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Posted on: 15 October 2019
Environmental Law News UpdateTweet
In this latest Environmental Law News Update William Upton QC, Christopher Badger and Natasha Hausdorff consider the Environment Agency’s aim to achieve Net Zero emissions by 2030, Mark Carney’s comments on climate risks and resilience and new Environment Agency guidance on climate change risk assessments for bespoke permits.
Getting to Net Zero earlier than 2050?
The Environment Agency has announced that it has set itself the aim of becoming a “net zero” organisation by 2030 – in the sense that its own activities and its supply chain are taking as much carbon out of the atmosphere as it is putting into it. The Agency has identified that offsetting will be part of this. It has calculated that its target would mean reducing the emissions of its own activities and supply chain by a further 45%, with the remaining emissions addressed through tree planting, restoring soil quality and peat bogs or other measures. This approach is perhaps more tailored to their situation, as a major part of its carbon contribution comes from building and maintaining flood defence works, rather than from its own buildings and travel demands.
The 2030 date that has been chosen is striking. It is twenty years in advance of the stated national target. The amendment made in the summer to the Climate Change Act 2008 is intended to ensure that the UK is carbon neutral by 2050. This date was based on the recommendation of the report of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) on “Net Zero: The UK’s Contribution to stopping global warming” (May 2019), to meet the UK’s commitments as a signatory of the 2015 Paris Agreement. The CCC target relies on measures to reduce emissions through improved efficiency and new technology, as well as offsetting and carbon capture and storage. It also factors in future growth projections. The CCC Report states that existing policy must be ramped up significantly and that the CCC did not consider it credible for the UK to aim to reach net-zero emissions earlier than 2050.
The Agency’s announcement is therefore full of ambition. Indeed, it also included reference to wanting to explore whether it could become an “absolute zero” organisation by 2050 – one where the Agency activities and supply chain would produce no carbon at all. It may be that the Agency can identify sector-specific advantages that will allow them to achieve its targets much more quickly than others. It will certainly be leading the way if it can do so.
The announcement can be found here
Mark Carney on climate risks and resilience
Mark Carney’s speeches on climate risks and resilience have been prolific in recent weeks. On 24 September 2019, the Bank of England (BoE) published two speeches given by Mark Carney, Governor of the BoE in which he calls for climate risks and resilience to be brought into the heart of financial decision making. On 8 October 2019 he spoke at the inaugural TCFD Summit in Tokyo.
Across his speeches, Mr Carney has identified several areas for focus:
First, disclosure. Whilst highlighting the demand for disclosure in line with the framework set out by the Task Force on Climate-related Disclosures and improvements that have been made, Mr Carney called for disclosure to be made mandatory and to increase the quantity and quality of disclosures by sharing best practice. The UK government announced in its Green Strategy published this July that it expects all listed companies and large assets owners to report climate risks by 2022, and a joint taskforce is currently considering the most appropriate path to mandatory disclosure.
Second, refining TCFD disclosure recommendations to those that investors consider most “decision-useful”. There needs to be a definitive view on what counts as a high-quality disclosure before they can become mandatory. Inconsistent measurement of ESG is one of the biggest hurdles and we need a common taxonomy to help financial markets rigorously identify environmental outperformance and to direct investment accordingly.
Third, risk management. The providers of capital and those who supervise them all need to improve their understanding and management of climate-related financial risks. Changes in climate policies, new technologies and growing physical risks will prompt reassessments of the values of virtually every financial asset. The Bank of England has just set out its supervisory expectations for the governance, management and disclosure of climate-related financial risks by banks and insurers.
Finally, to consider how asset owners could best disclose how well their portfolios are positioned for the transition to net zero. Sustainable investing must catalyse and support all companies that are working to transition from brown to green. It is not simply about financing green technology. Such “tilt” investment strategies, which overweigh high environmental, social and governance (ESG) stocks and “momentum” investment strategies, which focus on companies that have improved their ESG rating, have outperformed global benchmarks for close to a decade. The mainstreaming of such strategies and the tools to pursue them are essential.
The recent speeches by Mark Carney are all published by the Bank of England and can be found here:
Environment Agency guidance on climate change risk assessments for bespoke permits
On 3 October 2019, the Environment Agency published ‘Adapting to climate change: risk assessment for your environmental permit’, guidance on completing a risk assessment on adapting to climate change as part of the application procedure for Environmental Permits.
Applicants must undertake a climate change risk assessment for any new bespoke waste and intensive farming installation permit applications, if they expect to operate for more than five years. A risk assessment must be completed even if the site is not expected to be operational in 2050. Applicants need to calculate their climate change risk screening score when completing the new permit or intensive farming installation application from.
The appropriate worksheet, based on the relevant river basin and climate projection data for the site’s location, must be filled in. Each worksheet lists potential changes in weather and climate that may occur between now and 2050, but other climate variables that could impact operations can be included. Examples of completed risk assessment worksheets appear on the gov.uk website, along with a facility to search the catchment data according to post code.
Applicants are asked to consider critical thresholds (where a ‘tipping point’ is reached, for example a specific temperature where site processes cannot operate safely), changes to averages (for example an entire summer of higher than expected rainfall that causes waterlogging) and locations where hazards may combine to cause a greater impact. The applicant must first assess the impact from each of the weather and climate change scenarios to determine a risk score, which reflects the likelihood of something happening multiplied by the severity of its impact.
Those applicants with risk scores of 5 or more must propose mitigation measures and then re-assess the risk taking the mitigation measures into account, submitting the climate change risk assessment alongside the application form. Those scoring less than five will still need to complete the risk assessment and retain it as part of the environmental management system, referring to it in the management plan summary submitted with the application. The Environment Agency may apply conditions to some permits to manage climate change risks, and may ask the applicant to provide a more detailed assessment in the future.
The forthcoming Environment Bill has been flagged in the Queen’s Speech, intended to introduce legally binding environmental improvement targets. A summary of the intended content can be found here. We will look at this in more detail once its timing and draft is actually published.
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