News

The evidence is clear: the time for action is now. We can halve emissions by 2030

However, there is increasing evidence of climate action, said scientists in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released today.

Since 2010, there have been sustained decreases of up to 85% in the costs of solar and wind energy, and batteries. An increasing range of policies and laws have enhanced energy efficiency, reduced rates of deforestation and accelerated the deployment of renewable energy.

“We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now can secure a liveable future. We have the tools and know-how required to limit warming,” said IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee.  “I am encouraged by climate action being taken in many countries. There are policies, regulations and market instruments that are proving effective.  If these are scaled up and applied more widely and equitably, they can support deep emissions reductions and stimulate innovation.”

The Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC Working Group III report, Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of climate change was approved on April 4 2022by 195 member governments of the IPCC, through a virtual approval session that started on March 21. It is the third instalment of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), which will be completed this year.

We have options in all sectors to at least halve emissions by 2030

Limiting global warming will require major transitions in the energy sector. This will involve a substantial reduction in fossil fuel use, widespread electrification, improved energy efficiency, and use of alternative fuels (such as hydrogen).

“Having the right policies, infrastructure and technology in place to enable changes to our lifestyles and behaviour can result in a 40-70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This offers significant untapped potential,” said IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Priyadarshi Shukla. “The evidence also shows that these lifestyle changes can improve our health and wellbeing.”

Cities and other urban areas also offer significant opportunities for emissions reductions.  These can be achieved through lower energy consumption (such as by creating compact, walkable cities), electrification of transport in combination with low-emission energy sources, and enhanced carbon uptake and storage using nature. There are options for established, rapidly growing and new cities.

“We see examples of zero energy or zero-carbon buildings in almost all climates,” said IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Jim Skea. “Action in this decade is critical to capture the mitigation potential of buildings.”

Reducing emissions in industry will involve using materials more efficiently, reusing and recycling products and minimising waste. For basic materials, including steel, building materials and chemicals, low- to zero-greenhouse gas production processes are at their pilot to near-commercial stage.

This sector accounts for about a quarter of global emissions. Achieving net zero will be challenging and will require new production processes, low and zero emissions electricity, hydrogen, and, where necessary, carbon capture and storage.

Agriculture, forestry, and other land use can provide large-scale emissions reductions and also remove and store carbon dioxide at scale. However, land cannot compensate for delayed emissions reductions in other sectors.  Response options can benefit biodiversity, help us adapt to climate change, and secure livelihoods, food and water, and wood supplies.

The next few years are critical

In the scenarios we assessed, limiting warming to around 1.5°C (2.7°F) requires global greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025 at the latest, and be reduced by 43% by 2030; at the same time, methane would also need to be reduced by about a third. Even if we do this, it is almost inevitable that we will temporarily exceed this temperature threshold but could return to below it by the end of the century.

“It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F),” said Skea. “Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.”

The global temperature will stabilise when carbon dioxide emissions reach net zero. For 1.5°C (2.7°F), this means achieving net zero carbon dioxide emissions globally in the early 2050s; for 2°C (3.6°F), it is in the early 2070s.  

This assessment shows that limiting warming to around 2°C (3.6°F) still requires global greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025 at the latest, and be reduced by a quarter by 2030.

Closing investment gaps

The report looks beyond technologies and demonstrates that while financial flows are a factor of three to six times lower than levels needed by 2030 to limit warming to below 2°C (3.6°F), there is sufficient global capital and liquidity to close investment gaps. However, it relies on clear signalling from governments and the international community, including a stronger alignment of public sector finance and policy.

“Without taking into account the economic benefits of reduced adaptation costs or avoided climate impacts, global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would be just a few percentage points lower in 2050 if we take the actions necessary to limit warming to 2°C (3.6°F) or below, compared to maintaining current policies,” said Shukla.

Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

Accelerated and equitable climate action in mitigating and adapting to climate change impacts is critical to sustainable development.  Some response options can absorb and store carbon and, at the same time, help communities limit the impacts associated with climate change. For example, in cities, networks of parks and open spaces, wetlands and urban agriculture can reduce flood risk and reduce heat-island effects.

Mitigation in industry can reduce environmental impacts and increase employment and business opportunities. Electrification with renewables and shifts in public transport can enhance health, employment, and equity.

“Climate change is the result of more than a century of unsustainable energy and land use, lifestyles and patterns of consumption and production,” said Skea. “This report shows how taking action now can move us towards a fairer, more sustainable world.”  

Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The Working Group III report provides an updated global assessment of climate change mitigation progress and pledges, and examines the sources of global emissions.  It explains developments in emission reduction and mitigation efforts, assessing the impact of national climate pledges in relation to long-term emissions goals.

