Good News

UN: Time to end fossil fuel subsidies

By artificially lowering prices, subsidies drive wasteful energy consumption which increases local air pollution and congestion, while crowding out investment in renewables and energy efficiency. The sheer size of the subsidies is a significant drain on national budgets, diverting resources from other areas like health and education.

 

Every year, governments spend between US$160 and US$400 billion as fossil fuel subsidies for the production and use of coal, oil and gas. Payments to consumers, companies, tax breaks or other fiscal incentives are some of the ways governments subsidize fossil fuels, moving ever farther away from meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, writes UN Environment in its report. UN Environment is working with governments to collect internationally coherent data on fossil fuel subsidies that can help advance global efforts to address climate change.

“Understanding the size of existing fossil fuel subsidies is an important first step towards achieving reform,” says UN Environment fossil fuel subsidy expert Joy Kim. “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” In contrast, the total financial support to renewable energy amounts to US$121 billion.

Although advocated as a measure to fight poverty, fossil fuel subsidies often do not reach the poorest households and instead tend to benefit wealthier segments of society more.

The International Monetary Fund estimates that removing fossil fuel subsidies and then taxing fossil fuels correctly (based on the cost borne to society through air pollution, carbon emissions and accidents) could lead to a decline in fossil-fuel related carbon emissions by over 20 per cent globally. Removing the subsidies would also reduce premature air pollution-related deaths by over 50 per cent and raise government revenue by US$2.9 trillion (3.6 per cent of global gross domestic product), it says.

China's environmental transformation: From the worlds bad guy to its good guy

China's recent transformation from the world’s environmental ‘bad guy’ to its ‘good guy’ in a matter of years is the result of the top-down enforcement of a green vision held by President Xi himself. But, as his environmentalism is nationalistic, not global, there is still need to broaden up the scope.

Comparing his climate policies to his predecessors, Xi’s is much more advanced. He is the first Chinese leader to enforce an environmentalism that is built upon the idea of nature as a ‘national asset’. He even famously said that "green mountains are essentially gold mountains".

Xi’s environmentalism relies on centrally controlled, top-down mechanisms though. In the past few years, the most visible environmental campaigns have been run by the Party’s disciplinary arm, detaining thousands of government officials for negligence and other offences. Public-interest litigation, for holding environmental violators to account, is now used frequently by government prosecutors.

This brand of environmentalism can be effective, to an extent. but as Scholar Bruce Gilley noted in his paper on China’s ‘Authoritarian Environmentalism’: "Environmental laws and regulations from the top down delivers short-term, low-hanging fruit results, but the lack of extensive deliberation may undermine long-term implementation".

To get popular consent Xi therefore use an appraisal system with clear indicators, rewards and punishments. This is according to him "most crucial" factor while creating an "ecological civilisation".

Even though China’s elaborate state machinery may be the envy of many governments struggling to ‘get things done’, its non-participatory way of doing business can lead to poor decisionmaking.

While China both embraces, appreciates and enforces environmental measures at home, it tends to export those same problems out of its borders. China has quickly become the world’s largest financier and builder of coal-power plants overseas. This is in stark contrast to what’s happening domestically, where, in early 2017, the government cancelled or mothballed 120 gigawatts of coal-power construction.

But building up coal power abroad is no contradiction under Xi’s ecological nationalism. Exporting environmentally destructive industries abroad and cutting them at home, as a way to strengthen the nation, is the core of China’s environmentalism.

As nationalism can not provide a sustainable solution to a global problem, Xi therefore need to broaden his model of environmentalism in the future.

UK to de-list companies not acting on climate change

In a major election campaign speech on the economy, the British Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said Labour would amend legislation to force listed firms to take action on climate change or face expulsion from the London Stock Exchange.

The Labour Party first promised to de-list companies for climate reasons in June 2019. McDonnell presented the pledge a second time today as part of Labour's vision to improve long-term thinking in the financial industry. It now promises to be a key plank of the Party's economic policy.

