Shifting our way of life and economy away from a dependence on fossil fuels and towards a sustainable path that will enable us to achieve net zero by 2050 is currently the most important challenge we face. We’re all aware of that, but sometimes we need a communications masterclass to make us appreciate the true nature of the problem.
Luckily, Sir David Attenborough has provided a shining example with his latest one-off special, A Life on our Planet, which makes for uncomfortable viewing. Available to stream on Netflix, it has a distinct feel of the final encore to his lifetime of works – indeed, he calls this programme his “witness statement” to the world.
It’s a statement that notes the rapid, sickening exploitation and destruction of our planet during his life, and feels almost like an obituary for planet Earth. Attenborough highlights the speed at which the planet’s ecosystems have changed, and the catastrophic consequences of these changes: rising atmospheric carbon dioxide and a fall in the truly ‘wild’ nature left on earth.
Some of the programme’s statistics are stark. Forty per cent of the world’s sea ice has melted in the last 40 years as our systematic overuse of fossil fuels quickens the rate of global warming. Thankfully, the show does not end with an apocalyptic vision for earth’s future, but one of hope and opportunity.
Transitioning to net zero – an investment opportunity
A recent Financial Times article began with the same sentiment: “Saving the planet from catastrophic climate change is humanity’s biggest challenge. It may also represent the most spectacular investment opportunity of our lifetimes.”
The article states that the transition to a green economy has presented a number of opportunities for venture capital investors to become involved in climate tech. A report from PwC confirms this, noting that funding for climate tech companies has outstripped other sectors, including artificial intelligence, increasing from $418 million in 2013 to $16.1 billion in 2019. The opportunity for venture capital investors to make money while also saving the planet has an undeniable pull, but despite this dramatic increase in investment, the FT states that “climate tech still only accounts for about 6 per cent of VC’s investment portfolios today,” a figure that needs to increase sooner rather than later.
In an effort to accelerate sustainable investment, the world’s largest fund manager, BlackRock, announced last year that it would remove from its actively managed portfolios any company receiving more than a quarter of its revenue from thermal coal. Larry Fink, the firm’s CEO, stated in a letter to clients: “The commitments we are making today reflect our conviction that all investors – and particularly the millions of our clients who are saving for long-term goals like retirement – must seriously consider sustainability in their investments.”
A few months later, the FT reported that shareholder support for climate change resolutions at annual meetings had increased from 16 per cent in 2019 to 23 per cent. The companies who “suffered big shareholder revolts over climate change” in 2020 included US bank JPMorgan, Australian energy companies Woodside Petroleum and Santos, mining group Rio Tinto, shipping company JB Hunt Transport Services and energy group Ovintiv.
Transitioning to net zero – a communications challenge
So, what does this all mean for communications? Well, in the same way that the transition to a low-carbon economy represents the biggest investment opportunity of our lifetime, it is also, arguably, the greatest communications opportunity for a generation. As a post on Attenborough’s Instagram page explains: “Saving our planet is now a communications challenge.”
The UK Government has legislated to transition to net zero by 2050, and a number of other countries have echoed this decision with similar signals of intent. Added to that, major corporations across the globe, including oil and gas producer BP and US tech giant Microsoft, have also made net-zero pledges.
But these examples are still in the minority. What’s needed now is for every organisation to take meaningful action to reduce and eliminate its carbon footprint on the road to net zero, while ensuring its communications highlight that action to key stakeholders in a transparent and targeted way.
By Lewis Popplewell, Account Executive in Madano’s Energy practice.
This blog post is the first in a three-part series discussing the communications challenges and opportunities provided by the net-zero transition. Forthcoming posts will examine the importance of communications in the context of reputation management, as well as potential ways to engage with government, the media and other stakeholders to positively influence the transition.
Alongside a Budget that focused heavily on the immediate actions required to return to growth and respond to the economic impacts of Covid-19, the Government published Build Back Better, its plan for growth, a new economic strategy for the post-Brexit, post-pandemic world with technology, net zero and innovation at its heart.
