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.
Carrying on from our issue of Snippets two-weeks ago, we yet again examine 2014, this time now as officially Earth’s warmest year since record keeping began in 1880. The ten warmest years on record, with the exception of 1998, have now occurred since 2000. The warmth in 2014 was not however uniform, for instance in Australia it was only their 4th warmest, 25th warmest in NZ, but the warmest in most parts of Europe and Asia.
Thankfully it appears the proverbial penny is finally starting to drop, with the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Risk report published ahead of last week's meeting in Davos, now ranking environmental risks greater than economic ones. The WEF stated there has been a "marked increase in experts' negative assessment of existing preparations to cope with challenges such as extreme weather and climate change," rather than any receding of fears over chronic economic risks, such as unemployment and underemployment or fiscal crises, which have remained relatively stable compared to last year's report.
As if to echo this, research published by the US National Academy of Sciences warns climate change impacts could be worse than previously thought, with the possibility of chronic water scarcity leading to agricultural collapse, to famines and ultimately to conflict as nations fight over what limited resources remain.
Furthermore, two additional scientific reports have identified how the rate of environmental degradation is putting life on Earth at risk, with “humans eating away at their own life support systems at a rate unseen in the past 10,000 years”. Of the nine worldwide processes that underpin life on Earth, four have now exceeded “safe” levels.
Reading all of the above, which is sort of overwhelming, makes you think. Just at what stage can New Zealanders expect the official government messages to change from a focus on Roads of National Significance, reform of the Resource Management Act, exploration for oil and gas, referendum on a flag, sale of state assets, and a Corporate trade deal in the TPPA, to something that might address the real issues that matter, such as making serious reductions in greenhouse gas emissions?
Whether or not governments are focussing on this important issue, there is a need for businesses to change their vision.
Christiana Figueres says corporates are not demanding clarity in climate change policy from governments enough. This is because they aren’t seeing the long term threat to themselves, or are disillusioned that others will act. Their vision seems short term when the long term holds all the threats to their, and our, existence. Companies need to identify their vision, talk about it with others, and act to make the necessary transformation.
Tove Malmqvist warns companies that they must begin to realise that the majority of consumers trust the scientific evidence on climate change. People in most countries now believe that climate change will affect their lives. Even those countries which previously had more sceptics, now have growing concern about climate change. In assessing risk, companies should account for consumers shunning their services if they don’t heed warnings from scientists.
Peter Bakker of World Business Council for Sustainable Development says CSR as a “bolt on” strategy will not achieve sustainable development. Companies need to fully integrate sustainability in their business models to make it count long term, as some have successfully achieved. Businesses need to transform their processes and include a true cost of carbon.
We next look at a series of articles related to city life. Our first article, ‘Can cities lead the way to maximizing nature’s value?’ notes that by 2050, 3 out of 4 people will live in cities, and this rapid growth is straining infrastructure that makes cities liveable and sustainable, with the latter being a real priority.
Steps are being taken to make cities more liveable. 'Are our cities about to get a lot smarter (and greener?)' explores this theme. Electrification of cars and transport systems and implementing smart grids are some ways to improve quality of life in a dense urban environment. Around 4,300 Londoners die every year from breathing bad air. Electrification of transport would certainly help alleviate this issue, which of course is not just confined to the UK.
A possible step forward is urban farming. Urban roof top farming is becoming popular in Asian cities, to meet local food demand. It’s not just limited to Asia. Zero Carbon Food is another similar project which is located in an abandoned bomb shelter underneath London. With the expected increase in cities populations, why not have ‘local’ options and use spaces as productively as possible.
Clean energy is a vital part of energy production; "business as usual" is no longer an option. New Zealand has an enviable position where much of the country's energy requirements are sourced from renewables. It’s pleasing to see global clean energy production rebounding in 2014. After a 3 year decline, the total investment in clean energy has jumped 16% to $310 billion. BNEF produces quarterly reports that track how much money governments and private sector are pouring into wind, solar, biofuels and other green projects. China is leading the way with an investment of $89.5 billion, America also stepped up investment during the period, and while the outlook was generally very positive, Australia’s investment in this area fell 35%.
We wrap up this edition of Snippets with a story around recycling discarded fishing nets in Chile. This is an issue not just affecting Chile, it's a worldwide problem. A start-up company ‘Bureo’ is making skateboard decks out of the recycled fishing nets, and a good portion of the skateboards' wheels are being manufactured from recycled materials. We see this as a positive step, and hope that this process is scaled up to make a raft of other products. We applaud recycling initiatives.
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.