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The path to net zero. Climate Fight podcast part 2 transcript

This is a transcript of part 2 of Climate Fight: the world’s biggest negotiation, a series from The Anthill podcast.



What needs to happen to get the world to net zero? Coatesy/Shutterstock

This is a transcript of part two of Climate Fight: the world’s biggest negotiation, a series from The Anthill podcast. In this episode, we talk to experts about the grand goal of the negotiations: reaching net zero emissions.

NOTE: Transcripts may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print

Climate fight: the world’s biggest negotiation is a series supported by UK Research and Innovation, the UK’s largest public funder of research and innovation.

Gregg Milbrandt: I just wanted to give you an idea of kind of where it starts – I guess how the coal comes in, where the combustion and the steam is generated.

Jack Marley: In the prairies of Canada about a 15-minute drive from the American border there’s a coal plant called the Boundary Dam, and the plant director, Gregg Milbrandt, is giving a tour.

Gregg: Above us basically we’ve got huge bunkers of coal that store roughly 12 hours of coal that goes through a set of feeders into coal pulverisers.

Jack: This power plant, run by the government-owned power producer SaskPower, provides some of the electricity for the province of Saskatchewan. Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel. The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is calling for the world to quote “end the deadly addiction to coal”. So why are we starting this episode at a coal plant? It’s because of what’s attached to it.

Gregg: The flue gas is everything that’s left over, which could be CO2, SO2, fly ash particulate. That exhaust basically normally would go up the stack. In this case here we can go either way, and we actually send the flue gas to CCS.

Jack: CCS stands for carbon capture and storage – trapping carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, and pumping it into the ground where it can’t heat up the atmosphere.

In 2014, the Boundary Dam was the first power station in the world to successfully use the technology. And now carbon capture and storage is one of the technologies that a lot of people are counting on for the future.

Jack: I’m Jack Marley. You’re listening to Climate Fight: The World’s Biggest Negotiation. This is episode two: the path to net zero.

Jack: Around the world, leaders are pledging to get their countries to net zero emissions, all with a similar timeline.

Boris Johnson clip: You voted to be carbon neutral by 2050. And we’ll do it!)

Justin Trudeau clip: Joining countries around the world at reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. That means not putting any more carbon emissions into the air than we take out. It’s an ambitious target, but it’s doable.

Jack: What will it take to make it “doable” as Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says? Can we simply suck emissions out of the air to reach these targets? And what are the challenges to get there financially, technically, and politically? We’ll be exploring all these issues in this episode with the help of experts.

Jack: But first – what does net zero really mean?

James Dyke: All it really means is that our dangerous interference with the Earth’s climate will stop when we stop emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Jack: This is James Dyke, senior lecturer in global systems at the University of Exeter.

James: Now we can do that obviously by stopping the burning of fossil fuels – by stopping burning coal, oil, and gas – but there is an acknowledgement that we probably won’t have enough time to do that completely. So if we also remove some of the carbon dioxide from the earth’s atmosphere – so-called carbon dioxide removal or sometimes negative emission technologies – then our overall impacts on the Earth’s climate will balance to zero. So net zero contains two terms: it’s the amount of carbon that we will emit, and it’s the amount of carbon that we will remove.

Jack: So it’s like a balance sheet on a global scale, I suppose?

James: Indeed, and the only thing that really does matter is the global scale. It doesn’t matter if one country gets to net zero by 2030 or 40 or 50, all the climate cares about is whether or not the overall impact on the climate is zero.

So the idea of net zero by 2050 comes from an agreement to try to do whatever we need to do in order to limit warming to no more than 1.5, calculating the carbon budget that would mean, and then getting to that net zero position as soon as we can in order to ensure that we don’t emit too much.

Jack: And so does 2050 makes sense essentially as the target year for reaching that?

James: Much will depend on what you think the budget for, let’s say, 1.5 is, and also the uncertainties surrounding it. So one thing we need to remember is that we might do everything that we possibly can, you know, throw every kind of policy lever, all sorts of industrial actions; we might transform societies and somehow zero out all the use of fossil fuels by 2050 – that still only gives us something like a one in two chance of actually limiting warming to no more than 1.5. It’s basically a a flip of a coin. We might be lucky and warming might come in a little bit lower, but we as equally may be unlucky and warming might go north of 1.5 – maybe even north of two degrees celsius.

Jack: To figure out how we might stay under 1.5 degrees, scientists model pathways. And according to Carbon Brief – a UK-based website reporting on climate change – most of those pathways include the use of negative emissions technologies.

A lot of technologies have been proposed, and some are already being used at a small scale. But none of these technologies have so far been demonstrated on the massive scale the world would need to meet net zero. A lot of these technologies are going to depend on carbon capture and storage, as we heard about earlier.

So let’s head back to the Canadian coal plant. My producer Tiffany Cassidy took a tour while on a trip in her home province.

Tiffany Cassidy: Jack, I was standing outside with Gregg the plant director, and I’m looking up at the coal firing building we just walked through. So basically there are four huge concrete tubes going up into the sky, releasing what I guess is flue gas to me just looks like clouds.

Gregg: So the white stuff you see going up is what fly ash is not collected.

Tiffany: And mixed with that fly ash, the fine powdery byproduct of burning coal, is the invisible carbon dioxide that also gets released. But one of these giant concrete tubes sees less carbon dioxide pass through it each year and out into the atmosphere. Instead it travels to this building next door, the carbon capture and storage unit.

Tiffany: We step into the multi-storey building, and I know this room is important because it’s the only place in the whole building I can’t take a picture. Gregg says the technology is owned by another company and is proprietary.

Gregg: We were first in the world taking this technology and attaching it to the back of a thermal power plant.

Tiffany: To my eyes it really doesn’t look secret, it’s just a lot of colour-coded metal tubes looping around.

Gregg: Essentially the entire facility is pumps, piping heat exchangers.

Tiffany: They use a chemical called amine to capture the carbon dioxide from the flue gas.

Gregg: So, if you think about little worker bees being the amine, they go capture, and then they deliver it and then they go back and capture some more.

Tiffany: We walk past some workers sawing and working on various repairs. It’s fairly easy to hear them because the noisy carbon capture and storage unit is currently down for repairs. I’m visiting in September. It’s been down for about two months and they expect to be up and running in October.