Autumn’s Comprehensive Spending Review will still be significant in putting this to work longer term, but Build Back Better makes clear that today’s Budget, and recent announcements such as the £800m ARIA and the Green Industrial Revolution, are part of a bigger picture for the Government. Its three pillars are infrastructure, skills and innovation. New strategies expected over the next year, such as a Hydrogen Strategy, Innovation Strategy, a Transport Decarbonisation Strategy, and Digital Strategy, will all connect back to Build Back Better.
It aims to build a connecting economic narrative for the future of the UK, with leadership in science and innovation, and the transition to net zero, all creating transformative changes in productivity and quality of life in regions across the country.
Our highlights included:
- The new Future Fund: Breakthrough, a £375m public-private fund to invest in promising, R&D-intensive companies ready to scale up with equity rounds of over £20m, showing Government’s seriousness about a greater appetite for risk and supporting companies directly.
- The launch of the new National Infrastructure Bank, expected to deliver £12bn in public and sector project investment from Spring onwards and drive forward new net zero projects.
- Freeports, eight new economic zones spread across nearly every region, with special regulatory, development and taxation rules to incentivise high-tech investment.
- Several commitments on green finance, including a change to the Bank of England’s remit to include environmental sustainability, and new green savings products and bonds.
Levelling up remains a key focus. Alongside freeports, the location of the new National Infrastructure Bank in Leeds and the Treasury’s new Darlington hub make that abundantly clear.
Undoubtedly, the focus today will be on measures taken by the Chancellor to safeguard the economy as the UK travels on the roadmap towards the end of COVID-19 restrictions. But today’s Build Back Better plan demonstrates that when the Conservatives go to the electorate at the end of this Parliament, they will be expecting to do so having established a more productive economy that leads in innovative industries, and is making strides towards a lower carbon energy system.
We hope that the Prime Minister uses his forthcoming 10-point plan to demonstrate clear ambition on, and pathways to, the various existing and future low-carbon technologies that will need to be developed, deployed and scaled in the 2020s. This decade will prove critical in the fight against climate change and should be defined by UK leadership, thanks to the country’s Presidency of COP26.
A detailed 10-point plan, however, may prove unwieldy in both policy development and delivery, as well as difficult to communicate to audiences. We believe that actions and inclusive messaging around fewer, more realistic policies are essential to ensuring the buy-in and cooperation of the public, alongside industry and government departments.
We have therefore produced a five-point plan to highlight those vital policy measures and technologies that can be swiftly unleashed by government in what is likely to be a short decade, as the UK seeks to up the tempo on cracking the net-zero puzzle.
1. By 2021, the Government should publish a public-facing net-zero roadmap for the UK, and a supporting communications programme, alongside the net-zero strategy.
Madano Analysis: With the UK holding the COP26 Presidency, the Prime Minister and the government can build a climate change-focused legacy and demonstrate global leadership. Combined with a net-zero strategy, a public-facing roadmap and communications programme needs to be developed. This will outline the leadership that government is taking to equitably tackle climate change and how the public will need to modify its behaviour for the country to reach net zero by 2050. This roadmap could feed into the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda by outlining clear guidance and investment.
The UK requires an ambitious framework that outlines the policies and fiscal/regulatory levers that will be used to develop and scale low-carbon technologies by 2030. The forthcoming net-zero strategy should be published in early 2021 and demonstrate the benefits of low-carbon technologies to the regions, deliver the confidence required by industry and give government departments the framework needed to consult on interlinked policies.
2. The Government should unleash the offshore wind and solar sectors in the 2020s by removing artificial targets and current regulatory constraints imposed by the nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIP) process.
Madano Analysis: There is concern that the Prime Minister’s promise to raise the target for offshore wind power capacity from 30GW to 40GW by 2030 could be viewed as a cap. Electricity generated from wind may only account for 24 per cent of household energy demand in 2030, given our appetite for electricity-hungry appliances and the increasing preference to work from home. The upcoming Contracts for Difference (CfD) auction could raise £20bn+ of investment, and government and industry will need to capitalise on this windfall if the PM’s claim that wind could power all homes by 2030 is at all feasible.
A government framework is required to give the solar industry confidence and harness those advancements that can optimise existing assets. The first step should be to streamline the NSIP process which constrains the development of assets exceeding 50MW without considering technological upgrades that enable these assets to generate higher outputs on the same area of land used. Restructuring this process would allow the upgrade of existing assets that could unlock several clean GW for the grid by 2030.
