While Brazil and Peru have better climate plans than Chile or Argentina, none of them have been rated as “sufficient” by the Climate Action Tracker (CAT), which released analyses of the four South American country climate targets today.
The CAT – an analysis by four European research organisations – has rated Brazil and Peru’s submissions to the UN as “medium” and has given an “inadequate” rating to both Argentina and Chile. Together, these four countries make up 72% of South America’s greenhouse gas emissions, excluding Land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF).
The CAT’s “medium” rating indicates that both Brazil and Peru’s climate plans are at the least ambitious end of what would be a fair contribution, and are inconsistent with limiting warming to below 2°C unless other countries make much deeper reductions and comparably greater effort.
For Argentina and Chile, an “inadequate” rating is inconsistent with limiting warming to below 2°C: if all countries were to adopt this lower level of ambition, global warming would likely exceed 3-4°C this century.
“None of these countries will be immune to the effects of climate change. An increase in warming of 2˚C would have severe impacts on all four of them, and on the rest of the continent,” said Dr. Marcia Rocha, Head of the Climate Policy team at Climate Analytics.
“Yet instead of taking action commensurate with the size of the threat, these governments are largely sticking with their current policies, which are heading in the wrong direction.”
“These four South American climate targets are collectively disappointing, with this region extremely vulnerable to climate impacts and many already being observed, now would be the time to really ramp up policies and ambition,” said Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics.
“Now is not the time to simply put forward no more than what is already being done or planned, the world needs real ambition for Paris, and it would be a very important symbol if these countries were able to increase their climate action by the time we get to Paris.”
Detail for each country below.
Climate change impacts are expected to hit Brazil hard. The Amazon has already been hit by severe droughts, and 2˚C of warming is likely to increase these, and generally prolong the dry season.
This could accelerate forest dieback, in particular at the yet higher warming levels associated with Brazil’s INDC rating. Sea levels are expected to rise higher around Brazilian coastlines: with a 4˚C warming, big cities like Rio de Janeiro and Recife could be hit by more than 60cm of sea level rise by end of century.
Brazil is one of only two major developing economies (2) assessed by the CAT with a “hard” climate target – ie one based on reductions below a historical year as opposed to reductions “below business-as-usual,” or the emissions intensity of its economy.
Its target is to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by 37% below 2005 levels by 2025, with an “indicative contribution” to reduce emissions by 43% below 2005 levels by 2030. Both targets include forestry and land use (LULUCF).
Brazil, home to the largest share (60%) of the Amazon rainforest, has already made huge steps in reducing its previously soaring rates of deforestation, cutting them by 85% between 2005 and 2012.
But while the government intends to fulfil its INDC through moves like a 45% renewable energy share, this will still result in Brazil’s energy emissions increasing. It is already very close to meeting its new climate under its current laws.
To reach its renewables target, Brazil would only have to make a small improvement compared with today’s regulations. Meanwhile, Brazil’s emissions from other sectors (energy, industry and agriculture) are still set to rise.
“Brazil has a large share of hydro power, yet its energy market is projected to increase by more than 50% between 2012 and 2030. While it is good that renewable energy share is set to grow, Brazil needs to be careful it doesn’t recarbonise its electricity sector,” said Dr Rocha.
Climate change is likely to hit Peru hard: 2˚C of warming is likely to see 90% of its glaciers disappear, bringing massive water shortages to cities like Lima during the dry season. When it comes to climate change impacts on fisheries, Peru is listed as one of the world’s most vulnerable countries.
Peru’s climate target also receives a CAT “medium” rating for its unconditional target of a reduction by 20% below business-as-usual (BAU) by 2030, shifting up to 30% with financial help.
Peru hosts about 260,000 square miles of forest – the largest area of the Amazon rainforest after Brazil. The Amazon is poised to become one of the 11 regions in the world to have more deforestation and forest degradation than anywhere else in 2030, and Peru’s contribution is not insignificant.
The expansion of the palm oil industry, agriculture, illegal logging and informal mining has are major drivers of deforestation in the Andean-Amazon countries like Peru, where emissions from deforestation are projected to soar at a rate not seen before in the country’s history (from 92.6 MtCO2e in 2010 to 159 MtCO2e in 2030). Peru will need to implement more policies to reach its climate targets.
“With its current deforestation rates, it is difficult to see how Peru is going to meet its climate target, especially its 2021 zero deforestation goal.The country is also likely to face water shortages from glacier melt that will impact on cities and agriculture,” said Juan Pablo Osornio, of Ecofys.
Chile also faces glacial melt and water shortages under 2˚C of warming, but not quite as extreme as Peru. However, its low-lying cities of Valparaiso and Antofagasta would see sea level rise of up to more than half a metre by the end of the century (in a 4˚C warming world), and a 30% reduction in fisheries.
Chile has set an unconditional target of a 30% reduction of GHG emissions-intensity of GDP below 2007 levels by 2030, which the CAT has rated “inadequate.”
Chile’s INDC is less ambitious than the two options in the draft its Ministry for the Environment released in December 2014. Of significant concern is that the final target sent to the UN does not set a goal for 2025, and the level set for 2030 is far from a 2° C pathway.
“Chile is a good example of how, if the Paris agreement were to set targets only for 2025, inadequate efforts such as Chile’s could be improved for a 2030 dateline,” said Juan Pablo Osornio.
Argentina has submitted target of reducing GHG emissions including land use by 15 % below Business As Usual by 2030 including LULUCF or 16% by 2030 excluding LULUCF (equivalent to 129-131% above 1990 levels and 50-52% above 2010 levels excluding LULUCF).
The CAT has rated Argentina’s target as “inadequate.” Moreover, Argentina has reserved the right to adjust its target, adding a high level of uncertainty to its contribution to the 2015 agreement.
Argentina is likely to be hit hard by global warming, where average temperature increases are likely to be you will much higher than the global average. For example, average temperatures in a 2˚C world will be 0.5˚C higher and, in a 4˚C world, are likely to be two degrees higher, ie 6˚C. Global warming for Argentina, a country heavily dependent on agriculture, is likely to reduce crop yields and reduce water availability.
Argentina is likely to meet its proposed targets without taking any further action – ie, under policies it has in place now. Yet emissions are projected to grow significantly – by than 25% from 2012-2030.
By 2030, the energy, agriculture and cattle-ranching sectors will account for more than 87% of the country’s total emissions, with huge growth (35%) from the agricultural sector between now and 2030.
“Argentina has the potential to step up and at least meet its more ambitious conditional pledge. For a country with such large emissions, and facing quite extreme impacts from global warming, it is disappointing to see such an inadequate effort,” said Dr Rocha.
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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