The World Green Building Council is urging governments, businesses, consumer groups and NGOs across Europe to come together to create ambitious plans for how their countries will cut emissions from existing buildings. Countries must work together in order to meet the Paris Agreement and halt global temperature rises as the countdown to an EU deadline for the plans fast approaches.
From Saturday April 30 this week, EU Member States will have just one year to submit so-called “national renovation strategies” – detailed plans on how they will renovate their nation’s homes and commercial buildings to high standards of energy efficiency.
Existing buildings currently account for 36 per cent of the EU’s total carbon emissions and ensuring they are as energy efficient as possible will be key to help meet the Paris Agreement, and the region’s goals under the EU’s ‘Energy Union’.
Last month, 13 Green Building Councils (GBCs) across Europe officially launched Build Upon, the world’s largest collaborative project on building renovation. The project aims to create a renovation revolution across Europe, by establishing renovation strategies that involve and align the thousands of actors and existing initiatives tackling building renovation in the region.
James Drinkwater, Director of the World GBC’s Europe Regional Network, said: “Emissions from existing buildings are one of the biggest climate challenges facing Europe and curbing them will be absolutely critical if we are to meet the ambition of the Paris Agreement.
“Europe is doing a huge amount on energy efficient renovation, but it’s not adding up to the results we need because of a lack of coordination. This is where the Build Upon project can help.
Build Upon has begun convening a major policy dialogue process with over 1,000 organisations, from governments and local authorities, construction companies and product manufacturers, to energy providers and banks, who will join forces to tackle this issue.
On September 20, a coalition of over 200 building renovation leaders from across Europe will meet in Madrid, Spain, to agree a long-term vision for deep building renovation and the practical measures needed to achieve it.
The EU’s Energy Efficiency Directive requires Member States to submit long-term strategies to mobilise investment in renovating existing residential and commercial properties, but to date, the full investment potential is far from being realised.
Investor groups have called for clearer long-term renovation targets as policy-makers in Brussels debate revisions to the EU’s main climate and buildings laws, the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive and Energy Efficiency Directive.
Patty Fong, Programme Director of the Energy Efficiency Programme at the European Climate Foundation and a Build Upon board member, said: “What we really need is political and industry leadership with a long-term vision for the deep renovation of our building stock so we’re able to meet our collective climate targets, and strong national renovation strategies have a clear role to play in this – which is why our network is partnering with Build Upon.”
Major players such as banks are also interested in the development of strong strategies to provide the strengthened policy needed to help support the growing market for energy efficiency.
Luca Bertalot, Secretary General of the European Mortgage Federation – European Covered Bond Council (EMF-ECBC) and a Build Upon board member, added: “We strongly believe that the banking industry has a role to play in improving the quality and energy performance of housing so as to free-up disposable income and, in parallel, reduce credit risk for borrowers, lenders and investors.
“A pan-European initiative in this area will help to coordinate market interventions, which will reduce the public resources necessary to boost households’ energy savings. That is why the EMF-ECBC is cooperating with Build Upon.”
To find out more about Build Upon and GCBs visit buildupon.eu.
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
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.
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 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.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
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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