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COP21: Global Concern about Climate Change, Broad Support for Limiting Emissions

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As world leaders prepare to negotiate an agreement that will frame a global climate change agenda for the next decade and beyond, a new Pew Research Center survey finds there is an international consensus that climate change poses a serious challenge.

Majorities in all 40 nations polled say climate change is a serious problem and a global median of 54% consider it a very serious problem.  A median of 78% support the idea of their country limiting greenhouse gas emissions as part of an international agreement to be discussed at the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, or COP21.

Yet there are significant regional differences on the perceived problems posed by global warming. Worries are especially strong in Latin America and Africa. And Americans and Chinese, whose economies are responsible for the greatest annual CO2 emissions, are among the least concerned. In the U.S., 45% of people surveyed say global climate change is a very serious problem and 18% of people surveyed in China say the same.

“The global consensus is that climate change is a serious challenge, not a distant threat,” said Richard Wike, Director of Global Attitudes Research. “In fact, majorities in most of the nations surveyed say the world’s changing climate is either causing harm in people’s lives now or will cause harm to them in the near future.”

Across the nations surveyed, a median of 51% believe people are already being harmed by climate change and another 28% think people will be harmed in the next few years. More than half of those polled in 39 of 40 countries are concerned it will cause harm to them personally during their lifetime, and a global median of 40% are very worried about this.

“But such broad, general support masks significant partisan differences,” said Bruce Stokes, Director of Global Economic Attitudes. “Opinions on climate change tend to fall along partisan lines in many of the world’s wealthier nations, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Australia.”

There is general agreement about what should be done to deal with global warming. As the Paris conference approaches, majorities in 39 nations say they support their country limiting its emissions as part of a climate accord. Even in China and the United States, large majorities support an international agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

These are among the key findings from a new Pew Research Center survey, conducted in 40 nations among 45,435 respondents from March 25 to May 27, 2015. Additional key findings in the report include:

Climate Change Consequences: People worldwide are concerned about a variety of possible consequences of climate change, but drought tops the list. Drought is the most commonly named consequence (or tied for the most commonly named) in 31 countries, including the U.S., where 50% say this is the possible effect that concerns them most. Fears of drought are particularly prevalent in Latin America and Africa. In both regions, a median of 59% say this is their top concern.

Lifestyle Changes: According to most respondents, confronting climate change will entail more than just policy changes; it will also require significant changes in how people live. A global median of 67% say that to reduce the effects of climate change, people will have to make major changes in their lives. A median of just 22% believe technology can solve this problem without requiring major changes. Even in the U.S., a country known for its technological innovations, 66% believe people will need to significantly alter their lifestyles.

Wealthy nations should do more: In most countries, people tend to believe much of the burden for dealing with climate change should be shouldered by wealthier countries. Across the nations polled, a median of 54% agree with the statement “Rich countries, such as the U.S., Japan and Germany, should do more than developing countries because they have produced most of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions so far.” A median of just 38% believe “Developing countries should do just as much as rich countries because they will produce most of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions in the future.”

Partisan Divides:  In the U.S., Democrats (68%) are much more likely than Republicans (20%) to believe climate change is a very serious problem and Democrats (82%) more than adherents of the GOP (50%) are supportive of government action to limit greenhouse gas emissions.  Partisan divisions on perceptions of climate change are also seen in several other relatively wealthy nations. In Canada, 45% of the supporters of the Conservative party believe that global warming will harm them personally. This compares with 71% of Liberals, who just assumed leadership of the country.

In Australia there is a similar difference, just 31% of Liberals see climate change as harming them, compared with 65% of Labor Party supporters and 72% of Greens. In Germany, 51% of CDU/CSU followers are worried about the personal effects of global warming, but 63% of SPD supporters and 76% of Greens hold this view. Similarly, in the UK, followers of the Conservative Party (39%) are far less worried than backers of the Labour Party (49%).

Support for Emissions Limits: Roughly two-thirds (69%) of Americans favor Washington agreeing to a multilateral commitment to limit the burning of pollutants such as coal, natural gas or petroleum. In China, the nation responsible for the greatest annual release of CO2 into the atmosphere, about seven-in-ten (71%) support an international treaty to curtail emissions. Regionally, the greatest enthusiasm for limiting emissions is in Europe (a median of 87%). Support is also strong in Latin America (median of 83%). The lowest backing, while still high, is in the Middle East (73%).

Country-specific findings:  A median of 51% of people across the countries surveyed believe people are already being harmed by climate change, but that figure varies widely by country.  In Brazil, 90% of people surveyed agree, 59% of people in France, 49% in China, 42% in India, 41% in the U.S. and 31% in South Africa. A median of 40% of those in the nations polled believe climate change will harm them in their lifetime. That figure was 78% in Brazil, 69% in India, 39% in South Africa, 35% in France, 30% in the U.S. and 15% in China.

