Join the discussion: Environmental Sustainability

We listen to the new Edwards podcast series on environmental sustainability

Experts in the global semiconductor industry, our partner, Edwards, is committed to protecting the environment and driving innovative clean air solutions that tackle global warming and reduce pollution. Their new podcast series is an illuminating and informative look at some of the topics close to our hearts.

In this first episode, released to coincide with Earth Day, we listen to Stewart Davidson, Head of Marketing Communications, and Dr Chris Jones, Environmental Business Development Manager, discuss environmental sustainability.

So what did we learn?

Knowledge of climate change isn't new

In the early nineteenth century, Joseph Fourier, a French mathematician and physicist, became aware of changes in temperature and wanted to understand more about the long term trends of those changes.

Although a seemingly strange idea at the time, he discovered that the planet should be a lot colder than it was in relation to the amount of energy it received from the sun. He came to the conclusion there must be something in the atmosphere acting like a blanket to keep us and the planet warm.

A few years later, an American scientist, Eunice Newton Foote put various gases such as dry air, water-saturated air and carbon dioxide into containers and measured how long the gases retained their heat. She found that water-saturated air and carbon dioxide retained their heat a lot longer than dry air.

Then, in the mid-nineteenth century, as scientific instruments and methods improved, the Irish scientist, John Tyndall, found that carbon dioxide held onto energy about a thousand times more effectively than air.

Along with other scientific discoveries, these all led to the work at the end of the nineteenth century by Swedish scientist, Svante Arrhenius, who calculated that if the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere were to double, global warming would increase by around 4-6 degrees celcius.

A hundred years later, our modern day scientists have come to pretty much the same conclusion.

We keep gassing on

With around a hundred different reports on the subject of environmental sustainability published every week, it can be difficult to keep abreast of all the latest news and discoveries and it can often feel like a science lesson as we wade through some of the terms.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the major greenhouse gas (or "GHG") in that, as Joseph Fourier discovered in the nineteenth century, it behaves a bit like a blanket for the Earth and keeps us warm.

There are other greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide and, as found in the semiconductor industry, perfluorocarbons. Any gases that absorbs infrared radiation and convert it to heat are global warming gases and thus, are sometimes referred to collectively as CO2e, meaning "carbon dioxide equivalent" because of how they behave.

Taking the amount of time a greenhouse gas remains in our atmosphere into account, the global warming potential (or "GWP") of these gases can be referred to as a number, which is representative of the amount of radiation that is converted to heat by the gas - i.e its potency - over a period of a hundred years.

As carbon dioxide (CO2) is the biggest greenhouse gas contributor and is the gas that all other GHGs are compared against, it has a global warming potential of 1. While there are smaller amounts of other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, if we compare the molecules of other gases to carbon dioxide, they are more potent. For instance, methane has a GWP of 28, nitrous oxide approximately 300 and some of the perfluorocarbons run into thousands. So, while carbon dioxide is the main focus for reducing emissions, we do need to tackle all greenhouse gases to get to net zero.

The IPCC is formed

During the nineteenth century, scientists were more concerned about Ice Ages being the result of changing climate temperature, rather than global warming. Nobody really thought the world’s climate could warm as a result of human impact.

It wasn’t until after a conference in the Austrian town of Villach in 1985 that the Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases (AGGG) was set up to monitor the causes of global warming. Three years later, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed and in 1990, the now globally renowned body issued its first report which stated that global warming was real and was already happening. At the time though, it wasn’t known whether this was a result of man-made or natural causes.

By the 4th IPCC report, published in 2007, the findings were reasonably firm that the cause of global warming was man-made and when the 5th report was published in 2014, the IPCC started recommending carbon “budgets” to limit the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.

In 2020, echoing the work of Svante Arrhenius a century before, the IPCC said that to keep global warming to a 1.5 degree celcius increase from pre-industrial levels, we only have another 400 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent we can release into the atmosphere. Currently, we release around 40-50 gigatonnes every year, so we have to reduce the amount of emissions dramatically in order to keep to within the 1.5 degrees celcius limit.

The background to 1.5 degrees

Most of us are now familiar with the target of a pre-industrial limit of 1.5 degrees celcius for global warming, but not many people will realise this was first talked about over a decade ago in 2010, when the sixteenth global COP (short for "Conference of the Parties") event was held in Cancun, Mexico, in 2010.

The first COP event (also known as "COP1"), was held in Berlin in 1990 and the most recent, COP26, was held on home turf in Glasgow November 2021.

While COP is great for discussion about climate change at a global level, every country has to agree on the way forward which is a challenge. Because of this, progress has historically been quite slow because not every country will share the same industrial or geopolitical interests, so not all COPs result in satisfactory outcomes. For instance, at COP3 in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, the EU proposed a reduction in greenhouse gases of 15%, but by the end of the meeting, negotiations between all parties had settled on a reduction of just 5%.

COP16 in Cancun was the first time the target limit of 1.5-2 degrees was discussed. Then in Paris (COP21) in 2015, it was formally agreed we need to keep global warming to an increase of within 2 degrees celsius and ideally aspire to a limit of 1.5 degrees celsius. This has subsequently been dubbed the 'Paris Agreement'.

But all countries need to agree and be committed to the same goals for this to be achieved. It should be stressed that we shouldn’t just be talking about carbon dioxide emissions. When working towards net zero, we should be talking about all greenhouse gases which is why the EU now talks about a target of becoming “climate neutral" by 2050, rather than "carbon neutral" which other countries, such as China, are committing to.

Ultimately, real progress can only happen when every country works together and has a standard approach.

It can feel like things are happening behind closed doors at a global level. But, in the UK at least, we live in a democracy so as individuals, we do have the power to drive change!  We can ask companies we're thinking of purchasing from to share their carbon footprint and reduction plan with us and if they're unable to respond, we can choose to spend our money elsewhere.

Chris Jones says that we should all have a "very clear understanding of the environmental impact of the goods we use and buy" and suggests we write to our MPs to ask about their views on global warming and how they’ll influence government, to help drive change.

Listen to the full podcast now on Spotify, Apple, Samsung, Amazon or through this website.