Working Group III introduces several new components in its latest report: One is a new chapter on the social aspects of mitigation, which explores the ‘demand side’, i.e. what drives consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.  This chapter is a partner to the sectoral chapters in the report, which explore the ‘supply side’ of climate change – what produces emissions. There is also a cross-sector chapter on mitigation options that cut across sectors, including carbon dioxide removal techniques. And there is a new chapter on innovation, technology development and transfer, which describes how a well-established innovation system at a national level, guided by well-designed policies, can contribute to mitigation, adaptation and achieving the sustainable development goals, while avoiding undesired consequences.

The Summary for Policymakers of the Working Group III contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) as well as additional materials and information are available at https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg3/

Food Skills Cymru – Sustainability Training with Lantra

The Food Skills Cymru programme delivered by Lantra aims to support Welsh businesses within the food and drink processing and manufacturing industry to upskill and train employees. As part of the project, Lantra worked in collaboration with sustainability experts from Cynnal Cymru and Eco Studio to develop a Sustainability Training Programme. The course was designed to “equip participants with the knowledge and skills… appropriate to their situation that address environmental management, sustainability and social impact.”

As Cynnal Cymru’s role in the project draws to a close, we are celebrating its positive impact upon Welsh businesses by sharing the following case studies:

At Cynnal Cymru, we offer a variety of training services. To find out more about our Carbon Literacy and Naturewise courses, visit our training page. If you are interested in Cynnal Cymru developing a bespoke course to suit your specific needs and requirements, please contact us via training@cynnalcymru.com.

Net Zero Industry Wales established to support decarbonisation of Welsh industry

The Welsh Government’s Programme for Government sets out a commitment to ensuring Wales becomes a Net Zero nation by 2050.

Due in large part to Wales’ industrial heritage within the steel, oil, gas and chemicals sectors in south Wales, Wales-based businesses are responsible for around 20% of the UK’s overall industrial and business carbon emissions – the majority of Welsh industrial and business carbon emissions can be directly attributed to companies along the M4 corridor.

Net Zero Industry Wales will work with an existing group of 40 business and academic partners operating within a wide range of energy-intensive industries to help them achieve Net Zero.

This will require an average annual reduction in Welsh emissions of 1.3 million tonnes of CO2e (from 2018 levels). 

The new body will have a number of short to medium term priorities, including:

  • enabling industry to explore new economic growth opportunities by becoming a world-leader in low-carbon manufacturing, playing to Wales’ existing strengths
  • support future development of a Circular Economy in Wales
  • stimulate and anchor new investments to create and retain high-skilled jobs
  • engage with stakeholders to support public and private investment.

The creation of Net Zero Industry Wales will help maximise the potential for stakeholder engagement, industrial participation, the drawdown of relevant UK Government funding, and ensure activities align to Welsh Government policy priorities. 

The Welsh Government will support the new body with £150,000 in support each year for the next three financial years.

To further support Wales to achieve Net Zero, later this year the Welsh Government will publish its Net Zero Skills Action Plan, which will set out how Ministers will support businesses to develop a green, skilled workforce.

The Minister announced the creation of Net Zero Industry Wales during a visit to TATA Steel in Port Talbot.

Minister for Economy, Vaughan Gething said:

Accelerating the decarbonisation of Welsh businesses and industry is crucial if we are to meet our ambitious net zero targets by 2050.

The creation of Net Zero Industry Wales is an important step forward to help deliver this transition, and underlines our commitment to support industry in south Wales to decarbonise.

I was with the Aerospace industry last week exploring the transfer of technologies to support decarbonisation in Wales and expect Net Zero Industry Wales to also act as a focus for this transfer across all our high value manufacturers.

Another important element is working in close collaboration with the UK’s other industrial clusters to ensure Wales has access to best practice.

Without this action, Wales and the UK will not achieve our net zero targets by 2050.

We recognise that we cannot deliver decarbonisation in Wales alone. Our goal is to work in partnership with the UK Government to ensure that Welsh businesses and industry have access to a wide range of support.

It is therefore critical that the tools available to businesses in Wales are fit-for-purpose and are flexible enough to recognise the complex industrial processes and challenges to be met.

Dr Chris Williams, Head of Industrial Decarbonisation at Industry Wales, said:

This announcement today is the product of many years of hard work by many Welsh companies, Governments, Universities and likeminded people who realised that to achieve a restorative and net zero economy in Wales we would have to work together to map out what is needed from every sector in Wales.

