Net Zero - Why is my beach still dirty?

Net Zero - Why is my beach still dirty?

Net zero - is it a mirage?  In this short blog I make an analogy between a company's net zero carbon targets and a beach cafe trying to keep litter off their beach.

Imagine a cafe on a sunny beach next to a warm turquoise sea.  It sells burgers and chips, soft drinks and cigarettes.  It grows vegetables in a small fenced garden at the back.

Companies like Google, Dell and BSkyB have set net zero targets for their own direct operational emissions. This is like the beach cafe composting the waste from its vegetable garden and recycling the cans of soft drinks that its customers drink on the premises.  It does what it can within its own direct control.

However, the beach is still dirty.

Companies like BP and Scottish Water have set net zero targets which include their supply chain.  This is like the beach cafe carefully sorting, reusing or recycling all the packaging that the burgers and soft drinks come in.  However, there will always be some waste which goes to landfill which is the equivalent of companies offsetting their residual carbon emissions.

However, the beach is still dirty.

Companies like DSM and Unilever go one step further and consider the impact from customers who buy their products.  Here, the cafe installs waste recycling bins for their take-away customers to use and, at the end of each day, the staff pick up any litter from the beach which has originated from their premises, including cigarette butts.

However, the beach is still dirty. 

Microsoft has announced that it will offset all its historical emissions from the date it was formed.  Similarly, the cafe pays a contractor to dig up and sift through the sand to remove buried rubbish, some many years old.

So why is the beach still dirty?

Each day the wind and tide washes in new litter from the sea.  In the same way Government (and UN) net zero targets exclude emissions from imported goods.  The only way to tackle this is to reach out to other stakeholders - fishermen, boat rental companies, the water utilities and neighbouring cafes - and then to act together.

Patagonia, the outdoor clothing company, believes that it is the duty of businesses not just to protect the environment but to restore it.  Only in this way will we have clean beaches.  In the same way companies and countries need to work together to tackle carbon emissions.

Carbon Choices

If you have enjoyed this blog, you might enjoy my book, Carbon Choices on the common sense solutions to our climate and nature crises.

What on Earth is COP26?

What on Earth is COP26?

You will be hearing a lot in the run up to COP26 in November.  But what exactly is it?  In this blog I will explain all in as few words as possible.

COP26 is the 26th global climate conference run by the United Nations.  It is being hosted by the UK and held in Glasgow, Scotland between 1 and 12 November 2021.  It will be the largest ever international conference held in the UK, hosting up to 30,000 climate experts, negotiators, heads of state, media and observer organisations from over 200 countries - if Covid regulations allow. COP stands for 'conference of the parties' where the 'parties' are international governments.  Fundamentally, COP26 is the setting for the world's most complex international negotiations.

The first COP took place in 1995 and have been held on a near annual basis ever since, with more significant meetings held every 5 years.  At Kyoto (COP3, 1997) the world's first legally binding climate targets were agreed but were limited and ineffectual.  In Copenhagen (COP15, 2015) countries failed to reach any meaningful agreement, yet at Paris (COP21, 2015) a comprehensive agreement was reached for the first time.  Countries agreed to limit global warming to 2oC, and to "purse efforts" to limit it to 1.50C.

Each country agreed to set their own carbon target through their "Nationally Determined Contribution".  Broadly this has been achieved, but the targets set are not sufficient to reduce global warming to 2oC.  Countries also promised to review and tighten these targets every 5 years.  Of course, the USA then withdrew from this agreement, then rejoined this year.  Alongside China's announcement of a net zero 2060 target, this has raised expectations for further global progress.

At COP24 an outline rulebook was established to implement the Paris Agreement, then at COP25 rules for a market mechanism to trade emission reductions were  proposed.  COP26 is crucial as it will complete and implement what was agreed at Paris and hopefully establish a stronger collaborative framework for businesses to play a key part in addressing global emissions.  The negotiators will discuss complicated and contentious areas such as finance to help developing countries, will agree the rulebook noted above, rules for offsetting such as planting trees and will ask countries to set longer term strategies.  Countries should also set more ambitious targets in the lead up to COP26 under the first 5 year cycle of review and upgrade.

