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.
We start off with a peek back into 2016. 2016, in some respects was quite a bleak year, but a few good news stories crept through. Our first article lists 10 ‘good news’ items, from some animal species bouncing back from extinction to countries moving towards ending ivory trade completely. Indonesian’s commitments to protecting and restoring peatlands, as well as some significant marine reserves being created after a lot of hard work.
Continuing to look back into 2016, we next look at the top 5 green buildings. Our favourite is the 128 story Shanghai Tower. The tower, claiming to be the greenest skyscraper in the world, incorporates over 40 energy-saving technologies from collecting rain water and reusing wastewater, and have a massive 200 wind turbines incorporated, providing up to 10% of the building’s needs. These buildings are fantastic examples of what can be done, and it’s not just new buildings, an example is given where the Sydney Opera House has been retrofitted with LED’s and water saving features. A trend we hope will continue in 2017.
With the increase in green buildings, and with office buildings being constructed like the Shanghai Tower, it is no surprise additional non-financial benefits become apparent within this type of building. Research conducted by the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, points out that through improved lighting, ventilation and heat control, occupants of these buildings experienced increased cognitive function scores, increased productivity, reduced sick leave and better sleep at night. This is good news, hopefully convincing some developers to consider a greener approach to building projects.
Having looked back at 2016, it’s now time to look forward at reasons to be excited about sustainability in 2017. The race for climate leadership is on, with the Paris Agreement being ratified and other world changing initiatives being implemented in 2016, the door remains open for countries to become the world leaders in sustainability.
Whilst there are indeed many reasons to be excited about sustainability in 2017, there is significantly greater disruption on the horizon. Not just any minor form of disruption, but one that is going to totally re-shape New Zealand as we know it. As the very well-written article by Dr. Rosie Bosworth discusses, the transition from the farm, vineyard, orchard and ocean to laboratory style food production is well underway. New Zealand cannot hope to best this disruption. It has only two choices – 1) to ignore it, or 2) to embrace it and adapt for the opportunities that soon to be freed up land will provide. Such opportunities may well include massive re-forestation (ideally in natives) and the creation of more National Parks, set to become future tourist destinations. Option 1) of ignoring it doesn’t seem too smart by the way…
This scaling up to mass laboratory style production will, however, take time. In the interim there are other opportunities to improve the on-farm, on-vineyard and on-orchard efficiencies. We examine seven ag-tech start up’s that are aiming to do exactly that. Even though New Zealand is largely at the forefront in efficient farming, there are still many areas for improvement.
An example of an agricultural scheme aimed at improvements, is the soon to be binding 2017 SAN (Sustainable Agriculture Network) Standard that is intended as a means of bringing farms into, and moving them up the ladder of, sustainability, in ways responsive to more localised challenges. With agriculture accounting for up to 30% of all world-wide greenhouse gas emissions, the sector needs as much as assistance as possible. So far 1.4 million farmers have already subscribed to SAN, making it a small, but significant step in reaching the world’s total estimated 570 million farmers.
Another example of sustainable agriculture is provided by Gabe Brown, who has led the way and demonstrated what can be achieved by ditching pesticides, fertilizers and monoculture, and instead embracing natural farming techniques such as biodiversity, multiculture and no-till cropping. As Gabe demonstrates, the rewards can be outstanding.
And not to forget the issue of Nitrogen pollution, which in Europe alone is estimated to cost between $150B and $650B a year in environmental and human health. By adopting a more sustainable approach to the use of artificial fertilizers, we could lessen the impact of this pollution. Ultimately of course, with a shift to laboratory style production, the use of nitrogen based fertilizers can be far more closely applied and pollution minimised. Maybe a shift away from the farm is not such a bad thing after all.
The low, near zero, interest rates that have been around for the last 8 years have helped restore economic growth and have had an unintended consequence - many more sustainability projects have been realised as investors are willing to invest in more long term projects. Companies can see that long term carbon emissions are going to cost, so fixing their business emissions now, while interest rates are low and money is readily available, makes sense. Having no fast return now makes it easier to wait for profit later.
Some more good news, renewables are becoming increasingly cheaper to produce, and becoming more efficient too. “Renewable energy has reached a tipping point – it now constitutes the best chance to reverse global warming,” according to Michael Drexler, Head of Long Term Investing, Infrastructure and Development at the World Economic Forum. With technologies improving, investors are becoming more aware and willing to supply the capital needed.
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.