What we are working on isn’t about changing the industrial make up of Wales, it’s about innovating it, being ahead of the curve when it comes to decarbonisation to ensure that we keep these industries and jobs in Wales. It is also about examining opportunities to create exciting new industries in Wales, as well as revitalising and sustaining existing ones.

Wales has a long and rich industrial heritage, leading the way in the manufacturing and engineering revolution. Now we plan to be a leader of the green revolution and the creation of Net Zero Industry Wales is certainly going to help us achieve that in a more joined up and cohesive way.

Cynnal Cymru appoints three new trustees

The new trustees, Helen Westhead – ARUP, Edward Morgan – Castell Howell Foods and Chris Moreton – NHS Wales, bring a breadth of expertise from the commercial and public sector. Together they will be responsible for helping to shape and support Cynnal Cymru as we move towards our 20th anniversary year.

Helen, Ed and Chris officially joined the Board in December 2021 at a pivotal time as we develop our three-year strategy to continue expanding our services and supporting organisations to turn sustainability aims into action.

Our chair of the board Diane McCrea said:

We are delighted that Helen, Edward and Chris have joined our volunteer board of trustees. To recruit people of their talent, expertise and commitment to sustainable development, is a testament to the work that Cynnal Cymru does across Wales. Their skills and expertise will complement those of our current trustees, and together with our dynamic team, will help turn our sustainability aims for Wales into action.

Our Director, Sarah Hopkins, said:

The team at Cynnal are really pleased to welcome our new trustees to the Board. The Board plays a vital role in providing support and guidance to ensure our work continues to fulfil our charitable objectives whilst responding to market demand. We’re excited to work with them!

Helen Westhead

Helen leads the Environment team at Arup in Cardiff, delivering projects, policy and strategy to drive decarbonisation in response to the climate emergency. She works across discipline and sector boundaries, supporting a clients in Wales to deliver net zero.

Edward Morgan

Edward was raised on a farm in Carmarthenshire and has worked in the food sector all his career.

As Group CSR Manager at Castell Howell Foods, and sitting on other industry groups, he has a broad view on all aspects of supply chain sustainability.

Chris Moreton

Chris is a CIMA qualified finance leader working for NHS Wales with over 15 years’ experience spanning several sectors including financial services, technology, charities and the public sector. He has a keen interest in exploring the intersection between finance and sustainable development and actively promotes the role that finance professionals can play in enabling sustainable organisations.

Job opportunity – Living Wage programme officer

If you would like to join a committed and energetic team of sustainability specialists and you are interested in learning more then please get in touch. 

Please note that we are looking for candidate with at least experienced beginner level of Welsh.

Applications close on Sunday 20 March with interviews on Wednesday 30 March.


About Cynnal Cymru – Sustain Wales

Cynnal Cymru- Sustain Wales is a non-profit organisation providing advice, training and support services to help organisations turn sustainability aims into action.

We are the official partner of the Carbon Literacy Project in Wales and the Living Wage Foundation’s accreditation partner in Wales. Our teams of sustainability specialists work to support organisations across three core programme areas: (i) low carbon economy, (ii) natural environment and (iii) fair and just society.

The Living Wage

The real Living Wage is an independently calculated hourly rate based on the cost of living and announced each November during Living Wage Week, the annual celebration of a growing network of almost 9,000 Living Wage Employers in the UK.

The Living Wage Foundation and its partners in Wales and Scotland, celebrate employers that voluntarily choose to pay the real Living Wage through an accreditation scheme that recognises a long-term commitment to fair pay and has secured pay rises for over 300,000 low paid workers.

The number of accredited Living Wage organisations across Wales is growing and Welsh Government recognise the role of the real Living Wage as part of ensuring fair work for everyone in Wales. In 2021, we launched the Living Wage for Wales website.


How to apply

Please send your application to jobs@cynnalcymru.com by midnight on Sunday 20 March, including your:

  • Cover email
  • Application form
  • Equal opportunities form

Please note we do not accept CVs. Strictly no agencies.

The online interviews will take place during the week commencing Monday 21 March 2022.

Download:

Job Description

Application Form

Equal Opportunities Form

Free membership to The Something Club

The Something Club is an exciting new climate action community launched by Becca Clark and Hannah Garcia from Green Squirrel.

Launched during CoP26, The Something Club online community aims to help everyone do something meaningful about the climate crisis through building relationships and empowering individuals with knowledge and confidence to act.

Throughout its history, Cynnal Cymru has always built connections between different stakeholders who want to learn and act in a more sustainable way. We are proud to be one of the first organisations to sign-up to The Something Club and offer Cynnal Cymru Members and training course attendees* the opportunity to join The Something Club for free.

