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Exclusive Interview: Ella Robertson, One Young World International



Ella Robertson is the Managing Director of One Young World International – organizing conferences around specific themes for young leaders in order to generate positive change. One Young World hosts speakers such as President Bill Clinton, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and President Mary Robinson to inspire young people to be the change they want to see in the world – with over 196 countries represented at its annual global Summit, One Young World is the most international gathering of young people other than the Olympics. Ella studied English at Balliol College, Oxford, where she was on the standing committee of the Oxford Union. In 2010, she represented Scotland at the World Debating Championships in Doha. She speaks to Blue & Green.

In 140 characters or less, what is the One Young World Environment Summit?

500 young environmental leaders + experts + world leaders + the world’s biggest earth science lab = tangible solutions & real action

What was the driver for creating the One Young World Environment Summit—what gap does it fill? 

One Young World has been hosting annual conferences since 2010, bringing together figures such as President Clinton, Kofi Annan, Desmond Tutu with up to 1,300 young leaders representing 196 countries—in fact, we are the most international gathering of young people other than the Olympics. In addition to our global summit in Ottawa this year, we will be hosting two more focused events—the environment is an area that young people are most concerned about, so we thought we’d start there.

This will be a conference unlike any other environment event this year (as Bob Geldof once said, One Young World is not a talking shop)—you will definitely see tangible actions emerging from this event. The University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2 will provide a completely unique backdrop for these discussions—for example, a workshop on water scarcity will take place in the desert biome, while delegates who want to explore how we can reduce the amount of micro-plastics in our oceans will actually be able to snorkel in the “ocean” inside the Biosphere.

Who does it primarily serve? 

The event is for anyone aged 18 to 30 who is active in the environmental arena and feels they have ideas ripe for collaboration with other young people. We already have scientists, activists, corporate sustainability professionals and environmental journalists registered, so it’s going to be a very diverse group.

What difference does the One Young World Environment Summit want to make? 

We want the participants to come out of this summit armed with the knowledge, connections and motivation to be the change they want to see in the world, especially when it comes to environmental issues.

What are the barriers to making that difference? 

People often feel overwhelmed when faced with issues as large as climate change or ocean pollution. Even people with the brightest ideas often don’t know where to start in order to implement a successful plan of action.

Who’s helping you overcome those barriers? 

The 7,000 One Young World Ambassadors (i.e., our alumni community) around the world are able to advise each other, connect with each other and collaborate in order to get projects off the ground. Since 2010, our community has impacted more than 8.9 million people around the world.

We also receive incredible support from our One Young World Counsellors—global leaders from around the world who take the time to speak to and mentor our community. For example, right now we are running the Mary Robinson Climate Justice Prize, for which President Robinson (who just chaired the COP21 talks) will mentor the shortlisted candidates. Similarly, Nobel Prize Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus personally addressed and selected the winners of our recent social business competition in Thailand. Both of these competitions also involve connecting winners with funding—so, One Young World is empowering young leaders in many ways.

The coming generations are going to be heavily affected by the (in)decisions and (in)actions of current generations in power—so, two questions … 

A) Is the action of older generations who are in leadership positions commensurate with the challenges your generation will face?

No. Incumbent leadership is overlooking the needs of today’s young generation. We need young people’s concerns to be taken much more seriously by people in positions of power, and that doesn’t just mean politicians—CEOs should stop worrying about how to sell to millennials and focus on building businesses that create a sustainable future Similarly, the media need to engage with young people with much more rigour and give young people’s views serious platforms.

B) If we could make you “President of the World” with absolute executive authority, what one thing would you enact to make the difference required for future generations?

I think youth unemployment is one of the greatest threats, not just to my generation, but to all world economies. Since we’re talking about the environment, I would focus my attention on investing in green jobs and arming young people with the skills to transform industries and innovate new solutions to protect our planet.

How can people—individuals and organisations—find out more about the One Young World Environment Summit?

Our website has all the information you need. Our Facebook page and Twitter account will also provide regular updates. If you want to see what our community is doing around the world to impact the lives of other people, I recommend watching this short film.
Last year saw Paris host the COP 21 talks, which have been hailed as a success, do you think young people feel optimistic about political action on climate change at the moment?

Our #CallOnCOP Campaign, which took place ahead of Paris, featured 196 messages from 196 countries as well as videos from Kofi Annan, Paul Polman and other leaders. It showed that young people were frustrated with the lack of bold leadership prior to Paris—COP21 definitely paves the way for a more positive political action but will need to be implemented properly in order to be successful. At the One Young World Environment Summit, we will be hearing from the president of the Kyoto Protocol, analyzing what went wrong in the past and how we can avoid the same mistakes with the Paris Accord.




Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?



self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By 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 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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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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