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Thriving, livable and green, Melbourne walks the talk as a sustainable city

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Australia’s second largest city, Melbourne is a busy and vibrant place for people to live, work, socialise and explore. What come with such a thriving economy are high levels of consumption and the potential for significant environmental impact.

However, Melbourne has been transformed by local organisations and government structures to become one of the most ecologically sufficient municipalities in the country. In fact, it is working to become one of the world’s most sustainable cities, and all around are signs of a ‘green’ city.

Significantly, Melbourne city council practice what it preaches. Its headquarters, called Council House 2, has led the way in environmentally sustainable design, creating a model for similar buildings and becoming Australia’s first six Green Star rated office.

Existing buildings have had efficient heating, cooling and water systems installed, new waste solutions set up, and the amount of energy needed to light the town hall will be halved. But the city council is only one small part of the make-up of the city, and thus support needs to be, and has been given, to businesses and residents to also alter their way of producing and consuming.

Many of the changes have come as a result of Eco City Transition Plan – a manifesto outlining the steps for Melbourne to achieve its goal to be carbon neutral by 2020.

It’s no good just starting now, though. The city believes that if 1,200 commercial buildings retrofitted their properties with modern technologies and improved energy efficiency, the greenhouse gas savings would put it well on the way to its goal.

Even the famous Queen Victoria Market, founded in 1870 and since then heavily visited by locals and tourists alike, demonstrates local clean energy generation via its solar panels, proving that adjustments to even historic and well-used sites can reap dividends.

Neutral is a buzzword, with energy neutral water harvesting and carbon neutral electricity schemes a key focus for the area. Residents are supported to set up and run their own schemes and provided with the necessary resources to do so, such as the Smart Blocks initiative and all public places having recycling bins aplenty. The city’s 1,200 buildings programme provides the means and funding to retrofit existing buildings – an important and significant recognition than existing rather than new buildings will have the greatest results.

Council House 2, Melbourne city council's headquarters, was awarded the maximum six Green Star rating in 2005 - the first building in Australia to achieve this standard. Photo: Jonathan Lin (jonolist) via Flickr

Melbourne is, literally, green. On a clear day, you may see green roofs and walls. Such buildings support plant growth and allow for added insulation, as well as biodiversity and increased natural absorption of damaging gases. In addition, the Urban Forest Strategy is the city’s tree plan for the future, adapting to a changing climate. Its canopy cover will double by 2040, planting diverse tree species to create a healthier and cooler landscape. Meanwhile, every day hundreds of people can be found in the city’s parks.

Of course, vehicles are main contributors to greenhouse gases and climate change, and Melbourne makes it easy not to, with its tram system and the free Circle Line. This is the retro designed and informative tourist route that encircles the CBD – an extensive network of dedicated bike lanes and cheap bicycle hire schemes, inviting parks and long walks along the Yarra. Swanston Street, the main street in Melbourne, is closed to car traffic. It is perfectly possible to travel around the city without leaving much of a footprint at all.

One thing that allows the schemes to be successful and adopted so well is that the benefit is not just apparent for the environment, but upon the economy. In September 2013, the city’s lord mayor Robert Doyle was presented with the C40 and Siemens Climate Leadership Award in the category of energy efficient built environment, beating New York and Berlin.

Doyle cited some impressive stats upon collecting the award. “The work is expected to generate economic uplift of $2 billion and create 8,000 jobs”, he said.

Research suggests that the gross local product of the City of Melbourne increased from $58 billion in 2008 to $68 billion in 2012. Employment has received a major boost with 50,000 additional jobs created over the same period, and the construction and building industries, professional services and downstream real estate services have experienced the largest jobs growth.”

The combination of practical initiatives and visionary manifestos, that have both an immediate and tangible impact and are allowing a long-term effect to come into fruition, means that Melbourne is a city that feels green. It walks its talk, and is a thriving and wholly livable place to be.

Having won numerous accolades as the world’s most livable city, its challenge will be to keep up with the admirable agenda that it has set, allowing it to flourish for the local people and the environment.

Francesca Baker is curious about life and enjoys writing about it. A freelance journalist, event organiser, and minor marketing whizz, she has plenty of ideas, and likes to share them. She writes about music, literature, life, travel, art, London, and other general musings, and organises events that contain at least one of the above. You can find out more at www.andsoshethinks.co.uk.

Further reading:

A Confucian approach to town planning will create places that last

Green spaces in cities positively affect mental health

Existing city infrastructure can be ‘reprogrammed’

Green versus grey infrastructure

The Guide to Sustainable Tourism 2014

Francesca Baker is curious about life and enjoys writing about it. A freelance journalist, event organiser, and minor marketing whizz, she has plenty of ideas, and likes to share them. She writes about music, literature, life, travel, art, London, and other general musings, and organises events that contain at least one of the above. You can find out more at www.andsoshethinks.co.uk.

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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