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“Deep Decarbonization Pathways” Provide A Unique Lens On How The World Can Avoid Dangerous Climate Change



With an important United Nations climate change meeting approaching later this year in Paris, a new study from an international research consortium argues that deeply reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is technically and economically feasible in the world’s largest economies and major developing countries.

The report from the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPP), a collaboration among research teams from 16 of the highest emitting countries, lends scientific support to calls for more aggressive action to prevent dangerous climate change in the run-up to the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP-21) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change this December.

“Some have claimed that limiting global warming to 2°C is not achievable, that the international community should abandon that quest and aim for a “more realistic” target,” said project director Jim Williams, referring to an upper limit on manmade temperature rise proposed by scientists to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.  “This work shows clearly that 2°C is still within reach if countries show some resolve and cooperate in building a low-carbon global economy.”

The study released today includes reports on each of the countries represented by DDPP research teams – Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States – describing country-specific strategies for transitioning to a low carbon economy. The DDPP, which began in fall 2013 and includes prominent scientists and experts from more than 40 research institutions around the world, is convened under the auspices of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), an initiative of Columbia University’s Earth Institute for the UN, and the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI), a nonprofit policy research institute based in Paris.

The new study follows an interim report presented to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon during last year’s UN climate summit. It delves more deeply into the details of technologies, costs, and enabling conditions associated with “deep decarbonization pathways,” which are national-scale, sector-by-sector blueprints of the changes required over time in physical infrastructure — power plants, vehicles, buildings, and industrial equipment – to achieve deep emission reductions.

“The DDPP speaks the language of policy makers, showing the practicalities and feasibility of deep decarbonization”, notes Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director of the SDSN.  “If countries pursue the three pillars of decarbonization – energy efficiency, low-carbon electricity, and fuel switching – then the world can limit global warming to no more than 2-degree C using technologies that are already commercial or expected to be within the needed timeframe.”

The research teams were autonomous in defining their own scenarios and objectives in the analysis.  The question that all addressed through their own lens was how their countries could build energy systems that protect the climate while also supporting economic growth, and supplying all the energy services needed, including expanded access to energy in developing countries.  The analyses demonstrated that decarbonized economies can continue to effectively transport passengers and ship freight, provide similar or better housing and public amenities, and support high levels of industrial and commercial activity.  Some country teams focused on how decarbonization could be made consistent with raising living standards, improving income distribution, and alleviating poverty.  Others focused on air pollution benefits, reduced dependence on imported energy, or the implications for international trade.

“The DDPP shows how important it is to frame challenges within the right context. Deep decarbonization consistent with the 2°C limit is not only necessary but also in the own interest of each country”, says Teresa Ribera, director of IDDRI. “Finding ways to achieve a low-carbon economy and prosperity at the same time matters to every country, and each country is the best placed to find its own way to reach these goals. Using deep decarbonization pathways is a key enabler to help them in this process and to involve all the actors of transformation in the debate”.

Moreover, the DPPP shows that the physical transformation required for deep decarbonization can be done in a way that provides multiple economic and environmental benefits, as well as opportunities for raising living standards.

“It is possible to deeply decarbonize while improving income distribution, alleviating poverty, and reducing unemployment, as notably illustrated by the South African exercise. Deep decarbonization is also key to address energy poverty in industrialized countries, as demonstrated in the UK and French reports” emphasizes Teresa Ribera.

The main economic phenomenon found in the study was a major shift in investment away from conventional fossil fuels toward low carbon technologies, creating many opportunities in a global clean energy economy. The massive scale of deployment of low-carbon technologies required by deep decarbonization – for example, more than one billion electric and fuel cell vehicles by 2050 — offers the perspective of dramatic reductions in the cost of low-carbon technologies as innovation occurs and economies of scale take hold.  Large global markets are instrumental in making low-carbon technologies affordable in time for developing countries to avoid lock-in of high-carbon infrastructure and the development patterns of the past century.

“The lessons of the DDPP are highly relevant for the agreement at COP21”, Sachs emphasized.  “To achieve deep decarbonization every country needs to start with a deep decarbonization pathway (DDP) through to 2050.  These pathways need to be subject to public scrutiny. They will form the basis for framing shorter-term emission-reduction strategies, and they will help align technologies, financial markets, and politics around a sustainable energy transformation at the global scale.”


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Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?



self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By 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 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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New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035



renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart /

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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