Turkish civil society and climate groups from across Turkey and the world have responded to today’s G20 Leaders Communiqué with a mix of shock and disappointment. Read the G20 Leaders Communiqué here.
“Coming right before the Paris Climate Summit, the G20 was an opportunity for Heads of State from a range of countries to show their commitment to scaling up climate action both inside and outside of the UN,” Mustafa Özgür Berke, from İklim Ağı (Climate Network) said.
“Heads of State could have provided a clear and powerful signal ahead of the Climate Summit by putting a date for the end of fossil fuel subsidies, and agreeing to stop funding fossil fuel projects around the world,” Ümit Şahin from İklim için (For The Climate) said.
“Instead they have rehashed worn positions and in doing so risk being on the wrong side of history,” he said.
By not using the G20 to get onto the same page about the critical issues to be discussed at COP21, they’ve made their job that much harder.
“A broad and diverse range of civil society, non-profits and advocacy groups from across Turkey and the wider international climate and development movement all worked co-operatively to develop a set of four clear asks for G20 Leaders to meaningfully address the great climate challenge facing us,” Barış Karapınar, General Manager of TEMA Foundation said.
– A complete and total end to ALL fossil fuel subsidies.
– Stop our financial risk from climate impacts and action; demanding the G20 set a clear plan by 2018 to stress test all spending against its compatibility with global climate commitments.
– An immediate end to all investment plans for the expansion of existing and all new coal fired powered plants and mines in Turkey.
– G20 leaders to unequivocally state their support for a long-term goal and ambition mechanism in Paris.
“We have been deeply affected by the dreadful events that have taken place in Paris and Beirut and stand in solidarity with the victims and the people caught up in the violence. These events have pushed the G20 agenda towards a strong and necessary focus on security.
“As people who live in Turkey we are no strangers to such dreadful and senseless violence. Climate change will only increase conflict, increase violence and play a role in even greater geopolitical conflicts and mass migration of desperate refugees,” Efe Baysal from Yuva Association said.
Groups as diverse as The Pentagon, the US Department of Defence, The Atlantic Council, NATO, the Global Military Advisory Council On Climate Change (GMACC), the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP) and the Australian Defence Force have all concluded that climate change is one of the most serious security threats to the globe and that serious and immediate action is required.
A number of states (from the USA to Germany, Australia and the UK) have now included climate change in national security statements or strategies.
The G20 Leaders have failed to grasp this most basic of facts that the science illustrates so compellingly.
“The G20 Leaders have failed to grasp this most basic of facts that the science illustrates so compellingly. Many people around the world had seen the G20 as the perfect moment for Heads of State (HoS) to gather ahead of the COP, push the agenda on climate harder and make the work needed in Paris a fortnight later for COP21 just that little bit easier,” Christian Eicheinmuller Turkey Representative of Heinrich Boll Stiftung said.
“They have to do that. Some of our demands are incredibly simple to meet, indeed the C20 have nominated over the last few days 2020 as the year to phase out the perverse incentives of fossil fuel subsidies – all these G20 Leaders need to do is agree that this year must be the last moment for real action for the decision made way back in 2009 in Pittsburgh to be actioned!” Christian Eicheinmuller said.
“G20 members are currently spending 789 times more on fossil fuel subsidies than they are on the Green Climate Fund, and yet they say in the communiqué how critical this Fund is and climate finance is – this is patently obscene,” Ethemcan Turhan from Ecology Collective said.
“The threat of new and expanding coal plants and mines in Turkey remains unattended to. This is deeply shameful, people are sick and dying from filthy coal and plans are afoot for international finance to build even more – this is a global problem of major significance,” Cem İskender Aydın from TEMA Foundation said.
“On long term goals and ambition we can see some reference on ambition but no foresight about plans to decarbonise our economies, as we know we must,” Ümit Şahin from İklim İçin (For the Climate Campaign) said.
“We must hope that these Leaders display the leadership in Paris that they failed to deliver here in Turkey on all matters to do with climate change, the most pressing of our global problems. The world is depending on it and the world is most certainly watching,” Ümit Şahin said.
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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