Tag: climate change

What is the carbon cycle?

What is the carbon cycle?

All living things contain carbon and the carbon cycle is the process through which the element continuously moves from one place in nature to another. Most carbon is stored in rock and sediment, but it’s also found in soil, oceans, and the atmosphere, and is produced by all living organisms – including plants, animals, and humans.

Carbon atoms move between the atmosphere and various storage locations, also known as reservoirs, on Earth. They do this through mechanisms such as photosynthesis, the decomposition and respiration of living organisms, and the eruption of volcanoes.

As our planet is a closed system, the overall amount of carbon doesn’t change. However, the level of carbon stored in a particular reservoir, including the atmosphere, can and does change, as does the speed at which carbon moves from one reservoir to another.

What is the role of photosynthesis in the carbon cycle?

Carbon exists in many different forms, including the colourless and odourless gas that is carbon dioxide (CO2). During photosynthesis, plants absorb light energy from the sun, water through their roots, and CO2 from the air – converting them into oxygen and glucose.

The oxygen is then released back into the air, while the carbon is stored in glucose, and used for energy by the plant to feed its stem, branches, leaves, and roots. Plants also release CO2 into the atmosphere through respiration.

Animals – including humans – who consume plants similarly digest the glucose for energy purposes. The cells in the human body then break down the glucose, with CO2 emitted as a waste product as we exhale.

CO2 is also produced when plants and animals die and are broken down by organisms such as fungi and bacteria during decomposition.

What is the fast carbon cycle?

The natural process of plants and animals releasing CO2 into the atmosphere through respiration and decomposition and plants absorbing it via photosynthesis is known as the biogenic carbon cycle. Biogenic refers to something that is produced by or originates from a living organism. This cycle also incorporates CO2 absorbed and released by the world’s oceans.

The biogenic carbon cycle is also called the “fast” carbon cycle, as the carbon that circulates through it does so comparatively quickly. There are nevertheless substantial variations within this faster cycle. Reservoir turnover times – a measure of how long the carbon remains in one location – range from years for the atmosphere to decades through to millennia for major carbon sinks on land and in the ocean.

What is the slow carbon cycle?

In some circumstances, plant and animal remains can become fossilised. This process, which takes millions of years, eventually leads to the formation of fossil fuels. Coal comes from the remains of plants that have been transformed into sedimentary rock. And we get crude oil and natural gas from plankton that once fell to the ocean floor and was, over time, buried by sediment.

The rocks and sedimentary layers where coal, crude oil, and natural gas are found form part of what is known as the geological or slow carbon cycle. From this cycle, carbon is returned to the atmosphere through, for example, volcanic eruptions and the weathering of rocks. In the slow carbon cycle, reservoir turnover times exceed 10,000 years and can stretch to millions of years.

How do humans impact the carbon cycle?

Left to its own devices, Earth can keep CO2 levels balanced, with similar amounts of CO2 released into and absorbed from the air. Carbon stored in rocks and sediment would slowly be emitted over a long period of time. However, human activity has upset this natural equilibrium.

Burning fossil fuel releases carbon that’s been sequestered in geological formations for millions of years, transferring it from the slow to the fast (biogenic) carbon cycle. This influx of fossil carbon leads to excessive levels of atmospheric CO2, that the biogenic carbon cycle can’t cope with.

As a greenhouse gas that traps heat from the sun between the Earth and its atmosphere, CO2 is essential to human existence. Without CO2 and other greenhouse gases, the planet could become too cold to sustain life.

However, the drastic increase in atmospheric CO2 due to human activity means that too much heat is now retained between Earth and the atmosphere. This has led to a continued rise in the average global temperature, a development that is part of climate change.

Where does biomass fit into the carbon cycle?

One way to help reduce fossil carbon is to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, including sustainably sourced biomass. Feedstock for biomass energy includes plant material, wood, and forest residue – organic matter that absorbs CO2 as part of the biogenic carbon cycle. When the biomass is combusted in energy or electricity generation, the biogenic carbon stored in the organic matter is released back into the atmosphere as CO2.

This is distinctly different from the fossil carbon released by oil, gas, and coal. The addition of carbon capture and storage to bioenergy – creating BECCS – means the biogenic carbon absorbed by the organic matter is captured and sequestered, permanently removing it from the atmosphere. By capturing CO2 and transporting it to geological formations – such as porous rocks – for permanent storage, BECCS moves CO2 from the fast to the slow carbon cycle.

