Energy and environment

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


Adaptation and mitigation in agriculture

In production: to contribute please email Heather Plumpton

The IPCC estimates that the agricultural sector currently contributes 10-12% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, mainly from agricultural emissions from soil, nutrient management and livestock. GHG emissions are a key driver behind climate change, which in turn directly impacts agriculture.

Increased temperatures, more variation in rainfall and an increase in extreme weather events such as droughts and floods will impact agricultural productivity. Water availability will be a key constraint, particularly where water is already scarce such as areas of southern Europe and the USA. The UK is 60% self-sufficient in food production and relies on imports, particularly of fresh fruit and vegetables, to meet demand. Adaptation of agricultural systems to climate change across the global market is needed to sustain food production and support food security in the UK.

This POSTnote will address global climate change mitigation and adaptation in agriculture, with a focus on implications for UK food security.  It will outline how different agricultural systems contribute to climate change, option for minimising these contributions, as well as options for adapting agriculture to climate change.



Assessing and restoring soil microbiomes

In production: to contribute please email Cagla Stevenson

Soils are home to a quarter of the Earth's biodiversity, including microbial organisms such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi, yet the majority of soil microbes remain to be isolated. Biological soil quality indicators that capture the soil microbial biodiversity would be a useful measure of overall 'soil health', but the application of these techniques has yet to catch up with policy ambitions.

A POSTnote on this topic will review existing knowledge on soil microbiomes, look at the targets of soil quality indicators, and assess what measures might be effective in improving or restoring soil microbiomes.




Climate change and fisheries

In production: to contribute please email James Stewart

Around 90% of monitored fish stocks are fully fished or overfished, but demand is likely to increase. Fish stocks will also be increasingly affected by climate change intensifying the effects of overfishing, as it will influence the abundance, size, migratory patterns, and mortality rates of wild fish stocks.

This POSTnote will set out the likely impacts of climate change on the productivity of fisheries and possible measures for adapting to these.




Climate change and wildfire frequency

In production: to contribute please email Lauren Shotter

Widespread increases in wildfire activity, such as area burned, number of large fires, and fire-season length, have been documented in temperate and high-latitude ecosystems over the past half-century. These include large moorland fires at Saddleworth Moor and Winter Hill in Northwest England this summer, with such wildfires becoming more likely with continuing climate change.

This POSTnote will summarise the effects of increasing frequency and severity of wildfires at the global and UK level, and the implications for the future management of wildfires in the UK, including forecasting wildfire risk.




Developments in wind power

In production: to contribute please email Harry Michalakakis

Wind power (both on and offshore) generated 11% of UK electricity in 2017. A proliferation of offshore installations in UK waters in recent years is due to cost reductions and a competitive auction process for subsidies.

This POSTnote will examine technological developments in both the onshore and offshore sector. It will look at how changes in the design, construction, and operation of wind farms have enabled the cost reductions witnessed in recent years. It will also address concerns around the environmental impacts of wind power, reviewing the evidence base for the effects of new developments on migrating birds and marine species' habitats.




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

No start date available: 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 Dr Jonathan Wentworth

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.




Natural hazard risk assessment

In production: to contribute please email Mike Stock

The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 requires Government to "assess, plan and advise" for civil emergencies. This includes natural hazards, which have wide ranging impacts and probabilities of occurrence.

This POSTbrief will examine the current methods of UK natural hazard identification and assessment, as well as discuss other potential approaches.

Contact POST

Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology
Houses of Parliament
Westminster
London
SW1A 0AA

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