Key global figures who will shape the outcome of December’s United Nations climate conference in Paris later this year came together for the first time at a major event at The French Institute in New York today organised by The Climate Group for the finale of Climate Week NYC 2015.
The leaders agreed to work together to secure a deal and outlined programmes to cut emissions. There was recognition that a successful deal at COP 21 required concerted action by national governments, international institutions, subnational bodies and business. Business and subnational leaders set out a string of major commitments to cut emissions, and called on negotiators in Paris to match their ambition.
Today’s event coincided with a full page advertisement in the Financial Times from organisations working with more than 6 million companies that called for an ambitious climate deal at COP21.
Speaking at the event, Todd Stern – President Obama’s Special Envoy for Climate Change, who recently announced US-China bilateral climate agreements – said: “The stars are more aligned now for an historic universal agreement [in Paris] than they have ever been.
“So let’s work together. Let’s keep our eyes on the prize. And let’s get this done.”
He was joined on stage by Prakash Javadekar, India’s Environment Minister, a key figure in Prime Minister Modi’s government. He confirmed that the Indian Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) would be released by the end of the week, on the eve of Mahatma Gandhi’s anniversary. He said:
“I believe Paris will be a success. We need to keep it simple. We must ensure annual reviews so there is no backsliding. India is committed to building a green economic future because this will help poverty eradication.”
Laurence Tubiana, the French Government’s Special Ambassador for the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, said at the event: “Paris needs to be a turning point. We’re not there yet but I’ve seen a sea change compared to previous years, particularly with the mobilisation of business, cities and subnational governments. Many world leaders are also now calling for deep decarbonisation, sending positive signals and creating the conditions for success.”
Three time Mayor of New York City, and UN Special Envoy for Cities and Climate, Michael Bloomberg – making a keynote speech at the event – announced plans for city-level mayors to come together with other leaders of states and regions to agree a ‘Compact of Compacts’ demonstrating leadership at the subnational level to build low carbon economies. This came on the back of an announcement by subnational leaders that set out carbon reduction targets of 7.9 GtCO2e by 2030, more than the US’ annual emissions.
Speaking at the event, Mr Bloomberg said: “Cities, states and regions have considerable leeway to act on their own without the need for national government support. Today I am announcing a formal alliance between the Compact of Mayors and the Compact of States and Regions initiatives. No one should doubt the collective clout of subnational government. We need to change the rules that prevent them from investing in smart infrastructure.”
Also speaking at the event were major business leaders from Fortune 500 listed companies who announced plans to switch to 100% renewable energy and adopt science-based carbon targets.
Maria Fernanda Mejia, President, Kellogg, Latin America said: “At Kellogg, we have had a longstanding commitment to responsibly source our ingredients and conserve natural resources in a manner that will produce more food, strengthen the communities in which we operate, and help support the livelihoods of the farmers who grow our ingredients. That is why we continue our commitments to remove commodity-driven deforestation across our entire supply chain and are setting further emission-reduction targets. It’s good for people, our company and the economy. We’re proud to be part of the We Mean Business campaign as a way to partner with leading companies to hasten the transition to a low-carbon world.”
In a statement to the event, read by John A Kufour the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Climate Change, Ban Ki Moon stressed the importance of everyone working together to find a solution. He said: “We need all hands on deck at this critical point in history.”
Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said: “The extraordinary wealth and welter of climate action announced by governments, cities, investors and companies during Climate Week 2015 has been truly breathtaking. Underpinned by the moral imperative of His Holiness Pope Francis and the successful conclusion of a suite of Sustainable Development Goals, confidence is building towards Paris and a new universal climate agreement.”
The OECD’s Secretary General Angel Gurria also spoke at the event on the need for a new economic paradigm: “It’s time for a climate reality check: subsidising fossil fuels does not pass the test. Coal remains the least taxed of all fossil fuels despite being the dirtiest fuel available for electricity generation.”
President of the World Bank, Dr Jim Kim reiterated the collaboration that was needed to combat climate change. He said: “The Paris climate change conference must demonstrate our collective commitment to getting the world on a path to zero carbon. Solving the challenges of climate change requires both public and private sector leadership. ”
Organised by The Climate Group each year, Climate Week NYC has become an increasingly important event for politicians and corporations to agree on joint action and push for greater ambition in international climate negotiations.
This year’s closing event, taking place just 10 weeks before the COP21 talks open in Paris and coinciding with the Pope’s historic visit to the US, also included critical international figures such as Jim Kim (World Bank President) and Felipe Calderón (former President of Mexico and now Chair of New Climate Economy) as well as senior executives from major companies including: Walmart, Procter & Gamble, Nike, Goldman Sachs, Siemens, Philips, IKEA, Kellogg, BT, GEF, DSM, ENGIE and SkyPower.
Mark Kenber, CEO of The Climate Group – the international non-profit behind Climate Week NYC – said: “This year’s Climate Week NYC has brought together key figures from all the sectors needed to secure a deal which averts runaway climate change, and also those who will actually drive emissions down in the short term. State and regional governments announced ambitious climate targets equivalent to the US’ emissions, and some of the world’s biggest corporations have now pledged to use 100% renewable energy.
“The wind is in our sails. A deal in Paris is now highly likely, and – judging from the commitment of key businesses and major economic regions – we may also be on the cusp of a major transition to a prosperous, low carbon economy.”
Nigel Topping, CEO of We Mean Business – a coalition of pro-climate business groups – added: “We welcome the commitments to climate action made by Walmart and Kellogg today, and the leadership being shown by New York State Comptroller DiNapoli – one of America’s most influential investor voices. Organizations working with more than more than 6 million companies are calling for ambitious climate policy in Paris at COP21.”
Niall Dunne, Chief Sustainability Officer, BT said: “Innovation has been at the heart of BT for nearly 170 years. We know communications technology has a crucial role to play to deliver the innovation and collaboration that are essential to combat climate change as well as delivering sustainable growth. ICT is a vital tool for better business and a better world.”
Len Sauers, Vice President, Global Sustainability at Procter & Gamble, who joined the RE100 campaign this week, said: “Achieving 30% renewable energy by 2020 is what we feel is needed to keep us on track so we can one day realize our long-term vision of being powered by 100% renewable energy. Joining RE100 allows us to work with like-minded companies to scale and advance efforts.”
About Climate Week NYC
Climate Week NYC is a key event in the international calendar that brings together leading governments, investors, businesses, innovators and opinion formers. The Climate Group launched Climate Week NYC in 2009, and has acted as the secretariat since its inception. Host to more than 100 affiliate events from September 21-28, Climate Week NYC 2015 is the collaborative space for climate events in support of the UN Summit to adopt the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
Climate Week NYC 2015 is supported by BT Group, Siemens, Procter & Gamble, Nike, SkyPower, SolarCity, CBRE Group, and Bank of the West – BNP Paribas; and the We Mean Business coalition members: BSR, The B Team, CDP, Ceres, The Climate Group, The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group and WBCSD.
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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