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 begin with a look at climate pledges ahead of COP21 talks in Paris in December. Plans submitted by 140 nations to limit their greenhouse gases would go some way towards tackling climate change, but not enough to prevent the planet from warming by well over 2oC compared to pre-industrial times. If the plans are implemented as they stand we would see a rise of 2.7oC above preindustrial times by 2100, down from the 3.1oC estimated in December 2014.
What have countries pledged ahead of the talks?
India has finally unveiled their climate change plan. If you look through all the politicizing by India’s environmental minister (from the world’s 3rd worst GHG emitter - it wasn’t us, but we are prepared to do our bit!), their goal of sourcing 40% of its electricity from renewable and other low carbon sources by 2030 is going to start things off.
China plans to implement a cap and trade Carbon Programme, limiting greenhouse gas emissions and forcing industries to purchase pollution credits, in 2017. Officials have said it was hoped the announcement will give impetus to a broader global treaty on climate change in December.
Within some of these pledging countries, particularly USA and China, ambitious goals from a number of cities has boosted the earlier historic deal between these countries. Beijing and 10 other Chinese cities, as well as more than a dozen metropolitan US areas, have announced new pledges to cut pollution. Cities such as Seattle, Houston and New York, to name a few, have all put forward new climate commitments. But there is still much work to do, as some of the most polluted cities in China, and the ones most dependent on coal, are not on this list.
There are now 3 cities in the US running on 100% renewable energy, the latest city to achieve this being Aspen. This certainly didn’t happen overnight, and although the goal was put in place about 10 years ago, the effort really kicked off in the 1980’s. Good things take time, but hopefully the next city to run on 100% renewable energy takes a lot less time. Something we here in NZ we can almost take for granted with such a high level of renewable energy available already.
It’s not just countries or cities pledging to reduce emissions and put more emphasis of renewable energy sources. Large corporations are at it too. Companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, Goldman Sachs, Nike, Starbucks, Salesforce, Steelcase, Voya Financial and Walmart have all pledged to secure all their electricity from renewable sources, although the time periods for achieving the new target varies by company. For example Goldman Sachs has pledged to source all its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, while Nike has pledged to go fully renewable by 2025.
We can also add some national rail networks to the list of organisations wanting to use ‘green’ based energy. Under a deal written up in 2014, from this year about half the electric trains in the Netherlands run on wind power. The contract between railway companies and power suppliers aims to push that number higher. The railway, which carries 1.2 million passengers every day, released about 550 kilotons of carbon dioxide before it started the switch to wind power earlier this year. The hope is to bring that number down to zero, by securing wind power from both internal supply and countries that border the Netherlands.
We have focused so far on other countries commitments and developments around pledges and real actions, so how are we doing here in New Zealand?
Well, how does the headline ‘New Zealand fails to dominate at Climate World Cup’ grab you! Members of the NZ Youth Delegation to the climate talks in Paris have created a Climate World Cup website comparing New Zealand's contributions to global warming with those of our Rugby World Cup opponents. If our World Cup opponent Namibia crushed us by 16 to 6, you know there is some work to do. Natalie Jones, a master’s student at Cambridge University and a member of the delegation said, ‘New Zealand punches above its weight on all sorts of things, including rugby. But on climate change we're lagging behind’. We tend to agree.
Dropping to a regional level, we take a look at Wellington. While we applaud the green light given for a new climate change plan we would love to see more detail. The strategy document is full of aspirational goals but light on actual targets for reducing emissions – for now. We will be watching this one with interest.
Now if you are going to make a commitment to improve something, you either commit to it fully (plenty of examples in this newsletter) or you just don’t bother. In an open letter to John Key, Greenpeace and other environmental groups are urging that trade minister Tim Groser and his delegation do not attend the Paris climate talks, yes, not attend!
The New Zealand delegation is pushing for countries' emission reduction targets
to be non-binding, meaning governments could walk away from them at any time.
The Paris talks could be our last real chance to make a difference and here we
have a half-hearted effort to keep things at levels that will not make a
difference, as if we change our mind we can exit. Is this really good enough?
We finish up with some pleasing New Zealand based news, a new vast ocean sanctuary- a fully protected marine area that will cover 620,000 km2 in the seas northeast of NZ. The sanctuary will cover 15% of New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone, an area twice the size of our landmass and 50 times the size of our largest national park in Fiordland. It is also home to some 6 million seabirds of 39 different species, over 150 species of fish, 35 species of whales and dolphins, three species of endangered sea turtles and many other marine species like coals, shellfish and crabs unique to the area. All forms of fishing and mining will be prohibited.
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.