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COP26, turning the tide

10 Nov 2021

Written by Jack Cracknell

The train from COP26 in Glasgow back to London was a stark reminder of the vast changes that humans have made to the planet.

All that remain of our native forests are the small gatherings where land could not be farmed and lines of trees that run along stone walls separating fields. We pass salvage yards piled high with scrap, past disused gas silos and we never escape the electric cables tracking above us.

It’s clear that things need to change, we need to stop damaging the planet and we need to find ways to restore ecosystems. As part of our net zero plan, we’ve been exploring projects that will allow us to capture our carbon emissions from the atmosphere. So last week we decided to attend a handful of events at COP26 to find out what we didn’t know.

It quickly became clear that not all carbon offsets are created equal. In most instances, good offsets are not cheap and cheap offsets are not good. The more expensive offsets focus on capturing carbon directly from the atmosphere (£60-£1000/tonne), while the cheaper alternatives focus on carbon avoidance projects (£2-£20/tonne). The cheaper avoidance offsets, for example fundings projects that replace coal stoves with more energy efficient alternatives, are quicker and easier to deliver. But they fail to capture greenhouse gases from the atmosphere in the same way as carbon capture solutions (for example planting a forest that absorbs carbon through photosynthesis).

Working to protect our oceans

One of the events we attended was set up by the Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE) which is aiming to protect 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030. Some of BLUE’s marine reserves are as big as one million square kilometres (large enough that you can see them from space).

We’ve been working with BLUE over the last couple of months to select ocean-based projects that will allow us to offset our carbon emissions while also creating thriving ecosystems. Although the oceans are the world’s largest ‘carbon sink’ (a term used to describe carbon capture and storage) the ocean’s role as a carbon capture solution has generally flown under the research radar.

We came back from COP26 with confidence that we’re on the right path. There’s a clear need for more research, more standardisation (so organisations have faith in what they’re buying), and more funding. We spoke to experts that have dedicated their lives to supporting:

Mangroves – which are essentially coastal forests, only it’s estimated that they soak up twice as much carbon every year as a tropical rainforest.

Seagrasses are mostly found in shallower water and they absorb up to 15 times as much carbon as tropical forest per year.

Salt marshes – which are an integral part of coastal defences and are capable of hoovering up carbon at rates that far exceed land-based ecosystems.

Seaweeds, such as kelp forests, which have huge carbon capture potential but need further research to understand exactly how much carbon is absorbed and how much is retained.

Restoring and creating these ecosystems brings with it a multitude of benefits, not only capturing carbon but enhancing biodiversity, supporting local communities, and building resilience to climate change.

Octopus has invested billions into companies building a sustainable planet, we’re giving thousands of hours of our time to charities like Thames 21 (through our charitable foundation Octopus Giving), and increasingly we’re going to work with organisations like BLUE to make sure that we give back to the planet more than we take. We’re here to create meaningful, large-scale impact and we’re looking forward to telling you about our oceans-based projects in due course.

What are Octopus Group doing to tackle climate change?

We are finding ways to support companies building a more sustainable planet, we’re signing up to the B Corp Climate Collective and are proud to commit to net zero by 2030.


Climate change

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