Gregg: The carbon capture facility itself is quite reliable. We’ve seen really good, over the years, progress and reliability for the facility itself. So, yeah, this was a very unexpected type of issue that wouldn’t be part of the norm, put it that way.

Tiffany: They told me that when it’s running, this carbon capture and storage unit has stopped an average of 68% of the carbon dioxide from being released into the air. That’s just over two thirds, and Gregg says this unit has improved since opening in 2014.

Gregg: You know, anytime you’re venturing down a new road or first in the world, there’s obviously some challenges that come with it. I think over the years, what you’ve seen is a better understanding of the chemical process and the challenges that come with the chemistry side of things. We’ve done some improvements along the way that really focus on reliability; some added redundancy into the system so that if you have a failure or a maintenance item on one component, you don’t have to bring the entire facility down.

Tiffany: We move on to the place where we finally get pure carbon dioxide.

Gregg: What you see to the left and to the right, well to the left is our CO2 stripper. This is really just the base of it. It extends through the roof of the facility. And this is the, after the CO2 has been absorbed into that CO2 amine, it’s sent to here to be basically released. So we do that via heat. And then the released CO2 is then pushed over to the compression building.

Tiffany: Finally we step outside and see the final result from SaskPower’s end. The place where this compressed carbon dioxide leaves the plant.

It’s funny because in some ways I feel like this is the most important part of it. And it’s literally just a slightly bigger than me tube that goes out of the building and into the ground.

Gregg: Yes, it’s – I would estimate – about a 10-inch pipe that carries our product after everything we just looked at, this is kind of what it comes down to on the CO2 end.

Tiffany: From here there are two places the carbon dioxide will end up. But Jack, we can talk more about that when we talk about finance models.

Jack: Right, what I want to focus on now is the technologies that are supposed to get us to net zero. Carbon capture and storage will play a big role with a lot of them, and I’m checking in with someone who’s been following the developments.

Mercedes Maroto-Valer: I’m Mercedes Maroto Valer. I’m a UKRI industrial decarbonisation champion, so based at Heriot-Watt University and director of the UK Industrial Decarbonisation Research and Innovation Centre.

We are really looking at the wide range of options and really solutions to help the UK reach net zero. It’s not going to be just one technology that is going to help us to reach the net zero. It’s going to be really a portfolio of different technologies that are going to be ready at different times.

Jack: So, let’s go through some of the technologies people are working on. Mercedes likes to divide technologies between those that help us reduce the emissions that go into the air – like carbon capture and storage attached to fossil fuel plants or finding an alternative source of fuel – and those that will let us remove carbon dioxide directly from the air. Sticking to reducing emissions, let’s look at the possibility of hydrogen.

Hydrogen is a fuel that doesn’t release carbon dioxide when burned. The tricky part is making it. Unfortunately, currently 96% of hydrogen produced worldwide is made using fossil fuels according to the International Energy Agency.

Read more: Blue hydrogen – what is it, and should it replace natural gas?

People name hydrogen different colours depending on how it’s made. Green hydrogen is made with wind turbines, solar panels, anything that doesn’t emit carbon. This process is expected to stay very expensive for at least the next decade.

The idea behind blue hydrogen is that it would be made with natural gas - that'sthat’s the same fossil fuel that probably powers your boiler. But the emissions from this process would be caught using carbon capture and storage.
Then the hydrogen itself doesn’t emit carbon dioxide when it’s used and burned.

Not everyone believes that we’ll be able to deploy these technologies at a large scale. But Mercedes does. Even if some, such as mass-produced hydrogen are a little further away than others.

Mercedes: In any case, it’s critical that we start deploying infrastructure now in the 2020s, because the longer that we take to start deploying these new technologies, the longer it’s going to take us to reach net zero.

Jack: Why do we need decarbonisation technology like carbon capture and storage? Why can’t we just stop using fossil fuels?

Mercedes: There are some processes that, throughout the process itself, they actually produce carbon dioxide. So even if all the energy demand for those processes you were able to provide through renewables, and I think a good example for instance is if you think about cement production. The issue with cement is that yes, you can provide all renewable power to run the process, but the process itself emits CO2. And therefore, there are processes like that where carbon capture and storage is really critical for them to be able to reach net zero.

Jack: So clearly different sectors of the economy will take different lengths of time to decarbonise. Could you tell us which sectors are likely to be the slowest?

Mercedes: I think I like to put the other question the other way around and which sectors are going to be the fastest ones. Electricity production or power generation, and that’s mainly through renewables and we’ve done a fantastic job in that space.

Next steps, or next sectors, is probably going to be some of our transport sectors, are going to be more difficult to decarbonise, particularly the aviation sector. When we look at other sectors within transport, let’s say road transport or even trains, we have options that may include electrification. We have options like batteries. We don’t have many of those options when we go into aviation, we cannot really electrify it, we don’t really have batteries at the level that we need, particularly when we are looking at long-haul flights. So then when we start looking in transport, is that, in aviation specifically, we need to look at how we can help them to produce aviation fuels that are sustainable and they can continue using to a big extent that current engines and fleets but the fuels that they use, they are significantly different because their CO2 emissions have been reduced or they have actually been, in some cases, they have brought down to zero in terms of the CO2 emissions of those fuels.

COP26: the world's biggest climate talks

This story is part of The Conversation’s coverage on COP26, the Glasgow climate conference, by experts from around the world.
Amid a rising tide of climate news and stories, The Conversation is here to clear the air and make sure you get information you can trust. More.

Jack: This kind of aviation power is still a ways away. So if people are going to continue to fly for the time being, planes are going to have to continue emitting carbon dioxide.

And that’s where some of the other technologies come into play. The ones that can remove carbon dioxide directly from the air: negative emissions technologies. Back to James Dyke.

James: These sort of technologies and they might range from very low-tech from, for example, planting trees – everybody likes trees, we need more trees, so let’s just plant a bunch of trees – all the way to technologically advanced direct air capture schemes or DAC schemes which look like sort of vast banks of air conditioning systems that would strip the carbon out of the air.

Now the trouble with all these schemes is that when you do the maths when you when you look at how much they will cost not just economically but in terms of energetics, none of them really add up. And the suspicion is that they’ve been essentially invented by economic policy experts, by this kind of climate policy system, to justify continual failure to stop burning fossil fuels.

