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UN Green Climate Fund comes under fire for funding coal



The UN’s Green Climate Fund has been criticised for allowing its contributions to be used to fund coal-fired power plants, Joshua S Hill takes a look at the debate.

News began to circulate towards the end of March that the United Nation’s Green Climate Fund would allow its contributions to be used to fund coal-fired power plants. Since then, news agencies and environmental organisations the world over have made clear their distaste of such a decision.

Karen Orenstein, a campaigner for international environmental organisation Friends of the Earth, was quoted by The Guardian summing up the majority of peoples’ opinions.

“It’s like a torture convention that doesn’t forbid torture,” she said. “Honestly it should be a no-brainer at this point.”

In their article breaking the news, The Guardian quoted from the Green Climate Fund’s (GCF) website’s vision statement: “The fund will promote the paradigm shift towards low-emission and climate-resilient development pathways by providing support to developing countries to limit or reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.”

However, the full quote from which this sentence is pulled sheds a little more light on the actual mission the GCF have taken upon themselves. The vision adds it will take “into account the needs of those developing countries particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.”

It might seem a small differentiation, and to be sure, this author isn’t overly impressed with a global climate fund dedicated to helping developing countries adapt to climate change and clean technology, but as always, the whole story is a lot more intricate than a headline on The Guardian.

The Guardian’s primary example of the horror that is diverting funds towards coal-fired power plants is in Japan. According to evidence reported by the Associated Press, Japan counted $1 billion worth of loans for coal plants in Indonesia as climate financing, and another $630 million in loans for coal-fired plants in Kudgi, India, and Matarbari, Bangladesh. It seems an obvious violation of the spirit of the Green Climate Fund, if not the currently-hazy regulations. However, according to Japan, these financings are perfectly legitimate.

“Japan is of the view that the promotion of high-efficiency coal-fired power plants is one of the realistic, pragmatic and effective approaches to cope with the issue of climate change,” said Takako Ito, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, who spoke to the Associated Press.

And to offhandedly dismiss the mythical idea of “clean coal” as a legitimate use of global climate funding seems to be a very strong case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. To be clear, I am a strong proponent of clean technologies taking precedence over any new fossil fuel development, but the reality of our current situation is that a wholesale switch to renewable energy is simply not on the cards.

Speaking at Climate Week in New York back in September of 2014, Roland Busch, a member of the Managing Board at Siemens AG and global CEO of the Siemens Infrastructure & Cities Sector, made it clear that his company would not be divesting itself from fossil fuel technology or investment anytime soon. And unlike some arguments, Busch’s reasoning was integral to understanding the current situation facing the global energy industry, especially as it pertains to developing countries.

You can run Germany on renewable energy on a sunny day when the wind is blowing, but you will still need coal [on other days],” Busch said. “Regardless of how much you push [renewable energy] in the next years you will still have a certain share of energy coming from fossil fuels. We are trying to make that more efficient, more low-carbon, with our technologies.”

“In the next ten to 20 years I can’t imagine running any economies without fossil fuel. Beyond 20 years, it’s very hard to say.”

And this isn’t a unique position: It is obviously quite prevalent throughout the fossil fuel generation industry, but a recent poll of energy sector participants found that many believe it is possible to reach a 70% renewable energy system by 2050. The poll was conducted by DNV GL, which surveyed over 1,600 energy sector participants from 71 countries seeking “views on a scenario in which renewables account for 70% of power sector generation.” Their results showed that 80% of respondents believed such an outcome was possible, but only under certain conditions.

Look also to any number of national renewable energy goals, and almost exclusively they are aiming at percentages of renewable energy generating their national demand, rather than a full 100% raft of renewable energy options.

To be sure, the supposed lack of rules evident within the UN’s Green Climate Fund will need to be addressed soon, especially if the Fund is to have any serious impact on the next decade of energy development.

There are suggestions that stricter regulations may be looked at come 2016, but by then the UN’s Paris Climate Change Conference will have come and gone, and with it any impact the Global Climate Fund could have on the discussions held in Paris. But wildly insinuating that the Green Climate Fund is funding coal plants without prefacing such a statement with the fact that such funding is aimed at developing more efficient and inherently cleaner coal-fired plants in locations that may not have the infrastructure necessary to go all-in on renewables is not only unwise, it’s doing more harm than good.

Photo: John Nyberg via Freeimages

Further reading:

‘Underestimated’ coal emissions rising 4% per year – study

US coal decline a warning for fossil fuel investors, says Carbon Tracker

Environmental regulation to slow demand for coal, says report

France pledges $1bn to Green Climate Fund

UN Green Climate Fund nears $10bn after Spanish pledge

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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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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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