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March 19, 2024

Editor’s note: grid investment, insufficient progress and inequality

Close-up of electricity pylon
ESO is proposing to connect a further 21GW of offshore wind power to the UK’s electricity grid in an ‘efficient and co-ordinated way’ (Photo: Johanna Geron/Reuters)

The latest edition of our Sustainable Views newsletter

Dear reader,

Big infrastructure projects, from bridges to wind farms or nuclear power stations, will always be of interest. However, policymakers are increasingly aware the more boring, “joining-the-dots” stuff is just as important if the transition to net zero is to be achieved. There is no point having lots of wind farms if the electricity they produce cannot access the grid and make its way to where it is needed. 

With this in mind, the UK electricity system operator ESO has published a report proposing £58bn of investment in the electricity grid. “Beyond 2030” also aims to connect a further 21 gigawatts of offshore wind power to the grid in an “efficient and co-ordinated way”. 

Meanwhile, the latest net zero policy tracker from UK non-profit Green Alliance, concludes the country is falling behind on various aspects of the energy transition, not least on transport — which has long been a thorn in the side of the government’s net zero plans — heat and buildings. 

The government has also made “insufficient” progress on cutting the climate impact of farming and land use, says the report. And it is not just the incumbent Conservative government that is under fire. “We have not yet seen the level of political leadership … required by any of the main political parties, nor comprehensive enough plans to meet our climate goals ahead of the general election,” writes Green Alliance. 

A failure to keep up with net zero infrastructure demands is also a problem in the EU, writes Florence, as she reports on how and why policymakers need to look at the growth of electric vehicles in the widest sense and ensure digital and physical grids, and charging systems work together and are fit-for-purpose in a net zero emissions system. In November 2023, the European Commission announced its grid action plan to mobilise €584bn in investment to double capacity by 2030.

As richer countries struggle to cut emissions with the urgency climate science demands, a survey of senior executives by British International Investment shows the majority of businesses in emerging markets are already suffering negative impacts from climate change. They too, however, seem to be finding it difficult to enact the necessary action. 

The number of businesses surveyed “planning to” adapt their strategy had increased to 17 per cent in 2023 from 2 per cent in 2022, as had the number of respondents calculating their carbon footprint — up to 45 per cent in 2023 compared with 22 per cent in 2022. Of these respondents, though, only 23 per cent had set greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. 

In other news, Oxfam has published an analysis showing shareholder payouts are at an all-time high and suggesting “inequality is part of the fabric of big business”. Only 10 of the largest 200 US-listed companies it reviewed publicly back a living wage, it finds, while 90 per cent of the aggregate $1.25tn in net profits generated by these companies, more than $1.1tn, was paid out to shareholders between 2018 and 2022. 

During the period, Oxfam claims companies in “low-wage sectors” spent heavily on buybacks, while scrimping on wages. Four of the businesses — fast-food giant McDonald’s, electronics manufacturer Jabil, drinks manufacturer Coca-Cola, and department store group TJX Corporation — paid their chief executives over 1,500 times more than the median worker during this period, says the report.

Until tomorrow,

Philippa

Philippa Nuttall is the editor of Sustainable Views 

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