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The latest IPCC report: it’s time to ramp up mitigation efforts



A recent review of climate science is further proof that we need to back those companies finding real solutions to global warming, says Ashden’s Anne Wheldon.

On Sunday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a summary of its latest review of global scientific research. This time it was on the mitigation of climate change  – taking action to reduce the emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause climate warming, or removing them from the atmosphere after they have been emitted.

For me, the summary tells us:

– Emissions of greenhouse gases are increasing, and they will go on doing so unless we increase mitigation
– By the year 2100, emissions could be contained to levels that keep the increase in global temperature below 2C – a level where, on current thinking, we can probably avoid dangerous interference with the climate system
– This will need mitigation efforts to be ramped up on a global scale, starting right now. The longer we put mitigation off, the more challenging it will become
– If we get going on mitigation efforts right now, the negative impact on the global economy is likely to be very small – only around 0.05%
– The longer we put mitigation off, the greater the economic cost of achieving it

My initial reaction was a measure of relief that we still have the opportunity to contain global temperature increase without a major impact on the global economy. But the IPCC makes clear that the changes required will be significant and complex.

Focusing not just on what to do, but how to do it, is going to be crucial if we are to ramp up global efforts on mitigation.

The good news is, we are developing understanding all the time of how we can make the changes that are required – including developing technology, raising finance for mitigation measures, changing culture and behaviour and influencing decision makers.

Let’s take two of the topics identified in the IPCC report: urban development and finance.

Urban development

Just over half of the world’s population currently live in urban areas, and the IPCC’s summary reckons this will increase to around two-thirds by 2050. Such speed of urbanisation is one of the reasons why taking action on mitigation is so urgent: the development of a new urban area ‘locks-in’ patterns of energy use in buildings and transport choices, and so their resulting greenhouse gas emissions. If high-emission choices are made, then they may last for decades.

But there are viable low-emission opportunities. In India, the IT giant Infosys confirms the summary’s comment that both retrofitting existing buildings and designing new ones can substantially cut energy use and emissions – and is also economically attractive.

And the work of Kéré Architecture in Burkina Faso is clear evidence of how elements of traditional materials and design can lead to high levels of energy service with much lower energy inputs. The company has designed and built schools that are naturally ventilated, making classrooms cooler and easier to study in.

In transport, a high priority in mitigation is to reduce the use of individual cars. Take the city of Toulouse in France. It has achieved an integrated approach to urban transport, making it easier to walk, cycle and use public transport, and so cut the use of cars. Aside from expanding and improving the public transport network, it works with businesses to help them incentivise employees to use more sustainable forms of transport, with smart travelcards that can be used across the entire transport network. These measures have resulted in a phenomenal 80% increase in public transport journeys.

Financing mitigation efforts

The IPCC summary estimates that between $343-385 billion (£205-230 billion) per year currently goes into mitigation and adaptation activities (mostly into mitigation). I was struck by the comment (page 32) that roughly two-thirds to three-quarters of the mitigation investment is from the private sector.

But it’s still not always easy to attract private investment.

This is why the work of Mera Gao Power in India and Off.Grid: Electric in Tanzania is so interesting. Both are businesses that supply electricity services to low income off-grid homes using solar energy.

In Uttar Pradesh, Mera Gao Power has created commercially viable solar-powered ‘mini-grids’ that are bringing clean electricity to rural Indian villages for the first time. Off.Grid: Electric uses mobile money to sell solar power as a daily service to its Tanzanian customers. Both have achieved this through private investment, not as a public-funded or charitable activity.

And there are new opportunities for sourcing private capital. Many in the UK and elsewhere would like their savings to be used in more environmentally beneficial ways. Abundance Generation’s user-friendly crowdfunding platform allows people to invest their money directly into renewable energy projects of their own choosing. With a minimum investment of just £5, investors get a financial return and the feel-good factor of joining the growing renewable energy movement in the UK. By doing so, they’re plugging a gap in access to finance for small-scale renewable energy developers.

All of these organisations are finalists for this year’s Ashden Awards. Now in their 14th year, the awards shine a light on organisations that are finding solutions to climate change, through renewable energy, improving energy efficiency and changing the culture of energy use.

Fourteen winners will be announced at an awards ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society on May 22. So watch this space to find out who will be this year’s sustainable energy trailblazers.

Anne Wheldon is a senior adviser at Ashden. Follow @AshdenAwards on Twitter to keep up to date with the pre-awards buzz.

Further reading:

‘Sustainable energy champions’ announced as Ashden Award finalists

What we should really be doing about rising energy bills

Government poll: 77% of Britons support renewable energy

Finalists unveiled for British Renewable Energy Awards 2014

Renewable electricity share at 15% in 2013 as UK emission fall 2%


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




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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