"If we are to meet the climate change target to keep global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, we need to ensure that companies are also working alongside government. Many now are," McDonnell said. "But business bodies themselves are calling for companies to improve climate-related financial reporting, and for all companies to bring forward their decarbonisation plans. And we support those proposals. But for those companies not taking adequate steps under Labour, we believe those companies should be de-listed from the London Stock Exchange," he continued.

The environment has already proved to be a major issue in the election campaign, with Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives and the Green Party all promising to tackle the climate emergency.

Wind speeds have increased

Research led by a team at Princeton University shows that wind speeds in northern mid-latitude regions have increased by roughly 7% since 2010.

 

The team examined the potential causes underlying global terrestrial stilling and its reversal. While changes in urbanization and vegetation have been proposed as contributors to global terrestrial stilling, these trends have not reversed since 2010, said Zhenzhong Zeng, who led the study as a postdoctoral researcher working with Eric Wood, Princeton’s Susan Dod Brown Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Emeritus.

The analysis showed that in each region of the globe, specific large-scale ocean-atmosphere oscillations, which are driven by many factors including the uneven heating of the Earth’s surface in different regions, were likely explanations for the observed trends in wind speeds.

Extending their findings to wind power generation, the researchers calculated that a typical wind turbine receiving the global average wind would have produced about 17% more energy in 2017 than in 2010. And using climate indices to project future wind speeds, they predicted a 37% increase by 2024.

“We predict that the increasing wind speed trend will continue for 10 years, but we also show that because this is caused by ocean-atmosphere oscillations, maybe a decade later it will reverse again,” he said. And since the lifespan of a wind turbine is usually 20 years at most, having reliable projections of wind speeds at particular locations could be crucial to making smart investments in wind power and increasing the global share of renewable energy.

The research, which looked only at regional averages, did not examine how the uptick in wind speeds might affect the severity of storms, which also has been increasing.

The European Investment Bank decided to stop funding fossil fuel projects

Last week the European Investment Bank (EIB) adopted its new energy lending policy, which would see it end funding to most new fossil fuel projects from the end of 2021

This means that from the end of 2021 the world's biggest multilateral bank will end new lending to fossil fuel infrastructure projects.

Colin Roche, fossil free campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said: "Today's decision is a significant victory for the climate movement. Finally, the world's largest public bank has bowed to public pressure and recognised that funding for all fossil fuels must end – and now all other banks, public and private must follow their lead.

The final policy has been the subject of intense debate since its publication in July and has been watered down under pressure from Germany and the European Commission. The Commission continues to promote dozens of gas projects while Germany backs new infrastructure such as the gigantic Nord Stream II.

Colin Roche continued, "The European Commission must now end their obsession with gas and focus on the emergency action needed to stop the climate crisis instead of building yet more gas projects to last for decades to come. But 2021 is still too late if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate breakdown, the EIB needs to reject any fossil fuel projects and close its loopholes for gas, and not wait till 2021."

Stronghold for Power One in East Africa

Earlier this year Power One was offered to electrify a university in Amhara in Ethiopia. Now five more Ethiopian universities also wish to be electrified by Power One.

 

Power One is specialised in electrifying formerly non electrified areas with renewable energy. The area of operation is established in East Africa but is growing. Apart from electrifying remote areas in Burundi and eastern Congo the company was earlier this year asked to supply one university in Ethiopia with 50 MW renewable energy. Now five other Ethiopian universities also wish to be electrified by Power One.

Power One´s mini-grid projects will bring much needed renewable energy resource to hundreds of thousands university students, professors and staff at major universities. These universities are located in cities with strong economic activities and expanding industrial parks.

Located in East Africa and just north of the Equator, Ethiopia is a country endowed with an ideal level of solar irradiation for the development of solar energy. Presently Ethiopia has approximately 4,300 MW of installed generation capacity which is short of the demand to serve a population of over 100 million people. However, the demand for electric power continues to outpace supply as Ethiopia’s hydropower plants, supplying more than 90 percent of the electricity, struggle to produce at full capacity. The country's solar radiation has therefore the potential to generate thousands of megawatts of renewable energy.