Becca Clarke, project co-founder at The Something Club, said:

‘We are so pleased to see The Something Club growing since our launch in November, it’s becoming the welcoming, supportive and useful community that we always hoped for. Every member brings a new perspective, a different set of skills and experience and we are thrilled to see our members already supporting and learning from each other on their climate action journeys. We can’t wait to welcome new Cynnal Cymru members!’

Sarah Hopkins, Executive Director at Cynnal Cymru, said:

“We are delighted to be amongst the first organisations to join The Something Club. We believe that everyone should have the means and opportunities to participate in the journey to net zero and that communities, businesses and third sector organisations have an essential role to play. We immediately loved the idea of The Something Club as it provides a space for everyone interested in climate change and aligns with our values of constant improvement, collaboration and inclusivity.

Two Exclusive offers:

Three months free for Cynnal Cymru Members.

One month free for Carbon Literacy or Nature Wise course attendees*.

If you are interested in either of the two offers, please contact abi@cynnalcymru.com to check your eligibility.

*You must have successfully completed a Carbon Literacy or Nature Wise course delivered by Cynnal Cymru – Sustain Wales.

About The Something Club

One of the main aims of The Something Club, is to fight the burnout and eco-anxiety that is commonly experienced by people involved in the climate and nature movement; a study carried out by the University of Bath found that 45% of young people feel that their feelings about climate change affect their daily lives. “Taking action looks different for everyone”, said Hannah Garcia, project co-founder. “For some people it means protesting or lobbying, for others it could be growing food, fixing stuff, working with children, something creative – but whatever we do, everyone needs the right support to keep going.”

Monthly membership is open to anyone and costs from £8.00 per month or £80 per year with free membership available for those who cannot afford to pay:

“All memberships work on a buy one, give one basis – for every paid subscription we provide a free membership for someone on a limited income, no questions asked. Tackling the climate crisis needs everyone, so everyone who wants to join, can.”

Membership provides access to all events including workshops, weekly coffee clubs and practical lunchtime learning sessions. Member can also access to a private community space where you can learn, connect and collaborate.

Upcoming events cover a range of topics from how to create a community foraging map to lunchtime learning on setting up a food coop.

Find out more by visiting The Something Club website.

Heat policy and advice – The future we need now

As noted in the first and the second post, and seen from recent news, heating our homes is a financial and social challenge for many. It is wrapped up in notions of fairness or lack of it, comfort and family, as well as the impact on the environment. Having moved from wood and coal to natural gas, heating our homes using gas boilers is still a major source of direct carbon dioxide emissions which in 2019 stood at 85 million tonnes, that’s 17% of total UK greenhouse gasses emissions. At 3.7 MtCO2e, the Residential Buildings sector accounted for 10% of Welsh emissions in 2019. Given how leaky and old houses are in Wales and the rest of the UK, it is no surprise we continuously feel cold while energy bills keep going up.

Decarbonisation of heat, that is removal of gas as its main fuel, is, therefore, one of the most important climate actions we can take. The UK Committee for Climate Changes noted that between now and 2050, emissions from residential buildings need to fall to zero at a rate of 3.4% per year based on current emission levels. But, as authors of The pathway to net-zero heating in the UK 2021 brief (UK Energy Research Centre) observed, the current pace of decarbonisation (largely due to efficiency programmes and regulation in the period 2002-2012), would get us to zero emissions from buildings in 235 years and fall far short of meeting the 2050 target.

Source: The pathway to net zero heating in the UK 2021 brief

Since the publication of the brief, there has been little progress in the UK with regards to decabonisation of heat. This month, the House of Commons Committee has issued a report setting out the considerable challenges that lie ahead in the transition to decarbonised domestic heating and makes recommendations about the steps which need to be taken for the Government to meet its own targets for the decarbonisation of domestic heating. It is one of those punchy reports full of data and evidence highlighting the slow and inadequate response of the UK central government in enabling decarbonisation. At the same time, the report offers hope and a fresh perspective on the matter of heat because it focuses on all aspects of heat discussed in this series.

On the eve of the report, Darren Jones, Chair of BEIS aptly noted that

As the Government decides on financial help for customers with the cost of their energy bills, they must also come forward with a replacement for the Green Homes Grant. Action is needed to improve insulation and energy efficiency in our homes and to step up the pace in delivering low carbon heating systems, at a lower cost to households than today. Ministers can’t simply leave this to the market – Government should tackle the cost of heating our homes in the round and bring forward joined-up policies that address these issues together. Decarbonising heat in our homes will require engineers who know how to install low carbon heating systems in every community across the country. The Government should work with industry and trade unions to support a low carbon heating apprenticeship programme and ensure existing workers get access to re-skilling courses that will support their transition to the new green jobs of the future.”

