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.

So what do you have when an organisation backed by $85 trillion dollars of institutional investment, representing 33% of the world’s managed funds, teams up with the most widely used comprehensive sustainability reporting guidelines in the world? The answer is a merger of the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) and Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). These two organisations have signed a memorandum of understanding to help harmonize sustainability reporting guidelines, standards and frameworks. This follows on from the 2012 merger of the Forest Footprint Disclosure Project (FFP) and the CDP. Mergers and partnerships such as these should see greater benefits of sharing data and information, reduced complexity in company reporting and hopefully for all of us, a faster transition to a more resource-efficient world.

Surprisingly, a recent study in corporate sustainability found that while 80% of surveyed organisations reported GHG emissions, only half of those were actually verified. Termed as the “verification gap” this has implications for users who increasingly rely on GHG emission data to make informed decisions, identify risks and opportunities and ensure that efficiency and cost savings are captured and maximised.

Which is all pertinent, as we highlight the 2013 Best Green Global Brands study released by Interbrand and Deloitte, with Toyota, Ford and Honda ranking as the top three. These rankings are based on the perceived environmental performance compared to the companies’ actual environmental performance. The study also revealed that a single product can drive a company’s environmental reputation, for example the Toyota Prius, and the customer perception of cool brands or companies who make wonderful products, must too be an environmentally good company.

Talking of greenhouse gases, a recent communique from the International Energy Agency (IEA) outlines a number of ways the world could cease the growth in energy related emissions by 2020 at no net economic cost. These include measures such as limiting the construction of least-efficient coal fire power plants, phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies and reducing the release of methane from upstream oil and gas industry activity.

What wasn’t mentioned by the IEA was the role renewable electricity generation might play in reducing emissions. Perhaps this is in part due to a perception that the argument for switching from fossil fuel to renewable generation was a no-brainer. As our next set of articles examine, they are right to feel confident in their assumptions.

One nation that is particularly dynamic in investing in solar and wind based renewable energy is China. As well as investing $65 billion in 2012 at home, China invested a further $40 billion in projects throughout the world. Very generous of China, but as they have already demonstrated, they are sure to want a return on this generosity.

Whilst our closest neighbour Australia is still heavily reliant on coal for electricity production, it is also a country that could utilise solar based energy production to its fullest potential. As Bill McKibben, who is on a rolling tour of that country observed, there is a growing concern amongst residents, quoting “It’s been made clear to me that Australians are waking up to the important understanding that while the carbon price is very important, it’s even more important that coals stays in the ground”.

This of course must be setting off alarm bells amongst the Australian coal industry. It is certainly prompting them to say the darndest things on climate change. For example, Dr Nikki Williams (head of Australia’s coal industry lobby) is stating that cutting coal production would just keep poor countries in poverty and that the war against coal is really an attempt to snooker their development by stealth. The Coal Magnate Gina Rinehart goes further still by stating “I am yet to hear scientific evidence to satisfy me that if the very, very small amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was increased, it could lead to significant global warming”. How very convenient.

We also examine the issues being experienced by the wind energy debate in Australia. The ‘so called’ perils of wind generation are widespread as it turns out. With over 200 reported medical related conditions directly blamed on wind farm noise such as herpes, weight loss (is that really a bad thing?), weight gain (less so), cancer, nose bleeds , nightmares (probably containing subject matter such as herpes, weight loss or gain) and our personal favourite, ‘vibrating lips’. Draw your own conclusions on this last one. We should now all be ever vigilant when entering an area close to a wind farm.

Our Australian articles wrap up with ‘What makes a city liveable’? As it turns out good quality tap water, better transport links, better access to hospitals & medical care and better work opportunities are all important. Common themes for all of us we would think. But given the so called newly discovered medical problems associated with wind farms, not in a city that might be close to them like – Wellington?

People want to live in a city with clean water but forget to think of the essentials, like where their food comes from and how the environment can affect the growth of these products. For example, the 2012 floods and cold 2013 spring in the UK has severely impacted on the wheat and sugar beet crops causing Britain to import 2.5 million tonnes of wheat rather than exporting the usual 2.5 million tonnes as in previous years.

The US has been similarly impacted and farmers there are now being forced to adapt the way they farm, albeit maintaining a rejection of the fundamental reasons requiring them to adapt in the first place. By rejecting that climate change could be as a result of human activity means that they see their adaption as only short term and that previous weather cycles will naturally return. Unfortunately this is not what climate scientists predict and a good example of blinkered ideology vs. the practicalities of a changing/changed world.

We wrap up this week with an examination of how using no-tillage crop seeding may reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A recent study by Massey University has found that tillage releases approximately three tonnes per hectare more CO2 than cross slot no-tillage - yet only 20% of farmers were using the cross slot method. Dr Baker, an international soil scientist has created cross-slot no-tillage machines and systems to ensure the minimisation of CO2 being released from the soil and recommends that “ploughing should be as actively discouraged as smoking in New Zealand”, as it is in most arable countries in the world. Dr Baker has been nominated for the 2013 World Food Prize for his work on the development of the Cross Slot no-tillage machines.

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