This is the opposite of burning fossil fuels, which takes carbon out of geological formations (the slow carbon cycle) and emits it into the atmosphere (the fast carbon cycle). Because BECCS removes more carbon than it emits, it delivers negative emissions.

Fast facts

  • According to a 2019 study, human activity including the burning of fossil fuels releases between 40 and 100 times more carbon every year than all volcanic eruptions around the world.
  • In March 2021, the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii reported that average CO2 in the atmosphere for that month was 14 parts per million. This was 50% higher than at the time of the Industrial Revolution (1750-1800).
  • There is an estimated 85 billion gigatonne (Gt) of carbon stored below the surface of the Earth. In comparison, just 43,500 Gt is stored on land, in oceans, and in the atmosphere.
  • Forests around the world are vital carbon sinks, absorbing around 7.6 million tonnes of CO2 every year.

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Global collaboration
is key to tackling
the climate crisis

Leaders from 40 countries are meeting today, albeit virtually, as part of President Joe Biden’s Leaders’ Summit on Climate. The event provides an opportunity for world leaders to reaffirm global efforts in the fight against climate change, set a clear pathway to net zero emissions, while creating jobs and ensuring a just transition.

Since taking office President Biden has made bold climate commitments and brought the United States back into the Paris Agreement. Ahead of the two-day summit, he announced an ambitious 2030 emissions target and new Nationally Determined Contributions. The US joins other countries that have announced significant reduction goals. For example, the EU committed to reduce its emissions by at least 55%, also South Korea, Japan and China have all set net-zero targets by mid-century.

Here in the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week outlined new climate commitments that will be enshrined in law. The ambitious new targets will see carbon emissions cut by 78% by 2035, almost 15 years earlier than previously planned. If delivered, this commitment which is in-line with the recommendations of the Climate Change Committee’s sixth carbon budget will put the UK at the forefront of climate action, and for the first time the targets include international aviation and shipping.

What makes climate change so difficult to tackle is that it requires collaboration from many different parties on a global scale never seen before. As a UK-North American sustainable energy company, with communities on both sides of the Atlantic, at Drax we are keenly aware of the need for thinking that transcends borders, creating a global opportunity for businesses and governments to work together towards a shared climate goal. That’s why we joined other businesses and investors in an open letter supporting the US government’s ambitious climate actions.

Collaboration between countries and industries

It’s widely recognised that negative emissions technologies will be key to global efforts to combat climate change.

At Drax we’re pioneering the negative emissions technology bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) at our power station in North Yorkshire, which when up and running in 2027 will capture millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, sending it for secure storage, permanently locking it away deep under the North Sea.

Experts on both sides of the Atlantic consider BECCS essential for reaching net zero. The UK’s Climate Change Committee says it will play a major role in removing CO2 emissions that will remain in the UK economy after 2050 from industries such as aviation and agriculture that will be difficult to fully decarbonise. Meanwhile, a report published last year by New York’s Columbia University revealed that rapid development of BECCS is needed within the next 10 years in order to curb climate change and a recent report from Baringa, commissioned by Drax, showed it will be a lot more expensive for the UK to reach its legally binding fifth carbon budget between 2028 and 2031 without BECCS.

A shared economic opportunity

Globally as many as 65 million well-paid jobs could be created through investment in clean energy systems. In the UK, BECCS and negative emissions are not just essential in preventing the impact of climate change but will also be a key component of a post-Covid economy.

Government and private investments in clean energy technologies can create thousands of well-paid jobs, new careers, education opportunities and upskill workforces. Developing BECCS at Drax Power Station, for example, would support around 17,000 jobs during the peak of construction in 2028, including roles in construction, local supply chains and the wider economy. It would also act as an anchor project for the Zero Carbon Humber initiative, which aims to create the world’s first net zero industrial cluster. Developing a carbon capture, usage, and storage (CCUS) and hydrogen industrial cluster could spearhead the creation and support of tens of thousands of jobs across the Humber region and more than 200,000 around the UK in 2039.

Under the Humber Bridge

Additional jobs would be supported and created throughout our international supply chain. This includes the rail, shipping and forestry industries that are integral to rural communities in the US South and Western Canada.

