Net gain, net zero: an industry uniquely delivering for nature

05/11/21

The outcomes of COP26 hang in the balance as world leaders aim to accelerate urgent global action to secure net zero by reducing both carbon dioxide and methane emissions by mid-century. Equally important is the focus being put on nature and sustainable land use as part of the effort to halt the decline in biodiversity in favour of nature recovery.

Those local authorities across the UK with mineral resources are increasingly discovering that quarrying operations can help them achieve their ambitions for biodiversity net gain and that the industry is also advancing on its roadmap to net zero.

Recently the Mineral Products Association (MPA) showcased the mineral product industry’s contribution to nature from across the UK over the last 50 years as a result of quarrying. The creation of a range of UK priority habitats in recent years of an area the size of Nottingham will be increased by other new planned projects, which will create an additional area the size of Liverpool. This in addition to the planting of one and a half million trees and laying over 100 kilometres of hedgerows in the last 10 years.

All of this practical action is contributing to nature recovery and nature-based solutions including capturing carbon and managing water. This catalogue of achievements has been delivered by the industry and is a best practice example of ‘private money for public goods’ involving no subsidies or support from Government.

MPA’s members have been working in partnership with organisations such as the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts as well as the Bumblebee and Bat Conservation Trusts and Freshwater Habitats Trust. The industry’s achievements have been captured in a new film released by MPA ‘Quarries & Nature … A 50-year Success Story’ accompanied by a new brochure which includes some of the best photographs captured by both employees on quarries and volunteers from wildlife groups. However you assess this, it is biodiversity net gain writ large. Quarries are uniquely delivering for nature like no other industry has or can.

When it comes to net zero, the industry is pushing forward on the progress it has made since 1990. In 2020 UK Concrete launched the ‘UK Cement and Concrete Roadmap to Beyond Net Zero’. Amongst the first in the world for concrete and cement production, the roadmap sets out the steps the industry will take and the operational and regulatory landscape required to enable it deliver this ambitious plan, which will maintain the UK’s position as a world class leader in the sustainable production of cement and low carbon concretes.

MPA was proud to present an update on the project at the Global Cement & Concrete Association’s roadmap event at COP26, including the recent trials funded by Government grants have been a world first in demonstrating the switching from fossil fuel to a net zero fuel utilising hydrogen.

This globally game changing development is creating a real buzz in the industry as it shows that challenging ambitions can be realised, provided the seed investment is made available for ground breaking collaborative research and innovation to meet the industry’s climate change objectives.

I am immensely proud to work for an industry that not only supplies materials essential for the economy and our quality of life but is also contributing to nature recovery, increased biodiversity as well as the achievement of net zero and better by 2050.

This is a long-term strategic foundation sector which has also built an immense legacy for nature which will only grow and improve over time. The innovations that the cement and concrete industry are delivering show that the world’s most sought-after man-made material is becoming increasingly sustainable, particularly as it has already reduced absolute CO2 emissions by 53% compared to 1990 levels and decarbonising faster than the UK economy overall.

By converting commitments into action, our industry is delivering on both net gain and net zero. What we have achieved for nature over the last 50 years will only get bigger and better and what we will achieve as we progress towards and beyond net zero would once have seemed unimaginable.

By Nigel Jackson, chief executive, Mineral Products Association