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  1. Spotlight on Policy
21 February 2020

Why the world needs the Humber

The chair of Marketing Humber, explains the challenges and opportunities presented by zero-carbon targets 

By Andy Parkinson

Eighteen months ago, an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was published, warning that the world has 12 years to change direction and limit the onset of climate change. The United Nations body warned that flooding, storms, extreme temperatures, drought, and consequently huge numbers of climate refugees, lay just beyond the horizon if current trends were not reversed.

I read through this report with my own specific focus in mind – the Humber, the UK’s Energy Estuary. The region is home to the Ports of Hull, Goole, Grimsby, and Immingham, and it is the highest carbon emitting area in the UK. That, of course, is linked to its geography. We have a large estuary, navigable for the largest deep-sea vessels, all the aforementioned ports, as well as a massive industrial and manufacturing heritage, which was mainly powered by coal and the burning of fossil fuels. Historically, the Humber was one of the biggest ports and industrial centres in the world, and it’s not unusual to have manufacturing and industry clustered around an estuary or port. This is an area with steelmaking, factories, shipping, railway and road movement. So, estuaries and ports are part of the challenge, with regions like ours, or Antwerp or Rotterdam, all being particularly carbon-intensive.

 Sixty per cent of the world’s population live in estuary or port regions and two thirds of the world’s largest cities are there too. So, if you want to solve global warming, estuaries and ports have to be part of the solution and work towards zero carbon. We also must take into account that huge numbers of people are employed in high-emission industries. We have people in oil refineries, energy-intensive steelmaking, chemical clusters. What does limiting carbon emissions mean for jobs? This region knows only too well that when shipbuilding and the fishing industry collapsed unemployment went up and the effect was catastrophic. So how do we transition out of carbon without experiencing these negative social effects? How do we do it and keep people on side, moving with them not against them?

 We already produce a high proportion of the UK’s energy – a third of UK’s refined fuel – and this transition is happening. The Drax power station now runs on biomass. We have got the world’s largest offshore wind farm and natural gas in the North Sea. With all this, on top of the huge volume of homes and the UK’s busiest port, decarbonising is a challenge – but it also represents a chance for the region to transform its economy. With green knowledge and expertise, we could have an export promoted globally, so the benefits are multiplied many times over in terms of carbon reduction and regional regeneration.

Marketing Humber is working to achieve this. In collaboration with partners, we want to develop a set of investable projects that get the Humber into a net-zero carbon position. The inward investment we would get is incredible because this is the perfect microcosm of what is happening globally. The world needs the Humber because if you can solve carbon energy solutions in a developed country, in an advanced industrial region, then you can solve it anywhere.

Industry and academia unite to tackle the climate crisis

The Humber has placed itself at the forefront of the global decarbonisation challenge through collaborative working between private and public sector organisations. Central to this is the University of Hull, which is using its world-leading research and development capability to deliver pioneering decarbonisation projects with industry.

One such project is the Aura partnership, led by the university, which brings together a range of experts to drive innovation in the offshore wind sector.

Aura has been hailed by the government’s Offshore Wind Sector Deal as an exemplar of how to unite the private and public sectors to deliver environmental sustainability and economic growth.

Recently the university announced its own commitment to become carbon-neutral by 2027, at the region’s flagship decarbonisation event, The Waterline Summit, organised by Marketing Humber.

The university has also revealed plans for a “next generation” energy station. The unique concept will see multiple renewable fuel inputs, including industry and household waste, fed into a number of local community stations, to be converted into energy and distributed across the region.

A consortium of 40 regional businesses and organisations led by the university has also submitted a multi-million pound bid to the government’s Strength in Places Fund to support groundbreaking innovations allowing industry to pilot new technologies to lower harmful emissions.

David Richards, pro vice-chancellor for research and enterprise at the University of Hull, said: “There is no doubt that, if we all continue to live and work as we have done, the Humber will be one of the first regions to suffer the devastating results of rising temperatures and sea levels.

“But we are also uniquely positioned to take a lead role in the global challenge posed by climate change. Here in the Humber we have the expertise, capability and the drive to create an environmentally sustainable future for generations to come.”

A powerful example of the region’s capability is Drax which owns and operates the UK’s largest power station and has announced an intention to transform this to become the world’s first carbon-negative power station by 2030.

It will do so using bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) to remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it produces, creating a negative carbon footprint.

Further climate change innovation is evident at the Phillips 66 refinery on the south bank of the Humber. Working with the Environment Agency and the Department for Transport, Phillips 66 has successfully created high-performing, advanced biofuels from waste in its process units. It is also developing unique petroleum coke formulations for use in smartphone and electric vehicle batteries.

Industry in the UK’s Energy Estuary is working together successfully, supported by the University of Hull’s advanced research and development expertise, to lead the way to a brighter, sustainable future.

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