Environmental thinking in the current climate

If you can remember back to the start of the New Year, the defining issue was clearly set out to be the continuation at an increasing volume and intensity of the environmental debate. Events around the globe were accumulating evidence that supports the calls for an international, globally coordinated response to the ‘climate emergency’. In the last quarter of the year COP26 was to be held in Glasgow (now postponed until 2021), and to many couldn’t come soon enough, the only concerns were around ‘would it go far enough?’

That was where we thought we’d be, how does it compare to where we are now as we come to the end of the second week in isolation following the escalation of COVID-19 and with a further unknown period. A period of unforeseen uncertainty from an unforeseen direction? Possibly, but as we all retreat behind doors to follow the government guidelines, with it brings the opportunity to think through where we are, what tools we have at our disposal and those that we need to develop to face a world that needs to come to terms with significant challenges in order to secure a positive, forward-thinking future with increasing standards of living, education and longevity.

As the turn of the year, my own IOM3 Division (Oil and Gas) had decided that it was time to change its name to the Energy Transition Group (ETG) and look to engage with other divisions and cross-cutting groups to help orient and drive change. Having got to around the 40-year vintage in an industry that is driven, achievement orientated, with a can-do attitude, although uncertain about its future, those that work in it are used to surviving and thriving, resilience a result of serving the commodities it provides, subject to the pressures of international relations and the global economy.

The skills available are an asset to the energy transition era that is just starting to emerge looking at how this is enabled and the economy that needs to emerge lies before us. Having not considered emissions to date – the energy industry has grown from finding, extracting and consuming fossil-fuels – waste products emitted to atmosphere with a zero-value attached to them. Yet with a price on the emissions, the economic model of consumption will have to change, and this not only applies to the energy industry but to all industries that require raw materials that they add value to and have a waste stream.

Difficult as it is to look beyond COVID-19, the loss of life, its effects and how we approach these issues in our interconnected world, we are starting to see that same world responding jointly to the threat. With the economy being brought to a halt with the implementation of the containment measures, emissions have dropped dramatically. Living in the country, the wildlife seems to be taking back the territory usually occupied by busy roads – it’s left an impression of nature’s resilience and the change of seasons being undisturbed by our activities, while still being flexible.

Evidence seems to be, we are capable of working together, maybe at the present time to threats that are more immediate to our future, but we’re getting there – and the environment will respond to our efforts, providing we make them in a coordinated scientifically led, engineering-applied manner.

Martin Cox, Past President of IOM3 and Strategic Advisor