer of low carbon aluminium and private sector generator of hydropower and we have a clear ambition to lead our industry into the low carbon economy. In January this year we announced our commitment to emissions targets of net zero by 2050 and set our sector’s most stretching carbon reduction target, of at least 35% by 2030. At the time of the announcement, we said this would require continued investment in major scientific advances and critical industrial process improvements, as well as implementation of net zero initiatives for the hardest ‘last mile’ emissions. We are trying to show how industrial technological innovation and nature based solutions can work together.

Yet to arrive at this point we worked on several important initiatives, for example, as part of this work, in March 2019, the EN+ Group announced the launch of its global environmental programme to plant one million trees, as well as to perform a number of other reforestation activities. We have actually planted 1.1 million since then, removing approximately 440,000 tonnes of CO2 and we are protecting some 505 hectares of forest protected by an airborne fire-fighting service in the Lower-Yenisei forestry of the Krasnoyarsk Territory.  This project not only offsets carbon emissions, but also helps reduce the vulnerability of these areas to climate change and industrial growth.

With increased risk comes the greater need to develop solutions and the CCC risk assessment identifies more than 60 risks that affect every part of our society and economy. I therefore welcome the launch of the Clean Growth Leadership Network (CGLN) who seek to connect companies to find solutions to the climate change challenges that their businesses face. They provide a platform for innovative thinking to be turned into pragmatic action.

The forthcoming COP 26 has the opportunity to put nature-based solutions back on the climate agenda but it must be done with both the rigour and precision that we attach to other climate technologies such as renewable energy, not as a substitute for real action. But in the war on climate change, nature is our ally.

This article was selected from the CGLN news network.
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