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Exclusive Interview: Carl Pope, Special advisor on climate to Michael R. Bloomberg



Michael R. Bloomberg, The U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Cities & Climate Change, recently commented (2nd October) on India’s commitment to curb greenhouse gas emissions 35 percent by 2030. We took that opportunity to ask a few questions of Carl Pope: Bloomberg’s Special advisor on climate.

Fount (or font) of all knowledge Wikipedia distinguishes Carl Pope from two others that share his name (a 19th Century laywer and an African-American artist) with ‘environmentalist’ in parantheses. Pope has been a Peace Corps volunteer in India in the 1960s, a former Political Director of Zero Population Growth, author alongside Paul Rauber of a book entitled, ‘Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress’, a former Executive Director then Chairman of the Sierra Club, and a lot more besides. ‘(Environmentalist)’ only partially describes the extent of Pope’s achievements.

You spent nineteen years as Executive Director and then Chairman of the Sierra Club – what was the biggest change in the US attitude towards climate change over those two decades?  

Sadly the biggest shift was the increasing partisanship that emerged as incumbent fossil industries and their political allies attempted to slow down the inevitable transition to cleaner energy sources by casting doubt on the science of climate change and turning your position on atmospheric chemistry into an ideological and partisan litmus test. As a result, almost everything that is said in public by conservative political figures on climate is something they themselves do not really believe.

Why did you choose to work with Michael R. Bloomberg as his Senior Advisor on Climate? 

It was the connection Mike Bloomberg makes between climate and the leadership role of cities he foresees for the 21st century that attracted me so strongly.  Mike has identified the fact that while nation states can – and frequently are – taken hostage by ideology or the narrow economic interests of incumbent energy producers, cities are pragmatic, innovative energy consumers eager to move into the future.

Mr. Bloomberg has been the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Cities & Climate Change since January 2014 – what has been the most positive outcome of that role in the last 21 months and what will be the most positive outcome you expect over the next 21 months? 

The most positive outcome to date has been the crowding in of coalitions of  ambitious sub-national actors – cities, with the Compact of Mayors and the Covenant of Cities, regions with the Compact of States and Regions, plus the Under 2o MOU, hundreds of major businesses pledging to go carbon neutral, or source all of their electricity from the renewables. Never has there been so much energy and action taking place bottom up from local government and the private sector.

Going forward, for Paris to succeed, the OECD countries must create the necessary financial architecture for trillions of dollars of investment to flow into resilient, low carbon infrastructure and clean energy in emerging markets and less developed economies.  We know that these investments are solid and attractive, but only if markets have the necessary risk insurance and liquidity mechanisms, which need to be created and committed to in Paris.  Cities, for example, need legal permission to borrow, and credit rating to assure investors, if they are going to build, say, the Bus Rapid Transit systems they need. Then watch the money flow!  That’s where Mike Bloomberg’s team will be putting their energy post-Paris.

Climate Action Tracker (CAT) say the combination of global climate action plans (INDCs), if implemented, would bring global warming down to 2.7˚C – still too hot for comfort. How do we encourage the world to go further, faster? 

Well, first note that as recently as last December CAT’s projection was for 3.1oC.  And we need to get – in my opinion – down to 1.5oC even though the official UN goal is 2o.  So in ten months, we eliminated one-third of the gap towards 2o.  We do need to accelerate progress – but we have been doing so, and at an increasing rate.

The reason, fundamentally, is the favorable economics of low carbon investments.  Wind power is now in both Germany and the UK the cheapest source of electricity, even with coal and natural gas prices at historic lows. Solar in India costs less than power from imported coal. A fleet of EV’s, on a lifetime basis, will cost less to operate than a fleet of internal combustion engines for urban driving anywhere in Western Europe.  Natural gas trucks in the US are dramatically cheaper to buy and operate than diesel. And these newly competitive clean options are now beginning to overcome a whole series of non-cost based market barriers – infrastructure lock in, cartels and monopolies, lack of financial liquidity in key sectors to pay for the higher cap-ex ratios of low carbon alternatives, regulatory mismatch.

Basically what we need to do to solve the climate problem is make sure that new capital stocks are priced over their entire life-cycle, not chosen solely for initial purchase price, and that old capital stocks, especially in OECD nations, turn over more rapidly.  This will greatly increase growth and dynamism in the global economy – but it will strand commodity fossil fuel assets, and owners of those assets will fight very hard to avoid writing off their 20th century technology and investments.  So it’s going to be a struggle – but it’s a struggle for, not against, stronger economies.

In its announcement India emphasized that successful implementation of its INDC was contingent upon the means of implementation being provided by developed country parties, technology transfer and capacity-building. Will the US play a role in that developed country support? 

Certainly, and I hope (but cannot guarantee) an appropriately large role.  The U.S. has created the financial mechanism, our Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which has proven most successful in leveraging private investment into emerging markets.  OPIC’s Africa Clean Energy Finance Facility (ACEF) mobilized $1 billion in capital for clean energy in Africa with a miniscule investment of $20 million.  Emerging market governments like that of India have made clear that this kind of de-risking mechanism which provides local clean energy and infrastructure projects with access to OECD debt financing at reasonable but local currency denominated interest rates is the key to their ambitions.  And many of major investors have indicated that what they need is an OPIC like facility that can provide de-risking of investments regardless of the source of the project capital and equipment – a global OPIC.

From an outsider’s perspective the United States seems irreconcilably divided on the issue of climate change – do you feel optimistic that your nation can find common ground on the issue? 

It’s going to take longer than it should, but we will get there.  First, as a narrative of opportunity and prosperity replaces the outmoded Kyoto narrative of sacrifice and pain, the ability of fossil fuel incumbents to be able to play the fear card weakens.  Second, as it becomes clear that the U.S. is going to decarbonize, even if Congress never acts, conservatives are realizing that they need to engage to shape climate solutions to reflect their political values, and that if they don’t, they leave the design of inevitable climate policy to their antagonists.

COP21 is less that two months away – are you confident that the 193 countries of the UN can secure a binding agreement to avoid catastrophic climate change? 

Well, there are no guarantees since in theory any one country – say Saudi Arabia – can simply refuse to sign.  And the word binding in global agreements is an iffy proposition – even Kyoto turned out not be truly enforceable.  But I think we are strongly positioned and that COP 21 is likely to accomplish more to protect the climate than the previous 20 COP’s combined.

And what do you feel the chances of the agreement’s deliverables being met? 

The world will greatly outperform the commitments made in Paris.  If you look at India’s INDC for example, it’s less ambitious than India’s announced energy and climate policies, and India is not alone.  Progress is just going to keep accelerating, driven by the core economics.

Any other comments you would care to share with our 516,000 readers? 

The most important thing any of us can do is to start reminding the media, our leaders and the public that climate progress is an opportunity, not a threat.  Old language dies hard, and I can’t tell you how often I wince when green groups or clean tech advocates start saying that we must have a price on carbon to win.  I’m in favor of carbon pricing.  But getting rid of the artificial market barriers to the rapid growth of low carbon energy is at least as important, and a much more optimistic message.  Let’s unlock sustainable solutions – hell, right now there are states in the U.S. where it is illegal to put a solar panel on your own roof.

Carl Pope tweets @CarlPope




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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