Jack: James is much less optimistic about the technology needed to get to net zero than Mercedes, particularly the politics of it.

James: The problem has been is that how it’s translated into policies and essentially by allowing, predominantly richer nations, those industrialised nations, allowing them a way of saying that they can withdraw carbon from the atmosphere at some point in the future means they’ve got a way out of making the required reductions to fossil fuel use now. It’s essentially licensed a kind of reckless burn now, pay later mentality in which they are really carrying on with business as usual, continuing to burn fossil fuels, whilst at the same time saying that they are essentially honouring the Paris Agreement.

Jack: One negative emissions technology is called Beccs. That stands for Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage. The idea is that we would grow plants such as trees on a large scale. These would suck up carbon dioxide and be net negative. Then we could burn the plants to produce electricity, a process that emits carbon dioxide. But as we do it, again, we use carbon capture and storage to trap the carbon dioxide underground, so the process is back to being net negative.

James: So it sounds like a win-win. We’re able to generate not just low-carbon electricity but negative carbon electricity, and there was tremendous excitement and interest around Beccs as a direct outcome of the Paris Agreement.

James: It’s become a bit fashionable to put the boot into Beccs because the more that we’ve looked at it the more that you realise this has got real problems. I suppose they can be summarised or captured easily when you just think about the scale of this industrial tree planting operation. There’s still only very small-scale pilot projects, there might be a whole series of engineering and physical geoscience reasons why that’s really not going to scale up but let’s just assume that’s fine, right. Let’s just look at the impacts in terms of land use. Now obviously much will depend on how much Beccs we want to do.

Read more: Climate scientists: concept of net zero is a dangerous trap

So one way to look at this is the longer that we leave the actual mitigation, the longer we continue to burn coal, oil and gas that means the more carbon we’re going to have to remove in the future. And so all things being equal that’s the more Beccs we’re going to need.

Even now, even if we undertook quite rapid and potentially even radical decarbonisation, we would still need a land surface area which might approximate something like twice the size of India, which will be nothing but trees. And these wouldn’t be a nice little indigenous ecosystems, these would be fast growing monocultures planted in industrial scale operations. They devastate biodiversity. They could have devastating impacts on food security because they would exclude people from agricultural lands. There’s problems with water security.

So I think what we can see is happening over the last, let’s say, five years, is that an awful lot of that enthusiasm about Beccs has sort of evaporated as you begin to work through the consequences, you know, what would it actually take in order to run a system that scale and then what would the impact be? So I think now it’s fair to say that the focus has kind of moved away from Beccs and seems to be turning to direct air capture.

Jack: Direct air capture involves huge moving fans and a chemical process that removes CO2 from the air. Some exist now. The world’s largest project is called the Orca plant and started running in Iceland in September 2021. Bloomberg reported it cost between US$10 and US$15 million to build. On the company Climework’s website people can buy subscriptions where it says a monthly fee enables a certain amount of carbon dioxide removal each year. Another market for direct air capture is selling the captured CO2 to fizzy drink manufacturers. With that business model carbon is burped out once people drink it.

But that brings us to one of the most important points when discussing net zero and possible technologies – how will we pay for all of this?

James: One thing that seems to be quite clear is that direct air capture is not going to be cheap. And I don’t mean just in terms of the economic costs. I mean today if you were to run these sort of early generation direct air capture schemes it would cost maybe anywhere between sort of US$250-600 to capture something like a ton of carbon dioxide.

Now the argument is that as the technology matures and as it increases in scale it’s going to become cheaper and would rival and maybe even undercut other carbon dioxide removal technologies. But even then, even if you have the most optimistic assessments for how the efficiencies could be improved, as the thing scales up ignoring the economic costs it’s going to require a tremendous amount of electricity.

Now, the problem there is we need as much renewable energy generation capacity as we possibly can in order to zero out fossil fuels. We’ve got to replace coal, oil and gas as quickly as we can. So we’ve got to throw everything we can in terms of renewable capacity – wind, wave, solar, you know, whether you think nuclear should be in the mix – and we’ve got to do that as quickly as possible.

The problem with direct air capture and some other, let’s say, more high-tech carbon removal technologies, is that they themselves are going to generate a significant drag on that renewable deployment because we’re gonna have to use more and more solar and wind power to drive the carbon-removal systems. And so when you do some kind back of the envelope calculations you could end up in a situation where by the middle of this century, over a quarter of the total amount of electricity that humanity is generating is being used to run the direct air capture machines which are taking out the carbon that we put into the air now, essentially.

So the increasing reliance on direct air capture is sort of signing ourselves up – and actually it’s not ourselves, it’s our kids and future generations – to potentially very, very large energetic debt that they will need to repay sometime from the middle of this century. And then for the rest of the century because these systems will have to run for decades in order for us to be able to capture sufficient amounts of carbon.

Jack: Other technologies also come with costs. When Tiffany was in Canada she asked about the finance models.

Tiffany: So the carbon capture and storage unit I visited has two places they send the carbon dioxide. One is deep under ground forever, but that’s only when their main destination isn’t accepting CO2. And that main destination is an oil field. It’s for a process called enhanced oil recovery that is a major revenue source for lots of carbon capture and storage units around the world. The CO2 loosens it up, and lets the oil flow out more freely. And oil companies pay carbon capture and storage facilities for this CO2.

Jack: So essentially, one of the main business models of carbon capture relies on making it easier to extract a different fossil fuel.

Tiffany: Exactly, and there aren’t other obvious ways to make money on this technology at the moment. To get going in the first place the Boundary Dam got a big investment from the government of Canada – because this technology’s not cheap, and that’s what the director of generation asset management at SaskPower, Doug Opseth, will tell you.

Doug Opseth: All those costs have been spent. So that’s a scenario where we could keep running that facility. Certainly when you start looking at, would we do more of these? I think that you do have to look at that question about the cost because it is an expensive technology. And it does come with its technological challenges.

Tiffany: Note that this is the only carbon and capture storage unit attached to a coal plant that’s currently running anywhere in the world. There was another one in Texas and its business model was also based on enhanced oil recovery. But when the price of oil dropped at the start of the pandemic, they paused the carbon capture.

Jack: To get to net zero where there’s a balance between the amount of CO2 going into the atmosphere and the amount being captured, we’re going to need to store it somewhere. So where?

