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‘We’ve got the whole world in our hands’ - My COP26 Journey

By Soulla Paphitis, Software Solutions Manager at Danfoss

Never in my lifetime has the climate change agenda been so prevalent to every single breathing and living creature on our plant. The widespread impact that the rising temperature change has on our land, plants and oceans has dangerous repercussion to the way of life as we know it today. Now is the time that every individual person looked at themselves in the mirror and decided to make even the slightest change in their behaviour, whether that be a mental or physical change in their belief or action towards the climate emergency if every single human being took on some responsibility, we could reach those ever-important targets and build a better future for our generations to come. We really do all have the whole world in our hands’ and it is up to all of us to do something about it.

COP26 has outlined several important factors for the survival of our planet and species, but I cannot help thinking that once the hype has died down, so will the enthusiasm of the people who have come in their thousands over the last few days and weeks to visit the vast number of events and discussions that have taken place. What a tragedy it would be for us all if the world leaders are the only people left accountable to take action.

Let’s start with Policy!

What is policy? In its most simplistic term policy is a course or principle of action adopted or proposed by an organization or individual and is implemented as a procedure or protocol. So why is this so important to us and why should we start there?

Simple really, Policy will drive change. We need change now and we need everyone to play their part so the most impactful way of doing this is to drive new green policies forward. Each individual business and organisation can and should write and follow their own Green policy. Governments worldwide have outlined Green policies that industries and general population will be governed by, UK policies include; Heat & Building strategy, Transport Decarbonisation roadmaps, Environmental Bill, Resources & Waste Strategy, Pension Bill, Net Zero roadmap, Sixth Carbon Budget.

Each of these policies have their own part to play and in some ways are all interlinked together, although some are still being written or rewritten and have not been fully published, it is a step in the right direction. It is important to remember government and Policy will only take us so far, so it would then be right for everyday people to think they can have no effect on the decisions being made, so how would the average person really make a difference. This also raises a question in the ambitions and desires of different generations. Let’s be honest it is our inherent nature to dislike change, so asking someone of a mature age to change today what he or she has always done is probably one of our toughest challenges to face. Do we then look to our younger and future generations to follow through the changes needed? How do we empower our young people to do better than we have done?

We cannot all be Greta Thunberg!

Nor should every young person aspire to be, what we should be doing is encouraging our younger people to develop skills and passions and to become our future leaders, to bring around the changes that are needed, to support our planets regrowth bigger, better, and greener than before. During a session in the Green zone a powerful message was delivered by One young world that every young person has a voice and a place to make a difference. The session focused on how every single young person can drive policy and deliver a better future. One of the most powerful things I took from this session was ‘7 generations. What do we need to do now for the people 7 generations ahead? If I am honest, I have only ever really looked at anything maybe 2 or 3 generations in the future, my children’s, children, 50-60 years from now. So is it realistic to be thinking 150-200 years in the future? Possibly if 7 generations ago they had been thinking of us our planet would be a different place. But then we are talking the industrial revolution which was key to our industry and country developing as a world leader. It’s hard to really say what was or is right from wrong just that we cannot now change the past, but we can focus on a brighter future. It was so refreshing to see how many young people attended COP26, walking around the green zone every generation was well represented, children as young as 4/5 were asking questions and displaying homemade banners and T-shirts demanding us to protect their future. All around Glasgow businesses and organisations were hosting events to prove that they really are taking Climate change seriously, the Clyde project was represented by so many people and with just reason as it really is innovative and forward thinking.

What exactly is the Clyde Mission......?

The mission is to make the Clyde an engine of inclusivity & sustainability for Glasgow city central, the region and Scotland. It is a holistic approach to energy led by Scottish government to drive public and private sector to be innovative in their approach, to tackle poverty and build resilience, the scheme is intended to research and prove technology that can be replicated across the UK and worldwide.

Clyde Gateway is an urban regeneration company focused on driving the change we want to see, a community lead focus, providing new homes on vacant and derelict land and creating permanent much needed jobs for the area. A green regeneration project in the district where ‘people, place and community’ really do matter.

