10 Recommendations for Direct Air Carbon Deployment Policy in Europe

These ten recommendations were submitted as Supplemental Testimony to the Technological Innovations and Climate Change: Negative Emissions Technologies Inquiry held by the UK Parliament’s Environment Audit Committee in January 2022.

Follow the Bellona Principles

Principle 1 is to emphasize collection of CO2 from the atmosphere. Principle 2 is to store it in a manner intended to be permanent – see also the need to prioritize utilisations which are more durable.  Principle 3 is that monitoring, reporting, and verification approaches must look at all upstream and downstream emissions (regarding both the full life cycle of the product or process and along supply chains), as well as to comprehensively estimate and include them in the balance.  Principle 4 is, at the end of the day, to remove more CO2 than is emitted. 

Prioritize long-term carbon storage and ensure robust life cycle assessment

Removal and long-term storage of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere should take precedence over less durable/stable utilizations of removed carbon.  Utilisation should focus on where it is important to move away from fossil carbon to sustainable carbon, for example, feedstock for building materials (e.g. concrete) or in synthetic aviation fuels in the scope of  Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) mandates.  . 

Appreciate and incentivise scale

Set an aspirational objective of 5 million tonnes per year for permanent carbon removals by 2030. Move towards large-scale demonstration for first-of-a-kind installations, with possible domestic matching support from the EU Innovation Fund and Breakthrough Energy Catalyst, or the Energy Systems Catapult in the UK.

Co-develop with upscaling for CO2 transportation and storage infrastructure

New Direct Air Carbon Capture and Storage (DACS) approaches rely on much of the same energy, storage, and utilization infrastructures as point-source carbon capture – which was already introduced to climate policy in 2005, and upscaling of which has been slow to date. Deploying DACS requires building out open access CO2 transportation and storage infrastructure.  It also adds financial longevity to pipelines, given it is a growing industry.

Phase in a robust, reliable carbon price

Carbon is ultimately a waste product, with a limited scale of cascading uses, and as such needs to be treated, and adequately priced, as a pollutant.  Waste removal must be treated as a public good, or it will not occur.  DACS deployment therefore demands a suitably high carbon price to provide a signal to markets and encourage innovation, upscaling, and economies of scale – such activities and aims must be underpinned by strong government funding, incentives, and regulation. 

Ensure coupling with locally appropriate and renewable sources of electricity and heat

DACS should be subject to robust life cycle assessment to ensure its full climate-mitigation potential to be served – and to avoid social legitimacy issues. Innovative couplings of direct air capture with hydroelectricity in Canada and Norway and with geothermal energy in Iceland are already being developed, along with potential couplings with wind energy in Texas and solar energy in New Mexico. Regional deployment across the UK must consider other geographically relevant couplings with renewable energy, possibly in line with the devolved powers, for instance with wind energy in Scotland or even tidal and marine energy in North Wales.

Harness hub deployment

CO2 storage is only available to certain countries. Hubs and spokes can be utilized to transport and store CO2, including through the kind of “Projects of Common Interest” approach utilized for renewable energy facilities, cross-border electric transmission networks, or smart grids.  Open access could be created for CO2 transportation and storage infrastructure, with possible support based on Trans-European Networks for Energy Regulation, or the Levelling Up agenda in the UK. Multiple modalities may be needed to transport CO2. In general, support of regional DACS hubs, for purposes of research, development, and deployment, also offer the means for promoting a just transition and levelling up of regions previously linked to fossil fuels.

Maintain separate targets, metrics, and emissions baskets between permanent carbon removal and conventional-emissions reductions

In order to prevent fungibility between measurements of carbon removal and mitigation activities and avoid the impression that the former can be understood to substitute for the latter.  In particular, ensure ‘residual’ emissions from ‘hard-to-abate’ sectors are robustly calculated, as these will demand the first slice of promised permanent engineered carbon removal. This could be one of the next big ‘gaming the metrics’ arenas by exacerbating the double-counting and limited additionality of emission reductions. Net targets must therefore be accompanied by ambitious mitigation action in the near term and safeguards for the role of high-integrity, permanent engineered carbon removal.