Myles Allen: You can also, of course, manage natural systems to encourage them to take up carbon naturally themselves.

I’m Myles Allen, professor of geosystems science at the University of Oxford, I’m director of the Oxford Net Zero Initiative. My background is in atmospheric physics and in the late two thousands, I was involved in several of the papers that arrived at the conclusion that we needed to get to net zero CO2 emissions to stop global warming.

Jack: What occupies a lot of his thoughts now is how we’ll store the CO2 we remove. Many people talk about natural climate solutions – what ecosystems like forests can do to mop up the carbon humans emit – this is part of the biosphere, and it all traps carbon. But it doesn’t have unlimited capacity to store it.

Myles: The difficulty with that is if you’ve encouraged a natural system to take up carbon, you also have to encourage that natural system to store it, and it needs to store that carbon on a timescale commensurate with the impact of burning fossil fuels, which means, unfortunately, thousands of years.

Now, it’s very difficult to guarantee that a forest we grow or a mangrove swamp we restore or whatever is guaranteed to stay there for thousands of years, particularly in a warming world where the conditions our ecosystems exist in are changing.

Jack: Think about all the possible sinks of the biosphere, like a forest. As the world warms, more fires are ripping through forests, turning them into the the carbon dioxide-emitting sources Myles describes.

Myles: So that’s the difficulty with relying on nature-based solutions entirely, which many people would love to do, we just don’t know what the capacity will be of the biosphere to mop up carbon through to the second half of this century. So that’s where we need to be investing in the engineered solutions as well as investing in nature today.

Jack: From a strictly practical perspective, Myles says it’s likely we have the space we need to pump CO2 underground from engineeered capture.

Myles: We don’t know the capacity of the lithosphere of the geosphere, if you like, of rocks to store CO2, but most estimates are that it substantially exceeds the amount we will need to store. So, there is a lot of capacity down there, but it’s a little bit like the peak oil problem: you never quite know when you’re going to run out of oil because you don’t know what people are prepared to pay for it. And we won’t know what the capacity is of the Earth’s crust to store CO2 until we know what people are prepared to pay to get rid of CO2 back into it. If you’re willing to pay enough, then there’s a lot of capacity down there.

Jack: Myles says the real trick with engineered storage is getting people on board.

Myles: If you capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it’s obvious immediately whether you’ve succeeded because you’ve got a nice, pure CO2 stream coming out at the end of your capture plant. If you’re trying to stall carbon dioxide permanently, it won’t be obvious for decades whether you’ve succeeded because you’ll have injected that carbon dioxide down into some rocks, you’ll be needing to monitor it. You’ll need to check for the impact on seismicity. You’ll be needing to check for the possibility of any leaks. It’ll take decades to convince everybody that yes, it has been stored away safely and forever. So, that’s where we need to be focusing our attentions at the moment.

Jack: How useful a tool do you think net zero is for politicians and does it in some ways, allow them off the hook in some regards?

Myles: Crucial thing that politicians don’t seem to grasp is that if you’re going to stop fossil fuels from causing global warming, you’ve really only got two options. One is to ban them. To instigate a global ban on the extraction and use of fossil fuels. And, some environmentalists, no doubt would say that’s great. That’s exactly what we want to happen. I’m not sure many politicians have really got their minds around what that would entail and are really signed up to the idea of a global ban on the use of fossil fuels.

So the only other alternative is to require that anyone still using fossil fuels disposes safely and permanently of the carbon dioxide generated by the fossil fuels they use. There’s really no third alternative. So, that’s where we need our politicians to be focused.

Jack: So this brings us to the final point we need to settle surrounding net zero. What is the political will to reach it? How do politicians use the term? And will we be able to use the goal of net zero to make real change?

In early September, two months before the COP26 summit in Glasgow, the British prime minister, Boris Johnson addressed the United Nations.

Boris Johnson clip: And when Kermit the frog sang ‘it’s not easy being green’. You remember that one? I want you to know that he was wrong. He was wrong. It is easy. It’s not only easy it’s lucrative, and it’s right to be green. We have the technology.

Jack: We’ve heard there are challenges. Challenges of paying for it, challenges of developing the technology for sectors like aviation. So what do we need to do?

Myles: The whole COP26 process is very focused on what I see as yesterday’s policies. This is because we’re talking about policies like emission trading systems or carbon taxes, for example, that are very effective, economically ideal, if you like, to reduce emissions – to start reducing emissions – but are almost guaranteed to fail if you were actually to rely on them, to get emissions all the way down to zero.

Why do I say they’re almost guaranteed to fail? Well, because the utility of fossil carbon, the amount of benefit we get from it goes up beyond exponentially, as we squeeze out all the unproductive uses and are left with just the most vital uses of fossil carbon left. And those are the uses of fossil carbon which people are prepared to pay in effect any price to keep doing what they want to do. And it’s those uses of fossil carbon that are never going to get squeezed out by an emission trading system or a carbon tax or any form of carbon pricing. For those, we’ve got no alternative, but to insist that anyone who continues to use fossil carbon or to sell fossil carbon to somebody who wants to use it in that way has to dispose of the carbon dioxide they generate.

To look at another situation, we didn’t save the ozone layer by putting a tax on deodorant, or an emissions trading scheme to limit the amount of aerosol cans we used. No, we went upstream. We went to the manufacturers of CFCs and just said, no, you can’t produce these things that are going to destroy the ozone layer. Instead, you’ve got to do something else and we’ve got to do the same thing for fossil fuel producers.

Jack: Regulations change things. For example, in the UK, people won’t be allowed to sell fully petrol or diesel cars from 2030. And getting developed countries to phase out coal by 2030 – and developing countries by 2040 – is a priority for Boris Johnson during COP26.

A lot of people believe there should be different targets for rich and poor countries when it comes to net zero. James Dyke, who we heard from earlier, says richer countries need to get to net zero first.

James: Now when you look at what we would need to do to get to net zero by 2050 it’s not credible, and it’s certainly not fair to insist that a developing nation that might have some existing resources of fossil fuels, basically zeros all those out in as little as 20 or 30 years. These nations will need longer to decarbonise, but that means that the richer nations need to pull their weight.

