Hi, I’m Patrick Brown, Head of ESG at Blackstock Consulting and welcome to the latest edition of ESG Crunch, your biweekly signal in the noise covering the latest news, views and research where environment, society and governance meets real estate.
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In this edition
Heatwaves and infrastructure; stay frosty; James Lovelock dies
Heatwave’s Effect on Infrastructure
The recent heatwaves across the US and EU were covered in the last issue, but in the days that have followed there’s been some reflection and a degree of acceptance that not only are such events likely to become more frequent, but that steps should be taken to adapt. This has been given added impetus by the news that another heatwave is on the way.
Ipsos Mori polling in Environment Journal suggests a shift in public opinion owing to the collective experience of the last few weeks, and how a simple temperature increase can have so many effects, ranging from the inconvenient to the severe.
The effect on infrastructure and industry
According to Environment Journal, Britain narrowly avoided a power blackout in London during the heatwave, forcing purchase of electricity from Belgium. Railways not built to accommodate extreme temperatures were hit hard, wrote a Brunel University expert in Business Green. UK farmers were left counting the cost as fruit and vegetable crops were ruined, The Guardian writes. The driest summer for 100 years has imposed drought conditions but research in Environment Journal indicates that this is likely to become more the norm by 2040 in UK cities. Water shortages pose particular problems for nuclear power plants, such as that planned at Sizewell C, according to The Guardian.
Even cooler periods in the UK are now warmer than they used to be according to Fiona Harvey in The Guardian. ONS cited in The Independent has found deaths were nearly 20% higher than average in the UK during the heatwave, although it’s not yet clear exactly why this was the case.
A shift in public opinion
The trouble is that there’s an ongoing confusion in strategy at national government level on climate strategy in general, according to The Independent and at local Government level, reports Business Green. Plans are coming forward for infrastructure in respect of Net Zero, such as electricity networks but at this point it feels instinctive that the National Infrastructure Commission UK’s national assessment due next year should include more robust assessment of the risks that a changing climate pose to infrastructure.
The last issue covered the risks associated with an increase in domestic and commercial air conditioning in response to a changing climate, but in the intervening period there’s been some movement in regulatory circles. Energy consumption related to cooling tripled since 1990, according to the International Energy Agency and there’s already a trend for more home cooling.
Turning down the thermostat
The risks are seemingly not lost on regulators. Spain announced new energy saving measures this week, including new limits on air conditioning and heating in buildings, and the city of Hanover has begun restrictions on hot water and heating in public buildings according to The Independent.
In France, the BBC writes, closed door policies are being implemented in retail outlets in a bid to cut energy waste. It transpires that curbs on either behaviour or air conditioning specifications are imposed in Italy, Spain, Switzerland (at Canton level) and Germany, according to Euro News.
Regulation at building level helps, but it doesn’t serve to wean us off our dependence on air conditioning, and likely won’t make fast in-roads into addressing inefficient older building stock. Negawatts, the avoidance of energy consumption in the first place affords one approach.
Understanding deeper behaviours can grant us insights to how we might reduce energy consumption by influencing human behaviour, and studies of preferences are underway. Bloomberg reported that London office workers were drawn to the office by the promise of air conditioning, based on Google Mobility data. The NY Times detailed a study where scientists in Singapore are mapping biometrics and a digital twin of the city to figure out how to address its heat and humidity.
Neighbourhoods and trees
More green infrastructure in cities can help to cool urban environments and improve air quality. Indeed at higher temperatures, air quality tends to suffer too, according to Grist. A study detailed in New Scientist of 300 European cities showed that urban greenery, especially trees, can help to cool land surfaces by up to 12C in summer. Leeuwarden has created a walking forest of 1000 trees, as reported in the The Guardian. UK Government, reports Business Green, has announced this week to fund new urban green spaces as part of the Levelling Up Fund at least in part to tackle urban heating. That’s welcome news, but efforts to green Paris at scale under Mayor Hidalgo’s proposals have faltered in the wake of political opposition, reports The Times, meaning that perhaps there’s a communication job to be done to convey the benefits.
James Lovelock Dies
James Lovelock, who fostered the Gaia Hypothesis, that the planet is in some way alive, died this week. He was a foundational influence in respect of the understanding of man-made pollutants and their effect on the climate including the relationship between aerosols and the ozone layer.
The primary legacy of the Gaia Hypothesis is the finding that many natural processes and systems are interconnected. While at NASA, Dr Lovelock compared the climates of Earth and Mars and theorised that life must be stabilising the climate in the former.
He seeded ideas for climate engineering and ocean fertilisation and how humankind might co-exist with a warming climate.
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