Although decarbonisation of heat is undoubtedly a complex process, the past developments (see the second post about the move from town to natural gas) tell us that socio-technological transitions can be made possible when multiple actors are fully mobilised. However, unlike earlier, the current transition is said to cost too much for taxpayers, the industry, and the government to muster. Does that mean that heat policy has hit the dead end? We do not think so. There is still hope to avoid multiple catastrophes if attention is paid to the physical, human, and environmental aspects of heat, as ignoring them will only derail any progress.

One important caveat though is that no geographical area is the same and so policies and national scenarios need to reflect that. For example, as part of the Zero2050 South Wales project, UKERC researchers worked with National Grid to investigate possible pathways for decarbonising heat in cities in South Wales, and noted that the share of different low carbon technologies under the same decarbonisation scenario is different for each city due to variations in housing stock and their characteristics in terms of the number of houses located in heat dense areas of the cities, and space availability of buildings.

What we have learned

Is it just about the technology? Is It about our habits? Feelings?  What can be done?

Here at Cynnal Cymru we recognise that technology alone really cannot solve all of the problems. It will solves some, but not all. We advocate that to reduce emissions and respond to climate change, policymakers need to engage businesses and communities to do their bit because knowledge and technology alone, however well delivered, does not shift behaviour. Knowledge and information campaigns work only if they are in tandem with initiatives that really engage the people most affected and allow them to see the changes that need to happen (for example in retrofitted ‘show homes’). In order to succeed, target audiences also need to trust those who are giving these messages and be able to see the benefits in making changes to their lives or their businesses. We also agree with the key message from commentators on this topic: first, insulation, then roll out of low carbon alternatives, while enabling (not just informing) the change in behaviour. Perhaps later other technologies can come in to support the decarbonisation. It is not one or the other, but rather more of many

This is why in our training, consultancy, and facilitation work we focus on actions, in particular, the steps organisations can take to enable others to do their bit. We also connect people with experts in their field, like the Active Building Centre, and point to information that can help.

Coming back to the question of what we can do about it

If you can afford insulation, do it immediately. The longer you leave it, the more heat you waste.  his might be easiest when thinking of renovating a house that you just bought or as part of a bigger home improvement project – but even if you find yourself in different circumstances, the benefits of action will outweigh the inconvenience.

If you cannot afford insulation you might be eligible for an ECO grant or localised grants. More information is available through Warm Wales.

If you are renting and you have no agency over insulation, check EPC standard for your home first because if it is low, you may ask your landlord to take new measures, or talk to council. Given that the report by the House of Commons Committee on decarbonisation of heat calls on Ministers to set out what measures are being considered to assist tenants who rent their homes in managing the transition to low carbon heating with their landlords, you may hopefully see changes in policy.

If you are working in the social housing sector, do not rely only on the provision of information to tenants to reduce energy consumption. Tenants need to be listened to, their concerns answered, and live examples of what’s possible through retrofit are needed in the community. If engaging your tenants in these conversations is challenging, consider reading the latest account by a journalist whose childhood was dominated by poverty, damp clothes, and stigma.

If you are a business and you are struggling paying bills, check the guidance by OFGEM as to what can be done immediately, but also use this challenge as an opportunity to plan your decarbonisation strategy.

If you would like to have a say about the Welsh Government’s proposals for the next iteration of the Warm Homes Programme, go to the cosultation page or attend workshops by National Energy Action (NEA) Cymru.

In closing we want to state our view: Nobody should feel cold and stigmatised for living in a leaky home and future generations should not be the ones fixing up the problem of heat. It is up to the current generation to fix this issue by calling on governments to deliver on their policies while doing all that’s in their power to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

To switch on the heating, or not? – a surprisingly complex question

On cold, wet and windy days a bike ride to work seems impossible. Damp shoes and clothes seem too much to contend with and wrapping up in a blanket on a Zoom call seems too unprofessional. Whether in the office or at home, the temptation to reach for the electric heater grows as the gas prices are rising and central heating under-performs. “To switch on the heating, or not” is the question that many people across the Northern hemisphere are asking themselves.

Here at Cynnal Cymru we recognise these challenges as we too battle between the need for comfort and the feeling of warmth versus our knowledge about climate change. We know from the 6th Carbon budget by the UK Climate Change Committee (CCC), that direct building CO₂ emissions were 85 MtCO₂ in 2019, which account for 17% of total UK GHG emission. This was mostly from our homes (77%), followed by commercial buildings (14%) and public buildings (9%). The reason behind these figures is simple – it is our demand for hot water and heating. 74% of this demand in buildings is met by natural gas, and 10% by petroleum, with smaller amounts of other fuels such as coal and biomass.

