Welcome to our 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 articles to be of interest in what continues to be a rapidly evolving area.
As we work on our third issue of SnippETS for 2015, we are again reminded how quickly the issue of sustainability is making inroads into the public arena. Or more accurately, how the issues of environmental degradation are being increasingly felt and understood. For example, our lead story discusses how in as little as fifteen years (2030), 40% of the world will lack access to clean water, assuming current consumption patterns hold, compared to just over 10% today. Where will you be in fifteen years?
The salient point from this article is that despite the increasingly tangible examples of how environmental volatility stands to affect the global population, why aren't we seeing more meaningful progress on sustainability issues? The article obliges by giving the most credible answer: the nexus between making money and degrading the environment.
That there is a looming water crisis all over the globe can be in little doubt. From Brazil, to Nigeria, to India, USA, Australia, Canada and even Ireland (where it rains more than most), issues with access to water are being encountered.
What seems to be a consistent theme, is the lack of value being placed on water. We examine how pricing water is essential to managing and mitigating risks and not just those that business might consider important. For a very pertinent and sobering example, we have included an article on Almond farming in California where a lack of price and sound regulatory framework is leading to future disaster. It is a regretfully a great example of the nexus between making money and degrading the environment.
Our opening article also discussed reducing greenhouse gas emissions, so let's focus a little on the oil industry. Jo Confino says a petroleum industry executive sees fossil fuels as an essential energy solution for the world's growing population. Whilst this closed mind approach could theoretically work, it disregards the impact unrestricted emissions of greenhouse gases would have on the environment. Al Gore concluded that the oil industry want to use our atmosphere as a sewer and Jonathan Porritt now believes the industry is trapped by its skewed perception of shareholder expectations, compounded by the threat to assets that are now at risk.
Jonathan Porritt writes that oil companies have lost the opportunity to transform themselves to clean energy companies. Oil companies that once forced out reformist executives are now faced with investors concerned at their increasing risks. Those investors are forming pressure groups aimed at transforming the industry from within, while others, like the Rockefeller Brothers, have divested from the whole fossil fuel sector. The question of course now arises, is it better to influence from within or from outside?
Of course the notion of how to influence others is nothing new for the fossil fuel industry. In the US, Congressmen receive substantial support for their election campaigns from Big Oil. The amount spent by the fossil fuel lobby during the 111th Congress (in 2009 and 2010) totalled $347M. However, this figure pales in comparison to the subsidies provided to fossil fuel companies during the 111th Congress of $20.4B, or a 5,800 percent return on investment.
The IMF estimate that US$2 trillion in subsidies go into fossil fuels each year while renewables only get about one sixth of that. Surely subsidising renewable energy, like Germany has done, would be more consistent with future climate driven socio-economic risks that call for a steep reduction in emissions.
The article by Fred Pearce further demonstrates the impending doom for the fossil industry. Investors are abandoning major coal projects worldwide, oil prices are falling and production costs are rising. It now appears to be a battle between the denial of oil executives and the realities of the market. Fred surmises correctly that at the end the climate will have the final word.
John Light discusses what could be a major coup for concerned investors. Shell and BP have now agreed to demonstrate how their business model is consistent with future climate risks and have agreed to put resolutions forward for shareholders to vote on.
But to maximise this change in mind-set, Medilyn Manibo says collaboration is needed, and the wider the collaboration the better. Collaboration between governments, business and
civil society is needed to achieve sustainability in
business and maximise social benefits.
We next examine the energy, water and food nexus. Eco-Business explains how renewables can benefit water by avoiding the high water demand of fossil energy generation, which then makes more water available for food production. Energy also enables improved food production and storage, with solar energy being most amenable to this linkage. Furthermore, Cheryl Katz writes about how technology improvements could make solar PV 50% efficient compared to the current 16%.
Our next article looks at protecting the oceans, which apart from being a reservoir for water is a major source of food, and potential conflict. In late January 2015 UN delegates reached consensus to recommend that work on a Law of the Sea including protection of marine areas beyond national jurisdiction should begin. It was greeted with a collective cheer by many maritime creatures.
We wrap up this week with a look at public transport, and how many of us have probably thought wouldn't it be nice if it was free? Great idea, but does it really work in practice? Surprisingly and especially in large urban areas, it was an abject failure.
Experiments with free public transport occurred in Rome in the early 1970's, Denver, and Trenton in the United States in the late 70's and in Austin Texas around 1990 but none worked as they thought they should. Tallinn, the capital of Estonia announced it was making public transport free in January 2013 only to achieve a 1.2 percent increase. The conclusion in all cases is that those who drive, chose so to avoid public transport.
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.