Green Budget Europe: The UK conservative government is inviting a repeat of Europe’s ineffective car-testing system with its current position on EU energy policy. Prime Minister Cameron’s government does not want an effective governance process to ensure European countries meet EU energy and climate targets for 2030.
The UK is arguing that a Member State that doesn’t honour commitments included in its National Energy and Climate Plan shouldn’t face sanction.
“The lack of effective regulation is the key problem we have seen with EU rules for cars”, said James Nix, Director of Green Budget Europe. “Carmarkers such as Volkswagen knew the EU rules were weak and badly enforced, and so they flouted them, ignoring the damage to health and the environment. Could the UK government really want more of the same for energy and climate change?
National Energy and Climate Plans will be included under the new EU initiative for energy and climate policy, known as Energy Union. Energy Union is expected to play an increasing policy role from 2016 onwards, and particularly after 2020 for emissions not covered under the EU’s emission trading scheme.
However, the UK is failing to plan for beyond 2020. Already, the UK government has dealt a huge blow to investment certainty with a lack of clarity in support for renewables, gas, energy storage and other generation plant from 2020, adversely affecting the amount of new finance being committed to the energy transition. Restoring investment certainty for 2020 and beyond must be the priority of the UK government regarding energy and climate change.
The UK has much to gain and nothing to lose by becoming a champion of binding rules for energy and climate governance in the EU, said GBE. Under its 2008 Climate Change Act, the UK led the world in creating a comprehensive, binding planning and reporting process to reduce climate emissions. The UK has continually signalled its commitment to a low carbon and energy efficient economy and has consistently met its climate emissions targets. The primary effect of non-binding EU rules on climate and energy would be to enable others not to bother.
A failure to include checks and balances in EU legislation to ensure Member States meet their targets would diminish investment certainty across Europe. The City of London plays a significant financial role in the European energy transition. Money goes through London to invest in efficiency as well as constructing solar arrays, energy storage installations and wind farms across the EU. For these flows to continue and grow, the UK needs a system of enforcement that ensures fellow Member States will do what they say they will do. Without effective EU governance on energy and climate, the UK loses out because investment going through the City of London is diminished, both to finance the UK’s own energy transition, and also the transition occurring across Europe.
Green Budget Europe suggests that for 2025 and beyond Member States agree a system of incentives and penalties to keep their emissions on target. “The EU’s emissions trading scheme is currently being reformed so that emissions continue to reduce”, said GBE Director James Nix, “and there also need to be checks and balances to ensure that emissions not covered by the EU’s trading scheme also decline”.
Along with a majority of member states, the UK is on course to meet its emission reduction targets for 2020. A minority of countries are behind target. The three countries with the most to do are Luxembourg (23 percentage points off target), Belgium and Ireland (both c. 10 percentage points behind), according to EU data.
Regarding the new Energy Union initiative, the Czech Republic is also currently holding the same stance as the UK. Today, The Czech Rep is over-reliant on nuclear and particularly coal. At the same time, the Czech government wants to leave coal behind. Without binding targets, however, investors – whether from Prague or Paris – will not have the certainty that is needed to invest in energy efficiency or renewables in the Czech Republic.
As part of the G7, Europe’s largest countries pledged to end fossil fuel use at its June summit in Germany. “The agreement to transition to renewables is already there. What’s needed now is the investment certainty to deliver it”, concluded James Nix.
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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