Rising to global challenge

INDUSTRY leaders from throughout the Tees Valley came to the Evening Gazette’s boardroom to discuss environmental issues as part of the paper’s Renew, Reuse, Recycle campaign.

INDUSTRY leaders from throughout the Tees Valley came to the Evening Gazette’s boardroom to discuss environmental issues as part of the paper’s Renew, Reuse, Recycle campaign. Deputy head of Business and Features, Karen McLauchlan reports.

TODAY is World Environment Day.

And going green and becoming more eco-friendly is now a key issue for each and every one of us.

Earlier this year the Evening Gazette launched a major new environmental campaign - Renew, Reuse, Recycle.

And as part of that we are calling on people across the Tees Valley to sign up to our Green Pledge, and make 2007 the year they commit to lend a hand and improve the environment.

The initiative focuses on five main areas:

Reducing waste and re-using

Looking after your local environment

Recycling

Saving energy

Reducing fuel consumption

Today events are taking place across the globe to celebrate World Environment Day.

And recently all things green went under the spotlight at an inaugural environmental breakfast event, hosted by Gazette Media Company, publisher of the Evening Gazette.

Representatives from Redcar and Cleveland, Stockton and Middlesbrough councils, Tees Valley Regeneration, the North East Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC), Renew Tees Valley, Tees Valley Wildlife Trust, the Environment Agency, Northumbrian Water and engineering giant Aker Kvaerner, Teesside University, the Centre for Process Innovation and SembCorp were invited to attend the special meeting, which was chaired by Tony Edwards, of Alto Productions.

The event considered environmental issues, both globally and regionally as well as how far responsibility for going green rests with the government, business and us as individuals.

It’s clear none of us can ignore the facts any longer.

Figures from the United Nations Environment Programme show the Earth has warmed by about 0.75°C since pre-industrial times.

Eleven of the warmest years in the past 125 years have occurred since 1990, with 2005 the warmest on record.

There is overwhelming consensus that this is due to emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), from burning fossil fuels. Examination of ice cores shows there is more CO2 in the atmosphere than at any time in the past 600,000 years.

And if everyone in the world lived the lifestyle typical of that in the UK, we would need more than three planet Earths to provide us with enough food, energy and resources to survive.

World Environment Day was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1972 to mark the opening of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment.

It is organised and promoted by the United Nations Environment Programme each year to stimulate world wide awareness of the environment and enhance political attention and action.

But are we all taking up the green challenge?

“If everyone was to live the life we have now here in the UK we’d need three planet Earths to support what was needed,” said Mike McNulty, Tees Valley project manager at the Environment Agency.

“This implies some really big changes have to take place.

“There is a shared responsibility for making changes, which is why awareness is so important.

“We’ve got to change things that are really deep rooted in our culture and society.”

Dermot Roddy, chief executive, Renew Tees Valley, the company established to promote the development of renewable energy and recycling industries in the area, said it was important to look at the global picture.

He said: “People hear about countries like China developing a new coal fired power station every week.

“But why are they developing at such a rate? It’s to produce the products that we consume.

“So the UK’s carbon footprint is actually much larger when you consider the global picture.”

We’re all being urged to take up the green challenge today - because the effect of our actions won’t be felt for many years to come.

“The situation is like putting on a thick coat,” explained Mr Roddy. “You continue to get warmer and warmer.

“If we do all the right things right now, the temperature will continue to rise for another 20 to 40 years.”

Alistair Baker, of Northumbrian Water, said: “There is a difficulty in making people aware of the global arguments.

“It’s easier to talk to people about what is happening on their own doorstep.

“Globally there is a water problem, but here in the North-east that’s not the case. We turn on taps and pull chains and the water is there.”

Education is key to environmental improvement.

“We always have a problem in putting over science to the general public,” said Stan Higgins, chief executive of the North East Process Industry Cluster.

“It’s not a simple thing to understand – it’s not something people can understand overnight.

“Some of the solutions are difficult.”

But increasing numbers of us are grasping the green challenge.

Earlier this year Redcar and Cleveland was named as the second most improved council in the country for its rates of recycling and composting.

The authority’s director of area management, Simon Dale, said: “That’s a good achievement, but there’s a still lot of work to do especially in terms of changing habits.”

The chemical industry is also working hard to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Between 1990 and 2004 production in the EU chemical industry rose by 56%. But at the same time total energy consumption was stable and greenhouse gas emissions fell by more than 20%.

The chemical sector has a climate change agreement with government where it has agreed a 14% improvement in energy efficiency and a 20% reduction in water usage by 2010.

Since the 14% energy reduction target was set in 2000 the sector has now achieved this level of improvement saving about 2.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over the potential emissions had it continued to operate as it did in 2000. On facing up to the water usage challenge the sector has shown a steady downward trend in consumption and has already met its 2010 target and reduced its water consumption by 20%.

But while there’s much all of us can do to make help the environment, no matter how small, is legislation needed to ensure everyone does their bit?

Changing refuse collections from once a week to fortnightly is one way some areas of the country are getting more people to recycle. Electronically tagged wheelie bins capable of billing individual homes for the amount of rubbish they throw out is another option.

And is it up to Government policy to create a climate for development of environmentally-friendly industries?

Joe Docherty, chief executive of Tees Valley Regeneration, said there needed to be an element of compulsion when it comes to people going green.

“People won’t sign up quickly enough by themselves,” he added.

Mike McNulty added: “There must be a shared responsibility. Awareness is important, but individuals can only go so far.”

For example he said for more people to leave their car at home and save on energy costs, a good transport system needed to be put in place.

But innovation is also vital.

Mr Docherty added: “Europe’s largest carbon zero site is being developed at Middlehaven. We’re showing here in the Tees Valley that it can be done, and the market will respond to that.”

The North East Biofuels strategy, commissioned by regional development agency One NorthEast, recently said the biofuels industry could be worth £1bn to the North-east economy by 2027.

Tees Valley is already home Biofuels Corporation’s £45m plant at Seal Sands.

Hundreds of thousands of pounds are also set to be invested in future projects including Ensus’s £250m bioethanol plant at Wilton, where work is now underway.

The government has stated 5% of fuel must be made from biofuels from 2010.

Dermot Roddy said: “The government has created an economic environment where companies can build and develop biofuels plants.

“It’s important companies have the right investment conditions.”

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