The findings are here.

Energy

What Should We Make of The Clean Growth Strategy?

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Clean Growth Strategy for green energy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By sdecoret | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/sdecoret

It was hardly surprising the Clean Growth Strategy (CGS) was much anticipated by industry and environmentalists. After all, its publication was pushed back a couple of times. But with the document now in the public domain, and the Government having run a consultation on its content, what ultimately should we make of what’s perhaps one of the most important publications to come out of the Department for Business, Energy and the Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in the past 12 months?

The starting point, inevitably, is to decide what the document is and isn’t. It is, certainly, a lengthy and considered direction-setter – not just for the Government, but for business and industry, and indeed for consumers. While much of the content was favourably received in terms of highlighting ways to ensure clean growth, critics – not unjustifiably – suggested it was long on pages but short on detailed and finite policy commitments, accompanied by clear timeframes for action.

A Strategy, Instead of a Plan

But should we really be surprised? The answer, in all honesty, is probably not really. BEIS ministers had made no secret of the fact they would be publishing a ‘strategy’ as opposed to a ‘plan,’ and that gave every indication the CGS would set a direction of travel and be largely aspirational. The Government had consulted on its content, and will likely respond to the consultation during the course of 2018. And that’s when we might see more defined policy commitments and timeframes from action.

The second criticism one might level at the CGS is that indicated the use of ‘flexibilities’ to achieve targets set in the carbon budgets – essentially using past results to offset more recent failings to keep pace with emissions targets. Claire Perry has since appeared in front of the BEIS Select Committee and insisted she would be personally disappointed if the UK used flexibilities to fill the shortfall in meeting the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, but this is difficult ground for the Government. The Committee on Climate Change was critical of the proposed use of efficiencies, which would somewhat undermine ministers’ good intentions and commitment to clean growth – particularly set against November’s Budget, in which the Chancellor maintained the current carbon price floor (potentially giving a reprieve to coal) and introduced tax changes favourable to North Sea oil producers.

A 12 Month Green Energy Initiative with Real Teeth

But, there is much to appreciate and commend about the CGS. It fits into a 12-month narrative for BEIS ministers, in which they have clearly shown a commitment to clean growth, improving energy efficiency and cutting carbon emissions. Those 12 months have seen the launch of the Industrial Strategy – firstly in Green Paper form, which led to the launch of the Faraday Challenge, and then a White Paper in which clean growth was considered a ‘grand challenge’ for government. Throughout these publications – and indeed again with the CGS – the Government has shown itself to be an advocate of smart systems and demand response, including the development of battery technology.

Electrical Storage Development at Center of Broader Green Energy Push

While the Faraday Challenge is primarily focused on the development of batteries to support the proliferation of electric vehicles (which will support cuts to carbon emissions), it will also drive down technology costs, supporting the deployment of small and utility-scale storage that will fully harness the capability of renewables. Solar and wind made record contributions to UK electricity generation in 2017, and the development of storage capacity will help both reduce consumer costs and support decarbonisation.

The other thing the CGS showed us it that the Government is happy to be a disrupter in the energy market. The headline from the publication was the plans for legislation to empower Ofgem to cap the costs of Standard Variable Tariffs. This had been an aspiration of ministers for months, and there’s little doubt that driving down costs for consumers will be a trend within BEIS policy throughout 2018.

But the Government also seems happy to support disruption in the renewables market, as evidenced by the commitment (in the CGS) to more than half a billion pounds of investment in Pot 2 of Contracts for Difference (CfDs) – where the focus will be on emerging rather than established technologies.

This inevitably prompted ire from some within the industry, particularly proponents of solar, which is making an increasing contribution to the UK’s energy mix. But, again, we shouldn’t really be surprised. Since the subsidy cuts of 2015, ministers have given no indication or cause to think there will be public money afforded to solar development. Including solar within the CfD auction would have been a seismic shift in policy. And while ministers’ insistence in subsidy-free solar as the way forward has been shown to be based on a single project, we should expect that as costs continue to be driven down and solar makes record contributions to electricity generation, investment will follow – and there will ultimately be more subsidy-free solar farms, albeit perhaps not in 2018.

Meanwhile, by promoting emerging technologies like remote island wind, the Government appears to be favouring diversification and that it has a range of resources available to meet consumer demand. Perhaps more prescient than the decision to exclude established renewables from the CfD auction is the subsequent confirmation in the budget that Pot 2 of CfDs will be the last commitment of public money to renewable energy before 2025.

