In this latest Environmental Law News Update Christopher Badger considers plans to host the COP 26 climate summit in Glasgow, publication of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s radioactive waste strategy and the announcement of a review of bio-waste sites by the Environment Agency.
Glasgow to host COP 26
On 10 September the UK government announced that it had received international backing to host the COP 26 climate summit in 2020 in Glasgow. The event will bring together over 30,000 delegates from around the world, including climate experts, business leaders and citizens to agree ambitious action to tackle climate change.
The nomination is in partnership with Italy, who will host preparatory events and a significant youth event as part of the agreement.
The conference has been described as the most important gathering on climate change since the Paris agreement was signed in 2015. Lasting for 2 weeks, it will be the largest summit that the UK has ever hosted, with up to 200 world leaders expected to attend on the final weekend. There will no doubt be major security concerns and a need for additional funding but this is an extraordinary opportunity for the UK to be at the very forefront of tackling climate change at a global level.
Meanwhile Greta Thunberg delivered an impassioned speech at the UN’s climate summit, describing world leaders as failing her and her generation. There was a compelling moment when Donald Trump sauntered into the conference to the furious stare of Ms Thunberg. At the summit, India, China and the EU promised to deliver tougher carbon-curbing plans in 2020. Finland declared that it would be the first industrialised nation to absorb more carbon than it emits and Pakistan promised to plant 10 billion trees in the next 5 years.
Amazon have also promised to become carbon neutral by 2040, to increase its energy from renewable sources to 100% by 2030, to invest $100 million to restore wetlands and forests and has ordered 100,000 electric delivery vehicles to reduce its fuel consumption, to enter into service in 2021.
There is, however, real criticism that the steps that are being promised are simply not enough. Many green groups are adamant that the commitments from major nations are nowhere near what is needed to stabilise the climate.
Nuclear Decommissioning Authority publishes radioactive waste strategy
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority published its radioactive waste strategy on 16 September 2019. The purpose is to ensure that wastes are managed in a manner that protects people and the environment, now and in the future, and in ways that comply with government policies and provide value for money.
The key objectives of this strategy are to:
- drive application of the waste hierarchy where it is practicable and appropriate to do so, recognising that hazard and risk reduction and nuclear safety priorities may limit its application in certain circumstances;
- provide a robust and sustainable infrastructure, essential to the safe and effective delivery of the NDA mission by making best use of existing waste management assets and developing new fit-for-purpose waste management routes as required;
- drive/facilitate changes in waste management behaviours and culture to ensure waste producers consider all stages in the waste hierarchy;
- ensure waste management infrastructure is flexible to facilitate prompt decommissioning and remediation of facilities and sites where appropriate;
- enable risk-informed waste management with greater emphasis placed on the nature of the waste rather than classification, to aid in identifying the most appropriate management route;
- enable a lifecycle approach to the management of radioactive wastes which will help identify the most appropriate waste management route determined by the risk posed by the waste;
- make radioactive waste ultimately disposable in a manner that protects people and the environment;
- consider materials that may become waste in the future and to understand the implications of such scenarios on both the existing waste infrastructure and the requirements, timing and need for new infrastructure.
Disposal is one of the most controversial topics. The strategy states that the UK will need a range of disposal facilities to manage the variety of radioactive wastes, from in situ management, to licensed landfills, to a geological disposal facility for materials requiring geological isolation. It remains the position that a suitable site for a geological disposal facility will only be taken forward if the local community supports it. The NDA has also carried out an initial technical study to investigate the feasibility of near-surface facilities for the disposal of ‘Intermediate Level Waste’, which would not require the engineering and isolation requirements of a geological disposal facility. It is considered that this could provide an opportunity for an earlier disposal solution, to enable site decommissioning and remediation and, in particular, risk and hazard reduction programmes. The question that springs to mind is whether this policy approach is driven by a lack of appetite in local communities to host a geological disposal facility.
The strategy can be found here
Environment Agency announces review of bio-waste sites
On 13 September the Environment Agency announced that it is set to launch a review of permitted waste sites within the bio-waste sector, which includes composting, anaerobic digestion and mechanical biological treatment.
The purposes of the review are stated to ensure that there is compliance with best available techniques and emission limits, that any recent changes to legislation are embedded, to improve the quality of recovered material and to improve the performance of the sector. A standard rules consultation will be published in Autumn.
The review will begin with bespoke Installation permits and with sites presenting the highest risk or poor performance being prioritised.
The review follows a call for the evidence on bio-waste sites back in May 2018. That call for evidence identified that the sector has a long history of pollution events and amenity problems. Proposals that are likely to be advanced could include:
- Increasing the hours that a technically competent manager is required to be present on site;
- Restrictions to try and prevent emissions of nitrogen and ammonia;
- Additional attention to be paid to design capacity and the operation of plants;
- Greater attention to be paid to waste acceptance procedures.
The Environment Agency’s press release can be found here
The May 2018 call for evidence can be found here
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