A global company

As a British-North American company, Drax embodies the positive impact that clean energy investments have. We directly employ 3,400 people in the US, Canada, and the UK, and indirectly support thousands of families through our supply chains on both sides of the Atlantic. Drax is strongly committed to supporting the communities where we operate by investing in local initiatives to support the environment, jobs, education, and skills.

From the working forests of the US South and Western Canada to the Yorkshire and Humber region, and Scotland, we have a world-leading ambition to be carbon negative by 2030. At Drax, we believe the challenge of climate change is an opportunity to improve the environment we live in. We have reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by over 80% and transformed into Europe’s largest decarbonisation project. Drax Power Station is the most advanced BECCS project in the world and we stand ready to invest in this cutting-edge carbon capture and removal technology. We can then share our expertise with the rest of the world – a world where major economies are committing to a net zero future and benefiting from a green economic recovery.

If we are to reach the targets set in Paris, global leaders must lock in this opportunity and make this the decade of delivery.

A net zero UK will be good for people and the planet

Peak district walker

For the UK to reach net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 and do its part in tackling the biggest challenge of our time, all sectors of the economy must reduce their emissions and do it quickly.

I believe the best approach to tackling climate change is through ‘co-benefit’ solutions: solutions that not only have a positive environmental impact, but that are economically progressive for society today and in the future through training, skills and job creation.

As an energy company, this task is especially important for Drax. We have a responsibility to future generations to innovate and use our engineering skills to deliver power that’s renewable, sustainable and that doesn’t come at a cost to the environment.

Our work on Zero Carbon Humber, in partnership with 11 other forward-thinking organisations, aims to deploy the negative emissions technology BECCS (bioenergy with carbon capture and storage), as well as CCUS (carbon capture, usage and storage) in industry and power, and ramp up hydrogen production as a low carbon fuel. These are all essential technologies in bringing the UK to net zero, but they are also innovative projects at scale that can benefit society and the lives of people in the Humber, and around the UK.

New jobs in a new sector

The Humber region has a proud history in heavy industries. What began as a thriving ship building hub has evolved to include chemicals, refining and steel manufacturing. However, these emissions-intensive industries have grown increasingly expensive to operate and many have left for countries where they can be run cheaper, leading to a decline in the Humber region.

If they are not decarbonised, these industries will face an even greater cost. By 2040, emitters could face billions of pounds per year in carbon taxes, making them less competitive and less attractive for international investment.

Deploying carbon capture and hydrogen are essential steps towards modernising these businesses and protecting up to 55,000 manufacturing and engineering jobs in the region.

Capturing carbon at Drax: Delivering jobs, clean growth and levelling up the Humber. Click to view executive summary and case studies from Vivid Economics report for Drax.

A report by Vivid Economics commissioned by Drax, found that carbon capture and hydrogen in the Humber could create and support almost 48,000 new jobs at the peak of the construction period in 2027 and provide thousands of long term, skilled jobs in the following decades.

As well as protecting people’s livelihoods, decarbonisation is also a matter of public health. In the Humber alone, higher air quality could save £148 million in avoided public health costs between 2040 and 2050.

I believe the UK is well position to rise to the challenge and lead the world in decarbonisation technology. There is a clear opportunity to export knowledge and skills to other countries embarking on their own decarbonisation journeys. BECCS alone could create many more jobs related to exporting the technology and operational know-how and deliver additional value for the economy. As interest in negative emissions grows around the world, the UK needs to move quickly to secure a competitive advantage.

A fairer economy

This is in many ways the start of a new sector in our economy – one that can offer new employment, earnings and economic growth. It comes at just the right time. Without intervention to spur a green recovery, the COVID-19 crisis risks subjecting long-term economic damage.

Being at the beginning of the industrial decarbonisation journey means we also have the power to shape this new industry in a way that spreads the benefits across the whole of the UK.

We’ve previously seen sector deals struck between the government and industry include equality measures. For example, the nuclear industry aims to count women as 40% of its employees by 2030, while offshore wind is committed to sourcing 60% of its supply chain from the UK.

Wind turbines at Bridlington, East Yorkshire

At present, the Humber region receives among the lowest levels of government investment in research and development in the UK, contributing to a pronounced skills gap among the workforce. In addition, almost 60% of construction workers across the wider Yorkshire and Humber region were furloughed as of August 2020.

A project such as Zero Carbon Humber could address this regional imbalance and offer skilled, long term jobs to local communities. That’s why I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement of £1bn investment to support the establishment of CCUS in the Humber and other ‘SuperPlaces’ around the UK.