In short, we should view the CGS as a step in the right direction, albeit one the Government should be elaborating on in its consultation response. Its publication, coupled with the advancement this year of the Industrial Strategy indicates ministers are committed to the clean growth agenda. The question is now how the aspirations set out in the CGS – including the development of demand response capacity for the grid, and improving the energy efficiency of commercial and residential premises – will be realised.

It’s a step in the right direction. But, inevitably, there’s much more work to do.

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Energy

How Much Energy Does Bitcoin Use, Really?

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how much energy bitcoin requires
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Chinnapong | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/noipornpan

Many headlines have capitalized on the rapid rise of Bitcoin’s value. However, there’s a darker side of things that may entirely escape people’s awareness — the vast energy usage associated with Bitcoin mining. The practice involves adding information about transactions to a publicly accessible record called the blockchain.

Bitcoin miners increase the amounts of the cryptocurrency they own by being involved in mining. That means there is a built-in incentive to start mining and keep doing it. The energy consumption associated with mining may not be as visible as it is in traditional types of mining because everything happens in the digital realm — however, it’s exceptionally high, which is a cause of concern to many individuals in the know.

The Rise in Value Brings About Higher Energy Consumption

It’s not hard to find impressive headlines and news stories about how the value of Bitcoin has soared over the last few months. Many people even suspect they’ll soon witness the inevitable burst of a “Bitcoin bubble.” Miners are taking advantage of the current boom, though, which involves depending on power-sapping computers and related equipment.

In the early days of Bitcoin, it was possible to mine on basic home computer setups. Now, the most dedicated miners invest in the best computers around. In some cases, that means the machines they use are quite energy efficient, which is a good thing. However, the purchase of equipment that uses electricity well isn’t enough to make a significant dent in the overall Bitcoin energy usage.

The Approximate Energy Usage Statistics Vary

When you start doing in-depth research about just how much energy consumption Bitcoin demands, be prepared to come across many different figures. Although people are doing diligent research, they still can’t reach an agreement. For example, according to statistics from the Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index, the annual energy usage is just under 32 terawatt hours.

That’s the estimate for per-year energy use of Serbia and more than 150 other countries. However, analysts find it impossible to reach a unified conclusion about the per-transaction energy consumption for Bitcoins.

Figures from Digiconomist estimate one Bitcoin transaction takes 255 kilowatt-hours of power — or enough to power an American household for more than eight days. Marc Bevand, another analyst, disagrees with that figure, though his remarks on the matter are not as specific. He discusses how many of the highly publicized statistics fail to account for the technological innovations that occur as equipment improves.

He gives the example of an S9, which is a standard piece of Bitcoin equipment, claiming 16% of the S9’s revenues went towards electricity costs. If that figure is more accurate, it would mean each Bitcoin transaction uses enough power to keep an American residence going for just under four days.

Bitcoin Miners May Be Able to Branch Out From Cryptocurrency

Some Bitcoin miners are attracted to their trade for more reasons than just the lucrative and ballooning prices of the coins. People from a wide variety of industries, from banking to insurance, are looking at uses for blockchain technology. In the insurance sector, fraud costs $40 billion per year, but the verification method that miners understand and work with dramatically reduces fraud and makes blockchain appealing to insurance professionals.

Also, banks are increasingly researching Blockchain as a supplement to their current methods. As the prominence in the market goes up, the allure of being a Bitcoin miner does, too.

Also, going back to Bitcoin specifically, as the value of each coin goes up, people become more motivated than ever to invest in better technologies that help them remain profitable for as long as possible. When all these factors combine, it’s not hard to understand why energy consumption rises.

Do Banks Use More Energy Than Bitcoins?

Some analysts argue that even if the energy demanded by Bitcoins is exceptionally high, it’s still not at the level of energy used by banks. To keep things in perspective, it’s important to realize that the banking industry keeps its total energy usage figures under wraps, leaving people to do lots of speculating.

One analyst determined there are approximately 30,000 banks in the world, and each one has ATM networks, offices and other components that require electricity. When adding all the relevant factors together, the final figure this individual came up with is that banks use about 100 terawatts of power per year, less than the earlier-cited figure related to Bitcoins.

However, people have given opinions that the amount is too conservative. It does not include the energy used by bank employees, such as when employees drive to their offices or fly to meet clients. It bears mentioning, though, that the Bitcoin figures mentioned in this piece probably don’t either.

There are countless statistics about Bitcoin energy usage, and most of them are not promising. But instead of reading a few of them and immediately feeling shocked, it’s important for people to take a broad look at the findings and reach their own intelligent conclusions based on the collective research.

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