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.

We start this week with Climate Change Issues Minister Tim Groser’s announcement of a new, more ambitious climate change target of a 30% cut in New Zealand’s greenhouse gases on 2005 levels by 2030. As Groser said, "While New Zealand's emissions are small on a global scale, we are keen to make a fair and ambitious contribution to the international effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avoid the most harmful effects of climate change". The government, it was noted, would adopt a mix of policies to ensure the target was met. So maybe we finally have some reasonable attempts to rein in NZ’s greenhouse gas emissions and do our fair bit on the global stage?

Perhaps not. It is certainly not what the rest of the world might consider ambitious, as it is only a reduction of 11% over 1990 levels. Politicians are generally good at spin, but our present bunch are in a Master Class of their own.

The NZ public might end up being duped by the so called ‘ambitious’ new targets, but not so the Climate Action Tracker, which is analysis undertaken by four independent European research organisations: Climate Analytics, Ecofys, NewClimate Institute and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Their expert opinion is that NZ is deploying creative accounting to allow emissions to rise and that the targets are totally inadequate. New Zealand’s poor rating indicates that its commitment is not in line with any interpretations of a ‘fair’ approach to reach a 2°C pathway. Furthermore, if most other countries followed New Zealand’s approach, global warming would exceed 3-4 degrees Celsius. It is all really embarrassing and disappointing, that where once NZ was regarded at the forefront in emissions reductions, it is now in fact a laggard.

We guess economics is all that matters to this government. Which is why Prince Charles, in front of leading business leaders and politicians, stated that the global economy needs to go through “profound changes” if future generations are to be secured. Prince Charles decried the power of business as usual that promotes wastefulness. He also called for removal of fossil fuel subsidies, which could reduce emissions by 13%, and acknowledged the efforts of those calling for divestment from fossil fuel companies. Speaking at the same event, Polly Courtice, Director of Cambridge’s Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), echoed Prince Charles’ sentiments that business action against climate change should also address poverty and inequality.

Communities around the world are already suffering the impacts of climate change. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), fossil fuel companies, despite being aware of the science behind climate change, have lobbied for subsidies and funded climate change deniers to mislead the public. As a result, between 1988 and today, humanity has emitted half of all industrial carbon emissions. Even now, oil companies continue to carry out actions to delay shareholder or government resolutions to reduce emissions, prompting a call by the UCS for the companies to pay for damage caused by years of misinformation. A page out of the tobacco industry playbook it seems.

What anti climate campaigners have missed is that Corporate Social Responsibility, when implemented transparently, has a positive effect on revenues, share capital value and customer loyalty. A study by IO Sustainability and Babson College found that in addition to increasing sales and share value, CSR motivates employees to be more productive and stay in the job longer.

Renewable energy investments are going to dominate the energy sector in the next 25 years. Bloomberg reports that since 2004 annual renewable energy investments have grown from $43 billion to $270 billion, with most of the money going to China. In the next 25 years renewable energy is predicted to absorb about $8.1 trillion dollars out of $12.2 trillion in energy sector investments. All this investment will be driven not by subsidies, but by competitive prices that will see super cheap renewables around 2026. Growth in renewable energy investment may force fossil fuel emissions to peak in 2029 but action will still be needed to drive them downwards.

World leaders are called to take note of energy market changes in China where coal consumption fell by about 3% last year and coal imports have fallen by 45% in the first three months of this year. The London School of Economics and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate and the Environment, state that China may meet its recent commitments to reduce emissions five-years ahead of schedule. Such a result would have a positive impact on global emissions with, hopefully, more countries being influenced to cut emissions too. This is a strong basis to expect more positive outcomes from the Paris Conference later this year.

With the shift to all this renewable electricity generation, perhaps the time might be right for electric vehicles? Five year old predictions of huge numbers of electric vehicles on the road have not eventuated, mainly due to their high prices and consumer’s range anxiety, but things are changing. Formula E is changing people’s perceptions of e-cars, and with increased production volumes, costs are decreasing.

One country that has led the way is Norway, with generous subsidies and regulations meaning that one in three new cars are electric. Other countries such as the UK and US that do not have the same subsidies are experiencing a much lower 1% of all registrations for electric vehicles. There is no doubt that this penetration rate will however increase and probably markedly, if taxes on gasoline increase sharply.

It’s not just cars that are moving towards utilising electric power. With the improvements in batteries and ever decreasing running costs for electrics, urban transportation and heavy trucks are also making the change. The upfront costs may be higher for these new electric buses, and trucks with electric power drives, but savings on fuel and other avoided maintenance costs over the lifetime of the vehicles has made the decision to change economically easy. For example, the waitlist for these vehicles from one supplier, Proterra, is now over a year long.

If the decision to change to an electric vehicle is still in your ‘too hard’ basket, you could instead try the Honda Civic Tourer. Honda have set a world record for fuel efficiency in this vehicle, managing 2.82 litres per 100km over a 13,500km journey in June and July. That is 100 MPG by the way. Not bad for a diesel, and a touring car at that.

We finish with a look at experimental underwater greenhouses off the coast of Italy. The air in these greenhouses stands at 26oC with humidity hovering around 83 percent. That's a pretty good environment for a typical plant, even 20 feet (6 metres) under the sea. The project is in its fourth year and has produced a number of plants, basil, lettuce, strawberries & beans. And no need to add extra salt…

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