As the Government’s Ten Point Plan says, CCUS can ‘help decarbonise our most challenging sectors, provide low carbon power and a pathway to negative emissions’. 

Healthier forests

The co-benefits of BECCS extend beyond our communities in the UK. We aim to become carbon negative by 2030 by removing our CO2 emissions from the atmosphere and abating emissions that might still exist on the UK’s path to net zero.

Background. Fir tree branch with dew drops on a blurred background of sunlight

This ambition will only be realised if the biomass we use continues to be sourced from sustainable forests that positively benefit the environment and the communities in which we and our suppliers operate.

Engineer working in turbine hall, Drax Power Station, North Yorkshire

Engineer working in turbine hall, Drax Power Station, North Yorkshire

I believe we must continuously improve our sustainability policy and seek to update it as new findings come to light. We can help ensure the UK’s biomass sourcing is led by the latest science, best practice and transparency, supporting healthy, biodiverse forests around the world; and even apply it internationally.

Global leadership

Delivering deep decarbonisation for the UK will require collaboration from industries, government and society. What we can achieve through large-scale projects like Zero Carbon Humber is more than just the vital issue of reduced emissions. It is also about creating jobs, protecting health and improving livelihoods.

These are more than just benefits, they are the makings of a future filled with opportunity for the Humber and for the UK’s Green Industrial Revolution.

By implementing the Ten Point Plan and publishing its National Determined Contributions (NDCs) ahead of COP26 in Glasgow next year, the UK continues to be an example to the world on climate action.

COP26: Will countries with the boldest climate policies reach their targets?

To tackle the climate crisis, global unity and collaboration are needed. This was in part the thinking behind the Paris Agreement. It set a clear, collective target negotiated at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference and signed the following year: to keep the increase in global average temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

In November 2021, COP26 will see many of the countries who first signed the Paris Agreement come together in Glasgow for the first ‘global stocktake’ of their environmental progress since its creation.

COP26 will take place at the SEC in Glasgow

Already delayed for a year as a result of the pandemic, COVID-19 and its effects on emissions is likely to be a key talking point. So too will progress towards not just the Paris Agreement goals but those of individual countries. Known as ‘National Determined Contributions’ (NDCs), these sit under the umbrella of the Paris Agreement goals and set out individual targets for individual countries.

With many countries still reeling from the effects of COVID-19, the question is: which countries are actually on track to meet them?

What are the goals?

The NDCs of each country represent its efforts and goals to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. These incorporate various targets, from decarbonisation and forestry to coastal preservation and financial aims.

While all countries need to reduce emissions to meet the Paris Agreement targets, not all have an equally sized task. The principle of differentiated responsibility acknowledges that countries have varying levels of emissions, capabilities and economic conditions.

The Universal Ecological Fund outlined the emissions breakdown of the top four emitters, showing that combined, they account for 56% of global greenhouse gas emissions. China is the largest emitter, responsible for 26.8%, followed by the US which contributes 13.1%. The European Union and its 28 member states account for nine per cent, while India is responsible for seven per cent of all emissions.

These nations have ambitious emissions goals, but are they on track to meet them?

China

Traffic jams in the rush hour in Shanghai Downtown, contribute to high emissions in China.

By 2030, China pledged to reach peak carbon dioxide (CO2), increase its non-fossil fuel share of energy supply to 20% and reduce the carbon intensity – the ratio between emissions of CO2 to the output of the economy – by 60% to 65% below 2005 levels.

COVID-19 has increased the uncertainty of the course of China’s emissions. Some projections show that emissions are likely to grow in the short term, before peaking and levelling out sometime between 2021 and 2025. However, according to the Climate Action Tracker it is also possible that China’s emissions have already peaked – specifically in 2019. China is expected to meet its non-fossil energy supply and carbon intensity pledges.

United States

The forecast for the second largest emitter, the US, has also been affected by the pandemic. Economic firm Rhodium Group has predicted that the US could see its emissions drop between 20% and 27% by 2025, meeting its target of reducing emissions by 26% to 28% below 2005 levels.

However, President Trump’s rolling back of Obama-era climate policies and regulations, his support of fossil fuels and withdrawal from the Paris Agreement (effective from as early as 4 November 2020), suggest any achievement may not be long-lasting.

The United States’ Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act, does not include any direct support to clean energy development – something that could also change in 2021.

