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Blue & Green Daily: Thursday 4 September round up

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Today on Blue & Green Tomorrow, we reported on the growing wage divide in UK cities, and the increasing number of Britons trapped in low wage jobs.

We also covered the winning idea that claimed a £250,000 reward in the Wolfson Economics Prize, and looked into the offices of Ethical Corporation ahead of this year’s Responsible Business Awards.

Sir David Attenborough warns of the ‘escalating erosion of wildlife’

Naturalist Sir David Attenborough has warned, ahead of the Conference for Nature in London, that the continued destruction of the environment “threatens us all”. However, he insists we still have a chance to save it.

Tasmanian forests opened for logging despite conservationist efforts

The Tasmanian government has decided to open up 400,000 hectares of previously protected forest to the timber industry, a move that environmentalists say will do serious harm to both the climate and the country’s tourism sector.

Ethical Corporation: helping business do the right thing

Ethical Corporation has grown to become one of the most respected voices in the CSR space. Ahead of its fifth annual Responsible Business Awards, director Sara Baylis and Zara Maung, editor of Ethical Corporation magazine, speak to Tom Revell about the past, present, and future of ethical business.

Government launches badger vaccination scheme

The government has launched a scheme to vaccinate badgers against bovine tuberculosis, to prevent its spread to cattle. Last year the government faced criticism for allowing culls to go ahead in a bid to control the spread of the disease.

Number of UK workers trapped in low pay jobs on the rise

The workforce of the UK’s cities is becoming increasingly divided between high and low wage jobs, with opportunities in the middle fading and social mobility failing, according to a new report that warns being employed does not mean being out of poverty. 

Community Energy Fortnight: Bristol Green Doors

The Community Energy Fortnight hopes to raise awareness of renewable energy projects this September. As part of the national event, Bristol Green Doors – a community interest company – are showcasing a number of homes to the public, free of charge, on Saturday 13th and Sunday 14th September. This occasion will demonstrate the energy saving measures householders have implemented to make where they live cheaper to heat, more comfortable and better for the environment.                                                  

Save B&GT: a fifth of the way in five days

You may have read by now that Blue & Green Tomorrow has hit some financial turbulence and we are at risk of ceasing publication. The short version is a sponsor pulled out of our flagship series of events meaning we had to cancel them, creating a possibly fatal hole in our finances. But our readers have rallied.

Carbon credits can boost economic development and conservation

New research has valued the benefits of carbon offsetting at $664 (£403) per tonne, judging the positive impacts on communities where carbon reduction projects take place. As a result, researchers say businesses have an opportunity to use the voluntary carbon market in their sustainability strategies. 

EDF confirms nuclear reactors may stay offline until end of the year

EDF has confirmed that four of its UK nuclear reactors that were shut off last month for safety reasons will not fully resume operations until the end of the December, sparking fears over electricity shortages during winter.

China and Indian leaders will not attend UN Climate Summit

Both president Xi Jinping of China and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi have confirmed they will not be attending the UN Climate Summit, greatly undermining the possibility of a global pact to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Standard & Poor’s: reinsurers underestimate impact of climate change

Rating agency Standard & Poor’s (S&P) has warned that most reinsurance companies do not believe that climate change is having “a material quantifiable impact on their current risk exposure”, despite evidence that extreme weather is likely to cause huge damage over the coming decades. 

Green Port Hull wind turbine manufacturing plans approved by council

Plans to build a new wind turbine production and installation facility in Hull have received approval from Hull City Council’s Planning Committee. 

Expand cities into greenbelt to solve housing crisis, says Wolfson Prize winner

The winner of the 2014 Wolfson Economics Prize has suggested that the UK solve its housing crisis by allowing existing towns and cities to expand into the greenbelt.

Greenpeace warns of ‘long road ahead’ for truly green gadgets

Ahead of Europe’s largest consumer technology show, to be hosted in Berlin this week, Greenpeace has analysed the environmental progress being made by companies attending the IFA 2014. 

Ban Ki-moon: world must act on climate change now

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has expressed his concern that the world is not acting fast enough to mitigate climate change, ahead of a UN climate summit set to be attended by world leaders this month. 

Elliot reivew calls for special unit to fight food crime

Britain should form a special unit to tackle food crime in the wake of the 2013 horsemeat scandal, according to a government-backed report by food security expert Chris Elliott. 

Samoa UN climate conference generates $2bn in island-to-continent environmental partnerships

Nearly 300 partnerships have been forged between governments, businesses and civil society organisations at a UN climate conference, generating $1.9 billion (£1.1bn) supporting small island developing states in achieving sustainable development.

Environmentalist of the week: Sir David Attenborough

Naturalist, prolific broadcaster, environmental icon and owner of one of television’s most recognisable voices, Sir David Attenborough is a man of many talents. 

How scientists feel about climate change: Prof Lesley Hughes

In a letter speaking about her feelings on climate change, Prof Lesley Hughes, from the Department of Biological Science at Macquarie University and a founding member of the Australian Climate Council, voices her concerns about the world’s wildlife and biodiversity.

Photo: Sanja Gjenero via Free Images

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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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