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Sustainable transport: why it matters

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Making the global transport system sustainable will be hard – but there are plenty of compelling reasons that demand action.

This article originally appeared in Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Guide to Sustainable Transport 2014.

According to the latest estimates, a record high of 36 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide were emitted by the burning of fossil fuels in 2013. This represents a 2.1% increase from 2012 and a 61% increase since the 1990 benchmark.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) stark warning says that carbon emissions must be cut by 50% from 1990 levels in order to have just a two out of three chance of keeping average temperature increases below 2C compared to pre-industrial times, or 1.2C above today’s level. If current trends continue, warming could even exceed 4C by the end of the century.

Corinne Le Quéré is director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, based at the University of East Anglia. She says staying under this 2C target is essential if we are to avoid crossing a number of “tipping points” that could set devastating processes in motion.

She explains, “Because we have observed 2C of warming in the geological past, we can reconstruct what happened and we can see that the Earth has been kind of self-regulating, so there’s not been anything that you could say is overly dangerous for the human species at 2C or below. This is not to say that the changes were not large, they were very large – even adapting to 2C would be a big task – but beyond 2C then it becomes an area that we don’t know what is going to happen to much of an extent.”

The first tipping point likely to be crossed is the complete melting of Arctic sea ice – something that would occur shortly after, or possibly even before, the 2C threshold was passed. The second would be the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which, if it were to disappear completely, could increase global sea levels by a staggering seven metres.

Other impacts could include the increasing frequency of extreme weather, rapid changes in vegetation, resource scarcity and the devastation of agriculture. The result could be a world that we barely recognise, at great human and economic cost.

With now just over 7 billion people on the planet, going up to 9 billion in a few decades, you need to have a relatively stable climate to feed these people and make sure everyone can get the level of wealth we get now”, Le Quéré says.

Such catastrophes would affect all of us, but not evenly. Overwhelming, those who suffer the most from climate change will be those who contribute the least to it; people in poorer nations that are less able to defend their citizens, many of whom will have never even set foot on a plane, for instance.

Overall, people do not realise how quickly the emissions actually have to decrease”, Le Quéré adds. “We are talking about decreases of 3% per year in global CO2 per year, while they are currently increasing by 2% per year. It’s a U-turn we have to make.”

Transport, in all its forms, accounts for about one-quarter of global CO2 emissions. In wealthy, industrialised countries like the UK, it can account for as much as a third. The inevitable growth of transport elsewhere, driven by a rapidly emerging middle class in many developing economies, means increased global emissions are almost a certainty.

If we keep driving our gas-guzzling cars to the supermarket and boarding commercial jets to far-flung places, then we can recycle all the carrier bags, build all the wind farms and buy all the Fairtrade coffee we want – it may well make no difference. If we are to effectively decarbonise our day-to-day lives, the way we travel must be one of the first things to change in our lifestyles.

If we take even one long-haul flight per year, this may well be the biggest single source of all our personal emissions”, says Dan Calverly, a research associate at the Tyndall Centre who has specialised in transport and emissions budgets. Forgoing flying is one way we can reduce our own carbon footprints – but there are so many others.

Making a personal, concerted decision to change our behaviour is crucial in sustainability. We could probably all get the bus more often than we do, and of course, there is no mode of transport more sustainable than walking.

Away from our living habits, there are other ways we can use our influence. As investors, the possibilities are almost endless. Many sustainability-focused investment funds include sustainable transport as a key theme. They invest in areas from electric cars to companies enhancing fuel efficiency to burgeoning modes of transport that are often more suited to a science fiction film. They invest to help tackle the real problems that blight our transport infrastructure today.

Meanwhile, as voters, we can urge our elected politicians to take a more responsible path.

That’s not to say it’s going to be easy. But to paraphrase John F Kennedy, we should become sustainable as a society and a planet because it is hard. Calverly says, “The rates of reduction that we face in the wealthy, industrialised parts of the world are certainly very challenging, but remain feasible with the right combination of standards and regulation and investment in low-carbon energy.”

On transport specifically, Le Quéré is somewhat optimistic about the future. She says, “There’s a lot of potential for reducing emissions in transport. It’s one of the sectors where there’s a lot of potential because there’s several ways to do it – by fuel type, by the performance of the vehicles and by reducing the number of trips for instance.”

But there is more to sustainability than carbon dioxide and climate change. Assuming almost every single credible climate scientist, scientific organisation and world government was wrong, and the globe was in fact not warming – firstly, what a relief that we aren’t faced with civilisation’s biggest ever threat – the benefits of re-evaluating the ways we get around the planet are still significant.

Pollution from the burning of fossil fuels is bad for our health globally. It is unsustainable to fill the air we breathe and depend on with harmful gases, regardless of their impact on the climate. But fossil fuels are not just polluting; they’re finite. Oil and gas companies continue to spend large amounts of money finding harder to reach and dirtier reserves. As prices become increasingly volatile, the threat of a bursting ‘carbon bubble’ could spell economic disaster.

In our cities, so many of which are designed around road infrastructure, congestion frustrates motorists and further detriments our health. Exhaust fumes are carcinogenic and can increase the chances of heart failure, asthma and other risks. Not only that, there is lots of research to suggest the presence of greener spaces in urban areas improves mental wellbeing. Instead of a new road, build a park with cycle paths and benches.

Examples such as Copenhagen, Nantes and virtually anywhere in the Netherlands – where policies encourage cycling and the use of public transport – demonstrate the numerous health and aesthetic benefits of taking cars and lorries off the road. We don’t have to look far for a sustainable blueprint for our future cities.

As with many environmental issues, it is not difficult to find reasons to despair at our current unsustainable travel behaviour. But there are so many opportunities in sustainable transport and so many reasons to be optimistic. We can take heart from the examples made by some of brave, brilliant innovators, principled campaigners and keen business leaders featured in The Guide to Sustainable Transport 2014. But as drivers, passengers, holidaymakers, consumers, investors and voters, we all play a crucial part.

Further reading:

The return of the airship: under the bonnet of the world’s longest aircraft

Tesla shares soar as Morgan Stanley predicts carmaker will ‘disrupt’ energy storage sector

Campaign seeks to promote sustainable transport in India

Norway experiences electric car boom in sustainable transport revolution

The Guide to Sustainable Transport 2014

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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Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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