European Union

CCUS Incubation Unit, Drax Power Station

Carl Clayton, Head of BECCS at Drax, inspects pipework in the CCUS area of Drax Power Station

The European Union and its member states, then including the UK, pledged to reduce emissions by at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 – a target the Climate Action Tracker estimates will be achieved. In fact, the EU is on track to cut emissions by 58% by 2030.

This progress is in part a result of a large package of measures adopted in 2018. These accelerated the emissions reductions, including national coal phase-out plans, increasing renewable energy and energy efficiency. The package also introduced legally binding annual emission limits for each member state within which they can set individual targets to meet the common goal.

The UK has not yet released an updated, independent NDC. However, it has announced a £350 million package designed to cut emissions in heavy industry and drive economic recovery from COVID-19. This includes £139 million earmarked to scale up hydrogen production, as well as carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, such as bioenergy with carbon capture (BECCS) – essential technologies in achieving net zero emissions by 2050 and protecting industrial regions.

India

India, the fourth largest global emitter, is set to meet its pledge to reduce its emissions intensity by 33% to 35% below 2005 levels and increase the non-fossil share of power generation to 40% by 2030. What’s more, the Central Electricity Agency has reported that 64% of India’s power could come from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030.

Wind turbines in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India

Along with increasingly renewable generation, the implementation of India’s National Smart Grid Mission aims to modernise and improve the efficiency of the country’s energy system.

It is promising that the world’s four largest emitters have plans in place and are making progress towards their decarbonisation goals. However, tackling climate change requires action from around the entire globe. In addition to NDCs, many countries have committed to, or have submitted statements of intent, to achieve net zero carbon emissions in the coming years.

Net zero target

CountryTarget Date Status
Bhutan 🇧🇹Currently carbon negative (and aiming for carbon neutrality as it develops; pledged towards the Paris Agreement)
Suriname 🇸🇷Currently carbon negative
Denmark 🇩🇰2050In law
France 🇫🇷2050In law
Germany 🇩🇪2050In law
Hungary 🇭🇺2050In law
New Zealand 🇳🇿2050In law
Scotland 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿2045In law
Sweden 🇸🇪2045In law
United Kingdom 🇬🇧2050In law
Bulgaria 🇧🇬2050Policy Position
Canada 🇨🇦2050Policy Position
Chile 🇨🇱2050In policy
China 🇨🇳2060Statement of intent
Costa Rica 🇨🇷2050Submitted to the UN
EU 🇪🇺2050Submitted to the UN
Fiji 🇫🇯2050Submitted to the UN
Finland 🇫🇮2035Coalition agreement
Iceland 🇮🇸2040Policy Position
Ireland 🇮🇪2050Coalition Agreement
Japan 🇯🇵2050Policy Position
Marshall Islands 🇲🇭2050Pledged towards the Paris Agreement
Netherlands 🇳🇱2050Policy Position
Norway 🇳🇴2050 in law, 2030 signal of intent
Portugal 🇵🇹2050Policy Position
Singapore 🇸🇬As soon as viable in the second half of the centurySubmitted to the UN
Slovakia 🇸🇰2050Policy Position
South Africa 🇿🇦2050Policy Position
South Korea 🇰🇷2050Policy Position
Spain 🇪🇸2050Draft Law
Switzerland 🇨🇭2050Policy Position
Uruguay 🇺🇾2030Contribution to the Paris Agreement

While the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted short-term plans, many see it as an opportunity to rejuvenate economies with sustainability in mind. COP26, as well as the global climate summit planned for December of this year, will likely see many countries lay out decarbonisation goals that benefit both people’s lives and the planet.

What is carbon dioxide?

What is CO2?

Carbon dioxide (or CO2) is a colourless and odourless naturally occurring gas in the earth’s atmosphere which is made up of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms.  As a greenhouse gas (GHG), it traps heat, making sure the planet isn’t uninhabitably cold. However, fast rising levels of CO2 and other long-lasting GHGs in the atmosphere are currently causing global warming to occur at an alarmingly rapid rate.

What is the carbon cycle?

Carbon is the basis of all life on earth – it is a key ingredient in almost everything on the planet. As the earth has a closed atmosphere, there has always been the same amount of carbon on the earth, but it is in a constant state of change, transitioning from gas to solid to liquid and moving between the atmosphere and the earth. This process is called the carbon cycle, and it is key to ensuring the earth is capable of sustaining life. CO2 forms one part of this process and makes up the largest available source of carbon on earth.