Embrace robust certification for carbon removal and integrate into compliance frameworks

This could be achieved through a system for the monitoring and management of captured CO2, through earth systems, along supply chains, and between sectors. Certification should be sufficiently granular to differentiate on the source of CO2 and the degree of permanence of the storage.  Robust certification is essential given the narrow timeline for climate mitigation and so that integration into compliance frameworks for high-integrity, sufficiently permanent carbon removals can be attained by 2025.

Recognize the criticality of social acceptance

DACS will not thrive in areas where it does not have a social license to operate.  Germany and Austria offer examples where the issue of CO2 storage is fraught, limiting the potential for transportation and storage services up to the North Sea. Public and regulatory engagement in line with the principles of a just transition and devolved powers is thus crucial for building legitimacy. This connects back to the need for a hub strategy adjacent to the pursuit of levelling up whereby carbon can be transported out of areas where storage may not be possible, and generally to develop a novel supply chain for a post-carbon society.

Benjamin K. Sovacool, PhD Professor, University of Sussex and Aarhus University

Helen Bray, PhD European Policy Director Carbon Engineering Ltd. EU Transparency Register: 598986244386-27

Dr. Amy Ruddock, VP Europe Carbon Engineering Ltd.

Chad Baum, PhD Research Fellow in Negative Emissions Policy Aarhus University

Sean Low PhD Research Fellow in Negative Emissions Policy Aarhus University

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Matthew Lockwood appointed as co-director to Sussex Energy Group

Profile photo of Matthew Lockwood

Dr Matthew Lockwood has been announced as the new co-director of the Sussex Energy Group replacing Professor Benjamin Sovacool who steps down after five years in the post.

Dr Lockwood, a political economy of climate and energy policy expert and former adviser to the UK government and Greater London Authority, will join Dr Mari Martiskainen and Dr Marie Claire Brisbois as SEG co-directors with effect from 1 January 2022.

Highly Cited Researcher Prof Sovacool will retain his Professorship of Energy Policy within the University of Sussex Business School and research projects including his co-directorship of the £20 million Industrialisation Decarbonisation Research and Innovation Centre (IDRIC) established earlier this year.

Established in 1971, The Sussex Energy Group aims to understand and foster transitions towards sustainable, low carbon energy systems and sits within the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) – one of the world’s leading science and technology think tanks.

Drawing on the SPRU traditions, the group undertakes academically rigorous, interdisciplinary and world-leading research that is relevant to contemporary policy challenges and also educates the next generation of energy policy professionals through MSc and PhD programmes.

Dr Lockwood, Senior Lecturer in Energy Policy in the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex Business School, said: “I am honoured to be joining the team running the Sussex Energy Group, which has thrived under Benjamin Sovacool’s excellent leadership. There is an urgent agenda for this vibrant community of researchers, with its huge combined expertise. We face multiple challenges in the UK and globally, from managing spikes in energy prices to phasing out coal use, from ensuring justice in transitions to decarbonising heat and industry. I look forward to working with the group on all of these and more.”

Prof Sovacool, Professor of Energy Policy in the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex Business School, said: “It has been an immense privilege directing the Sussex Energy Group for more than half a decade. I can’t think of a stronger group around the world that does excellent, interdisciplinary, rigorous social science on energy and climate issues. Nevertheless, I can’t think of anyone better than Dr Matthew Lockwood to take my place. His knowledge of UK and European energy policy is exceptional, and I am confident he has the skills to allow SEG to further prosper and grow.”

Dr Martiskainen, Senior Research Fellow in the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex Business School, said: “I would like to thank Professor Sovacool for his leadership, inspiration and enthusiasm in leading SEG for the past five years, and wish him well in stepping down as director and focusing on new avenues. As we are witnessing a worsening energy and cost of living crisis in the UK, Dr Lockwood brings extensive and invaluable policy expertise that will help guide our future direction particularly in terms of research impact.”

Dr Brisbois, Senior Lecturer in Energy Policy in the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex Business School, said: “As Director of the Sussex Energy Group, Professor Sovacool has encouraged, and often led, the development of a broad research agenda into the pressing energy issues of our time. He has helped to foster the development of a new generation of scholars, many of whom have found a permanent home within the SEG. His focus and commitment will be missed, but I look forward to his continued participation as a regular member of the energy group. At the same time, I would like to welcome Dr Lockwood to the Co-Director team. His experience and expertise in academia and policy paves the way for a new wave of SEG contributions to ongoing energy challenges.”