The Clyde itself run’s 106 miles but the mission focuses on around 38 miles from Clyde Gateway to Dunoon, the natural tidal energy will be harnessed through heat exchangers and then transferred through heat pump technology providing green, clean and carbon neutral energy. From a design perspective there will need to be points along the riverbed that are selected for the maximum transferable energy, this innovative solution uses one of our planets natural resources and is effectively free energy. The Clyde alone will not provide all the energy required to heat the large population in Glasgow city but with the other industrial buildings emitting waste heat such as the local brewery, the newly purpose-built recycling centre and the extracted heat from the sewerage project being run by Scottish Water Glasgow’s Heat really can be green and plentiful for all.

Energy from Waste

For some time now I have been interested in how we can capture waste heat and harness this for heat demand, at the Scottish enterprise event I was interested to hear about Scottish Waters projects extracting heat from Sewer systems, with over 53,000 km of pipe connecting over 90% of properties there really is a great opportunity to harness this energy to heat every single home in Scotland! Yes, that’s right enough energy to heat EVERY home! Energy transfer from the sewers into a Heat exchanger Substation can provide ambient temperature water (30 degree) into a Heat pump which connected to a heat network can provide this carbon free energy. Scottish water has existing projects, like Stirling Heat Network, which is projected to save 381 tonnes of carbon annually and providing around a 10% energy saving to connected end users. There is also Boarders college, in association with SHARC Energy Systems, which has a wastewater heat recovery plant that has saved almost 400 tonnes of carbon since being commissioned, equating to around 30% of the colleges CO2 emissions, really proving the benefit of this green technology.

Heat from the underground

I attended several different discussions focused around extracting heat from old mines using geothermal properties of the land beneath our feet. D2 Grids is a Consortium of different businesses and association including Clyde Gateway Developments who are implementing 5 demonstrators in Paris-Saclay (FR), Bochum (GE), Brunssum (NL), Glasgow and Nottingham (UK). D2Grids will also prepare similar developments in Parkstad Limburg, North-East France, Flanders, the Ruhr region, Scotland and the East Midlands.

Scottish Enterprise’s seminar focused on the research undertaken by, University of Strathclyde, presented by Professor Zoe Shipton, Zoe gave a great insight into how the technology works, the pros and cons surrounding the use of this natural resource and the importance of connecting this to a heat network. Earlier in the day’s presentations David Townsend, from Town Rock Energy Ltd also gave an insightful presentation on geothermal technology and what his business is doing to support projects around the UK. He focused on the Hotscot project which aims to deliver an equivalent economic growth of £303 million. His shared learnt experiences good and bad and his passion to minimise the energy industry’s negative impact on the environment supporting affordable, sustainable and safe methods of non-fossil low carbon energy generation to help mitigate climate change.

Shouldn’t everyone take part?

This is what I feel COP26 did well, it wasn’t just a focus on the energy sector but on all our key sectors of industry and finance. For climate action to take place every single human being, business, enterprise and industry must all be singing the same song. This is an enormous challenge but there are actions we can take to help.

Discussions around the Finance sectors, from a global scale where UK Government has pledged to contribute over £11.6 billion to help bring poorer countries forward with their climate actions by 2026, to the solutions available for the average homeowner by way of a Green Mortgage. We still need a great deal of work on investment strategies to help finance projects, to develop, research and implement green technologies and to help all homeowners and building operators move from fossil fuels to green energy systems, but it is evident we are taking steps in the right direction.

Garment Industries have a large part to play in the carbon reduction of producing the material and latest Fashion pieces we all crave after. This industry accounts for around 4% of the worlds carbon emissions at around 2.1 billion tonnes of CO2. In order to help reach the 1.5-degree target there is a call for this industry alone to cut 1.1 Billion tonnes by 2030. With over 21% of this saving needing to come from consumer behaviour. If consumer follow the use and reuse model creating a vast circular economy through rental, resale, recycling there is a potential saving of around 347 million tonnes of C02 by 2030. This is a staggering statistic around 350,000 tonnes of clothes with an estimate of £140 million goes to landfills every year in the UK!

The UK retail industry contributes approximately 215 tonnes of C02 through the lifecycle footprint of goods sold annually, additionally to this add the impact of vehicle fuel sales of around 50 tonnes of C02 takes Retail’s contribution to around 30% of UK emissions. Retail must change the way they manufacture, distribute and market products, industry need to tackle their process and implement new ways of working and the energy sector need to continue to innovate and drive green technology forward. All these topics were covered in seminars and discussions across the green zones 2-week event.

