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Sustainability Landscape Update – June 2018

  • A new paper published in Nature, ‘Macroeconomic impact of stranded fossil fuel assets’, highlights the increasing risk of a “carbon bubble.” From the abstract: “Several major economies rely heavily on fossil fuel production and exports, yet current low-carbon technology diffusion, energy efficiency and climate policy may be substantially reducing global demand for fossil fuels. This trend is inconsistent with observed investment in new fossil fuel ventures which could become stranded as a result.” The BBC has also recently  published an article, reporting on the study. According to the BBC’s article, the report maintains that a rapid reduction in demand for fossil fuels could see global economic losses of $1-4 trillion by 2035. The authors of the report claim that energy efficiency and low carbon technology could cause the downturn, even if governments fail to take new steps to meet the Paris climate goals. The resulting "carbon bubble" could cause losses larger than the 2008 financial crisis, the authors say.
  • Uncertainty still remains over the UK’s participation in large European research projects under Horizon 2020 and the newly named Horizon Europe. All indications are that the UK wishes to continue to benefit from the substantial research funding and collaborations, although there is no clarity on this to date.
  • There is increasing focus and concern on the lack of progress towards meeting the Paris Agreement. Governments appear committed to achieving emissions reduction targets through the use of negative carbon emission technologies and in particular Biomass energy carbon capture and storage (BECCS). This is essentially re-foresting of a huge part of the planet, burn the biomass and capture that carbon, storing it somewhere for millions of years (in effect sucking carbon out of the atmosphere via trees/biomass). The costs, technologies at scale, and infrastructure needed to do this are not tested so this is a massive gamble. This article in Nature explores this in more depth.