The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group (CLG) is calling on G20 leaders, on the eve of their annual meeting beginning in Antalya, Turkey, on Sunday, to send a decisive signal to business, investors and governments by agreeing to accelerate the elimination of perverse fossil fuel subsidies.
The G20 was one of the first international bodies to put fossil fuel subsidy reform on the global agenda. As early as 2009 they committed to “phase out and rationalise over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”. Yet, six years later, over $500 billion of public resources are being spent annually on subsidies to coal, oil and gas– four times the amount of subsidies to renewable energy.
Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies would not only substantially contribute to the much-needed greenhouse gas emissions reductions that are required to hold global surface temperature rise below 2 degrees. It would also benefit the wider economy.
The CLG, which brings together 23 leading global companies, is urging G20 leaders to turn their commitments on fossil fuel subsidies into practical action. The Group has called upon world leaders to adopt carbon pricing policies over the last decade and believe that the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies is an integral part of the proper costing of high carbon externalities in economies. Pledges on fossil fuel subsidy reform will help to build momentum for climate action in the final days leading up to the UN climate change conference (COP21) in Paris later this month and create the foundation for real progress post-Paris.
The CLG is calling on businesses, global investors and governments to endorse the Friends of Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform Communiqué, which will be presented to the UN by New Zealand Prime Minister John Key on the opening day of the Paris conference on 30 November 2015. The Communiqué promotes policy transparency, ambitious reform and targeted support for the poorest. It has already been endorsed by 25 countries (including G20 nations France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, the United States and the United Kingdom) and leading business and investor organisations.
The voice of business has become a powerful force for progress in climate mitigation, since the sizeable opportunity in low-carbon industries has become clear: fuelling jobs, innovation and top-line growth. The elimination of fossil fuel subsidies by governments, especially the G20 major economies, sends business a signal of long-term certainty and enhances investment decisions towards low carbon energy.
Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, said: “As we approach the Paris climate talks and a turning point where the transition to a low-carbon future becomes inevitable, it is becoming ever more clear that fossil fuel subsidies, which we know both hinder the development of low carbon solutions and disproportionately benefit the well-off in society, need to be put in the past. I am delighted that together with other members of The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group, we have the opportunity to endorse the Friends of Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform Communiqué and add our voice to this critical issue.”
Jean-Bernard Lévy, CEO, EDF, commented: “In a few days, COP21 will bring together Heads of State, business leaders and civil society groups with the hope that the negotiations between 195 countries will give us a framework to decarbonise our economies. In order to catalyse change we are convinced that we need a carbon price to enable deep decarbonisation pathways through innovative low carbon solutions as well as the elimination of subsidies for fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas. That is why we support this initiative through The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group because like the other member companies, we believe that carbon pricing combined with fossil fuel subsidy reform is a significant pathway to real decarbonisation.”
Sandrine Dixson-Declève, Director of the CLG said, “The G20 has the opportunity to convey the long-term direction in which public investment is heading. With energy prices at an all-time low, now is the right time to phase out fossil fuel subsidies with a gentler impact on consumers and national economies. Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies is key to ensuring an orderly economic transition towards decarbonisation. Accelerated actions towards a phase-out of subsidies would generate 12% of the total abatement needed by 2020 to keep the door open to the 2°C target.”
The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group was the first business organisation to support the Friends of the Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform Communiqué, during Climate Week NYC 2015. Earlier this month, the CLG initiated a letter to G20 and EU Finance Ministers signed by global groups working with thousands of leading businesses worldwide, urging them to create the conditions for a smooth, just and rapid transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy. The letter particularly asked for clear and time-bound commitments on carbon pricing and the phasing out of perverse fossil fuel subsidies.
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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