The Queen delivered her final parliamentary address before the 2015 general election on Wednesday, outlining some of the coalition’s plans for its final year in office.
Read the full story, and see below for all the latest reaction from businesseses, investors and campaigners.
Ben Stafford, head of public affairs at WWF-UK
“There is relatively little environmental content in the last Queen’s speech from the government that set out to be the ‘greenest ever’. However, we welcome the statement that ministers will champion efforts to secure a global agreement on climate change. They need to do so, as climate change is one of the greatest threats to both people and nature, and the time for action is now.
“The government could send a strong and positive signal about its intentions in this area by announcing that it accepts the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change on the fourth carbon budget. Doing so would underline its international leadership credentials, and be a huge boost to a low carbon sector that already employs almost a million people in the UK.
“The remaining months of this parliament are also the opportunity for the government – and the opposition parties – to set out their stall for the years ahead. We’d like to hear ministers, from the prime minister down, giving their vision for climate change leadership, environmental restoration and the development of the green economy if they’re back in government after the general election.”
Paul King, chief executive of the UK Green Building Council
“The coalition will laud their green credentials by claiming to have delivered on the promise for all new homes to be zero-carbon from 2016. This has undoubtedly been hard-won by the Lib Dems, but unfortunately they are at risk of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory by letting small developments – a large chunk of the housebuilding market – off the hook. Zero-carbon homes save a fortune for households in energy costs and are better for the environment.
“However, the policy of allowing developers to pay into a fund to offset emissions they cannot reduce is a sound idea in principle, despite its lukewarm reception this week. If implemented properly, this could lead to investment in local, community energy schemes and drive innovation in clean technology. On the other hand, a weak scheme, that generates little investment that has no connection to the housebuilding which is taking place, would be a deeply disappointing outcome.”
Jonathan Jenkins, chief executive of the Social Investment Business
“Too often, our economic rules and regulations make doing the socially responsible thing harder rather than easier. Giving people greater freedom and flexibility on their pensions should include giving them the option to invest socially. The upcoming pensions bill presents an excellent opportunity to do this.”
Stephen Joseph, chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport
“The infrastructure bill represents a high-risk strategy from government which badly misreads the public mood. A bill combining road-building and fracking will attract serious and sustained criticism from a wide range of quarters in the run up to the next election.
“Proposing further planning reform to speed up major projects has become a default position for successive governments. It may seem attractive, but examinations already proceed at a breakneck pace which risks poor decisions and more cases ending up in the courts. There must be proper time to examine important issues like air pollution and the effects on local communities.”
Andrew Pendleton, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth
“This is the latest salvo in yet another coalition assault on our environment.
“Allowing fracking firms to drill under people’s homes without permission, and scrapping plans to make new houses more energy efficient would show a complete disregard for tackling climate change and protecting the planet.
“A plastic bag charge is simply a fig leaf to try and hide the government’s increasingly exposed and withered green credentials.”
Nick O’Donohoe, chief executive of Big Society Capital
“At a time when savers can build a nest-egg while also making the world a better place for their retirement, they must now be given the opportunity to make that choice. There are a number of steps the UK can take to empower its citizens to make socially responsible decisions when they manage their money. This is an important one.”
Leonie Greene, head of external affairs at the Solar Trade Association
“Something’s gone seriously wrong with the zero-carbon homes agenda if such little effort is being made to incorporate proven technologies into new homes. Solar power and solar heating are particularly affordable in new build so it would make little sense to sideline these technologies and instead effectively tax house builders and new home buyers in order to develop carbon reduction schemes elsewhere in the UK.
“The technologies that can eliminate both carbon emissions and energy bill anxiety in homes are available right now. If you’re going to pay a modest premium for a new home, you should be able to recover that cost quickly through very low energy bills – that is what solar technologies enable. Instead, in their efforts to ensure business as usual for developers, the Department for Communities and Local Government is proposing a very convoluted interpretation that is little more than a carbon-offsetting scheme delivering little benefit to home buyers.”
John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK
“The government is making a mockery of public participation by announcing legislation in the Queen’s speech to ‘open up access to shale gas’. Just days ago ministers launched a public consultation on whether or not to strip away householders’ rights to say no to companies fracking under their homes.
“Ministers are losing the argument on fracking and are now steamrolling over people’s rights in order to sacrifice our countryside and climate. This is all for the sake of an industry which will have a marginal impact on providing energy security. When ministers sober up from their shale gas inebriation, we’ll all be sharing their morning hangover.”
Nina Skorupska, chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association
“The UK needs houses, but policy should benefit the people who will buy and live in them as well as the people that build them. Energy efficiency and renewable energy means seriously low energy bills – possibly under £300 – from day one. A strong emphasis on Allowable Solutions will see homeowners incur the costs of this new tax rather than the benefits of efficient homes with on-site renewables and greatly reduced energy bills.
“We are working hard on developing an industry-led protocol to increase joint ownership of renewables projects with community groups. This is an important step for securing sustained public support for renewables. Community engagement with renewable electricity also raises awareness of energy and environmental issues and can lead groups to engage in other positive environmental schemes, from renewable heating networks and low carbon transport initiatives to energy efficiency and recycling programmes.”
Photo: Andrew Turner via Flickr
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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