The world has been thinking and talking about net zero for a long time. The claims have been bold and the pledges plentiful, but it’s hard to tell how much progress has been made, not least because the pledges are working to such long-term horizons.
This year marked the start of a new era. Closing the gap between rhetoric and reality, the UK government has enshrined into law the world’s most ambitious climate change target: to slash emissions by 78% by 2035.
Alongside this, the International Energy Agency issued its most severe warning yet: all new oil, gas or coal development must stop this year if the world is to meet the 2050 net zero goal. It is a sobering statement, as the UK lacks sufficient renewable energy capacity to enable this. Despite progress, renewable energy sources and technologies are not at scale, and Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency, has said that a “historical surge in investment” is required for clean energy.
At King’s Cross, this issue is at the forefront of our mind. We recently signed a deal moving our gas supply from fossil fuels to green gas from an anaerobic digestion facility in Scotland, where animal waste and residues are broken down to produce clean energy for delivery to the National Grid.
The deal, with low-carbon investor Iona Capital, means all heating and hot water for our 2,000 homes and 4m sq ft of offices, retail and dining space will be powered by sustainable gas. Through this switch, King’s Cross will save 16,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere – the equivalent of 1,600 Londoners’ annual carbon emissions – and cut our annual operational carbon footprint by 50%.
Deals like this are vital to drive more investment in green alternatives. Through this switch, King’s Cross is contributing to further investment and innovation in the sector, which will ultimately support the UK in scaling its renewable technologies.
Yet when I announced this deal on LinkedIn, it ignited debate. Several people asked if green gas could be truly clean, given that the plant and animal waste burned to produce energy contains methane, a greenhouse gas. It is an important question, and one to which my fellow LinkedIn-ers were quick to respond. The answer is that methane is produced naturally as plant or animal waste decomposes and escapes into the atmosphere. In the process of burning, it doesn’t enter the atmosphere.
I share this story to illustrate that sustainable claims are rightly under scrutiny for potential ‘greenwashing’ – a term easily thrown around due to lack of standardisation in the definition of net zero and clarity on what it means to be truly sustainable. Greenwashing is a threat that we should all seek to challenge. It suffocates the flames of genuine sustainable innovation.
If we are going to meet these ambitious targets, we must work together as an industry. Today’s investments will drive our renewable future and are crucial to our path to net zero.
I don’t have all the answers, but greater collaboration and transparency would be a good start. By sharing lessons and solutions from our individual journeys, we will collectively benefit and be proud of ourselves and the achievement come 2050.
Claudine Blamey is head of sustainability and digital strategy at Argent