We need some serious ‘lobbying for good’ by business if global climate change negotiations are to have any chance of success, writes Paul Monaghan.
PJ O’Rourke took a rather dim view of corporate lobbying, saying, “When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators.” It’s hard to disagree with such views against a backdrop of the fossil fuel industry’s wholesale corruption of politics across the globe, or the chemical industry’s routine attempts to keep products of proven toxicity on the shelves.
But there is another side to the story.
Past champions of corporate responsibility are too often viewed through the crude lens of community investment and how much wealth they donated. Yet the truly great business leaders throughout history have always grasped that legislative intervention can be a greater force for good.
In the 19th century, William Lever was a strong advocate of state pensions; John Cadbury campaigned against the use of young boys as chimney sweeps; and Joseph Rowntree made sure that some of his key trust funds were able to ‘change the laws of the land’.
Today, an emerging group of pioneers have similarly realised that the business case for corporate responsibility will never be strong enough to support an isolated business in its competition against the unscrupulous. Public policy intervention is required to change the rules and shift the bar for the allowable lowest common denominator.
In the area of climate change, the interventions of Unilever, Ikea and Nike are rightly well-known and lauded – they are using their voice at the highest level to urge politicians to set bold and binding climate change targets.
More significantly, we are seeing an ever growing number of well supported climate change declarations aimed at government. In the US there’s Ceres’s Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP), which last year developed an emotive Climate Declaration that calls on American business to “take a stand and do the right thing“. This has now been signed by 800 businesses, and has been referred to numerous times in the Senate and House as proof positive that many businesses want to see a clean, low-carbon economy. It was influential in emboldening the Obama administration to maintain its pursuit of carbon pollution standards for power plants – arguably, the single largest step to reduce CO2 taken by any country in the world to date.
In Europe, we have the Trillion Tonne Communique, which has now garnered a 121 signatories from business since it was launched in April of this year (40 of whom are from outside Europe). This has emerged from the ground-breaking work of the Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change, which has previously mobilised business in support of everything from the Climate Change Act in the UK through to the need for a strong EU emissions trading scheme and bold targets in Europe.
There is even an emerging grand coalition of coalitions, We Mean Business – which could be incredibly powerful if it can successfully tackle partisanship and the drag of the lowest common denominator.
And it’s not just the big kids who are coming out to play. We are now seeing smaller players increasingly enter the arena, such as Co-operative Energy – which last month helped force a little reported government U-turn on community energy tax relief in the UK.
Progressive small business associations are also increasingly assertive and influential. The American Sustainable Business Council was only founded in 2009 but has quickly grown into a national partnership of over 60 business associations representing 200,000 businesses and 325,000 entrepreneurs, managers and investors. Key wins have included the confirmation of preferential candidates to key administrator positions, such as Gina McCarthy at the Environmental Protection Agency. In the UK, we have the newly-formed Social Economy Alliance which is looking to mobilise its network of networks in support of a community energy revolution in the run up the general election of 2015.
The glass is nowhere near half full – the likes of the US Chamber of Commerce and BusinessEurope still wield far too much negative influence. As the executive director of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Christiana Figueres, has noted, progressive voices are still “outgunned and outfinanced by fossil fuel lobbying”.
But something is definitely stirring. Across the globe, the logic of lobbying for good is now such that it is overriding the cultural aversion that rails against it. This is not only a positive development, but an absolute requirement for the world to have a cat in hell’s chance of reinvigorating serious progress on issues such as climate change.
Paul Monaghan is director of Up the Ethics and co-author of the new book Lobbying for Good. Blue & Green Tomorrow readers can save 15% when purchasing Lobbying for Good (Dō Sustainability, 2014) from the publisher. Use code BGT15 here.
Photo: Clayton Fopp via freeimages
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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