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Upcoming trends for business and environment in 2018

 

2017 gave us plenty to talk about in the world of sustainable business. We expect 2018 to be no different, as increasing numbers of people, companies and governments wake up to the need for a green economy. Here are our predictions for the most important trends for business and the environment this year.

Renewable energy

Solar panels, Cumbria © Global Warming Images / WWF-CanonSolar panels, Cumbria © Global Warming Images / WWF-Canon

2018 should be an exciting year for clean energy development and growth. With climate change the top concern of millennials for three years running, there is a rapid global shift away from coal in particular, but also from other fossil fuels – towards electric vehicles, for instance. As battery storage technology improves and renewable energy costs continue to fall, it makes more and more sense for investors to back clean energy and for governments to continue to move away from fossil fuels. Solar energy, for example, is almost a quarter cheaper than it was in 2009, and offshore wind has almost halved in price over the last few years – both much cheaper than nuclear.

Global investment in renewables is set to increase exponentially, with Bloomberg’s New Energy Outlook estimating that they will account for almost three quarters of global energy investment between now and 2040. China, India, the United States, Japan and Germany are currently the biggest investors; UK offshore wind is the single biggest part of the world market for the technology. Here in the UK, coal will be phased out by 2025, and solar, onshore and offshore wind will all be cheaper than gas by then. Large-scale investment can still be challenging for developing countries, although this is changing with falling prices. Vietnam’s TTC Corp is set to start work on three large-scale solar projects in the first half of this year, setting a great example for other countries to follow. And India’s deployment of renewables is contributing towards their likely over-delivering on commitments under the Paris Agreement.

Electric vehicles

WWF-UK Head of Climate and Energy charges up an EVWWF-UK Head of Climate and Energy charges up an EV. © James Beard / WWF-UK

The rise of electric vehicles (EVs) is set to intensify this year. Despite £500 million funding for EVs and charge points set out in the UK Government’s Budget last November, the ban on the sale of diesel and petrol cars won’t come into effect until 2040, a whole decade later than countries such as India and Norway. China is making huge strides, making up more than half of global EV sales in Q3 2017. But where UK policy lacks ambition, corporate fleet owners and private buyers are sure to accelerate our transition to an all-electric future – 40% of people around the world who plan to buy a car within the next five years saying they are likely to buy all-electric.

Ahead of the electric vehicle conference set to take place in the UK this autumn, a strong EV strategy in March is vital for us to take advantage of the investment and job opportunities this new and rapidly growing industry presents, and maintain global leadership post-Brexit. And if we want to be able to demonstrate that we’re on track with our national emissions targets at COP24, the government needs to set more ambitious plans with detail on how they will be achieved, as well as increasing investment in renewable energy and technologies.

Ocean plastics

Plastic bag on coral in the Indo-Pacific Ocean. © Jürgen Freund / WWFPlastic bag on coral in the Indo-Pacific Ocean. © Jürgen Freund / WWF

The plastic pollution crisis in our oceans was deservedly high on the political agenda at the end of last year. Tackling this enormous threat will require big changes across the corporate sector, not least in retail and consumer goods. Sky has taken the lead here, with their commitment to remove all single-use plastics from their products, operations and supply chain by 2020. The most agile and innovative companies will be capitalising on this opportunity to show they care. But we’ll see what regulations the Government has in mind, including a possible deposit return scheme for plastic bottles, when it publishes the outcome of its consultation.

UK policy – agriculture and fisheries

Fisherman with tuna catch, Philippines. © Jürgen Freund / WWFFisherman with tuna catch, Philippines. © Jürgen Freund / WWF

This year we’re also expecting the UK Government to unveil agriculture and fisheries bills to replace the European legislation currently governing these areas until Brexit. Whatever your opinion of Brexit, these bills give the UK a chance to establish itself as a world leader in environmentally responsible legislation.

As the welcome, but fragile, recovery of North Sea cod has shown, nature can bounce back from the brink and offer sustainable business opportunities if the right action is taken with enough urgency. The long-term health of the British seafood industry depends on a fisheries bill with environmental sustainability at its heart.

As for the agriculture bill, this is a unique opportunity to make farming policy that better supports nature, people, our land and our livestock. The Government needs to set out an agriculture policy that prevents water pollution and ensures that public subsidies deliver benefits for society by rewarding farmers that conserve healthy soils, support abundant wildlife and reduce flood risk. It should also be future-proof, enabling our agricultural sector to cope with the changes and challenges that lie ahead, as well as being able to capitalise on future opportunities.

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2018

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2015, Malta. © Matt Cardy / Getty Images Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2015, Malta. © Matt Cardy / Getty Images

Taking place in April in London and Windsor, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) will see all 52 country leaders unite to address global challenges. The meeting comes at an intriguing time and could have big implications for UK businesses. With the UK poised to leave the EU, this a chance for to embrace the UN Sustainable Development Goals and embed fresh green thinking in a set of progressive new deals that put sustainable development at the centre of international trade.

Our wish for 2018

Businesses and society can’t flourish in a world of climate change, pollution and extinction. It’s vital for us to transition quickly and efficiently to a green economy. If the business world was to make a collective new year’s resolution, we’d want it to be a commitment to stop investing in what seems most profitable in the short term, and to consider its true impact on the environment, so that we can all benefit from a better and more prosperous future.

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