Energy and environment

This page lists current and future projects on energy and environmental issues that have been approved by the POST Board.

Global deal for nature

Provisional start date October 2019: to contribute please email Dr Jonathan Wentworth

Nature conservation efforts, like climate change policies, are being re-assessed on a global scale. Following the recent International Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) global assessment, it has been suggested that a global deal for nature is needed to go alongside the Paris Climate Agreement. This would include formal protection of 30% of the Earth from human activities such as agricultural expansion, road building, dams, fishing, invasive species and pollution along with other measures, such as more integrated landscape and river catchment management, ecosystem-based fisheries management and urban green infrastructure. 75% of the land surface has been significantly altered, and among assessed groups of mammals and birds, one in four species are at risk of extinction. The average abundance of native species in most major terrestrial biomes has fallen by at least 20% and land degradation has reduced productivity in 23% of the global terrestrial area. If current land use conversion rates, poaching of large animals, and other threats are not markedly slowed or halted in the next 10 years, ‘points of no return’ in terms of extinction of multiple species and habitat loss will be reached.

Once lost, it will take millions of years for the Earth to recover an equivalent spectrum of complex biodiversity, with significant implications for the food, energy and water security of future generations. IPBES estimated that around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, and stated that the five drivers of this with the largest relative global impacts are, in descending order: changes in land and sea use, direct exploitation of organisms, climate change, pollution, and invasive alien species. The current global protected area targets by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) under what is called ‘Aichi Target 11’ set coverage targets for the year 2020 – 17% and 10% in the terrestrial and marine realms, respectively – but these targets are based on what is politically achievable rather than evidence of what is necessary to avoid extinction. Compounding the low-level ambition, only about half of the 14.9% of the terrestrial realm currently protected is ecologically connected to other protected areas. The academic literature has suggested at least 30% of the Earth’s surface should be conserved by 2030 in connected protected area networks. A POSTnote on this subject would summarise the evidence needed to support targets for protecting ecosystems at the global scale and the other likely measures that will be needed outside of protected areas.

Environmental gain

In production: to contribute please email Dr Jonathan Wentworth

The Government intends to embed a 'net environmental gain' principle in the planning system. This would ensure that infrastructure and housing developments deliver environmental improvement measures that result in a net gain in natural capital over possible reductions.

Studies of such approaches have suggested more consideration should be given to issues surrounding distributive justice, access to nature, and the status of ownership over sites when accounting for losses of benefits and appropriate compensation.

A POSTbrief on this subject will describe the concept of environmental gain, the evidence needed to show the effectiveness of such approaches, and other challenges for their implementation.

Food waste

In production: to contribute please email Carrie Bradshaw

The UK wastes 15 million tonnes of food every year, costing over £17 billion, with 20 million tonnes of associated greenhouse gas emissions. 9 million tonnes of this wasted food is 'avoidable': food that could have been fed to humans or animals. As climate change and food price volatility threaten global supply chains, food waste prevention measures may be needed to maintain food security as the UK prepares to leave the EU.

This POSTbrief will identify and evaluate the evidence base for food waste prevention interventions from farm-to-fork, as part of broader food security and resilience goals in the context of the Brexit Agriculture Command Paper (Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit) and the 25 Year Environment Plan (A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment).

Heat networks

In production: to contribute please email Jack Miller

Heat networks (or district heating systems) provide consumers with heat by piping hot water from a central source using well-insulated pipes. They differ from conventional UK central heating systems in that they cover a larger physical area, such as a housing development or industrial site, rather than using boilers within individual homes. Heat networks are generally perceived to be one of the most efficient and cost-effective methods of providing heat to a local area. Heat in the networks is often produced using efficient combined heat and power (CHP) systems and renewable fuel. In addition, they have been highlighted as a particularly effective method of distributing waste heat from disused mines or geothermal heat. 

The Committee on Climate Change has suggested that around 18% of UK heat will need to come from heat networks by 2050 if the UK is to meet its emissions targets cost effectively, up from 2% today. While there is a long history of heat networks in use internationally, they are not widely used in the UK, primarily because of the extensive existing gas network. UK heat networks tend to be situated in ageing housing developments, and issues have been widely reported concerning their reliability, a lack of ability to control heating levels and poor value for money for end users.  


This POSTnote would outline how heat networks operate, the sources that they use to provide heating and how these could contribute to decarbonisation. It would focus particularly on new ways in which they can use waste heat. The note would further evaluate the potential for heat networks to contribute towards decarbonisation, outlining barriers to deployment, and the current state of regulation.

Insect population decline

In production: to contribute please email Rebecca Robertson.

Recent studies have suggested insect populations are declining dramatically in many parts of the world as a result of various factors, from intensive agriculture to habitat loss.

This POSTnote will review the evidence for insect declines with a focus on the UK, the gaps in this evidence, the likely drivers of declines, and evidence for measures for restoring insect populations, such as agri-environment measures.

Contact POST

Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology
Houses of Parliament

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