To reduce total emissions, the ways in which we heat and use our buildings must be addressed. Recommendations from the CCC include changing behaviour (use less, lower the temperature), increasing building efficiency (insulation), and introducing low carbon heat (air source or ground heat pumps, hydrogen, low carbon district heating etc). The topic of heat then sits at the core of what we at Cynnal Cymru care about, not just professionally but personally too.

Over the last few months, we took part in an unintentional social experiment, because the building we are located in was undergoing a renovation of its central heating. We wore our thickest jumpers, we made many hot drinks, and despite all efforts, eventually, we turned to the electric heaters knowing perfectly well their economic and environmental cost.

This lack of heat got us talking about comfort, habits, energy, renewables, ways to keep warm, and insulation. We knew well that to reduce carbon emissions and to protect future generations, we need to do our bit around heat –which, in reality, may well mean getting used to feeling colder while waiting for a zero-carbon alternative to arrive. But how might this impact on those other fundamental human feelings and needs – for warmth, security and comfort? And what does this mean for the changes that we need to make as a society?

To delve deeper into these questions – and to explore the challenges and opportunities that Wales faces for warm homes and decarbonisation – Dr Karolina Rucinska, our Sustainability Advisor, set out on a research journey that will be shared over the coming weeks. We start with the basics – what is heat?

Heat is moving

If you are grumbling about how cold your house is despite having the radiators on, it is because heat, if it can escape, will always do so. However hard you try, the hot stuff will eventually become cold because the world we live in is governed by the uncompromising laws of thermodynamics. ‘Heat in motion’, Chris Woodford explains in Atoms under the floorboards (2016, Bloomsbury Publishing), ‘is another way to describe thermodynamics, which explains things like how cars waste energy, why power stations need such stupendous cooling towers, why cows have damp noses and dogs dangle out their tongues – and even why Arctic musk oxen spend so much time standing still in the snow.’

While the first law is concerned with energy loss, the second law of thermodynamics is concerned with the movement of heat, always from hot to cold and never the other way round. So, cold stuff is simply the lack of heat, while heat is stuff that always wants to go where there is less of it. Sounds weird, but effectively this is what is happening in our homes. Heat moves around and is, as it were, always on the go, so to make your home cosy, you are effectively trying to heat up every atom in everything that is inside. This takes huge effort and of course energy. If you are using different heaters that store heat and give it away at different rates, then you might wait hours if not days to feel cosy, while all that heat continues to slosh around and move.

This physical side of heat points to one thing: if you want to keep your house cosy, you must insulate it. Without insulation, heat will always escape regardless of how you warm it up. Before you look up low carbon alternatives to your boiler, invest in insulation.

If only it was that easy….

The UK has some of the oldest and most leaky housing stock in Europe. According to the Independent review on decarbonising Welsh homes, 32% of the Welsh housing stock was built before 1919, when there were no construction standards in terms of thermal performance. Research by the Cardiff University School of Architecture showed that the average energy performance (EPC) rating of the Welsh housing stock is a ‘D’ rating*, which raises the incidences of fuel poverty. 43% of people living in private rented accommodation are living in houses built before 1919.

The Guardian reports that, nine in 10 households rely on gas boilers, and lots of gas boilers need lots of gas: UK households consume more of it than almost all of their European peers, at around twice the EU average. With the price of gas going up and energy companies going down, heating leaky homes feels wasteful if they continue to be not insulated well enough to counter that physical side of heat. Between 2012 and 2019 the number of home insulation installations actually dropped by 95%. National Energy Action (NEA), the national fuel poverty charity, has noted that at that rate it would take nearly a century to properly insulate all of the current fuel-poor homes in the country. The statistics are eye-opening indeed. They are clearly telling policy makers and businesses that to significantly reduce carbon emissions from buildings by 2050, actions have to be taken now. But there is something about heat that speaks not to reason and data, but to feeling, an embodied feeling.

Heat is us

Like houses, our bodies too are governed by thermodynamics. Heat escapes our bodies and even after vigorous exercise, we eventually cool down. We give away heat, which we feel immediately, and we want to do something about it, immediately. But we cannot wait years and decades until housing stock is less leaky. We can put on the warmest jumpers to almost insulate our bodies as we would with our houses, but nothing will stop us from eventually feeling cold again. At some point we will need to, despite all that we know about the costs of gas and leaky houses, warm ourselves up. We are all taking temporary and readily available solutions simply because it is cold.

