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.
Many people around the world rank the threat of climate change up with those of nuclear war or armed conflict, according to a new survey measuring perceptions of international challenges. Even though there is uncertainty about what humans would do to each other when trying to adapt, the comparisons are based on the urgency and immediacy of the threat. It is not just the “older” generation, with memories of the cold war, that are thinking this way. In most countries concern about climate change is across all age groups. Even though youth in more advanced economies appear less concerned about many issues, responses in the US indicate younger people are more likely to voice concern over climate change than older people.
A report commissioned by the UK government concludes that climate change issues and risks are still being considered from narrow perspectives. The risks are complex and cross cutting and a holistic approach to assessing these risks is important. They are systemic, and the report lists three key questions that should be considered when responding to this issue. We need to know what we are doing to the climate, how it might respond and what we might do to each other when we in turn respond to those impacts. Policy makers need to consider these risks and not delay action. These sentiments are shared by many as they have been expressed by the Catholics and the Church of England.
At the recent “Summit for Conscience for the Climate”, held ahead of the December COP in Paris, Arnold Schwarzenegger, speaking on the same platform as many other eminent people, religious and political leaders, said “Climate Change is not fiction” and “a planetary catastrophe can only be avoided with ethical action”. The summit, convened by French President Francois Hollande, brought together these speakers, who expressed the clear message that humans have an urgent responsibility to protect the environment. Arguments from both the moral and economic perspective converged on the need to care for the earth and people. Even though Kofi Annan says fighting climate change cannot only be left to governments, we think political leaders have an important responsibility to lead action against climate change.
If governments would commit to tackling climate change, they could redirect the trillions of investment dollars, currently going into megaprojects, into sustainable development. Focus seems to be on reducing risk for private investors and building ever larger infrastructure projects that inevitably cause unsustainable consumption of resources. Infrastructure projects are projected to need $4.5 trillion per year, compared to $2-3 trillion that would be needed to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The large scale of projects creates not only opportunities for corruption, but often locks us into high carbon pathways. Most of this investment is done through public private partnerships which, in a way, give governments an opportunity to redirect and make them more sustainable.
With climate change putting pressure on political stability, there is a need for governments to be proactive in managing future risk. A report commissioned by the G7 states that both fragile and stable states would benefit from management of climate change risk. There is already a visible link to climate change in conflicts in North Africa, Middle East and Asia. Climate change has to be taken as integral to development, and creative thinking is required in negotiating access to water and other ecosystem services as it constrains those resources. Indeed we can use our creativity to improve our resource use efficiency.
Who would picture Philips in agriculture? Well, welcome to a new way of farming, and the new farmer is the lighting company, Philips. In a windowless, 30,000 square foot (2700 sq metre) warehouse in the Netherlands, they are using LED lighting technology to produce food such as lettuce, tomatoes and basil. What’s more, they can, through the use of different coloured light and intensity, produce tomatoes with more vitamin C or make a lettuce more crunchy or sweet. What makes this project all the more exciting is its minimal water use, and not having to introduce pesticides into this very controlled process. A new form of food production that we hope to see more of.
Governments currently seem to take the approach of ‘it's too costly to address’ when talking about climate change. Our view is it’s too costly to ignore. Air pollution alone caused more than 7 million premature deaths globally in 2012. One of the biggest causes of harm are the fine particles called PM2.5, with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers. These can migrate deep into lung tissue and cause all sorts of health related issues. Coal and diesel combustion have been drivers for economic growth, but have put human health at great risk. If governments would lead action by addressing air quality issues as the starting point rather than putting them into the “too hard basket”, there would be immediate health benefits.
We finish this Snippets with a look at Lanzatech, a company founded in New Zealand, which we have featured before. In this update, we see Lanzatech’s technology will be installed at a steel mill in Belgium, using microbes of “rabbit gut” origin to turn the carbon monoxide waste into ethanol fuel. The pilot scheme starts later this year, with production commencing in 2017. The project will eventually produce 47,000 tonnes of ethanol a year, which can then be on-sold to run cars and aeroplanes.
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.