So we certainly have the existing technology and we’ve certainly got the existing wealth in order to power through that sustainable transformation. So if you take a net zero by 2050 goal, really if you’re going to honour the Paris Agreement that means the richer nations such as the United Kingdom should really be getting to net zero before 2050, and some people argue that we should be doing it as early as, let’s say, 2030.

Jack: So what will we see happen at COP26?

James: This is being billed as the make or break COP, in which the Paris Agreement in 2015 was the what – so what are we going to do – and the answer to that was we’re going to limit warming to no more than 1.5. COP26 in Glasgow this year is going to be how: how on earth are we going to do that? The only way we’re going to do that is by stopping burning fossil fuels.

Jack: As we make these shifts from fossil fuels, people will feel the impacts differently. I’m specifically talking about the people who rely on the fossil fuel industry for a job. When we make policies for a greener future, it’s important to make them so we don’t leave anyone behind.

And that’s what we’ll explore in the next episode, when I take a trip to north-west England.

Rebbca Willis: You can’t do climate policy without people noticing. You know, it’s a change to how we travel about, how we live in our homes, and obviously to what jobs we do.

Jack: Thanks to everybody who spoke to us for this episode. The Anthill is produced by The Conversation in London. You can get in touch with us on on Twitter @TC_Audio, on Instagram at theconversationdotcom or email us on And you can also sign up for our free daily email by clicking the link in the show notes.

If you’re enjoying the series, please follow the show, and leave a rating or review wherever podcast apps allow you to. Please tell your friends and family about the show too.

Climate fight: the world’s biggest negotiation is produced for The Conversation by Tiffany Cassidy. Sound design is by Eloise Stevens and the series theme tune is by Neeta Sarl. Our editor is Gemma Ware and production help comes from Holly Stevens. Thanks also go to Will de Freitas, Stephen Harris, Jo Adetunji, Chris Waiting, Katie Francis, Khalil Cassimally, Alice Mason and Zoe Jazz at The Conversation. To James Harper and his team at UKRI. And to Imriel Morgan and Sharai White for helping us to promote the series. I’m Jack Marley. Thanks for listening.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)

Climate fight: the world’s biggest negotiation is a podcast series supported by UK Research and Innovation, the UK’s largest public funder of research and innovation.

The Conversation has received support from UK Research and Innovation to make the Climate Fight podcast series. Myles Allen has received funding from the UK Natural Environment Research Council and the European Commission. Mercedes Maroto-Valer receives funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC-UKRI), European Research Council and EU-H2020.

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Parents were fine with sweeping school vaccination mandates five decades ago – but COVID-19 may be a different story

Public health experts know that schools are likely sites for the spread of disease, and laws tying school attendance to vaccination go back to the 1800s.



Children and parents lined up for polio vaccines outside a Syracuse, New York school in 1961. AP Photo

The ongoing battles over COVID-19 vaccination in the U.S. are likely to get more heated when the Food and Drug Administration authorizes emergency use of a vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, expected later this fall.

California has announced it will require the vaccine for elementary school attendance once it receives full FDA approval after emergency use authorization, and other states may follow suit. COVID-19 vaccination mandates in workplaces and colleges have sparked controversy, and the possibility that a mandate might extend to younger children is even more contentious.

Kids are already required to get a host of other vaccines to attend school. School vaccination mandates have been around since the 19th century, and they became a fixture in all 50 states in the 1970s. Vaccine requirements are among the most effective means of controlling infectious diseases, but they’re currently under attack by small but vocal minorities of parents who consider them unacceptable intrusions on parental rights.

As a public health historian who studies the evolution of vaccination policies, I see stark differences between the current debates over COVID-19 vaccination and the public response to previous mandates.

Compulsory vaccination in the past

The first legal requirements for vaccination date to the early 1800s, when gruesome and deadly diseases routinely terrorized communities. A loose patchwork of local and state laws were enacted to stop epidemics of smallpox, the era’s only vaccine-preventable disease.

Vaccine mandates initially applied to the general population. But in the 1850s, as universal public education became more common, people recognized that schoolhouses were likely sites for the spread of disease. Some states and localities began enacting laws tying school attendance to vaccination. The smallpox vaccine was crude by today’s standards, and concerns about its safety led to numerous lawsuits over mandates.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld compulsory vaccination in two decisions. The first, in 1905, affirmed that mandates are constitutional. The second, in 1922, specifically upheld school-based requirements. In spite of these rulings, many states lacked a smallpox vaccination law, and some states that did have one failed to enforce it consistently. Few states updated their laws as new vaccines became available.

School vaccination laws underwent a major overhaul beginning in the 1960s, when health officials grew frustrated that outbreaks of measles were continuing to occur in schools even though a safe and effective vaccine had recently been licensed.

Many parents mistakenly believed that measles was an annoying but mild disease from which most kids quickly recovered. In fact, it often caused serious complications, including potentially fatal pneumonia and swelling of the brain.

With encouragement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all states updated old laws or enacted new ones, which generally covered all seven childhood vaccines that had been developed by that time: diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps and rubella. In 1968, just half the states had school vaccination requirements; by 1981, all states did.

Smiling boy rolls up his sleeve to get a shot from a nurse
Sometimes, students even received vaccinations from nurses at school. NIH U.S. National Library of Medicine, CC BY-ND

Expanding requirements, mid-20th century

What is most surprising about this major expansion of vaccination mandates is how little controversy it provoked.

The laws did draw scattered court challenges, usually over the question of exemptions – which children, if any, should be allowed to opt out. These lawsuits were often brought by chiropractors and other adherents of alternative medicine. In most instances, courts turned away these challenges.

There was scant public protest. In contrast to today’s vocal and well-networked anti-vaccination activists, organized resistance to vaccination remained on the fringes in the 1970s, the period when these school vaccine mandates were largely passed. Unlike today, when fraudulent theories of vaccine-related harm – such as the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism – circulate endlessly on social media, public discussion of the alleged or actual risks of vaccines was largely absent.

Through most of the 20th century, parents were less likely to question pediatricians’ recommendations than they are today. In contrast to the empowered “patient/consumer” of today, an attitude of “doctor knows best” prevailed. All these factors contributed to overwhelmingly positive views of vaccination, with more than 90% of parents in a 1978 poll reporting that they would vaccinate their children even if there were no law requiring them to do so.

Widespread public support for vaccination enabled the laws to be passed easily – but it took more than placing a law on the books to control disease. Vaccination rates continued to lag in the 1970s, not because of opposition, but because of complacency.

