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International coalition organised to help meet Paris Agreement targets

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A partnership of over 20 major international institutions has been announced today to tackle the national climate commitments and goals of the Paris Agreement. The Coalition of Urban Transitions will support national-level decision making, ensuring that city action is linked to broader economic planning.

Today the New Climate Economy, along with C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40) and the WRI Ross Centre for Sustainable Cities, launched the Coalition for Urban Transitions, the first major international initiative to make the economic case for better urban development globally.

Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris, made the announcement during a breakfast briefing organised by C40 and the Compact of Mayors.

Kgosientso Ramokgopa, Mayor of Tshwane in South Africa, said: “Cities are the key to achieving both the Sustainable Development Goals and the national climate commitments of the Paris Agreement.

“This Coalition will build the evidence base for policymakers on the solutions that can unlock the power of cities to support better development and a better climate.”

Many of the barriers to city level action lie in the hands of national leaders and Ministers of finance, energy, transportation, and economy, who often hold key levers shaping urban development. The Coalition will support decision-making on urbanisation at the national level in countries around the world, linking city-level strategies with broader economic planning. Through economic research and in-country engagement, the Coalition will help governments put effective urban infrastructure investment at the heart of their growth strategies.

Eduardo Paes, C40 Chair and Mayor of Rio de Janeiro said: “Mayors know about the economic and wider benefits of sustainable cities, which is why many are doing everything they can to act on the opportunities from low carbon growth.

“However, the scale of the urbanisation challenge is so large that we can’t do it alone. We need national-level policy makers and economic planning to complement city-level efforts. That’s where the Coalition for Urban Transitions will play a big role.”

Managing urban development better can trigger major dividends. Recent research has found that investing in compact, connected, and efficient cities could substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions and generate global energy savings with a current value of US$17 trillion by 2050.

Aniruddha Dasgupta, Global Director at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities and the Managing Partner of the Coalition said: “The scale and pace of the global urban revolution happening now cannot be underestimated and the opportunities – if managed well – could be tremendous. For instance, just investing in sustainable transport offers not only social and environmental advantages but can also deliver savings of as much as $300 billion per year.” 

“Getting this kind of information – about the clear economic benefits of building better cities – into the hands of decision makers can help set us on a path where each country can start to reap the benefits of an urban dividend.”

Over the next three years, the Coalition will work in a number of rapidly-urbanising countries, such as China and India, where the scale of the challenge is immense.

In China, damage to health from poor air quality, much of which is associated with burning fossil fuels, is valued at over 10 per cent of GDP. Compact and connected cities can help to meet China’s urban challenge – a billion people are expected to live in Chinese cities in the 2020s. If tightly linked by mass transit systems, such cities will be more liveable, attractive, competitive and energy efficient.

India’s urban population will cross 600 million in the next 15 years. Its cities will account for 75 per cent of national GDP and 70 per cent of all net new jobs. However, half the world’s most polluted cities are in India, including the top four in the world: Delhi, Patna, Gwalior, and Raipur. Outdoor particulate matter pollution caused an estimated 630,000 premature deaths in India in 2010, and costs the equivalent of 5.5–7.5 per cent of GDP per year. By investing in smart cities, India could reduce congestion and severe air pollution, whilst boosting productivity.

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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