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The conundrums of delivering low-carbon heating – TIPC blog repost

This blog is reposted from the Transformative Innovation Policy Consortium’s Making the Green Deal Happen blog series.

Decarbonising the heating in people’s homes is one of the trickiest areas of the climate transition. The European Commission’s Renovation Wave strategy highlighted the range of actions needed. Here Professor Martin Freer, Director of the Birmingham Energy Institute, discusses the options and difficulties governments and citizens face in the UK in making this transition, difficulties that are present in many other European countries.


The passing of COP26 reveals just how challenging it is going to be to get to Net Zero with plenty of warm words, but specific, targeted and measurable actions being hard to come by. The art is a Net Zero transition which creates investment, jobs and economic growth. Perhaps the even more complex challenge is a managed transition in which the consumer, and voter, becomes an active participant. The decarbonisation of electricity to some extent has been done behind the scenes, as grid scale coal is transformed to grid scale wind and solar. As long as the grid does not become unstable, then the consumer does not notice a change.

However, other arenas of decarbonisation intrude more directly on the consumer through visible changes to established practices.  In some cases, such as the electric car, despite requiring a point of purchase decision, it is facilitated by the knowledge that sale of internal combustion engine vehicles is to be ended, that there is some kudos associated with electric vehicles and, for some, only the minor inconvenience of installing a home charging point.  In other areas the changes are more complex and in the absence of imaginative public policy appear far more challenging.  A significant illustration of this is domestic heating.

Decarbonising Heating

For countries with a non-interventionist political philosophy, such as the UK, decarbonisation of heating has been left to last. The UK has a fairly miserable housing stock in terms of energy efficiency, though improving. It has 28 million homes with 17 million (60%) below Energy Performance Certificate rating C, on a descending scale from A-G. Heating accounts for one third of all CO2 emissions, homes 20%. The UK relies almost exclusively on gas powered central heating systems with condensing boilers which, often as not, are installed such that they do not deliver optimal performance. This places the UK near the bottom of the pile in Europe in terms of the carbon intensity of domestic heating.

1: District heating networks.

There seem to be three main choices when it comes to low, or zero, carbon heating solutions. The Nordic civic model, in countries such as Sweden, Denmark and Finland has led to well-developed district heating systems which supply centrally generated heat through pipes delivering hot water or steam. Such systems have the ability to capture waste industrial process heat and heat generated from waste incinerators. The Amager Bakke energy from waste plant in Copenhagen able to heat 150,000 homes is an example of the art of the possible. Many UK cities, Birmingham being an exemplar, have district heating systems but these are mainly limited in connectivity to municipal buildings. This highlights the development challenge for district heating systems; the prevailing UK model needs a large anchor customer, otherwise the business case to develop the network does not exist.

The other pressing challenge with district heating is that it is often they powered by combined heat and power engines (CHP) which burn natural gas. This means they are not particularly low-carbon and making them zero carbon is not trivial. Moreover, the waste heat sources they connect to, e.g. waste incinerators, are not free from carbon emissions either and as the waste processing sector diversifies and develops, the way in which waste is used to produce energy and heat will evolve. At the very least carbon capture from incinerators will be required. The UK discussion around zoning may be the way ahead for the development of future district heating networks and overcoming the need for a large anchor customer. A level of mandation or incentivisation for consumers to connect to a district heating system will aggregate demand delivering an investable proposition. Consumer choice may be a casualty.

2: Green hydrogen

The UK is also toying with the idea that large scale, green hydrogen could pave the wave for heat decarbonisation. This would be a simple household intervention with a modification to the burner within the gas boiler and in principle much of the more modern parts of the gas network are hydrogen ready. This solution is attractive to government as it is a straightforward reconfiguration of an existing network.  And in a parallel to the decarbonisation of the electricity grid the switch for the consumer is easy. The main issue is the volume of green hydrogen required and the cost of producing it. Electrolysis is the main solution at present for green hydrogen production, and the efficiency of an electrolyser is about 70%, meaning that every unit of electricity produces less than the equivalent unit of heat energy. Electric resistance heating is essentially 100% efficient and so in energy terms alone it would make sense to use the electricity that would go to an electrolyser directly to an electric heater in the home.