The event itself comprises two parts.  The 'blue zone' is the official UN area on the banks of the River Clyde comprising the main Scottish Event Campus exhibition halls, the SEC Armadillo auditorium and the SSE Hydro arena.  Across the river is the 'green zone' centred on the Science Centre. This space is managed by the UK Government and will host country pavilions, commercial exhibition space and events.  The Scottish Government has no official status at COP26, but will work with other state and regional governments to influence the negotiators and will clearly want to showcase Scotland's climate credentials.  Businesses, cities and regions may wish to sign up to the UN backed 'Race to Zero' campaign.  In addition, a whole host of side events will then occur across Glasgow and beyond. 

The UK has an advanced programme of Covid vaccinations - over half of adults had been given a vaccination by end of March.  However, there will be concerns over reintroducing Covid to the UK so it is likely that some of the conference, and side events, will be online. 

I have applied to Glasgow City Council to be a volunteer at COP26.  Watch this space!

Carbon Choices

If you have enjoyed this blog, you might enjoy my book, Carbon Choices on the common sense solutions to our climate and nature crises.

Trialling Electric Bikes

Trialling Electric Bikes

My experience of trialling an electric bikes for a week's holiday during covid lockdown.  Where we went, our experience of the bikes, the environmental impact and technical details follow below.

Day 1: Tim and Dave from Dunblane Development Trust showed my wife and I our bikes then took us for a test 'spin' round the local streets.  First impression - heavy, but zippy up hills. My wife and I then cycled round our local countryside on the back roads, generally sticking to 'eco' mode or even switching the electric power off!  As regular cyclists, this power boost feels like cheating!

Day 2: Headed east from Dunblane to Braco and Gleneagles.  Overtook some regular cyclists on the first hill, but rather than 'gloating' I felt a bit embarrassed.  Will have to get over this!  Stopped for a picnic coffee in amidst the whisky barrels of Tullibardine Distillery, then enjoyed the power 'normal' for the hilly Sheriffmuir road on our return.  The bikes come into their own on up hills and against the wind. On the flat and downhill, the motor power is restricted to 15.5mph so they are of limited benefit.

Day 3: A longer day cycle across the Carse of Stirling, to Fintry.  Although we have lived in this area for 30 years we discovered some interesting new back roads with no traffic, and some potholes. Saw buzzards and a stoat and the windfarm above Fintry - one turbine is owned by the local community.   Did 46 miles, with 38% charge remaining albeit we used 'eco' most of the way out, then more power as we got tired on the way back.  Back home, recharging takes less than 3 hours.

Day 4: Rather saddle sore from yesterday, so I am sorry to say, we reverted to using a car (4 people) to go for a walk in the Stirling countryside.

Day 5: 43 miles, Dunblane to Braco, past Muthill, River Earn, Comrie and return. Watched buzzards and red kites soaring above us and lenticular clouds against a blue sky.  Used 'eco' on the flat and 'normal' mode up hills which made the cycle easier than day 3.

Day 6: Afternoon cycle along the old railway line to Doune, then up towards the Doune windfarm. Walked up to the turbines - a magnificent sight close up.  Superb views to snow patches on Ben Ledi and the Ochills. Used 'high' mode for the first time on the steep ascent - there is no way I would come here on a pedal bike.   

Day 7: 38 miles today.  Did my pre-covid commute Dunblane to Stirling in 27 minutes - exactly the time I used to take on my pedal bike!  Of course, today I arrived without sweating, and the electric bike will be quicker on the way home with more up hill.  So, on the flat the electric bike is no faster than a pedal bike, and is annoyingly heavy.  The only advantage would be if there is a head wind.  Continued past Cambusbarron and over the high moorland road to Carron Valley - another route I would normally avoid. 

The Environment:

In our case, we had a week's holiday, and normally we would drive somewhere most days, most likely to then go for a walk. So we probably 'saved' 300 or more miles of driving.  We used our car on only one day this week.  The electricity to recharge the batteries used is negligible.  The bikes are heavy and this obviously requires resources to manufacture, but of more concern is the lithium-ion battery which are energy intensive to manufacture - but this is less of an issue if the battery lasts for many years.  Mining of lithium also has an adverse environmental impact.  I can see electric bikes replacing some car journeys, but the real environmental benefit would arise if people choose to use an electric bike rather than own a car at all.  Some people will do this, but I suspect not that many.  Conversely, some might still own a car (or two), a road bike, a mountain bike and then buy an electric bike on top in which case there will be no environmental benefit!


Ridgeback cyclone, pedelec motor, battery on frame, 20kg weight and Ridgeback electron, battery above back tyre, 25kg (this bike is too heavy and too much weight at the back for easy cornering).  The bikes have 4 power modes - 'off', 'eco', 'normal' and 'high'.


