The Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) today acknowledged the declaration of support from Germany and France for strengthening of the 2 degrees long-term UNFCCC goal to the safer below 1.5°C goal at the UN Climate Conference at Paris (COP21). Recognizing this change of position, now 108 countries have clearly voiced support for the 1.5°C target, including the first major developed economies.
The move echoes rapidly growing support voiced by states and global civil society for the calls of the CVF’s Manila-Paris Declaration on long-term temperature and mitigation goals. On 1 December, the momentum was highlighted when the Forum was given the rare “Ray of the Day” international award, followed by expressions of support for 1.5°C by celebrity activist, Mark Ruffalo.
Philippine delegation chief to COP21, Secretary Emmanuel de Guzman said: “This is historic. The call of the vulnerable has been answered by the presidency of the COP and the largest economy of the EU host region. The momentum for raising the level of ambition in Paris now opens the exciting possibility for a truly historic and transformational summit. We salute France and Germany and call for more countries to join in the call for 1.5°C to protect human rights globally.”
French President Francois Hollande declared in his speech to COP21 needed to set a credible path “to sketch out a credible path allowing us to limit global warming to below… 1.5C if possible.”
Germany’s official spokesperson declared today that “the 2-degree goal is too little. 1.5 degrees must be mentioned in the climate treaty. That is the position of the Federal Government [of Germany].” [unofficial translation]
“The dangers we face at less than 1 degree of warming remind us of the inadequacies of the current 2 degree target and the need for a long-term mitigation goal to guide strengthened party contributions consistent with the most ambitious but feasible target of 1.5°C. We invite countries and civil society groups alike to declare support for limiting warming to a maximum and strongly encourage engagement with our #1o5C campaign [www.1o5C.org]. Join us in fighting for the right to survive and thrive,” said Secretary de Guzman.
On 30 April 2015 the CVF conveyed a submission under the UNFCCC mandated 2013-2015 Review of the Convention’s long-term goal of 2 degrees, including a report by the Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council that remains under the active consideration of the Paris conference this week. The lead author of the report, endorsed by 23 independent UN human rights experts, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, Prof. John Knox, commented on the conclusions of the report dealing with human rights and the impact of 2 degrees of climate change:
“Warming of 2 degrees will have a major impact on the full enjoyment of a wide range of human rights. Incremental increases in impacts and risks, even those associated with shifting from warming of 1 to 2 degrees, adversely affect the enjoyment of human rights to life, health and food, among others. Even at current warming levels, many vulnerable communities around the world are already seeing adverse effects on their human rights, from melting permafrost to more destructive storms. To fulfill their obligations to protect human rights, States should do everything they can to keep warming to a minimum.”
The Special Procedures report on human rights and climate change is under active consideration by the formal 2 degrees goal review process since June this year. The UNFCCC 2013-2015 Review of the existing temperature goal of 2 degrees is scheduled to hold a final session today at the Paris talks and refer its 3-years of work for consideration by the Conference of Parties. The call to strengthen the current temperature goal was central to the Manila-Paris Declaration the Forum released on 30 November 2015 at the Forum’s third ever High-Level Meeting in Paris.
The Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) was accorded the accolade of the “Ray of the Day” bestowed by international civil society community on 01 December following the Forum’s adoption of the Manila-Paris Declaration at the Paris climate conference this week. Secretary Emmanuel de Gauzman of the Philippine presidency of the Forum said: “We are overwhelmed by the honour of ’the Ray of the Day’ awarded to the CVF by the international NGO community.
It demonstrates that large numbers of countries can share a single vision with wide-ranging stakeholders and the broader public. We wish to thank the Climate Action Network (CAN) International for their recognition of the efforts of this Forum to act as a driving force in the international community for a resolution to a crisis that has already put billions of people at danger. You have earned the gratitude of the world’s vulnerable for elevating our call to action.”
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?
But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?
The Big Picture
The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.
That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.
One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.
As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.
Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.
Make and Model of Car
Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.
On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.
The Bottom Line
Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?
Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.
New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.
Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.
Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”
The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.
Zero net emissions by 2050
Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.
Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.
She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.
Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”
A worldwide shift to renewable energy
Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.
Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.
Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.
Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.
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