Helping everyone eat better

Large retail giant Sainsbury’s hosted a discussion on what they are doing to change the way they source, distribute and market their brand, talk of using sustainable produce, removing unnecessary packaging from products on the shelves, working closely with agriculture, developing better farming techniques to create a circular economy, and looking at their impact on the environment by way of the energy usage from lighting to heat. It’s clear that the climate emergency is a big part of the way they conduct their business today.

The main message was around our behaviours and typical baskets where the drive is for consumers to add ‘more plant to our plate’ with a growing number of people moving towards vegetarian and vegan diets the reduction in methane gas from animal rearing and increase in green crops there is a more neutral aspect to our effect on greenhouse gasses to feed the ever-growing population. Through research and studies Sainsbury’s found the average family have a maximum of 6 recipes they use in a constant rotation, and that 3 in every 10 children are clinically obese, to tackle this movements like the colour coded labelling have been implemented and the policy to remove all sugar items from near the till areas to stop impulse buying will be enforced by mid-2022. Over 9.5 million tonnes of food are wasted every year equating to around 25 million tonnes of C02, so changing our diets and food habits really can save the planet! However, one thing that still concerns me is the cost around doing this. Most families live on a shoestring budget and buy the products they can afford, driving change must be commercially and financially achievable for the average person not just for those who can afford to eat well!

Climate change or Climate Justice?

It seems that the focus at COP26 was not Climate change but climate justice. In all activities, seminars, discussions Climate justice was the Buzz phrase and just about everyone had a view or opinion to share. There is a saying "As one person I cannot change the world, but I can change the world of one person." and another “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples” so it makes sense that as individuals we feel helpless or that our contribution would never be enough, the beginning of both those statements tells us so, but let’s focus on the second part of those statements. Does changing one person’s world not sound rewarding enough? If everyone you know could change another person’s world and they then helped another, the ripple effect described in the second statement becomes universal and infinite.

This is just a simple part of what Climate justice looks like from an individual perspective, simple acts like turning down the thermostat in our homes, driving our cars more efficiently, wasting less food and fashion, reuse, reduce, recycle. Every one of those simple acts can change the devastating effect of Global warming. We alone cannot fix the devastation climate change will have on our planet, but we can begin to make ripples across the water, stand up and be noticed for giving it our best effort.

As an industry we need to be responsible for optimising our existing buildings, using Green clean energy sources, developing pioneering technologies for the future, giving our younger generations a voice, diversifying our work force and putting gender equality at the forefront of everything we do.

When we talk about tackling our climate its easy to get lost in bountiful text, research, technology and the overwhelming complexity of what lays ahead, but I wanted to just outline some key points that really have impacted me through my COP26 Journey.

  • Finance is the oxygen for innovation, Income is the key to everything; we need to incentivise the right changes and bring everyone along on the journey.

  • Grow our younger generation into inspiring leaders, growth comes from fresh eyes & minds that will aid a generation of people to believe in a better tomorrow.

  • Data is Key, the more we know the more we can affect. Only once we truly understand can we effectively solve the problems of today.

  • There is no life on a dead planet! Failure is simply not an option.

  • Every man, women, and child regardless of race, creed or culture has a right to live in a safe comfortable environment, they also have an obligation to be a part of the solution, to stand tall, take accountability and change what is within their ability to change.

  • World leaders must commit to change and drive legislation and policy to deliver the treaty on 1.5 degrees.

  • Media need to contribute to the positivity of change and help bring the general public along the journey, they have so much more power than most businesses, industries and activists have combined.

  • Fair Gender representation, statistically 75% of all blue zone delegates were male! 22 of the richest men in the world have more wealth than every single African woman combined. Astounding!

  • 99% of the world is owned by very few of the wealthiest people who have the money and power to make the changes needed today but don’t, why...?

  • Education is the Key to everything, read books, ask questions, grow your minds, power and success will follow.

My Journey to Scotland has come to an end but the passion to make an impact and change just the little things, has been ignited beyond my expectations. I am so fortunate to work in a role that allows me to help others make changes to contribute that little bit more to building a better future. Through AI technology we can bring our old buildings into tomorrow, make them ready to connect to Heat networks designed on lower temperatures using the best technology and products available. Through monitoring and understanding our buildings and networks we can help tackle the 40% reduction in energy-related emissions we need to fully achieve international climate and energy goals.

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