3: Heat Pumps

A third option is the use of electricity powered heat pumps. Heat pumps work by pumping heat from one place to another, e.g. from the outside of a home to inside. Perhaps surprisingly, they can even work at very low temperatures to extract residual heat from the environment, e.g. the air, water or ground. The beauty of a heat pump is that they can have efficiencies of up to 300%, i.e. one unit of electrical energy can deliver three units of heat energy. Norway is a country that has championed the installation of heat pumps and indeed the greatest penetration of heat pumps in Europe is in Scandinavian countries. The majority of those installed in Norway are reversible – they can do cooling as well as heating.  They are also primarily air to air systems and do not rely on a ‘wet’ radiator system to distribute heat around the home.  Reversible heat pumps are the most commonly installed type of heat pump in Europe. The UK, on the other hand, has mainly wet heating systems. In other words, the heat is transported from the gas boiler around the house to radiators via hot water pipes. This means the that the most simple transformation is the installation of a ground source or air source heat pump connected to the hot water system.

The solution to decarbonising heat then seems pretty obvious; install heat pumps. So why isn’t it happening? The answer in the UK is it is just too hard and too expensive. Heat pumps cost over 5 times the cost of a gas boiler and given the poor thermal efficiency of typical (60%) homes installation needs to be accompanied by major investment in thermal efficiency improvements in order not to leave the homeowner in the cold. This means major interventions into the home which could last several days and require significant changes to the appearance of the building, inside and out. Typically, people replace their boiler at the point of the previous one breaking, a distress purchase, and hence will not wait for lengthy home energy efficiency improvements for their heating and hot water system to be restored.

Need for Government Action

The cost and inconvenience means that this is not going to be a consumer led transition and that there is a need for government to take a proactive role. The UK government released its Heat and Building strategy in October 2021. The reception was tepid at best. There is no mandatory end date for gas boiler installation; there is no complementary package of efficiency upgrades linked to low-carbon heating appliance; and there is no mandate on energy companies to install a quota of heat pumps. There is instead enough funding to pay for 90,000 heat pump installations in a country of 28 million homes and a proposed requirement that manufacturers produce low-carbon heating appliances, which there is a danger no one will buy.

The success of countries in the North of Europe points the way. Investment in infrastructure is key and ensuring that the costs of electric heat pump installation and running costs are competitive with gas is crucial. The price of gas has for a long time been a barrier to change and the addition of the UK government’s own policy costs associated with decarbonisation of electricity have been put on the price of electricity. Stronger intervention is required and the time for some hard decisions is now.

The politics of the low carbon transition needs creative solutions which combine technical realities with feasible transition pathways for consumers and citizens.  The policy players who rise to this challenge and escape from old habits will set the pace in the decade ahead. The aspiration to keep on a plausible track to minimise global warming depends on it.

Professor Martin Freer is Director of the Birmingham Energy Institute

This blog is produced by TIPC and partner, EIT Climate-KIC

The editors of this blog series are Fred Steward, Emeritus Professor, School of Architecture and Cities, University of Westminster, London; and Jon Bloomfield, Systems Innovation Policy Advisor, Climate Innovation Ecosystems, the European Institute of Technology’s Climate Knowledge & Innovation Community (EIT Climate-KIC).

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Place-based business models for Net Zero in Sussex. How do we make these happen and work for Sussex?

Achieving Net Zero has become a hot topic across many regions, cities and businesses in the UK. A focal point of discussion during COP 26, Net Zero is rapidly turning into a powerful imaginary of technologies, innovative solutions and possible futures at the local level. It forces re-examining how businesses operate locally; what social, economic and environmental value they produce; and how these can be captured locally? It pushes an agenda of new responsibilities for local authorities, utilities and businesses to think and act strategically about how they invest and what types of infrastructure they seek to develop. The Net Zero agenda can forge powerful new partnerships and ways of working across long established siloes of public and private, and competing policy agendas about supporting high tech solutions, conservation and growth.