How is CO2 made?

Carbon is stored in oceans, soil, and living things and is released from this storage into the atmosphere in the form of CO2. CO2 is created when one carbon atom meets two oxygen atoms, which join together through a number of processes, including the decay of organic matter, the combustion of materials such as wood, coal and natural gas, through the breathing of humans and animals, and from events such as volcanic eruptions.

How does CO2 affect the planet?

An abundance of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere means more heat gets trapped, which in turn contributes to a rise in global temperatures and climate change. This acceleration in carbon entering the atmosphere began during the Industrial Revolution around the 1800s, when fossil fuels were mined and burned to create energy, which released long-stored carbon into the atmosphere in the form of CO2.

From the beginning of the Industrial Revolution until today, the amount of carbon in the atmosphere has increased from 280 parts per million, to 387 parts per million, which constitutes a 39% increase. Today, CO2 levels are the highest they’ve been in 800,000 years.

CO2 is created when one carbon atom meets two oxygen atoms, which join together when organic materials containing carbon are burned: wood, coal, and natural gas.

How can countries reduce CO2 in the atmosphere?

According to the Paris Climate Agreement, nations must work to limit warming of the globe to be well under two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. In the first half of 2015, the earth registered a one degree Celsius rise in global temperatures above pre-industrial levels, which means drastic and meaningful action must be taken to decarbonise within the next few years.

There are many ways to reduce the earth’s carbon footprint, including reforestation and using alternative ways to generate energy that don’t rely on fossil fuels. For example, wind, solar, biomass and hydro can all provide sustainable, carbon-neutral and low carbon sources of electricity.

Technology such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) can capture carbon permanently storing CO2 from industries in which some CO2 emissions remain. By combining CCUS with biomass energy (bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, or BECCS) it is even possible to generate negative emissions, where more CO2 is removed from the atmosphere than is emitted.

CO2 fast facts

  • In the 1960s, the growth of CO2 occurred at 0.6 parts per million per year. In the last 10 years, the rate has been 2.3 parts per million per year
  • The average human breathes out 93 kilograms of CO2 per year – however, our breathing only contributes 0.65 billion tonnes of carbon returned to the atmosphere, which is 0.01% of the amount released by fossil fuels each year
  • Trees absorb CO2 in the atmosphere and release it in the form of oxygen, making them vitally important in the world’s fight against climate change. In the US alone, forests absorb 13% of the nation’s carbon output

There are many ways to reduce the earth’s carbon footprint, including using alternative ways to generate power.

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What is climate change?

Climate change

What is climate change?

Climate change refers to the change in weather patterns and global temperature of the earth over long periods of time. In a modern context, climate change describes the rise of global temperatures that has been occurring since the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s.

What causes climate change?

While there have been natural fluctuations in the earth’s climate over previous millennia, scientists have found that current-day temperatures are rising quicker than ever due to the excessive amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gasses being released into the atmosphere.

Key climate crisis facts

An excess of CO2 in the atmosphere accentuates something called the ‘greenhouse effect’. As CO2 traps heat in the earth’s atmosphere, it warms the planet and causes a rise in average global temperature. International efforts, such as the Paris Climate Accords, are dedicated to ensuring temperatures do not rise 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, which could lead to catastrophic conditions on the planet.

In the modern context, climate change describes the rise of global temperatures occurring since the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s.

How do humans contribute to climate change?  

Industries such as transport, agriculture, energy and manufacturing have traditionally relied on the use of coal, oil and other fossil fuels. These fuels, when combusted or used, emit large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, further advancing the greenhouse effect and contributing to climate change.

Human reliance and consumption of these products mean today CO2 levels are the highest they’ve been in 800,000 years.

Why are rising temperatures harmful to the planet?

Our planet has a history of experiencing periods of extreme weather conditions – for example the last Ice Age, which finished 12,000 years ago. However, the rapid rise in temperatures seen today is harmful because a hotter planet completely affects our natural environment.

A steep rise in global temperature can melt ice sheets and cause higher sea levels which can, in turn, contribute to more extreme storms and even threaten entire islands and coastal communities. As the planet warms, extreme weather events, such as bushfires could become more common, which can destroy homes, impact agriculture and degrade air quality, while entire ecosystems, habitats and animal and insect species could also be threatened by climate change. 