Thanks to the success of earlier vaccination programs, most parents of young children lacked firsthand experience with the suffering and death that diseases like polio or whooping cough had caused in previous eras. But public health officials recognized that those diseases were far from eradicated and would continue to threaten children unless higher rates of vaccination were reached. Vaccines were already becoming a victim of their success. The better they worked, the more people thought they were no longer needed.

In response to this lack of urgency, the CDC launched a nationwide push in 1977 to help states enforce the laws they had recently enacted. Around the country, health officials partnered with school districts to audit student records and provide on-site vaccination programs. When push came to shove, they would exclude unvaccinated children from school until they completed the necessary shots.

The lesson learned was that making a law successful requires ongoing effort and commitment – and continually reminding parents about the value of vaccines in keeping schools and entire communities healthy.

Add COVID-19 to vaccine list for school?

Five decades after school mandates became universal in the U.S., support for them remains strong overall. But misinformation spread over the internet and social media has weakened the public consensus about the value of vaccination that allowed these laws to be enacted.

adults and kids with signs protesting COVID-19 vaccines
Some anti-vaccination activists are vocal opponents of vaccine mandates for kids. Sarah Reingewirtz/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images

COVID-19 vaccination has become politicized in a way that is unprecedented, with sharp partisan divides over whether COVID-19 is really a threat, and whether the guidance of scientific experts can be trusted. The attention focused on COVID-19 vaccines has given new opportunities for anti-vaccination conspiracy theories to reach wide audiences.

[Over 115,000 readers rely on The Conversation’s newsletter to understand the world. Sign up today.]

Fierce opposition to COVID-19 vaccination, powered by anti-government sentiment and misguided notions of freedom, could undermine support for time-tested school requirements that have protected communities for decades. Although vaccinating school-aged children will be critical to controlling COVID-19, lawmakers will need to proceed with caution.

The Conversation

James Colgrove has received funding from the National Library of Medicine, the Greenwall Foundation, the Milbank Memorial Fund, and the William T. Grant Foundation.

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How Robots and A.I. are About To Change This $11 Trillion Industry Forever

TikTok’s nearly 700 million users seek medical advice from random individuals and charlatans, since anyone can claim to be a medical expert on this raging social media machine.
Dr. Google is also working overtime, receiving more than one billion…



TikTok’s nearly 700 million users seek medical advice from random individuals and charlatans, since anyone can claim to be a medical expert on this raging social media machine.

Dr. Google is also working overtime, receiving more than one billion healthcare questions every day.

Web MD is recording over one billion searches a year, too.

When you combine this voracious hunger for digital diagnosis, symptom checkers and immediate medical assistance, with a global mobile app market whose revenues had already hit $365 billion in 2018, and are now on track to generate over $935 billion by 2023 ...

You get one of the best bets on disrupting the virtual medicine industry to date. You get Big Tech built by doctors for doctors in the Global Library of Medicine (GLM).

You get Cara, the new, sophisticated AI, powered by the unique Global Library of Medicine, that has been trained by hundreds of doctors to think just like them.

Cara will be launching at the end of November, marking the first time in our medical history that we can check our symptoms online, at the touch of a button, and truly trust what we are being told.

Over the past five years, (CSE: TRUE; OTC: TREIF) has been developing the world’s next-generation AI symptom checker, picking up where the billions of requests were left hanging by Google and WebMD … and certainly by TikTok.

Now, the app is about to launch as Treatment Mobile with an intelligent digital assistant, Cara, with over 400 diagnoses by a global team of hundreds of doctors who are adding more every day.

A Digital Fix for a Broken Healthcare System

An overwhelming majority of Americans find the healthcare system impossible to navigate.

Nearly three-quarters have no idea how they will afford their healthcare.

Those two facts have led to a shocking increase in at-home health solutions.

Need a healthcare big tech vendor who knows North American Healthcare

From 2019 to 2020--even before the COVID-19 outbreak--telemedicine grew by 46%.

In 2020 alone, wellness apps were downloaded 1.2 billion times.

Major investment into the telemedicine space combined with a massive increase in uptake and rapidly rising favor among consumers has seen telehealth increase 38X so far in 2021 from pre-COVID levels.

In April 2020, right at the start of the pandemic, telehealth use was 78X higher than in February 2020, according to McKinsey.

Total VC investment into the digital health space in H1 2021 was $14.7 billion. That’s more than VC investment for all of 2020, and twice the amount for 2019. That leads McKinsey to project that 2021 could see total investment in the sector hit $30 billion.

The bottom line is this: American healthcare is broken, and digital offerings are a major element of the fix. Cara steps in at exactly the right time to provide the first sophisticated AI that can help bring it all together. This is where big money is going in the healthcare sector.

The Digital Doctor Is In

Working with the University of Minnesota Medical School, (CSE: TRUE; OTC: TREIF) has gathered the best doctors and tech engineers that built the Global Library of Medicine (GLM) from around the world to teach Cara to do two things that no other digital health platform has been able to do successfully:

1) Think like a real doctor

2) Provide consumers with a personalized health assessment and full-on health management

Cara integrates everything by providing consumers with a bridge to wellness, telemedicine, pharma and health products ...

Cara asks you questions about your symptoms and then sorts through millions of pieces of information that include historical medical cases, demographic data and advances in medical knowledge. The end result is a more accurate recommendation than any other digital tool in the world.

Cara helps you understand what your symptom could be. It helps you monitor and track health changes and understand your general health and prevent illness. It gives you personalized support and follow-up and even allows you to track and manage your entire family.

And it can all be integrated with Apple Health Kit, Apple Watch and FitBit.

Treatment’s AI has been so effective, in fact, that the University of Minnesota Medical School licensed it to test medical students.

How Does Cara Make Money? (CSE: TRUE; OTC: TREIF) plans to leverage its healthcare AI to build a multi-billion-dollar business.

The initial app will be free, but there is an impressive scalability here.

This is how the wildly lucrative world of apps works. Once the upfront costs of development and AI learning are paid for, it’s all revenue, all the time. And app revenue streams are recurring, which is exactly why the mobile app industry continues to surge.

Consumers will pay for recommendations through premium app subscriptions, and’s next move with Cara will be to add a series of paid plugins for everything from dermatology specialty segments, to cardiology.

