In a speech given at Lloyd’s of London – ‘Breaking the tragedy of the horizon: climate change and financial stability’ – Mark Carney, warned: “the catastrophic impacts of climate change will be felt beyond the traditional horizons of most actors – imposing a cost on future generations” and “climate change will threaten financial resilience and longer-term prosperity.”
In an in-depth analysis well worth reading in full here, Carney powerfully put the case that: “There is a growing international consensus that climate change is unequivocal. Many of the changes in our world since the 1950s are without precedent: not merely over decades but over millennia.”
“Evidence is mounting of man’s role in climate change. Human drivers are judged extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of global warming since the mid-20th century. While natural fluctuations may mask it temporarily, the underlying human-induced warming trend of two-tenths of a degree per decade has continued unabated since the 1970s.
“While there is always room for scientific disagreement about climate change (as there is with any scientific issue) I have found that insurers are amongst the most determined advocates for tackling it sooner rather than later. And little wonder. While others have been debating the theory, you have been dealing with the reality
“Since the 1980s the number of registered weather-related loss events has tripled; and Inflation-adjusted insurance losses from these events have increased from an annual average of around $10bn in the 1980s to around $50bn over the past decade.
“The challenges currently posed by climate change pale in significance compared with what might come. The far-sighted amongst you are anticipating broader global impacts on property, migration and political stability, as well as food and water security.
“So why isn’t more being done to address it? A classic problem in environmental economics is the tragedy of the commons. The solution to it lies in property rights and supply management.
“Climate change is the Tragedy of the Horizon.”
He went on to say: “…the IPCC’s estimate of a carbon budget that would likely limit global temperature rises to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. That budget amounts to between 1/5th and 1/3rd world’s proven reserves of oil, gas and coal. If that estimate is even approximately correct it would render the vast majority of reserves “stranded” – oil, gas and coal that will be literally unburnable without expensive carbon capture technology, which itself alters fossil fuel economics.
“The exposure of UK investors, including insurance companies, to these shifts is potentially huge. 19% of FTSE 100 companies are in natural resource and extraction sectors; and a further 11% by value are in power utilities, chemicals, construction and industrial goods sectors. Globally, these two tiers of companies between them account for around one third of equity and fixed income assets.
“On the other hand, financing the de-carbonisation of our economy is a major opportunity for insurers as long-term investors. It implies a sweeping reallocation of resources and a technological revolution, with investment in long-term infrastructure assets at roughly quadruple the present rate. For this to happen, “green” finance cannot conceivably remain a niche interest over the medium term.”
He called for a: “A climate disclosure task force”
“That better information – about the costs, opportunities and risks created by climate change – can promote timely responses is not a new idea. Much the opposite: there are already nearly 400 initiatives to provide such information.
“Existing schemes vary in their status (from laws to voluntary guidance); scope (from greenhouse gas emissions to broader environmental risks); and ambition (from simple disclosure to full explanations of mitigation and divestment strategies). In aggregate over 90% of FTSE 100 firms and 80% of Fortune Global 500 firms participate in these various initiatives. For instance, the Carbon Disclosure Project makes available disclosure from 5,000 companies to investment managers responsible for over $90 trillion of assets.
“The existing surfeit of existing schemes and fragmented disclosures means a risk of getting “lost in the right direction. In any field, financial, scientific or other, the most effective disclosures are:
– Consistent – in scope and objective across the relevant industries and sectors;
– Comparable – to allow investors to assess peers and aggregate risks;
– Reliable – to ensure users can trust data;
– Clear – presented in a way that makes complex information understandable; and
– Efficient – minimising costs and burdens while maximising benefits.
Meeting these standards requires coordination, something the G20 and FSB are uniquely placed to provide.”
“One idea is to establish an industry-led group, a Climate Disclosure Task Force, to design and deliver a voluntary standard for disclosure by those companies that produce or emit carbon.”
“Companies would disclose not only what they are emitting today, but how they plan their transition to the net-zero world of the future. The G20 – whose member states account for around 85% of global emissions – has a unique ability to make this possible.”
In conclusion he said: “Our societies face a series of profound environmental and social challenges. The combination of the weight of scientific evidence and the dynamics of the financial system suggest that, in the fullness of time, climate change will threaten financial resilience and longer-term prosperity. While there is still time to act, the window of opportunity is finite and shrinking. Others will need to learn from Lloyd’s example in combining data, technology and expert judgment to measure and manage risks.
“The December meetings in Paris will work towards plans to curb carbon emissions and encourage the funding of new technologies. We will need the market to work alongside in order to maximise their impact. With better information as a foundation, we can build a virtuous circle of better understanding of tomorrow’s risks, better pricing for investors, better decisions by policymakers, and a smoother transition to a lower-carbon economy.
“By managing what gets measured, we can break the Tragedy of the Horizon.”
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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