Business models are seen as powerful vehicles for change at industrial, regional and household level. They will be key in helping to develop and deliver local solutions and services for Net Zero. For many stakeholders in Sussex, the big questions are what technical, social and environmental solutions can be developed? How these could be brought to market and made commercially viable? What natural advantages are there in Sussex to develop Net Zero products and services?

Working with local stakeholders, the project on Place-based business models for Net Zero aims to unpack i) the drivers for developing place-based solutions for Net Zero; ii) the necessary conditions (from technical solutions to social innovations) needed to develop such local solutions; and iii) the core characteristics of the place-based business models, developed in the context of Net Zero.

Specifically, the project seeks to study and contribute to the development of three, interlinked key areas for achieving Net Zero in Sussex: i) the development of a local hydrogen economy; ii) nature-based solutions; and iii) developing local skills for decarbonisation.  Building on both formal and informal activities within and across these three areas, the project will examine the drivers for the emergence of hydrogen economy and the Sussex-specific technical, social and environmental elements which converge into an innovative set of hydrogen-based local services and products.  Building on a wide range of work and activities in Sussex on marine biodiversity and coastal regeneration, the project will examine how a place-based focus on land and environmental management, planning and regulation fits with the principles of whole systems thinking underpinning facilitating Net Zero. The project also examines what are the range of necessary skills needed locally to support and develop innovative high tech and natural solutions like hydrogen and carbon offsetting through kelp farming. Focusing on the rapid advancement of digitalisation across sectors, building of collaborations and partnership, workforce resilience and equality, diversity and inclusion, the project seeks to examine what are the skills needed in Sussex to achieve Net Zero?

The project emerged through engagement with a wide group of Sussex-based stakeholders involved in efforts to decarbonise the region and will involve action-based participation and observation of Sussex-based initiatives and programs.

The project is led by Dr Ralitsa Hiteva, a Senior Research Fellow at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex, and involves Dr Giulia Mininni, also from SPRU. Both Ralitsa and Giulia are members of the Sussex Energy Group. The project runs from September 2021 until March 2023 and is funded by the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS).

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Sussex Energy Group panel question COP26’s focus on unproven technologies & discuss hopes from decentralised bodies and political mobilisation

Over the course of the recent COP26 negotiations, the SEG@COP26 seminar series presented the breadth of sustainability topics explored by both SEG and the wider Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex Business School.

Last week, in the closing SEG@COP26 panel discussion, Sussex Energy Group researchers discussed their reactions to the outcomes from the COP.

The panel observed that unproven technologies, such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) and new nuclear reactor designs, dominated discussions both globally and in the UK, despite serious concerns that they can be deployed in time to reach net-zero targets. They also noted the major success stories of the negotiations, including the Global Methane Pledge and Declaration on Forests and Land Use, and outlined the ways that COP declarations can translate to local action.

Panellists sent a clear message that, despite COP26’s shortcomings, there’s real hope to be found at the local level, where upward pressure through ongoing political mobilisation can drive increasingly aggressive climate targets on the global stage.

Selected quotes from the event participant’s views on the COP26 outcomes can be read below. We encourage you to watch the full discussion here.  Recordings from the rest of our SEG@COP26 series can be found at the bottom of this post.

Marie Claire Brisbois, Senior Lecturer in Energy Policy at the Science Policy Research Unit and Sussex Energy Group co-director said at the event:

“On another level, I really felt that the conversation at COP was completely disconnected from reality. The formal conversations really focused on unproven technologies and on rapid development in sectors that still have a long way to go, and this is the focus even though we have all sorts of other technologies ready.

The things that we should be talking about are things we’re already familiar with, because they’re ready: things like solar, like batteries. What we ended up talking about was small modular reactors, we were talking about carbon capture and storage, we were talking about hydrogen.

One really good example was on transport day where the conversation focused almost entirely on electric vehicles. We got some good agreements on EVs out of that. But they didn’t talk at all about active and public transport, until a last-minute intervention from someone at the EU who said we have a proven, really effective strategy and you’re not even going to talk about it? Now it’s in there, but it was an afterthought.

So why is this happening, why is the discourse what it is, why do people love hydrogen and not things that we already have like rooftop solar, like energy efficiency, like absolute decreases in energy demand?

And the answer is that it’s about money and it’s about politics.”

