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Carbon politics: seeking simple solutions to the climate crisis



Gerald Kutney picks out some of the highlights from his book, Carbon Politics and the Failure of the Kyoto Protocol, published this month by Routledge. In this final instalment, he provides an overview of chapter five.

On an international front, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has accomplished much and is indirectly responsible for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Kyoto Protocol and the Bali Roadmap. Here lies the prowess of this organisation and its assessment reports.

Unfortunately, the IPCC has failed dismally on the more important national level. An argument can be made that the IPCC never influenced any government; those that had already determined to act on climate change, such as Germany, embraced the IPCC recommendations, and those that rejected any policy initiatives, such as the US, simply ignored them.

We cannot be critical of the IPCC in this regard because, clearly, the influence of an assessment report is restricted by the policy neutral rule. Under this constraint, climate scientists can list the options to mitigate climate change but not prioritise them. Politicians may decide, in consideration of legitimate reasons, to ignore some recommendations; however, they should not be able prevent recommendations from even being made, which is precisely what is happening with climate change. The full potential of the IPCC must be unleashed; politicians should not fear policy recommendations by the leading scholars of the world.

While the UNFCCC is to be commended in its efforts to combat climate change, the process, itself, of requiring almost 200 nations to agree (to anything) is doomed. Towns, cities and nations cannot reach consensus on climate change, so how can the world?  We must seek an approach which does not depend only on a single binding global treaty, where most of the nations don’t reduce emissions anyway.

Global leadership would be undertaken by the major emitters first. When over 50% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from three political entities, why compound the issue at the initial stage of this crisis by looking for consensus from 200 nations?  China, the US and the EU must come up with differentiated targets for themselves that will establish a model for other nations to follow. If they cannot do this, adding more nations into the mix will not help. Agreement would produce the critical mass to do something meaningful in regards to climate change and provide political impetus for other nations to join.

Climate change advocates can sometimes make a mockery of the real political and economic challenges that face governments by making it sound easy to implement policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If Europe can do it, why can’t you? Europe is just more fortunate that their economic path happened to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions as a bonus. Both Europe and the US make policies based on economics.

As Upton Sinclair wrote in 1935, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”  The new negotiations on differentiated targets must consider that there are a number of intrinsic energy factors which influence the economic cost to reduce greenhouse gases. No one wants to play a game when the rules favour their opponents.

World governments have relied on business-as-usual policies to foster action against climate change, an approach which does not work. Tough decisions cannot be avoided; the most important of which is to pass legislation that directly limits emissions from coal-firing.

The two major sources of emissions are electricity generation and transportation fuels. The transportation sector has two independent solutions: the replacement of fuels with ethanol, biodiesel and other renewable fuels, and secondly, electric vehicles. The latter, of course, depends on the carbon intensity of electricity generation.

Consequently, decarbonising electricity generation has the potential to reduce emissions from both sectors with the same investment. The electrical sector focus allows for a surgical approach to greenhouse gas emissions. Foremost, all industry and households use electricity, so the economic pain is shared. Addressing this issue at the source point should mean that the direct capital burden on other industries could be greatly reduced.

It is worth stressing, if we do not reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired utilities, we will be adapting to changing climatic conditions, instead of mitigating their occurrence.  Without tackling the power sector, the climate change problem will never be resolved. We must find ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions without turning the lights off!

We are dealing with, arguably, the most complex political issue of our times, as prosperity and emissions are hopelessly intertwined in an ecological and economic Gordian knot. An ancient oracle had prophesised that the one who untied the knot would become king; Alexander the Great failed to untie the knot, but he did cut through it with his sword.

Simple solutions must be implemented; anything else will only bog the entire system down, as has been witnessed in the UNFCC for the past 25 years. Climate change really is the Gordian knot of our times requiring an “Alexandrian solution.”

Gerald Kutney is managing director of Sixth Element Sustainable Management. His book, Carbon Politics and the Failure of the Kyoto Protocol, is published by Routledge. Order your copy here.

Further reading:

Carbon politics: EU policy steriods and unsportsmanlike conduct

Carbon politics: ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ in the US and China

Carbon politics: foul ball in the 2010 season

Carbon politics: the gamesmanship of the Kyoto negotiations


New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035



renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart /

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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How Going Green Can Save A Company Money



going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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