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Why is COP26 in Glasgow such a big deal? Our Engineering Director Danny Bonnett gives us his view.



What’s changing?

As we come out of the COVID pandemic across Europe, Asia and North America, it’s interesting to see what the landscape looks like for the energy sector. Here are some things that I have noticed:


1. The US is not just keen to be back in a leading role in climate mitigation it is looking to transform itself and the world using decarbonisation as a tool for economic and skills growth.

2. Offshore wind was hardly impacted at all by the pandemic, and we are seeing demand for offshore MW’s continue to soar across the globe. All consultants doing offshore wind have reported strong and growing order books over the last 15 months.

3. The positive impact from COP 21 in Paris is now being felt in terms of renewable energy rollout. A number of countries are kickstarting their energy transformations, with offshore wind leasing rounds in places including South Korea, Poland, Vietnam and recently announced expansions in Taiwan and the USA.

4. A number of high-profile individuals have been putting their support behind the need for transition. The ones who have caught my eye are Mark Carney, economist and former Governor of the Bank of England, Bill Gates, philanthropist and Microsoft founder, and Dieter Helm, Professor of Energy Policy at Oxford University and also an economist.

5. The world has grown up a lot in the last 12 months. I think we’ve got a much better insight into our human vulnerability on planet Earth than we had before. Our respect for nature, within which I’d include COVID-19, has increased.


What does Wood Thilsted believe?

At Wood Thilsted, we fundamentally believe that the Global Transition and its sub-set, the Energy Transition are critically important. We don’t just do our jobs for the love of engineering or to make money, we do our jobs to make a difference to the future of our families and planet.


We believe that the transition towards a zero-carbon economy should happen as fast as possible. Why is that? Simply put, climate change doesn’t just bring negative impacts, it has the greatest impact on those who have contributed the least – what is now known as climate justice or rather I’d say climate injustice.


At Wood Thilsted we also believe this is about a bigger problem that goes beyond carbon and can be understood by considering the principles of the circular economy, as lobbied for and described by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. That’s to say our consumption-based economy that relies of continual extraction from our planet to serve our every need has taken us beyond what our planet can sustainably provide. We are killing ourselves as a species.


Linked to this is the Biodiversity Crisis whereby loss of species and reduced numbers of living organisms is impacting the planet’s ability to regenerate from environmental damage. So not only are we killing the planet and ourselves we’re speeding our demise. This has been expressed very clearly over the last 12 months by David Attenborough with the startling TV documentary and associated book, called ‘A Life on our Planet: My Witness Statement and a Vision for the Future’

What needs to be done?

The UN’s Sustainable Development goals have been produced to address these big issues, and more. They are the only widely-accepted manifesto that has the potential to steer global activity to a more sustainable place.


The other big drivers are the national action plans (Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs) coming out of the UN’s climate program, from COP21 in Paris (Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC, 2015). As alluded to these have started to have a real impact and governments need to think big when writing the next chapter at COP26 in Glasgow.


In Paris, individual nations took a big step in committing to significant decarbonisation, on a global scale. That is why it was so important. Governments all agreed, we had to do something about this, and we began by setting targets. However, the targets set in Paris were not ambitious enough to limit global heating to 1.5 or 2 degrees centigrade, or anywhere close, so these action plans must now be made significantly more aggressive. We know it will be politically challenging, but industry wants bold action and can deliver on it. Remember, this is all our futures.

Why will November in Glasgow be pivotal for all our futures?

So this is where COP26 comes in. Governments speak on behalf of their populations, and those governments must feel that they are supported by their citizens, in order to be bold enough in their ambitions and commitments. So, to help COP26 to be as successful as possible we can all do two things.

1. Individuals should be sure to let their politicians know that we’re behind them and we want them to be bold. Write them an email, tweet them, tell them that you want them to be bold on your behalf, and you’ll make the personal changes needed in the years to come. Honestly, that's the easy part. It’s not a big deal to drive an electric car, to work for a company in the green sector, to eat less meat, to heat your house with a heat pump - but it's also true that doing these things as an individual won't change the planetary temperature. The transition needs to be global in order to have the necessary positive impacts. That's why our politicians need to hear from us, that we want action.

2. The second thing that politicians need to understand is that business is yearning for this transition. We have the solutions to deliver really rapid decarbonisation, across the energy sector in the very short term, and in the rest of the economy in the medium term. Bold action by governments to show a clear and irreversible direction of travel is the most effective framework, allowing businesses to invest, and to innovate, and to seek the fastest and most cost-effective ways of stripping carbon out of all areas. We're up for the challenge of making our projects bio-positive at the same time, whilst also working in fairer and more socially responsible ways. Business ambition is great, so be assured, whatever targets are set, we'll exceed them.


So what is Wood Thilsted doing?


We specialise in offshore wind engineering and we’ve put great effort into making our design processes as efficient as possible. This reduces costs for our clients. Now, we are committing to putting the same focus on squeezing out the embodied carbon through:

· Efficient and holistic design

· Rigorous consideration of what we specify and where

· Careful attention to life extension of the assets we design

· Support of steelmaking in line with the objectives of the Paris Agreement by signing up to the SteelZero commitment


This is just the beginning for Wood Thilsted. Over the next few months we’ll be formalising our commitments and further developing plans and projects to push forward our path to not just carbon neutrality but to driving bio-positivity and carbon negativity across all of our work.

So here I urge you, if your business has a positive story to tell, of great innovations, commitments and ambitions, please share them, with this community, and with your governmental delegates for COP 26. Remember, that whilst in most situations businesses compete fiercely with one another, in the case of the Global Transition, what is needed is solidarity. A collective demonstration of ability, ambition, and willingness to collaborate are needed to reassure our representatives at COP26 that technological solutions are not holding back progress. Be brave, be bold as individuals, as businesses, as governments.

References:

Mark Carney: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Carney

Bill Gates: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Gates

Dieter Helm: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dieter_Helm

The Circular Economy: https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/what-is-the-circular-economy

David Attenborough's Witness Statement book: https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/53916142-a-life-on-our-planet

United Nations NDCs: https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/nationally-determined-contributions-ndcs/nationally-determined-contributions-ndcs#eq-5

SteelZero: https://www.theclimategroup.org/steelzero

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