3. The Government should facilitate the widespread rollout of a small modular reactor (SMR) programme and a novel siting assessment for new reactors, with the aim of deploying an SMR by the end of 2030.
While the Prime Minister has declared that UK household electricity needs will be met by offshore wind in 2030 (projected to be only one-third of the UK’s electricity demand), the Government should take the opportunity to further the development of SMRs and AMRs to pick up demand that wind may struggle to supply. A fleet of SMRs can be deployed across the UK, providing locally embedded low carbon energy generation, and when manufacturing for export is considered, this presents a long-term opportunity for the UK, and the UK nuclear supply chain. These technologies also present an opportunity to help decarbonise heavy industries with dedicated power plants providing low carbon heat and power, and produce clean hydrogen, which could be the building block of tomorrow’s low carbon economy.
A crucial step to realising the SMR opportunity is the development of a rationalised planning framework that would enable the rapid siting and deployment of SMRs at trial stages, without their being lost in the regulatory and public consultation web that has stymied large-build, new nuclear sites.
4. The Government should establish two industrial hydrogen clusters in the north of England and Scotland by 2025, and six more clusters by 2030 across the UK.
Madano Analysis: Currently, the government is heavily focused on hydrogen production, as the UK hydrogen strategy will outline. Understanding the demand profiles for this resource, across a swathe of end-uses, has proven difficult for government and industry. Support for two industrial hydrogen clusters by 2025, which feature large-scale demonstrator pilots, will offer a stronger indication of demand and opportunities for the early adoption of hydrogen. Moreover, understanding which technologies can be easily deployed in these sandboxes will drive costs down for both production and demand. Placing these clusters in the north of England and in Scotland will create high-quality jobs in strategically important regions and serve to buttress the Government’s ambitions to ‘level-up’ communities across the UK.
5. The Government should establish a 2030 plan for the development of tidal energy in the UK.
Madano Analysis: The UK has established a substantial offshore wind sector, but tidal energy remains untapped potential. Tidal is a potentially significant source of low-carbon, reliable energy, but faces one major barrier: high construction costs, especially due to the lack of experience at scale. But with current borrowing costs relatively low, it may never be cheaper for the government to invest in the development of a tidal energy industry in the UK and, if action is taken quickly, the UK can seize a first-mover advantage in this sector. A clear plan from government on the development and delivery of tidal energy should be a priority for the 2020s and would work to shore up and benefit the economies of coastal communities in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Our short, yet targeted, plan outlines those actions that the Government should take now, if it wishes to ‘jump start’ the UK’s drive towards net-zero through the 2020s and reach its goals by 2030.
Crucially, measures that support existing and developing low-carbon technologies must be closely aligned with other significant issues, such as ‘levelling up’, and be steeped in an overarching and inclusive narrative that outlines the impacts and benefits of the energy transition to all.
Madano advises clients across the energy sector– if you’re interested in learning more please drop our team a line at [email protected].
By James Watson, Senior Account Executive, and the team in Madano’s Energy practice.
In global trust barometers, scientists have long featured among the professions most trusted by the public, but pharmaceutical companies remain the least trusted. This is an interesting dichotomy, given that most pharmaceutical employees are scientists.
Public trust has been an issue for the pharmaceutical industry for many years, driven principally by a few high-profile examples of negative practice from several years ago. Even in 2019, it was still the most poorly regarded of industries.
That was until the world was hit by COVID-19.
Since the outbreak, confidence that scientists will act in the public’s best interest has grown, as has trust in the healthcare industry as a whole.
Industries banding together in the global response to COVID-19, coupled with increased curiosity about how medicines and vaccines are developed, has also had a positive impact on pharma’s reputation. This provides an opportunity for the public to change their perceptions of ‘big pharma’ in the long term, but what’s the best way to achieve this?
Transparency in communication is vital
Scientists and researchers have been increasingly visible across media channels during the pandemic to address the public’s concerns and advise those in charge. However, their increasingly public-facing position means that quality of communication is vital. Dr Cevat Giray Aksoy, Lecturer in Economics at King’s College London and co-author of a paper on public trust in science, stated that “if scientists fail to explain their findings clearly and concisely enough to inspire trust in public, people may perceive them as elitists or inaccessible.”
