Welcome to our Snippets newsletter which as always endeavours to provide coverage of developments in energy and environmental issues, from both here in New Zealand and around the world. We hope you continue to find our fortnightly collection of articles to be of interest in what is a rapidly evolving area.

This week we open with the announcement that as of 5th June, the world’s first illegal fishing treaty came into force. Signed by the European Union and 29 countries including, amongst others, Australia, USA, Republic of Korea, South Africa, Norway and yes – New Zealand, it focusses on managing access to ports for the purposes of checking on illegal fishing. If a vessel is not prepared to accede to checks, then they will be forbidden from entering the port in order to offload their catch, re-provision or refuel. Information about vessels not meeting the new regulations will then be circulated amongst all countries.[1]

This leads us nicely into a selection of articles discussing how big data, access to more information and a call for transparency is driving sustainability. The first of these discusses how big data can be used to identify slavery in supply chains, deforestation, sustainable agriculture and in managing risks such as water shortages.[2]

Not only is there more data available, much of it is beyond the ability of an organisation to manage or control. Transparency is therefore urged, i.e. an organisation needs to walk the talk, otherwise they will get caught out. To give an example - there might be a disgruntled employee using a smart phone to stream their workplace via social media alerting stakeholders (whether they be consumers, other employees or investors) that all is not what things seem. A reputation can be easily damaged and hard to repair.[3]

Furthermore, not only is there more data, much of it outside the control of an organisation, it is available in nearly real-time. It means future sustainable reporting doesn’t have to happen on an annual basis. As it turns out, the GRI is working on a Sustainability and Reporting 2025 project, which is seeking to address and capture the benefits associated with big and near real-time data.[4]

A good example of increasing data transparency is in the beef industry, where retailers can be at risk of stocking products sourced from cattle raised on recently deforested tropical forest lands. These products range from steaks and burgers to shoes and handbags - all very susceptible to the whims of consumer choice. As consumers are becoming increasingly discerning in what they eat or buy, the risks to the 29 large retailers regarded as the ‘powerbrokers’ on the Forest 500 are only growing.[5]

Another example of how increasing transparency can impact is bottled water. Due to a lack of transparency, consumers in New Zealand have been encouraged to buy bottled water at an average price of $4.79 a litre when there is perfectly good water available for next-to-nothing from the tap. That, however, could change if consumers were provided with more information, for example it takes two litres of water to produce the plastic needed for a one-litre bottle. As a society we should be working on ways to reduce plastics and packaging. Maybe more information on just how damaging the practice of single-use bottled water is could change behaviour.[6]

In our next series of articles we examine the encouraging progress on renewable energy developments across the globe. In 2015 renewable energy smashed global records, thanks to an upsurge of new wind, solar and hydro plants. 147 Gigawatts of new renewable electricity came online in 2015 alone, at this point in time the largest annual increase ever, or to put it into perspective, the equivalent of Africa’s entire power generating capacity. Twice as much was spent on renewables than on coal and gas power generation. Furthermore, this growth was during a period of low fossil fuel prices.[7]

Renewables also look like they have an important role to play in desalination. Typically the desalination process has been a very energy intensive and expensive way to produce fresh water. Emerging solar, wind and wave technologies look likely to transform the viability and location of desalination schemes. For example, using solar in remote desert locations to extract water from the air, or wave technologies to convert sea water to fresh water out at sea. With desalination projected to grow to 140 million cubic meters in 2020, a direct reflection of soaring demand, renewable technologies have an increasing and vital role to play in meeting our water demands.[8]

Whilst desalination might well be served by stand-alone renewable technology, it is very different where renewable energy is intended to be part of a grid-based solution. An example of this is Chile, where it has so much solar energy it’s giving it away free. Due to a booming mining industry and economic growth, rapid development of 29 solar farms supplying the central grid (and another 15 planned) has created a glut of electricity at the wrong times and locations. A stark reminder that investments in renewables also has to consider investments in the grid, so that electricity can actually get to consumers, and storage, so excess generation at various times of the day can be utilised effectively.[9]

Renewable energy is becoming more abundant, but to limit the world’s temperature rise to below 2 degrees C we still need to look at lowering emissions, and New York has recently set a very ambitious goal of zero GHG emissions by 2050[10]. Something many of us would also aspire to. The political will of those elected officials in New York must be commended, and we hope they have a programme for how this can be achieved.

Maybe our following article, on the Icelandic carbon capture research project, where they are pumping CO2 into basalt rock and forming limestone within 2 years, could be one way of helping achieve the zero emissions goal. The rapidness of the transformation from gas to rock has everyone surprised. Let’s hope this promising research project can be scaled up to be an effective and efficient carbon capture method.[11]

If we don’t limit emissions and the world keeps warming at unacceptable rates, the consequent ocean warming will continue to kill coral reefs. This article about the Great Barrier Reef problems is very disturbing. Fortunately, the tourism industry in Australia is now starting to demand action from politicians, even more so since this article was published. The article does give a glimmer of hope, suggesting some corals might be more resilient and may spread and take over, and maybe reefs may migrate further from the equator to cooler waters? We can only hope![12]

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.


Copyright remains with the original authors