“All this stuff that’s happening at the global level is good, we 100% need everybody possible working on making those global agreements happen. We need action at all levels, but really where I’m finding hope and where I’m finding genuine progress is at decentralised levels: so, cities, regions, decentralised bodies that have a bit more flexibility – they’re not tied to corporate lobbyists from the oil industry in the same way as national governments. They have the flexibility and the initiative and the motivation to be doing things like putting in bike lanes, putting in rooftop solar, trying to get community financed home energy retrofit programs off the ground, because these are the technologies that we have available.

The more action that happens at a decentralised level, the more pressure there will be to make more aggressive targets at the national level and to go further in phasing out coal, to go further in phasing out fossil fuel subsidies.  This is what we’re engaged in this right now, this back and forth and creating upward pressure to make things happen.”

Lokendra Karki, Research Fellow on the LANDMARC Horizon 2020 project commented on the COP’s important developments relating to the Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) sector:

“First of all, land-use mitigation is needed, it is contributing around one quarter of anthropogenic GHG emissions and it also has a mitigation potential of up to 23 gigatons CO2  equivalent per year.  Land-use based mitigation also contributes to sustainable development, by maintaining land productivity, improving food security  and biodiversity  conservation as well as preventing land degradation.

The most important declarations at COP26 were the Global Methane Pledge and the Declaration on Forest and Land Use.

The COP26 Global Methane Pledge was initiated by the US and agreed to target oil and gas, which constitutes 35% of methane emissions, and it also effects the agriculture sector which is 40%, and waste which is 20%. The pledge says they will reduce methane emissions by at least 30 % below 2020 levels by 2030. It is important because more than 100 countries already signed, including 15 out of the 30 top emitters: United States, Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Mexico. It is one of the main highlights of the event.

The Declaration on Forest and Land Use says we will stop deforestation by 2030. It was praised because 141 countries with about 90% of the global forest already signed. It also urges sustainable land use transition through sustainable agriculture, sustainable forest management, forest conservation and restoration. Forest management can mitigate up to 1.6 gigatons of CO2 per year. The pledge has already achieved £9 billion in funding.

There are also concerns of some walk back. Also, funding is not conditional to new logging concessions. It is likely that new policies do not fully protect rights of the indigenous people residing in the forests, which will threaten their culture and livelihoods, and create conflict.

Declarations on Forests and Land Use and the Global Methane Pledge were the major highlights in terms of land-use based mitigation. There are also promises of increased funding for the developing countries for emission reduction and adaptation to climate change. 100 billion dollars was targeted by 2020, which never happened, but they said they would continue to increase funding for the developing countries.

In my view, COP26 is not a breakthrough event, but it has big promises which are creating hope for the future. We can say is it one stepping-stone to meet the Paris Agreement’s goal for reducing net emissions. But the success of COP26 depends on how these pledges are realised in the coming years, otherwise, although there will be climate policies, mitigation policies and targets, countries will continue to damage the atmosphere.”

Ralitsa Hiteva, Senior Research Fellow working on business models, innovation and net zero for the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS), highlighted the importance of how Net Zero is achieved, alongside our perceptions of uncertainty in the implementation of net-zero, and their potential impact locally.

Ralitsa specifically addressed net-zero concerns in the Sussex context, and how these findings from her recent study of the values stakeholders associate with Net Zero related to outcomes of the COP26 negotiations:

“One of the surprising things that we found out is that apart from social, economic and environmental values, there was a fourth value which emerged and that was how we get to net-zero was as important as getting to net-zero. So that basically means that there is significant importance to local partnerships, to the recognition of contributions made by formal and informal activities and communities.

And they are one of the things that I think we should be talking about when we think through the meaning of the COP26 outcomes: this element of translation locally. If we want to make sure that the good intentions that we are building and representing in the language of the agreement are not lost, and that they are actually able to manifest as a real change locally.  We need to crack the missing link of what else do we need to do in order to make sure that this kind of stumbling blocks of uncertainty that a lot of companies and community-based and decentralised action are actually facing.

I have to say that I would like to link this to a disappointing element of the UK Net Zero Strategy that was focused on investment on infrastructure technologies alone. A lot of which, as Marie Claire mentioned, are quite unproven and quite perhaps dangerous, environmentally speaking and sustainably speaking technologies because they have been unproven and untested. While there were limited, to no provisions for small scale, community-based actions and solutions.

