We must do a lot more to meet net-zero targets - Kate Elliot

Climate change represents a systemic social, environmental and economic risk at a global scale. Just last month, we saw the World Meteorological Organization announce that it is now more likely than not that average global temperatures will breach the 1.5C warming threshold in the next five years. Keeping warming to below 1.5C is seen by many as essential if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change, and breaching that threshold only makes extreme weather events such as the wildfires that continue to blaze across Canada more likely.

In addressing climate change, it is vitally important that we first look at ways to reduce the easier to abate emissions. For example, investing in energy efficiency measures, electrifying processes that previously relied on fossil fuels and ramping up renewable energy production. But this will only get us so far in the journey to net zero and there is a role for new and emerging technology in helping to plug the gap.

Last week experts from SSE, First Light Fusion and SMS joined Rathbone Greenbank’s investor day event to talk about the role that their companies are playing in efforts to decarbonise our economy.

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For example, hydrogen energy has the potential to provide low-carbon, flexible power-generation at scale to help balance the intermittency often seen in renewable energy generation. Nuclear fusion, while still a very early-stage technology, offers the potential for green energy generation without the challenges of nuclear waste and weapons that current fission-based nuclear generation presents. And battery-based energy storage, both domestic and grid-scale can support energy system flexibility and efficiency and help in reducing the peak volume size of generating capacity needed to meet demand.

Kate Elliot, Head of ethical, sustainable and impact research at Rathbone Greenbank InvestmentsKate Elliot, Head of ethical, sustainable and impact research at Rathbone Greenbank Investments
Kate Elliot, Head of ethical, sustainable and impact research at Rathbone Greenbank Investments

What is clear is that climate change will not be solved by a single silver bullet but from a multitude of steps and positive changes that move us in the right direction.

An assessment last summer by the UK’s Climate Change Committee found that only 39% of the emissions reductions needed by 2037 to keep the UK on track for net zero were backed by credible, funded plans with timelines in place. Since then we have seen both a High Court ruling that the UK government’s net zero strategy was in breach of its own legal obligations under the Climate Change Act, and a deluge of announcements on what was dubbed ‘Green Day’ in March 2023. That saw the publication of almost 3,000 pages of climate-related policy statements, consultation launches, responses to previous consultations and announcements of external reviews covering almost all areas of the UK economy.

An updated assessment of the UK’s progress toward net zero is due to be published by the Climate Change Committee this month while, at a global level, the COP 28 climate conference will see a global stocktake of progress against nationally-determined contributions to emissions cuts. But whatever their findings, what is clear is that the actions we take and the investments we make in the coming months and years will be critical in determining whether we really can unlock a net zero future.

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