In just a few short weeks global leaders will gather at COP26 in Glasgow to discuss all things climate change, from securing net zero by mid-century to finalising the Paris Agreement Rulebook.

Whilst it’s a major moment for the UK hosting the conference, it’s essential that ambition is turned into action. That’s why focus is on kick-starting a decade of decisive action. If net zero is to be reached by 2050, swift progress needs to be made now.

The North West of England is already leading this agenda, with tangible actions being taken to reach net zero today, including investment in innovative technologies and creation of Protos, a low carbon energy and resources hub that will help power the region’s industrial heartland.

At COP26, the UK is working with international partners on environmental issues, including the UN High Level Champions on Climate Action, with the four key action points identified…

⦁ Accelerate the transition from coal to clean power
⦁ Protect and restore nature for the benefit of people and climate
⦁ Accelerate the transition to zero emission vehicles
⦁ Raise climate ambition through science and innovation

At Peel NRE, part of Peel L&P, we’re already on with making swift progress on these action areas. We hope that, in playing our part, we can set an example on how strategic investment and collaboration can deliver tangible action – meeting the COP26 goals and driving the clean energy transition.

Accelerate the transition from coal to clean power

The UK is already making great progress in this area to cut fossil fuels use but, as recent events have shown with energy price rises, is still heavily reliant on natural gas. The success in this space will be having a resilient energy mix, with a mix of clean energy sources not overly dominated by one source. It’s the approach we took at Protos from the get-go, clustering together established and emerging technologies in energy generation and resource management, pushing the North West towards net zero carbon emissions and leading the way on the clean growth agenda.

From the operational wind farm and biomass facility to the Energy from Waste facility under construction making use of residual waste that would otherwise go to landfill, we’re delivering a mix of generation sources at one, strategically located site. Further investment in a hydrogen production facility – using Powerhouse Energy’s DMG Technology – will demonstrate a new method of turning problem end of life plastic into a clean fuel.

Government funding was also secured this year to develop a Carbon Capture and Storage demonstrator at Protos, with the project funding design work for a carbon capture facility at the operational biomass facility. It’s in addition to recent further success in this area, with HyNet being successfully as a ‘Track One’ project on the Government’s Carbon Capture Storage Industrial Cluster sequencing, with funding supporting delivery of new infrastructure to begin decarbonising the industrial heartland around Protos by the mid-2020s.

In short, tangible progress is being made now to create a futureproofed energy mix. The UK Government needs to continue to support this joined-up approach, providing investor confidence to scale-up demonstrator projects and get spades in the ground on projects now, to be operational in the next decade.

Protect and restore nature for the benefit of people and climate

Incredible work is being done in this area to increase biodiversity, protect habitats and create new ones across the North West, with projects like the Mersey Forest and Trees for Climate in Cheshire West and Chester.

But nature and industrial development don’t have to be at odds – the opposite is true. The most forward-looking projects will embrace both. At Protos, over 50 hectares of land is being dedicated to nature, where over 2,600 trees have already been planted.

Snipe Haven and Goldfinch Meadows are two purpose-built habitats which are home to an array of flowers, butterflies and birds, with the ponds and wetlands providing perfect habitats for wildlife. Not only does this deliver climate and environmental benefits, but it links Protos to the local communities, with Cheshire Wildlife Trust playing an active role in management; local schools involved in naming and visit the spaces; and the sites open to the public to enjoy. The wildlife areas are also part of the functional drainage systems, meaning they serve a practical use too as part of the climate change adaption at Protos.

COP26 outlines the scale of the task. We are facing the twin threats of climate change and biodiversity loss, and one cannot be solved without addressing the other. Working within the industry, we want to ensure that our natural world is respected and restored and Protos sets a blueprint of how this can be achieved.

Accelerate the transition to zero emission vehicles

Decarbonising transport is one of the toughest areas to tackle. Whilst significant progress has been made on energy, nationally, transport is a sector where a dramatic drop in emissions has yet to be witnessed.

The answer to this will be a complex mix of solutions, from shifting journeys to more sustainable methods – for instance from road to rail and active travel – as well as mass rollout of new technologies, be it electric vehicles, hydrogen or biogas.

Both will need an integrated approach, resilience of energy supply and new networks to support the switch from petrol and diesel vehicles. Electric vehicles are only as sustainable as the generation methods, further evidence that a mix of technologies is needed as the demand for electricity is set to increase exponentially.

At Protos, part of our strategy is not only to export energy from an on-site grid connection, but also deliver a hydrogen refuelling station as part of the Plastic-to-Hydrogen facility and Plastic Park. The first facility would supply sufficient hydrogen to fuel around 20 HGVs from outside Protos and a similar number of internal HGV movements that will be servicing operations within Protos.

Rollout of this model will be an initial step on practical rollout of hydrogen vehicles at Protos, with further potential to expand as the hydrogen economy takes hold – with a letter of intent signed to supply hydrogen to Element 2’s proposed network of hydrogen refuelling stations. Protos is pioneering this model of creating a local hydrogen production facility, which could be deployed at locations throughout the UK if successful.

Raise climate ambition through science and innovation

Progressive ideas and innovation helped power the industrial revolution in the UK. Today, innovation is a key driver at Protos. Through collaboration with the University of Chester's neighbouring Thornton Science Park, Protos provides a supportive environment where ideas can come to life. Thornton offers world-class facilities; direct access to a highly skilled and futureproof workforce; and ‘incubator’ spaces where innovative enterprises can develop.

That progression, from concept to commercialisation, will be at the bedrock of the UK (and global) climate action. It’s not sufficient to have a great idea or concept, practical steps need to be taken to accelerate projects from the drawing page to the site if we’re to meet climate targets.

Protos has been at the vanguard of this approach, with the plastic-to-hydrogen facility a prime example. Using Powerhouse Energy technology developed at Thornton Science Park, the consented facility will be the first of its kind in the UK and demonstrate a practical way of dealing with problem plastic and the energy challenge.

A lasting legacy from COP26

We can’t allow for the COP26 legacy to be one of discussion and debate. Yes, it’s essential we exchange ideas and reach international agreements, but it’s even more important we put those strategies into action in the years to come.

We’re proud to say Protos – on many fronts - is a tangible example of action in progress. With much already achieved, the coming years will see the COP26 ambitions become a reality at Protos.