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Climate Change Committee: scientific and international context for the fifth carbon budget

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Under the Climate Change Act (2008), the Committee is required to advise the Government, by the end of 2015, on the level of the UK’s fifth carbon budget (the limit on the amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted by the UK between 2028 and 2032).

The Climate Change Committee’s report examines the scientific and international circumstances the Committee is required to consider under the Climate Change Act when advising the Government and Parliament on carbon budgets.

The final advice on the fifth carbon budget must take into account other criteria in the Act, including: the impact of the budget on the economy, the government’s fiscal position, affordability of energy for households, security of supply, the devolved administrations and the competitiveness of businesses. The budget must also be on a path to the UK’s 2050 target of at least an 80% reduction in emissions below 1990 levels.

It makes the following points:

– It is clear that the climate is changing as a result of greenhouse gas emissions. Many impacts are already being detected across the world, from changes in extreme weather and ecosystems, to a slowdown in productivity gains for some key crops. Further emissions will lead to further warming and change.

– There is no simple threshold beyond which climate change moves from safe to dangerous. Some disruption and irreversible losses are expected at 2°C. Losses accelerate with warming, and very severe damage is expected in a world reaching 4°C.

– Our (the Committee’s) best estimate is that the EU 2030 agreement could mean a reduction in UK emissions over the fifth carbon budget period (2028 to 2032) of 54% below 1990 levels.

– The EU and UK targets of at least an 80% reduction compared to 1990 remain an appropriate contribution to global action towards 2°C. The fifth carbon budget will need to be on a path to this target.

– Current pledges to the UN under the Paris process suggest that, globally, more is needed to limit the risk of going beyond 2°C.

– There is scope for this in future, given more is possible at low cost and the intention for Paris to include a mechanism to raise ambition. The UK Government has previously suggested a 50% reduction for the EU by 2030.

Following the publication of the Committee on Climate Change’s report today on the scientific and international context for the fifth carbon budget, the Aldersgate Group urged the UK government to continue its effort to cut carbon emissions and grow its low carbon economy amidst increasing international action on climate change.

Following an increase in ambition in the climate change policies of key emitting countries such as the US and China, the Aldersgate Group highlighted that international action to tackle climate change was strengthening despite the fact that current pledges to cut emissions were still insufficient to prevent dangerous levels of climate change.

Nick Molho, Executive Director of the Aldersgate Group said: “The upcoming Paris climate change summit won’t result in an agreement that can immediately lock-in commitments that will prevent dangerous levels of climate change. But the summit will be a success if it commits countries to initial emission cut pledges and provides for a mechanism to increase these pledges in the coming years.”

Nick Molho added: “To support this strengthening international action on climate change, the UK must continue its own efforts to cut carbon emissions at home. Concretely, this requires rapidly replacing a range of policies such as the levy control framework that will expire during the term of this Parliament and which are critical to increasing innovation and attracting investments in energy efficiency and low carbon power, heat and transport infrastructure.”

The Aldersgate Group also pointed out that in designing the UK’s future climate change and energy policies, the government should not lose sight of the economic opportunities presented by a transition to a low carbon economy.

Nick Molho said: “The international market for low carbon goods and services is already worth $5.5tn. We must look at climate change and energy policies not only as a tool to tackle climate change but also as a way of supporting UK businesses playing an increasing role in this growing international market.”

Economy

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?

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self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/zapp2photo

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.

Driver Reduction?

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

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.

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Economy

New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035

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renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart / https://www.shutterstock.com/g/adrian825

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.

Sources: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-06/green-dream-risks-energy-security-as-kiwis-aim-for-zero-carbon

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-hydrocarbons/france-plans-to-end-oil-and-gas-production-by-2040-idUSKCN1BH1AQ

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