The problem though is that the embodied feeling is not experienced, which in turn perhaps influences our motivation and ability to act, for ourselves and others. Illness, age, cardiovascular system, place, and even norms, as research suggests, dictate how our bodies experience heat or lack thereof. If you have had a disagreement with your family or co-workers about the “right” temperature settings, then you will know what I am talking about.

Heat is suddenly a societal thing. It unites us as well as divides us. How one experiences heat or the lack of it, and what one does about it, also reveals something, unknowingly, about us. Which is why, heating our homes or not, it is about us too. It is a personal, deeply private and emotional thing. As researchers, Erin Roberts and Karen Henwood, from Cardiff University observed, heating is not just about thermal performance of a house, but about thermal comfort. It evokes the feeling of belonging, of feeling safe, of feeling looked after. It brings up the good memories of being with a family and sadly, bad memories of coming home after school with radiators off because parents, often despite being in work, cannot afford high energy bills. Heating can then become, unfairly, a social stigma and a social divide.

Heat is incredibly complex then, as it touches on our most intimate and most sacred parts of our lives, lives which, just like our housing stock, are governed by laws of thermodynamics. Our attention to these laws and insights, or lack of it, will influence future heating actions and policy.

Over the coming weeks, we will be sharing a series of articles to explore the challenges and opportunities it poses for equality, decarbonisation and social transformation.

*Properties are given an energy-efficiency grade between A and G, with A being the best – i.e., most energy-efficient – and G being the worst.

Person with a mug staring into a window

When switching the heating on is still not an option for many

In 2019, 13.4% of households in the UK, that’s 3.8 million households, were classed as fuel poor. In Wales, households that spend more than 10% of their income on energy, would be referred to as fuel poor. The three main drivers behind fuel poverty are low incomes, the low energy efficiency of homes, and high energy prices. However, the picture is far more complex and challenging to analyse because, as research by Groves et al. suggests, fuel poverty is to with households being caught in between numerous disabling conditions. For example, households, where older people or people with disabilities live, may need to spend significantly more on space heating or on powering assistive technologies. Constraints on adaptability can also be because of the material fabric of homes. A lack of adequate insulation or of double glazing can significantly reduce the efficiency of heating systems, for instance. But constraints on households’ choices can also come from external conditions. These are often social in nature, such as the relationships between tenants and private landlords, or the use by utility companies of prepayment meters and higher tariffs for consumers on low incomes.   

Fuel poverty is not just about the inability to keep warm, but rather being unable to make a difference, which is the real issue here. People feel not just cold physically but they feel stigmatised. Heating and energy bills bring on anxiety, rather than comfort and cosiness. Providing households with information to reduce energy consumption are least likely to make an impact, this is because there are too many disabling conditions and therefore too much anxiety associated with this topic. 

To change one’s behaviour, there must be plenty of enabling conditions for the desired change to happen along with progressive policies. More on this point, in the third part of the All about heat series.  

Heat is environment  

Fur, wool, houses, wood and coal burners, warm food, and eventually central or district heating – these are the artifacts or, if you like, evidence of humans trying to stay warm. It is our history really – an epic effort to feel warm enough, to see while it is dark, and to put machines and cars into motion.   

In a brilliantly titled, Energies: An Illustrated Guide to the Biosphere and Civilization (1999, MIT Press), Vaclav Smil takes the reader on a journey through natural resources showing how they were used, what impact they had on the growth of cities, and environment. For example, pre-industrial civilisation depended on wood, straw, charcoal as raw materials to build houses and as material for smelting.  Here is how Smil described the scale of that demand. 

 “A large Wooden Age city in a colder climate (in Northern Europe or in North China) would have consumed at least 20–30 W/m2 of its built-up area, mainly for heating and cooking, and also for manufactures ranging from blacksmithing to firing of tiles. Consequently, the power density of sustainable forest growth in temperate climates was commonly equal to less than one and rarely more than 2 percent of the power density of urban energy consumption—and the cities required nearby areas anywhere between fifty to two hundred times their size to satisfy their thermal energy needs”. 

Throughout the centuries, the demand for the smelting of iron created many deforested landscapes. England’s early adoption of coke, Smil argued, is easy to understand: A single early eighteenth-century furnace consumed annually a circle of forest with a radius of about four kilometers.  He went on to say that, “if American ironmakers had not switched to coke after 1870, by 1900 they would have consumed annually enough forest to fill a square whose side would be the distance between Boston and Philadelphia”. 

But earlier centuries pale in comparison to the impact of coal and oil. The impact is to do not only with the emissions and pollution coming directly from the processes of extraction and burning, but it is also to do with the emission coming from all of the new sectors of industry and economy powered by the energy generated by coal, oil, and gas.