When a participant in a large late-stage AstraZeneca study testing a COVID-19 vaccine suffered a serious adverse reaction, the company immediately, and voluntarily, paused vaccinations and issued a statement where they firmly reiterated their commitment to maintaining “the integrity of the trials.” The following week, as part of efforts to maintain public transparency, researchers at Oxford University, published a comprehensive document explaining that the adverse event was unlikely to be related to the vaccine.
Following the science, not the headlines
Increased public and political pressure to accelerate development of a COVID-19 vaccine, such as President Trump’s ‘Operation Warp Speed’, have only created greater uncertainty about the intentions of drug companies.
In response to this, as part of efforts to engender trust and maintain public confidence, CEOs of nine leading biopharma companies announced a historic pledge in September. They outlined a united commitment to uphold the integrity of the scientific process as they work towards approval of the first COVID-19 vaccines. This includes high scientific and ethical standards, stringent requirements for approval submission and ensuring global access to a range of vaccine options.
Public pledges like this only strengthen the power of collaborations of this kind between academics, pharma companies, regulatory bodies and, most importantly, trial volunteers. Continuing to communicate good practices and ground-breaking science, while keeping patient safety at the heart of the process, will provide optimism and hope for the development and approval of a vaccine.
As the world continues to follow the scientific progress around the COVID pandemic, the pharma industry has the opportunity demonstrate its integrity and commitment to human health, to inform and educate with transparency, and, fundamentally, to win back trust at a time when the world needs it most.
By Amisha Bhudia, Account Manager in Madano’s Healthcare practice.
Expectations across the energy sector were high yesterday, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s gave his “winds of change” vision for the energy sector by committing the Government to the modest target of increasing offshore wind power capacity from 30 GW to 40 GW, by 2030. He breezily claimed that this source of low carbon energy could generate enough electricity to power all the UK’s homes within a decade.
Alongside this pledge, the Prime Minister promised £160m to upgrade ports and infrastructure for building turbines and boosting offshore wind capacity, which he claimed will create 2,000 jobs in construction and support 60,000 more. We will, according to the Prime Minister, see 1 GW of floating wind turbines hove into view by 2030, too.
The Prime Minister’s backing for offshore wind is not a major surprise in and of itself, given the Government’s focus on tackling climate change in much of its messaging. And given the scale of investment announced yesterday is modest by international standards, industry will be looking for much more in the Government’s 10-point “Build Back Greener” plan if the UK is to establish itself as the ‘Saudi Arabia’ of wind power and renewable energy more broadly.
The Prime Minister’s lofty assertion that offshore wind, alone, can solve a large part of the energy question should be taken with a large pinch of sea salt or viewed as a symptom of his broad brush, oratorical style. His claim that offshore wind could power all the UK’s homes by 2030 omitted to mention that homes account for only about a third of power use. The Government is well aware that wind is only one piece of the testing net zero puzzle and that other low carbon energy sources, such as solar and nuclear power, will need support to scale up and meet the needs of wider energy challenge.
While the Prime Minister’s press release did take the opportunity to breathe fresh life into the Government’s plans for renewables by indicating that the Government will set a 2021 target to “double the capacity of renewable energy in the next Contracts for Difference auction,” he provided little detail on its proposals for solar, hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, energy efficiency or nuclear power.
Still, we can be confident that this announcement is the first stage of the “Build Back Greener” plan for a green industrial revolution from the Government, with No 10 promising further, concrete details later this year to “accelerate our progress towards net zero emissions by 2050.” There are conflicting reports on the date that this plan will be published, with both late October and late November suggested.
The long-delayed Energy White Paper is also reportedly set to be published this month. The paper will outline the Government’s approach to delivering its net zero target and will hopefully clear the air on various issues, such as large-scale nuclear, and provide confidence to the renewables sector that has weathered COVID-19 admirably and produced record-breaking levels of low-carbon energy.
To our mind, what is most notable from this policy announcement is not its content but the fact that a commitment to offshore wind is the headline announcement of a Prime Minister at the Conservative Party Conference, during a time of public health and economic crisis.
Whatever the rationale behind this decision, it confirms that addressing climate change has much greater importance for this Government compared to recent predecessors.
Written by James Watson, Madano.