Submitted national contributions to the new global climate agreement do not put the world on track to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Implied is an acceleration and consolidation of action against climate change in major economies. Moreover, they serve as an entry point for the low-carbon transformation, if the Paris Agreement includes a mechanism to strengthen and broaden policy commitments by 2020 at the latest.
This is shown by a report published today by a consortium of 14 research institutes. The scientists and economists provide a detailed analysis of the energy sector transformations required to implement the intended nationally determined contributions (so called INDCs), in major economies and at the global level in aggregate, and their potential for keeping the below 2 degrees goal within reach.
The results show:
– What a deal in Paris will actually mean in practical terms through implementation of the plans. The report is global in focus, with particular emphasis on: the EU, US, China, India, Brazil, Japan and all INDCs up until India’s.
– How we will need to raise ambition regularly, starting soon after 2015, to keep the 2°C target in reach.
– Without this “ratcheting up”, getting back to a 2°C pathway post-2030 would also imply a sudden collapse of investments in fossil generation (hence massive stranded assets)and require a dramatic surge of investment in renewables.
– The need for a long-term goal in the Paris agreement to foster the development of national, long-term deep decarbonisation pathways by 2018.
“As of October 19, the 123 INDCs, covering 150 countries, submitted to the UNFCCC represent 86% of global GHG emissions in 2012. Such wide coverage, with countries from all continents, levels of development and historic positions in the climate negotiations is in itself a major step forward for climate action and a signal of commitment to the Paris negotiations”, says Teresa Ribera, project leader and Director of the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI).
“The criteria for judging INDCs is their capacity to unleash the deep decarbonisation of the energy sector by 2050. This report’s analysis shows that this transformation is emerging but not fast or deep enough. Future policies and targets must be defined to be coherent with deep decarbonisation by 2050, informed by concrete pathways to get there.”
The present analysis of INDCs was funded by the European Commission and conducted by leading research teams from Brazil, China, Japan, India, the United States and the European Union. By investigating the concrete implications of INDCs for the low-carbon transformation by and beyond 2030, from energy systems, buildings to transport and industry, it complements the upcoming cutting-edge assessments by UNFCCC and UNEP of the impact of INDCs on global emissions and the global temperature goal.
“While the climate pledges lay the foundation for a faster transition to a low-carbon economy worldwide, more is needed to bolster the commitment to the below 2 degrees goal”, explains Elmar Kriegler of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “The Paris Agreement should set a clear timeline for ramping up action. Mechanisms for strengthening INDCs by 2020 would send the required signal to investors in the energy sector and beyond, in particular through the announcement of further economy-wide climate policies.”
In the run-up to COP21, the report offers six key cross-cutting messages:
– The report shows that INDCs imply an acceleration and consolidation of action against climate change in major economies around the world.
– This is particularly true in the electricity sector, where INDCs will further drive the transition towards renewables and other low-emissions forms of electricity production. In the six major economies assessed individually, carbon dioxide emissions per unit of electricity production falls by about 40% between 2010 and 2030 and renewable electricity becomes the dominant source of electricity production at about 36% of the electricity mix. There are similar positive trends regarding energy efficiency, with the energy intensity of passenger transport, for example, falling by 30% in China, India, the EU, the US, Brazil, and Japan in aggregate.
– However, the report highlights that INDCs would imply uneven progress among the drivers of decarbonisation. Some crucial low-carbon solutions, like CCS, electric vehicles, advanced biofuels, sustainable urban planning, appear unlikely to be developed under the INDCs at the scale and speed required for a 2°C scenario. Likewise, the report highlights that INDCs would leave too much inefficient and unabated fossil fuel capacity online in 2030 to be coherent with a 2 degrees scenario. This highlights the risks of lock-in into a high carbon trajectory if action is not strengthened quickly.
– The INDCs need to be strengthened to keep the 2°C goal within reach. The INDCs alone, as currently proposed, would imply the need for a dramatic and abrupt shift of course in 2030 and a technically challenging and economically costly rate of transformation thereafter, if the 2°C goal is to be maintained.
– The Paris Agreement can build a bridge between INDCs and 2°C by establishing predictable and credible mechanism for regularly strengthening targets and policies, on a five yearly timeframe with the first strengthening taking place by 2020 at the latest. The report explores such a bridge scenario in which action is strengthened over time, beyond the level of ambition implied by the INDCs. In this scenario, a strengthening of policies and commitments by 2020 reduces emissions by more than 5 Gt CO2e in 2030 compared to the INDC level, allowing a less costly, more feasible trajectory towards 2°C. It also allows for a smoother reallocation of investment away from high-carbon towards low-carbon technologies and infrastructure, avoiding the risk of stranded assets and economic disruption.
Strengthening climate targets and policies will be aided by the fact that INDCs can lead to significant co-benefits to climate mitigation. For the countries studied, the report found significant reductions in energy dependency and local air pollution. “We found that the INDCs will also have benefits beyond climate mitigation—they will help countries to reduce local air pollution and curb growing energy imports in the EU, Japan and China,” says Jessica Jewell, researcher at the the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). “Such co-benefits can be a significant opportunity to develop ambitious national climate policies, as they would further increase with strengthening the INDCs”, she adds.
Read the full report.
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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