However, the Net Zero Strategy does support industries that already exist, following a well-recognised way of accumulating economic growth or recognising existing capabilities, power and agencies, and incumbent sectors and practises. What is missing is that recognition that these kind of investments in infrastructure alone do not actually translate automatically into value, particularly value, which can be created and captured locally.

This really matters when it comes to thinking about Net Zero as a project which has to manifest at the subnational, regional, urban and local level, and to actually be able to attract the necessary levels of investment and take up, translating into mass scale behavioural change.

It is linked to the ability of places, of people, of industries to be able to recognise the values that they associate with net-zero and to be able to capture them locally. And this is where I think this missing link is really important. We need to figure out what is it that we need to put out into the world in order to help this translation, to lower the levels of uncertainty and to make sure that people actually are able to create and capture more value locally, so that Net Zero actually works on a much grander scale.”

Phil Johnstone, Senior Research Fellow in the Science Policy Research Unit, discussed his views on the three ‘D’s: directionality, discontinuation, and defence.

“I think ultimately the conclusions about whether you call the outcomes good or not really depends on the vantage point you’re looking from. We find comfort in the idea that science will deliver answers, but whether the outcomes of COP were good or bad really depends on your outlook in terms of non-scientific things, namely your beliefs and your trust in politicians and states to deliver. This relates to the core difference between pledges and actions.

From the perspective of Pacific Islands and many indigenous groups, things don’t look good. The gap between pledges and current actions does seem to be considerable. But for others, things are a bit better; for the first time we have this fossil fuels in a statement. And there’s this new emphasis on urgency, and the 1.5C 2030 horizon, which is significant. You have the South African coal phase out, and a just transition plan, which could be a template for further action. But I remain sceptical about what these global agreements can deliver. It depends on whether national commitments are adhered to or not.

“If we take the UK as an example, there’s this constant rhetoric where we ‘need everything in the mix’ for low carbon. Yet in the context of the urgency regarding 1.5°C and 2030, this really does seem a bit silly. The short timeline to 2030 suggests the need to prioritise certain technological trajectories, and not others. The fastest and cheapest, most job intense way to decarbonise is massive demand reduction and renewables. The UK housing stock is a mess, for example and lot can be done on that front in terms of demand reduction. Things like new large nuclear reactors as well as small modular reactors are a waste of time and money detracting from rapid solutions that we know work. In the context of the urgency surrounding COP, I would say that every pound invested in immensely costly and much delayed nuclear actually detracts from the 2030 goal as they can’t be built fast enough.

Yet governments like the UK are obsessed with these kind of technologies that are not going to be ready in time. Rather than magical technological solutions, in rich countries we should be taking our responsibilities seriously and changing behaviour. I’d say this involves us radically doing less and discovering a new abundance not based on materialism and consumption, but rather seeing the benefits of a slower, more local, less intense lifestyle. The benefits of less work, less travel, more time with family and community, more leisure time. These benefits could be part of a positive vision for rapid CO2 reduction.”

“I saw another blog post recently by Mike Hulme, and he said we have to beware of the metaphors and chasms and cliff edges. If we recall, Gordon Brown announced that Copenhagen was our last chance to save the world. So what about this COP? But as other speakers have alluded to, any particular set piece negotiation at the global level will never be our saviour. Politicians and incumbents are not coming to save us. It is not chasms and cliff edges but rather a continual process of challenging systems of power and unsustainability. So turning pledges into action will as ever, not be enacted by ‘policy makers’ and politicians of their own volition but will only come through political pressure. In understanding this messy world of policy and politics, much of the research that takes place at SPRU has never been more urgent and useful.”

Recordings for the rest of the series can be watched here:

Benjamin K Sovacool – Decarbonisation and its discontents 19.10.21

Imogen Wade & Carla Alvial Palavicino – Transformative outcomes & a TIPC learning game about system changes 26.10.21

CINTRAN – Roberto Cantoni & Marie Claire Brisbois 02.11.21

Just Transitions : the governance and institutional gap in the UK – Abigail Martin & Max Lacey-Barnacle 09.11.21

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The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the individual authors and do not represent Sussex Energy Group.

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