Domestic life has been transformed by gas and electricity, and it is really difficult to undo that transformation. As noted earlier, wearing lots of layers for long periods of time is not comfortable for us humans.  And yet, the idea of switching the heating and gas cooker on is relatively recent. No household would be able to do so, if the infrastructure was not built, or appropriate appliances were designed. In fact, in the 1960s the UK underwent an incredible project to convert appliances from town gas (manufactured gas from coal and oil) to natural gas (gas extracted from seabed and ground) and to fully establish it as a go-to solution for heating. The project involved converting 13.5 million domestic and 650 thousand commercial and industrial consumers and took 10 years to complete. Special training schools were established to train staff (engineers, installers, sellers, admin) to make the transition happen. It required incredible coordination, planning, and establishment of numerous organisations. The Office of the Budget Responsibility reports that moving 13 million properties to natural gas involved the 12 regional gas boards, parts of the industry (to make new appliances or the parts necessary to convert existing ones), contractors (to enter people’s homes and carry out the conversions), public relations (to sell the idea) and the public (to embrace it). The Government took a central coordinating role, with time nationalised Gas Council giving the state direct control of the required investment. It was not an easy project and as Stathis Arapostathis, Peter J.G. Pearson, and Timothy J. Foxon noted,  the conditions to change to different types of heating and regulatory regimes were enabled. So, to switch to low carbon heating alternatives or lower energy consumption, the processes must also be done such they enable everyone to do their bit. But, as the Office goes on to say, the costs of transitioning to net zero heat (heat pumps and hydrogen) are far greater than before.

In the next and the last post in this series, Dr Karolina Rucinska will turn to the role of policy in dealing with fuel poverty and decarbonisation before summing it all.

How the CLCC is breaking down barriers in climate education

Since its inception, 75 members have become trainers and 157 individuals have certified as carbon literate. CLCC’s Project Lead (Luke Penny) and Facilitator (Fiona Humphreys) were interviewed by Abi Hoare Development Officer at Cynnal Cymru to share the story behind the collaboration.

What is the CLCC?

Carbon Literacy Cartrefi Cymru (CLCC) is a consortium of 27 different housing associations in Wales, which have individually contributed resources to increase Carbon Literacy throughout Welsh social housing.

Through peer-to-peer delivery, the project provides the tools necessary for individual tenants to understand the causes and consequences of climate change, as well as empower them to act upon their choices. At the close of 2021, 75 trainers were involved, and 157 individuals had been certified as Carbon Literate, even though most independent courses weren’t due to start until 2022.

What is a consortium?

Effectively, a consortium is a formal collaboration, where people work together to achieve a common objective. In this instance, the common objective is to certify as many Carbon Literate individuals as possible within housing associations – both staff and tenants.

How does it work?

Each of the housing associations involved have contributed resources to fund the development of Carbon Literacy delivery within their individual organisations. Currently, 75 staff members have attended Cynnal Cymru’s ‘Train the Trainer’ course to support their teaching.

Even though the delivery is down to the trainer’s own discretion, participants will typically receive a day’s worth of virtual peer-to-peer learning, before submitting an evidence form to become certified. This will feature two pledges that will have a positive effect on carbon reduction at home and in their workplace/ with a group.

What is its main advantage?

Firstly, it removes the ‘us and them’ narrative that dampens climate activism and makes it inaccessible. One of the difficulties with climate change discourse, is that it’s difficult to know where to start if you have no formal education.

By providing Carbon Literacy training through housing associations, the course can give individuals the starting block they need that they may not have had the time, money, or knowledge to access otherwise.

How has working in collaboration increased action on Carbon Literacy?

In simple terms, by training new trainers, more individuals can take part in the Carbon Literacy Project than before. Not to mention, the resulting network and Communities of Practice are providing moral support that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.

The energy and excitement of the CLCC’s trainers is what makes all the difference, so having a safe space to share experiences and challenges has helped significantly.

What role does Cynnal Cymru play in the consortium?

Cynnal Cymru acts purely within a secretariat and facilitator role. It has no specific requirements within the project, besides its initial creation and providing the necessary tools and support. What housing associations and trainers choose to do with Carbon Literacy beyond that is entirely their own decision.

What’s next for the CLCC?

A second version of the course is currently in development based upon the feedback received in the Communities of Practice, but the next big step is translating the course and delivering it entirely in Welsh.

In time, there is the possibility of starting new Carbon Literacy consortiums in different sectors or industries where Cynnal Cymru are available to offer that inception and on-going support role.

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