What can be done to mitigate the effects of climate change?

Reducing CO2 emissions is a key way of slowing down the pace of climate change. To do so, industries across the global economy must decarbonise to become less dependent on fossil fuels, such as coal and petrol, and adopt new lower carbon energy sources.

Decarbonisation will rely on a number of factors, including a technological response that sees the development and implementation of carbon neutral and carbon negative ways of creating heat, electricity and fuels, including the use of innovations such as carbon capture and storage (CCS).

There is also a need for a policy and governmental response that promotes investment in new cleaner technologies and disincentivises dirtier industries through mechanisms like the carbon tax. Countries and economies will need to work collaboratively to achieve common, climate-oriented goals that will also enable smaller scale action to be taken by individuals around the world. 

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Button: What is the grid?

The science making new discoveries in forests

Weyerhaeuser tree nursery in the US South

Scientific research isn’t all test tubes and lab coats – sometimes it’s bark and soil. It might be a world away from the image of a sterile laboratory, but the world of forestry is one that has seen significant scientific progress since the 18th century, when it first emerged as an area of study.

The development of environmental sciences and ecology, as well as advances in biology and chemistry mean there are still new discoveries being made – from trees’ ability to ‘talk’ to each other through underground fungi networks, to forests’ positive impact on mental health.

Fostering greater awareness and understanding of fragile forest ecosystems such as the cypress swamps of the Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana, forestry has also allowed for the improvement of working forests — landscapes planted to grow wood for products and services that often avoid the use of fossil fuel-based alternatives.

Cypress forests in the Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana are an example of a forest landscape where the suitable management practice is protection, preservation and monitoring

Cypress forests in the Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana are an example of a forest landscape where the suitable management practice is protection, preservation and monitoring

By enhancing the genetic stock, tree breeding ensures seedlings and plants are better adapted to their environment (soil, water, temperature, nutrient level, etc.). Science can now help trees to grow more quickly, storing more carbon. It can also give trees better form — straighter trees can produce more saw-timber which can, in turn, lock more carbon in buildings made predominantly or partially of the natural, renewable product that wood is.

But more than just uncovering surprising insights into the ins and outs of our natural world, forestry science is contributing to a far bigger goal: tackling climate change.

The science of forests

When the scientific study of forests first emerged in 18th century Germany, it was with the aim of sustainability in mind. Industries were concerned forests wouldn’t be able to provide enough timber to meet demand, so research began into how to manage them responsibly.

Forestry today encompasses much more than just providing saw logs and the research going into it remains driven by the same goal: to ensure sustainability. Its breadth, however, has grown.

The UK Forestry Commission’s research and innovation strategy highlights the scope it should cover: “It must be forward-looking to anticipate long-term challenges, strategic to inform emerging policy issues, and technical to support new and more efficient forestry practices.”

Pine trees grown for planting in the forests of the US South where more carbon is stored and more wood inventory is grown each year than fibre is extracted for wood products such as biomass pellets

Being able to deliver on this breadth has relied on rapid advances in technology – including taking forestry research into space.

The technology teaching us about trees

As in almost every industry, one of the major drivers of change in forestry is data, and the ability to collect data from forests is getting more advanced.

At ground level, techniques like ‘sonic tomography’ allow foresters and researchers to ‘see’ inside trees using sound waves, measuring size, decay and overall health. This, in turn, offers a bigger picture of forests’ wellbeing.

At the other end of the scale, satellites and mapping technology are playing a major role in advancing a macro view of the world’s forests – particularly in how they change over time. As well as a potent tool in monitoring and helping fight deforestation, satellite images have revealed there is nine per cent more forest on earth than previously thought.

Space satellite with antenna and solar panels in space against the background of the earth. Image furnished by NASA.

The European Space Agency’s Earth Explorer programme will go a step further and use radar from satellites to penetrate the forest canopy, measuring tree trunks and branches rather than just the area covered by forest. Determining the volume of wood in forests around the planet will effectively enable researchers to ‘weigh’ the world’s forest biomass.

The masses of data these advances in tech are providing, is playing a major role in how we manage our forests, including how we can use them to fight global warming.

Taking on the climate crisis

Forests are one of the key defences against climate change – so much so they’re included in the Paris Agreement. Trees’ abilities to absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) has long been established knowledge. Thanks to what climate scientists call IAMs or integrated assessment models, we  now know how much they can extract from the atmosphere and how long they can continue to do so, as CO2 levels rise.

