Welcome to another two weekly review of energy and environmental events and developments from both here in New Zealand and around the world. As always, we hope you find our collection of stories to be of interest in what continues to be a rapidly evolving area.
With the UN Climate Summit being held just under two-weeks ago, I feel I must have had my fingers in my ears, such was the underwhelming media attention it received here in New Zealand. Granted, we had just held our national elections, but surely the outcomes from the Summit should have received greater attention.
So, we will carry a few articles examining the Summit and the economic politics that are all going on behind the scenes. Firstly, the Summit and that it actually happened is an achievement in itself. Apart from the 125 heads of state and government officials (most ever), was the attendance of 100 CEOs representing some of the 1,042 companies the World Bank announced are calling for a meaningful price on carbon pollution.
The Summit agreed to take a more ambitious stance on climate change including the leaders of the US and China. Governments, companies and civil society groups pledged action on addressing de-forestation. Cities announced a Compact of Mayors initiative where they agreed to cooperate and share intelligence on battling climate change issues (a link on this is carried separately). Four global alliances launched or advanced initiatives, to scale up sustainable transport solutions, like mass public transport, walking, biking and electric vehicles. And least not, additional commitments in climate finance with $1 billion from France alone.
So with all this positivity, we can feel relieved that action is finally being taken? Well, yes and no, depending on whether you represent the fossil fuel sector, are a politician who relies on fossil fuel campaign contributions or is a lobbyist doing the bidding of the fossil fuel industry. Never underestimate the greed of vested interests.
A good example of this is to be found in our close neighbour Australia, where they have been likened to the ‘Saudi Arabia of the South Pacific’. Led by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who once declared “the climate argument is absolute crap” and a media, largely owned by Rupert Murdoch, that continues to spins stories casting doubt in global warming, the country in less than a year has repealed the carbon tax, the mining tax and is now in the process of possibly scrapping the Renewable Energy Target (RET). Scrapping the RET will be worth about $10 billion to Australia’s coal and gas industry.
So who are these fossil fuel funded lobbyists that seem to be only so effective at persuading politicians and businesses to take an easier line on addressing climate change? One is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that recently lost the support of Google for casting doubt on climate change science, or as the Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt put it “just literally lying”. Another US lobby group is the National Centre for Public Policy Research (NCPPR), which recently tabled a motion, calling on Apple to drop environmentally-friendly practices if they ever became unprofitable. The Apple CEO Tim Cook responded (angrily) “When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind, I don’t consider the bloody ROI” and he continued to suggest, not for the first time, that they get out of Apple stock.
And it is not as if the fossil fuel industry is about to change anytime soon. With global annual subsidies of $700 billion, a lack of a carbon tax or a pollution tax, why would they. In many respects, they are correct in that we will continue to have a need for fossil fuels, but as a transition fuel to renewables. Except they don’t see themselves as being in any form of transition. This impacts on other companies that support the fossil fuel sector, like Siemens, who see their role as improving the efficiencies and therefore lessening emissions. And where companies, such as BP have tried to invest in renewables, they have found it very hard to make money – which is not at all surprising given how much the market is skewed in favour of fossil fuels.
So in terms of business and climate change, we now appear to have two distinct groups. Those that are either fossil fuel companies or choose to support fossil fuel companies, and the rest of the business world. Let’s just remove fossil fuel subsidies, introduce a meaningful carbon pollution fee and value natural capital, where any business that degrades it has to pay the value of that degradation. Then let the markets do the rest.
It is not just renewable generators or the sustainability sector that are facing headwinds. The US cottage industry of establishing ‘seed libraries’ is being threatened by onerous regulation. Seed libraries that see their role as fostering the genetic diversity of food and strengthening food security are running against the interests of the likes of Monsanto, who see the world as a very different place where all food is GMO and Monsanto supplies all seeds. Vested interests again.
We take this opportunity to reiterate the risk that climate change is bringing to life as we know it.
The Guardian writes that climate change is no longer a future threat to our planet, it is already affecting the world. Effects are being felt in Bangladesh, The Marshall Islands and Europe. Food security is threatened by water scarcity in Asia. Are the skeptics not concerned that as early as 2047 the coldest years will be like the hottest years of the 20th century?”
A study at Cornell University, the US Geological Survey and the University of Arizona has found that changing rainfall patterns, caused by climate change, are likely to result in more frequent and more severe droughts, some even
multiple decades or generations long.
Huge areas of the Amazon are still being deforested, for logging and farming. Brazilian scientists say this deforestation in the Amazon, and global warming, have reduced the “flying rivers” that produce much of central and southern Brazil’s rain, causing unprecedented drought. The flying river is bigger than the biggest river on Earth, but these are now absent. If this deforestation continues at the same rate, major droughts will become more frequent.
Taking climate action brings so many additional benefits, or is it that sustainably addressing some of the priority social and economic issues is the way to address climate change? In a healthcare facility, energy efficiency measures improved the quality of the healthcare services provided, and it reduces the energy costs. Google, in its new test building, uses only half the energy of a traditional building, and by making it a healthier workplace, Google have found fewer sick days taken by employees making a huge positive effect on the “bottom line”.
Thanks for taking the time to read this issue and we look forward to catching up with you again. If you have any items of interest you would like to submit, then please feel free to forward them.