Additionally, will seek health and wellness partners to integrate to access qualified referrals and improve efficiencies, while simultaneously reducing costs.

There are three revenue-generating avenues here: corporate licenses, health and wellness products and university medical school training.

But the biggest value here is that Cara is a goldmine of data …

Cara’s access to individualized health trends will help insurance providers and governments to provide better health services.

In healthcare, big data like this helps avoid preventable diseases by detecting them in their early stages.

The market for big data analytics in healthcare could be worth an astounding $68 billion by 2025, and will have a major advantage with Cara.

WebMD--a private company--is valued at $2.8 billion, and it doesn’t even have any AI to back it up., (CSE: TRUE; OTC: TREIF) which listed on the Canadian Securities Exchange on April 19th, 2021, is about to launch a healthcare app that could completely change the way we view and access healthcare.

Global Medical and AI Expertise

Founded by John Fraser and Dr. Kevin Peterson, International Inc. (CSE: TRUE)(OTC:TREIF) is a sophisticated big-tech setup from the roots up.

Fraser is a computer scientist and entrepreneur with a background in healthcare technology. He’s a 20-year IT software veteran who has done this before. He sold his first unicorn--Vision Share (now Abilities Network)--for over $1 billion.

Dr. Peterson is a leading doctor and tenured professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He was also the architect of an international disease surveillance and research system, the first such in the world.

Add to this a global team of doctors in the United States, Canada, Singapore, India, Ethiopia and South Africa and you have the makings of the most intelligent AI symptom checker and health care management platform on the planet.

Again, that’s why it’s been licensed to train medical students at the University of Minnesota.

The Next Healthcare Wave

The healthcare industry is overripe for disruption, and it’s being disrupted in waves.

The most recent wave saw Babylon Health, valued at $4.2 billion in its latest funding round, explode on the scene with an AI-powered platform for virtual clinical operations. Babylon is about to go public via a SPAC deal through a $4.2-billion merger with Alkuri Global Acquisition Corp., led by former Groupon executives.

It’s also been disrupted by Teladoc Health, the $25-billion telemedicine behemoth that has nicely rewarded investors. Investors who jumped in on this in early 2018 could have seen gains of over 1,500% by January this year.

When we miss one wave, we move on to the next because the healthcare industry is set to see wave after wave of disruption, and Cara comes next.

Set to launch by the end of October, Cara is about to go mainstream, and because of the global experts behind it, it stands a good chance of becoming the next app to go from zero to hero--and perhaps to billions. International Inc. (CSE: TRUE; OTC: TREIF) has:

1) unfettered access to a data goldmine

2) A Global Library of Medicine (GLM) that is continually updated and referenced by its AI engine that will eventually scale up to all ~10,000 diseases known to man

3) Proprietary IP that could one day be worth billions of dollars

4) Massive growth runways

The next healthcare disruption is about empowering consumers to take better care--and control--of their health, and early-in investors may have a unique opportunity here with a new app that puts another big patch on a broken healthcare system.

Other companies looking to transform healthcare:

3D Signatures Inc. is a high-tech Canadian firm that has found itself in the center of two explosive sectors. It’s armed with an innovative new software platform which uses 3D analysis to target various diseases and help clinicians identify a diagnosis and optimize treatment plans. 3D Signatures’ software is saving doctors time which could be the difference of life and death for some patients.  3D Signatures sets itself apart from its competition through creating individualized treatment plans for patients. Using its mapping platform, the software can determine how a disease will progress and whether or not the patient will respond to treatment

3D Signatures’ broad scope and futuristic technology brings a promising opportunity to potential investors. It truly is at the forefront of a new era in medicine, and investors should not overlook this company’s massive potential.

CRH Medical Corporation specializes in products and services designed for the treatment of gastrointestinal diseases in the United States, Canada, and internationally. With a long history within the space, CRH has positioned itself as a leader in the field, trusted by medical professionals all over the world.

CRH also made a majpr acquisition at the beginning of the year, buying out Anesthesia Care Associates, LLC, an Indiana-based gastroenterology anesthesia practice. The estimated $2.6 million deal will increase CRH’s footprint in the space, and has been well received by investors.

AEterna Zentaris Inc. (TSX:AEZS) is a major biopharmaceutical up and comer. The company has seen steady growth, and an array of new developments over the recent years. With a focus on oncology, endocrinology, and women's health solutions, AEterna has created a variety of new products, including Macrilen, the first and only FDA-approved oral test for the diagnosis of Adult Growth Hormone Deficiency.

Recently, AEterna received European approval to market Macrillen which has pushed its value even higher. Dr. Christian Strasburger, the Head of Clinical Endocrinology at Charité Unversitaetsmedizin Berlin and the principal investigator for macimorelin explained, “Clinical studies have demonstrated that macimorelin is safer and much simpler to administer than the current methods of testing for insulin-induced hypoglycemia, and is well-tolerated by patients and reliable in diagnosing the condition.”

Aptose Biosciences Inc. (TSX:APS) is a biotech company specializing in personalized therapies to address Canada’s unmet oncology needs. The company uses genetic and epigenetic profiles to gain insights into certain cancers and patient populations in order to develop new treatments within the space.

Aptose has an exclusive partnership with Ohm Oncology to develop, manufacture and commercialize APL-581 in order to treat hematologic malignancies and related molecules.

Toronto-based Field Trip Health (TSX:FTRP) is taking a three-pronged approach in their work in the transformative psychedelic medicine sector. Not only are they involved in drug development, but they’re also involved in manufacturing and run a number of treatment clinics.

Field Trip has hit the ground running. With clinics currently operating in Toronto, Los Angeles, and New York, they have plans to ramp up to 75 clinics – providing psychotherapy along with psychedelic treatments. As one of the frontrunners in this exciting new industry, investors are keeping a close eye on Field Trip.

By. Charles Kennedy


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UK Banks – Digital Dinosaurs

UK Banks – Digital Dinosaurs

Authored by Bill Blain via,

“Tuppence wisely invested in the bank…”

As UK bank reporting season kicks off, the dull, boring, predictable UK banks should look good. But the reality…



UK Banks – Digital Dinosaurs

Authored by Bill Blain via,

“Tuppence wisely invested in the bank…”

As UK bank reporting season kicks off, the dull, boring, predictable UK banks should look good. But the reality is they are dinosaurs – their failure to digitise and evolve leaves them vulnerable to tech-savy FinTechs and Challenger filling their niche. If the future of modern finance is a Tech hypersonic missile… British Banks are still building steam trains. 