One optimistic hypothesis says trees will take in more CO2, as the levels rise. To test this, researchers in the UK are blasting controlled sections of a forest  with CO2 to increase its density by 40%, representing expected global levels by 2050. By tracking how trees react they hope to highlight the role they can play as carbon sinks.

Science also suggests they could not only help slow climate change, but actively fight it. The research considers that as well as absorbing CO2, trees are reported to emit gases that reflect sunlight back into space, ultimately contributing to global cooling.

However, planting more trees isn’t necessarily the only answer. In places experiencing drought such as the western US, thinning forests can reduce competition and allow healthier trees capable of absorbing more oxygen to flourish.

The increasing body of research on forests’ impact on climate change could prove vital in shaping both the forestry industry and national governments’ approaches forests. However, as a science, forestry could be considered to be in its infancy. At this crucial time for the planet’s future, forestry is becoming one of the most important environmental sciences, but a lot more attention, investment and research and development are required if we are able to fully understand and manage the world’s forest resources. We have barely scratched the surface.

End of coal generation at Drax Power Station

Coal picker, Drax Power Station, 2016

Drax Group plc
(“Drax” or the “Group”; Symbol:DRX)
RNS Number : 2747E

Following a comprehensive review of operations and discussions with National Grid, Ofgem and the UK Government, the Board of Drax has determined to end commercial coal generation at Drax Power Station in 2021 – ahead of the UK’s 2025 deadline.

Commercial coal generation is expected to end in March 2021, with formal closure of the coal units in September 2022 at the end of existing Capacity Market obligations.

Will Gardiner, Drax Group CEO, said:

“Ending the use of coal at Drax is a landmark in our continued efforts to transform the business and become a world-leading carbon negative company by 2030. Drax’s move away from coal began some years ago and I’m proud to say we’re going to finish the job well ahead of the Government’s 2025 deadline.

“By using sustainable biomass we have not only continued generating the secure power millions of homes and businesses rely on, we have also played a significant role in enabling the UK’s power system to decarbonise faster than any other in the world.

“Having pioneered ground-breaking biomass technology, we’re now planning to go further by using bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) to achieve our ambition of being carbon negative by 2030, making an even greater contribution to global efforts to tackle the climate crisis.

“Stopping using coal is the right decision for our business, our communities and the environment, but it will have an impact on some of our employees, which will be difficult for them and their families.

“In making the decision to stop using coal and to decarbonise the economy, it’s vital that the impact on people across the North is recognised and steps are taken to ensure that people have the skills needed for the new jobs of the future.”

Coal in front of biomass storage domes at Drax Power Station, 2016

Coal in front of biomass storage domes at Drax Power Station, 2016

Drax will shortly commence a consultation process with employees and trade unions with a view to ending coal operations. Under these proposals, commercial generation from coal will end in March 2021 but the two coal units will remain available to meet Capacity Market obligations until September 2022.

The closure of the two coal units is expected to involve one-off closure costs in the region of £25-35 million in the period to closure and to result in a reduction in operating costs at Drax Power Station of £25-35 million per year once complete. Drax also expects a reduction in jobs of between 200 and 230 from April 2021.

The carrying value of the fixed assets affected by closure was £240 million, in addition to £103 million of inventory at 31 December 2019, which Drax intends to use in the period up to 31 March 2021. The Group expects to treat all closure costs and any asset obsolescence charges as exceptional items in the Group’s financial statements. A further update on these items will be provided in the Group’s interim financial statements for the first half of 2020.

As part of the proposed coal closure programme the Group is implementing a broader review of operations at Drax Power Station. This review aims to support a safe, efficient and lower cost operating model which, alongside a reduction in biomass cost, positions Drax for long-term biomass generation following the end of the current renewable support mechanisms in March 2027.

While previously being an integral part of the Drax Power Station site and offering flexibility to the Group’s trading and operational performance, the long-term economics of coal generation remain challenging and in 2019 represented only three percent of the Group’s electricity production. In January 2020, Drax did not take a Capacity Market agreement for the period beyond September 2022 given the low clearing price.

Enquiries

Drax Investor Relations:
Mark Strafford
+44 (0) 7730 763 949

Media

Drax External Communications:
Ali Lewis
+44 (0) 7712 670 888

 

Website: www.drax.com/northamerica

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