The UK parliament voted in 2019 to make the country a net zero producer of greenhouse gases by 2050.
Achieving that goal is no mean feat; reliant on next-gen technology, wide-sweeping infrastructure evolution, and ground-breaking regulations to change how we travel, work, and even eat.
While green tech, under the umbrella of sustainable innovation, may seem a relatively new concept, much has been around for many years, encompassing everything from home energy efficiency to the damming of rivers and utilising the wind as a power source.
In a year when wildfires, uncharacteristically cold weather and sudden thunderstorms seem the norm, it’s time to look at how the green tech space has evolved and whether those net zero targets are a realistic objective.
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Green Technology Explained
Greenhouse gas emissions have been a significant global issue for decades, with substances including methane, sulphur hexafluoride, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons all having a long-lasting and often disastrous effect on the planet.
Green tech isn’t simply a replacement for fossil fuels but a movement to address and even reverse the impacts of climate change, repair the damage done to the natural environment, and restore global resources that contribute to a healthy world.
NASA reports that human activities have increased the carbon content in the atmosphere by 50 per cent within the last 200 years, primarily through burning fossil fuels and extracting natural resources from the earth and undersea.
Clean and green technology is part of reversing that statistic, slowing global warming, and preventing further environmental damage.
Green tech currently in use
Here are a few green-tech examples to demonstrate what this emerging sector is focused on and can achieve:
- Water purification and wastewater treatments can recycle dirty and contaminated water to ensure it is clean enough for commercial applications or verified as drinkable.
- Construction sites with low-carbon priorities can create buildings with a minimised carbon footprint, using recycled and sustainable materials, energy-efficient configurations, and zero-carbon power sources such as air and ground heat pumps and solar energy power systems.
- Waste management and minimisation, through recycling and repurposing, can reduce the volumes of waste sent to landfill sites, reduce landfill density, and mitigate the impact of waste production. Waste-to-energy initiatives are a prime example, where landfill is burnt or processed to produce clean energy while eliminating waste materials.
- Electric transportation, from hybrid and fully electric cars to trains, trams and ferries, can replace carbon-producing cars, alongside personal transport such as bikes and scooters fitted with electrical motors.
- Thermostatic temperature controls and smart buildings can regulate internal temperatures, automate controls depending on the external weather, and manage air conditioning systems to respond to the conditions or switch off automatically when out of hours.
Alongside these many developments are evolutions in carbon storage and capture to remove carbon from the earth’s atmosphere, energy-efficient LED lighting, wave energy produced by the oceans, and strategies based on vertical framing that requires less land, water and resources to make agriculture a viable enterprise in a city or metropolitan landscape.
Contrasts Between Climate, Green And Clean Tech
As a broad term, clean technology finds ways to make production waste-free without an adverse environmental impact while sustaining the production and development of items and resources supporting consumer demand.
Cleantech can include clean energy generation, treating and managing wastewater and run-offs, dealing with human waste efficiently and environmentally soundly and mitigating or removing impacts on the natural landscape.
Climate tech is somewhat different and looks for ways to tackle defined problems created by people, such as the production of greenhouse gases and other activities that have contributed to climate change. It focuses on proactive resolutions that reverse environmental damage while finding new ways to function.
Green tech is comparable to climate tech and seeks to identify solutions to remove human impacts on the world, using approaches such as solar, biofuel and waste energy, eco vehicles, recycling and the treatment of emissions to stop further greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere.
These definitions matter because there is a big difference between developing a cleantech innovative approach that can reduce the pollutants generated and climate tech, which actively looks to reverse environmental damage and remove carbon from circulation.
UK Net Zero Carbon Emission Targets
The British government published a policy called Build Back Greener as the linchpin of its Net Zero Strategy. It aimed to decarbonise the full scope of the UK economy to reach net zero status by 2050.
Net zero, carbon neutral and carbon negative are terms used throughout environmental initiatives, but as with the variances between types of green tech, they don’t necessarily mean the same thing:
- Net zero means that greenhouse gas produced no longer exceeds the amount removed – in effect, the UK government expects that all businesses will either yield zero emissions or offset the emissions they generate to remove the same volume of carbon.
- Carbon neutral is the same – although used when offsetting carbon rather than changing processes that produce carbon. For example, companies can pay for carbon offsets, whereas other organisations will plant trees that remove the same proportion of carbon as they emit.
- Carbon negative is the gold standard, where more carbon is extracted from the atmosphere than produced, effectively reducing the total carbon burden and attempting to reverse the impacts of climate change.
So, how realistic are these targets, what will they achieve, and how does the government propose tackling the issue? A report from the Institute for Government in April 2020 reports that the Climate Change Act is challenging but feasible and commands significant policy change across multiple sectors.
Of the many initiatives within the governmental Carbon Budget Delivery Plan, it intends to reduce reliance on fossil fuels by switching to bioenergy, solar, wind and nuclear power. Plans include grants for low-carbon heating systems, punitive charges against high-carbon activities, and incentivising business sectors to switch to low-carbon technology.
While opinions about the viability of the targets remain divided, the intention is clear and sets a course for at least attempting to reach an ambitious reduction in carbon production through harnessing green tech on a national level; the UK government was the first major economy to create laws to commit to ending contributions to global warming.
The Latest Advancements In The Green Tech Evolution FAQ
What is green tech?
Green tech is a broad term that refers to environmentally friendly technology used in production processes, logistics or elsewhere in modern supply chains. Any tech referred to as clean, renewable, green or sustainable should have a reduced human impact on the environment, including agriculture, hydrology, energy conservation and production.
What are the newest green tech innovations?
Manufacturers and producers are developing inventive ways to replace the fuels and technologies we use with cleaner alternatives. Examples include:
– Compostable phone cases
– Recycled metals and bioplastics
– Roof tiles with integrated solar panels
– Wearables powered by body heat
– Bioelectricity, converting footsteps into energy
These are many examples of new materials, products and energy production processes that may replace conventional electricity, gas and fossil fuels.
How does green tech help stop climate change?
Green tech reduces the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases produced and emitted into the atmosphere. Common examples of green energy solutions include wind turbines and solar panels, which are becoming more accessible and less expensive as the technology and expertise behind wind and solar power increase.
However, there are calls for more drastic measures to reverse rather than slow climate change and other harmful impacts on the natural world, depleting resources and impacting everything from melting the ice caps and droughts to wildfires and flooding. Carbon-negative technology works to extract carbon from the atmosphere, whereas renewables replace existing energy forms.
What are the net zero targets set by the UK government?
The government pledges to reach net zero by 2050, meaning that carbon capture technology offsets any carbon produced. The targets are based on greenhouse gas emission levels recorded in 1990, where the government intends to reduce emissions to this level by 100 per cent by 2050.
Why is net zero crucial?
Global warming is one of the most visible and significant effects of climate change, with the world having warmed to its highest average temperatures ever recorded and expected to increase a further five °C by 2100.
Net zero means that on a government level, regulations and reforms will restrict activities and industries that produce high levels of carbon and offer incentives and other allowances that encourage businesses and global producers to address their processes to reduce or eliminate carbon emissions.
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