Today see’s the start of the UK bank reporting season. Yawn….

I wrote a piece for the Evening Standard y’day – Another set of numbers to disguise the rot. (I’ve reused some of it this morning – lazy, eh?) Exactly as I predicted in that note, Barclays came in strong this morning with a decent lift from its investment banking businesses. Lloyds and HSBC will also produce acceptable numbers and limited losses on post pandemic recovery.  The sector outlook looks positive, the regulator will allow them to increase dividends, and there is higher income potential from rising interest rates.

But… would you buy the UK banks?

They face substantial market and ongoing pandemic risk. The cost of economic reality falls heavy across them all. This morning the headlines are about Medical groups screaming out for a renewal of lockdown measures to protect the NHS – a move that will 100% nail-on recession and cause multiple small businesses to give up. The threat of recession in the UK is pronounced – exacerbated by global supply chain crisis and risks of policy mistakes. The worst outcome for banks would be stagflation resulting in exploding loan impairments.

Lloyds is the most vulnerable to the UK economy – hence it’s underperformed the others. Even without renewed Covid measures, potential policy mistakes by the Bank of England in raising interest rates too early, or by government by raising taxes and austerity spending, will hit business and consumer sentiment hardest, causing the stock prices to crumble back towards its low back in Sept 2020 when it hit £24.72. It’s got the largest mortgage exposure – but no one really expects a significant housing sell-off. (When no-one expects it – is when to worry!)

If you believe the UK’s economic potential is under-stated, then Lloyds has the best upside stock potential among the big three. If the economy recovers strongly, Lloyds goes up. If it stumbles, then so will Lloyds!

Barclays is a more difficult call. It’s a broader, more diversified name. It retains an element of “whoosh” from its markets businesses – which have delivered excellent returns from its capital markets businesses fuelled by low rates, but it also runs a higher-than-average reputational risk for generating embarrassing headlines. But, when the global economy normalises, higher interest rates will impact the fee income of all the investment banks, thus impacting Barclays to a greater extent than Lloyds. Barclay’s international business gives it some hedge against a UK economic slide.

HSBC is the most complex call. The UK banking operation is a rounding error compared to the Bank’s Hong Kong business. The bank is pivoting towards Asia, orbiting China and other high-growth Far East economies where it seeks to attract rising middle-class wealth. It’s underperformed due to a distaste among global investors for its China business, but also the perception it’s just too big a bank to manage effectively.

If its China strategy was to pay off, it will be a long-term winner. But that’s no means certain – Premier Xi’s crackdown on Chinese Tech threatens to morph into a China first policy, and the space for a strong foreign bank in China’s banking system looks questionable, even as the developing crisis in real-estate could pull it lower.

Ok – so good for UK banks…

Whatever the respective bank numbers show this week, the banks will remain core holdings for many investors. Generally, big banks are perceived to be “relatively” safe. Regulation has reduced their market risk profiles, and strengthened capital bases since the post-Lehman unpleasantness in 2008 which saw RBS rescued by government.

Conventional investment wisdom says the more “dull, boring and predictable” a bank is, the more valuable it will be perceived in terms of stable predictable dividends, sound risk management, and for not surprising investors. Strong banks are perceived to be less vulnerable to competition with deep moats around their business.

Since 2008 that’s changed – in ways the incumbent banks have completely missed. The costs of entry have tumbled as banking has evolved into a completely different service. New, more nimble Fin-Techs like Revolut, digital challenger banks such as Starling, and cheaper foreign competitors, including the Yanks, are not only eating their lunch, but dinner as well.

The old established UK banks don’t seem to have a clue it’s happening. These incumbent banks look like dinosaurs wondering what that bright shiny light getting bigger in the sky might be. Despite proudly boasting of hundreds years of history, they are constrained by old tech ledger systems and never built centralised data-lakes from their information on individuals or the financial behaviours of crowds to improve and develop their services and income streams.

The future of banking is going to be about Tech and how effectively banks compete in a marketplace of online digital facilities and services. Banks that you use tech smartly will see their costs tumble, freeing up resources to do more, better! (When I ran a major bank’s FIG (Financial Institutions Group) about 100 years ago – the best banks were those with lowest cost-to-income ratio!)

There is an excellent article outlining FinTechs and Challengers from Chris Skinner this morning: Europe’s Challenger Banks are Challenging (and worth more than the old names). Let me pluck a bite from his piece: “Revolut is the most valuable UK tech start-up in history and the eighth biggest private company in the world, worth an estimated US$33 billion, according to CB Insights. Revolut has more than 16 million customers worldwide and sees over 150 million transactions per month.”

The new generation of nimbler Fin Techs and Challengers can innovate product offerings with sophisticated new systems and software. In contrast, UK bank IT departments are engaged in digital archaeology.  I understand only 17% of Senior Tech positions are held by women. Within the banks, I’m told its still a boys club, where the best paid IT jobs are for ancient bearded D&D playing coders brought into to patch 50 year-old archaic systems. Legacy systems leave the big banks with impossible catch up costs.

It’s probably unfair to say the big UK banks don’t know what’s happening – their management can’t be that unaware? Surely not…. But…. Maybe..

Although the banks brag how well diversified they are with over 37% of UK board members female – how much have they really changed? Hiring on the basis of diversity is a fad. At the risk of lighting the blue-touch paper and this comment exploding in my face, I would hazard to suggest the appointment of senior ladies who’ve worked their way up the existing financial system simply risks confirmation-bias on how things are conventionally done in banking.

They might do better hiring outside movers and shakers – rather than listening to themselves.

The bottom line is its not just their failure to innovate tech that’s a crisis. Over the years the UK banks have become increasingly sclerotic – slow to shift and adapt. The middle to senior levels of banking are hamstrung by bureaucracy, a satisficing culture, stifled innovation, a compliance fearful mindset, and senior management fixated on impressing the regulators first and foremost.

If the future of modern finance is a Tech hypersonic missile… British Banks are still building steam trains.

Tyler Durden Fri, 10/22/2021 - 05:00

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