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Look to the sun and save lives: solar power in post-Haiyan Philippines

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Amalie Obusan of Greenpeace watched on as her native Philippines was torn apart by the devastating Typhoon Haiyan last year. Here, she writes how her country is fighting back with clean energy.

It is impossible to forget the anxiety I felt for the safety of my family when supertyphoon Haiyan, possibly the most powerful ever to hit land, struck the Philippines with an unprecedented ferocity last November.

Leaving a path of destruction, Haiyan left 8,000 people dead or missing and devastated communities as millions of people lost their homes and livelihoods. Thousands of Filipinos are still grieving for the death of their loved ones.

It is a sadness I can share. My father-in-law died during Typhoon Conson in 2010 when a flash flood swept away his car as he was crossing a bridge on his way home. Fortunately, my family was luckier during Typhoon Haiyan and all survived. They were likewise spared during typhoons Washi and Bopha, which were in the area where they lived.

But in the wake of Haiyan, communities are struggling to recover and I remain fearful for the future of my beloved country. Typhoons are common in the Philippines, but it is fightening to think that the destructive power of typhoons will increase with global warming.

This is why I am in Japan this week on behalf of Greenpeace, attending a meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as it prepares to deliver its latest, and perhaps most dire, assessment on the impacts of climate change.

Here at the IPCC meeting in Yokohama, the world’s leading climate scientists will say that the future is grim if governments fail to to take approriate action. I bring a message of urgency.

More than four months after Haiyan struck, a national survey revealed that 3.9m families have experienced involuntary hunger in the last quarter of 2013. Families are also going to extraordinary lengths to obtain clean water as safe drinking water is desperately scarce in the storm-ravaged portion of the central Philippines.

Yeb Sano, lead negotiator for the Philippines at the annual UN climate talks, also points out that more than 1m farming households and 20,000 fishing households are struggling to pick up the pieces. Overall, losses in the agriculture sector could come close to $1 billion (£600m).

This is today’s climate change reality. It is not something that will happen in some distant future or in some distant land. It is here and now and it is happening in my country.

Haiyan bequeathed the country with a need for the biggest reconstruction effort since the end of the second world war. It will cost more than $8 billion (£4.8 billion) in the next four years at least to rebuild homes, create jobs and businesses, health and education services and public infrastructure.

The power sector was one of the hardest hit, as 90% of the transmission towers and electricity poles were either toppled or broken in the disaster region. Eight provinces were left without power for days, which has turned into weeks and months.

Crucial decisions now need to be made for the reconstruction of the energy systems essential to the delivery of goods and services in the devastated provinces. This is an opportunity to establish sustainable, climate-resilient communities using decentralised renewable energy systems.

In contrast to the vulnerability of centralised energy infrastructure, solar photovoltaic panels can make a huge difference to disaster-hit areas.

Life for Haiyan survivors was improved by emergency solar power, bringing a continued and affordable source of electricity and making disaster response and co-ordination much easier while centralised power lines are still down. Scaleable solar energy systems can also provide more resilience towards future climate hazards.

This is the opportunity being taken by my country. Communities affected by Haiyan are involved in the reconstruction efforts in the spirit of bayanihan, a term that refers to a spirit of communal unity or effort to achieve a particular objective.

Here in Yokohama, the IPCC will say that some climate impacts are already unavoidable. This means we must adapt and utilise energies that are more resilient to disruptions and that meet the needs of the vulnerable in an affordable way. That is the power of decentralised renewable energy.

We can choose to embrace solutions such as renewable energy and energy efficiency to avert climate chaos. This choice is our best shot at making the world a safer, cleaner, more sustainable place and to help build our resilience to face climate change.

We in the Philippines are not just waiting. Civil society has for many years campaigned for clean energy and today the country already meets close to 30% of its energy needs with renewable energy.

It’s now time to head towards a world powered 100% by renewable energy. My family, your future and our communities depend on it.

Amalie Obusan is the regional climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace South-East Asia. She can be contacted at amalie.obusan@greenpeace.org.

Further reading:

Super typhoon in Philippines ‘most damaging’ storm of past century

Typhoon Haiyan causes ‘complete devastation’

Philippines climate delegate: ‘we cannot manage on our own’

In the wake of Haiyan, we must divest from fossil fuels

Typhoon Haiyan will slow down Philippines economy, says finance minister

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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