Lithium-ion 418Wh batteries (weigh 2 kg). 170 watts for 3 hours.  0.5kw to fully recharge, perhaps 5 or 6 pence, giving an electricity running cost of 0.17per mile.  Compare that to a fuel efficient petrol car of around 10 per mile; makes the bike 60 times cheaper to run per mile!


We loaned the bikes for a nominal charge from Dunblane Development Trust who got them from the Energy Savings Trust and other low carbon funds.  These bikes would cost over £2,000 new.  There is a wide range of bikes and prices on the market, some are lighter, but even more expensive.  The Energy Savings Trust offers interest free loans to buy electric bikes, whilst the UK government offers a generous Cycle to Work scheme which companies can opt into.  Employees can then buy bikes free of income tax, if they are at least nominally to be used partially for work or commuting purposes.


First impression is that the bikes are heavy and that is a problem.  On the flat I would rather be on a regular bike. They are difficult to manoeuvre and would be difficult to lift onto a car bike rack for wider leisure purposes.  For commuting on the flat there is little benefit and their weight might frustrate a regular, fit cyclist.  We didn't use them for shopping as we either need a car for a big weekly shop or walk to the local shops.

So in summary, they are brilliant going up hills, and would be good for commuting if you don't want to arrive sweaty - but you will still gain from some exercise.  We really enjoyed them on hilly leisure routes that we normally avoid.  Also good for people who are older, less fit or perhaps have knee pain or a respiratory concern.   For social cycling they could be a leveller, for example, between a couple where one is less fit than the other.  I won't be buying one soon - there is no room in our garage for more bikes and I don't yet want to give up my other bike.  But, maybe one day.......

Just a thought - given their cost and limitations, a good solution would be community owned electric bikes that you could book to hire when you need them.  A bike club, rather than a car club.

Carbon Choices:  if you have enjoyed this blog, you might enjoy my book, Carbon Choices on the common sense solutions to our climate and nature crises.

Carbon Choices and Christmas Consumption

Carbon Choices and Christmas Consumption

Climate change is predominately caused by our emissions from energy.  Our emissions of energy are predominately caused by our consumption of goods, services and our demand for travel.

An average person brought up in American emits 160 times that of a person who happens to live in Malawi.  Europe and North America account for 16% of the world’s population but emit 46% of global emissions.  Then within countries, the affluent emit far more than the average person - finding ever more 'ingenious' ways to burn fossil fuels - SUVs, speed boats, long-haul flights and buying the latest fashion clothes and electronic goods.

The Global Footprint Network estimates that if everyone on our planet consumed the same as the average Briton, we would need three planet Earth’s to provide enough food, water and minerals to maintain our lifestyles.  Affluent people are drowning in 'stuff'.  We fill our cupboards, our attics, our garages; some even pay to store stuff out with their homes.   We are over consuming with no limits.

For most people, Christmas (like Easter and Halloween) has become a festival of consumption, or over consumption.  This applies to physical goods (presents) but also to our eating and drinking habits.  All products require resources and energy to produce.  These may be 'natural' resources such as wood or human made products from oil, gas, metals and minerals mined from the ground.  Almost all cause environmental damage but usually hidden from us far away, often in developing countries.  It is the vast scale of this consumption that is the problem along with the waste caused.  How many presents are never used or used once then thrown out to landfill?  How much single use plastic is used in packaging and wrapping presents?  Even most sticky tapes use plastic, then cause problems at recycling plants.  Most glitter is made from plastic - and manufacturers stick glitter onto greeting cards making them unrecyclable.  Most Christmas crackers are unrecyclable too.

So, what can you do:

  • agree with friends and relatives to buy less or donate to charity instead
  • buy second hand, refurbish
  • buy quality goods that will last (and maybe goods with long guarantees)
  • buy useful presents, perhaps those with an environmental benefit
  • minimise wrapping, perhaps use old newspaper and use biodegradable sticky tape
  • enjoy Christmas lights (LEDs) but don't try to light up the world
  • make your own Christmas crackers, with a thoughtful gift inside
  • cook sensibly, avoid food waste, reuse leftover food
  • eating and drinking less will help your health and reduce your emissions too!

 To learn much more, you can buy Carbon Choices from Amazon.

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Why emissions might only fall 10% this year

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A short summary of the book I am writing - to be published September 2020 before the Glasgow Climate Conference

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How Carbon Choices was Born

My desire to write a book about climate change has been at the back of my mind for some time.