Power One now aims to develop a replicable platform under which five additional major public universities in Ethiopia can develop similar solar-based mini-grids that are scalable to meet rising demand.

A car that runs forever?

Put together the best solar panels money can buy, super-efficient batteries and decades of car-making know-how and, theoretically, a vehicle might run forever. That’s the audacious motivation behind a project by Toyota Motor Corp.Sharp Corp. and New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization of Japan, or NEDO, to test a Prius that could revolutionize transportation.

 Even if fully electric cars overtake petroleum-powered vehicles in sales, they still need to be plugged in, which means building a network of charging stations across the globe. The sun, on the other hand, shines everywhere for free, and when that energy is paired with enough battery capacity to propel automobiles at night, solar-powered cars could leapfrog all the new-energy technologies being developed, from plug-in hybrids to hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles,.

 But the current forecast is only partly sunny because there’s still some work left to reach that level of efficiency.

“This is not a technology we are going to see widely used in the next decades,” said Takeshi Miyao, an auto analyst at consultancy Carnorama. “It’s going to take a long time.”

Not for lack of trying. Toyota and Hyundai Motor Co. already introduced commercial models with solar panels on the roof, but they were too underpowered and could barely juice the sound system.

“The solar car’s advantage is that — while it can’t drive for a long range — it’s really independent of charging facilities,” said Koji Makino, a project manager at Toyota.

Indeed, there have been some breakthroughs, mainly due to advancements by Sharp. The prototype’s solar panel converts sunlight at an efficiency level of more than 34%, compared with about 20% for current panels on the market.

Because the solar cell being used by Toyota, Sharp and NEDO is only about 0.03 mm thick, it can be placed on more surfaces, including the curvy parts of the roof, hood and hatchback. The electrical system can charge the vehicle even when it’s on the move.

If the car is driven four days a week for a maximum of 50 kilometers a day, there’s no need to plug into an outlet, NEDO’s Yamazaki said.

Toronto garbage trucks soon powered by biogas from the waste they collect

All of the garbage trucks in Toronto will soon be powered by the biogas produced from the very trash they collect. Toronto is set to be one of the first cities in North America to launch such an initiative, thanks to the their newly-constructed Dufferin Solid Waste Management Facility.

Starting in March 2020, the city’s fleet of garbage trucks will collect all of the organic waste and flood scraps from the Toronto Green Bins and bring them to the facility for processing. The facility will then use anaerobic digesters to capture all of the biogas produced by the waste and transform it into renewable natural gas (RNG).

After the scraps are dropped off at the facility, the city’s 170 garbage trucks can then immediately fill up their fuel tanks with RNG before heading out to collect more trash.

According to city officials, “RNG is also less expensive and more environmentally friendly than fossil fuels such as diesel. Once injected into the natural gas pipeline, it can be used to fuel vehicles or provide electricity or heat to homes and businesses.

"RNG generated from food waste is actually considered carbon-negative, because the reduction in emissions by not extracting and burning petroleum-based fuel, and the emissions avoided by not sending organics to landfill, exceed the direct emissions associated with the production and use of RNG.”

10% of greenhouse gas emissions in Toronto are generated by garbage, primarily food waste. Now, estimates suggest that the Dufferin facility will produce approximately 3.2 million cubic meters of RNG per year, which will save roughly 9,000 tonnes of CO2 from ending up in the atmosphere.

This closed-loop system is just one of the city’s four pre-planned waste-to-RNG production schemes for the coming years.

India cancel coal power due to record low cost for solar power

Leaders in India have turned their backs and walked away from plans of building nearly 14 gigawatts of coal-fired power stations – which is about as much power used in the whole of the UK. The dramatic plummeting of the cost of solar energy has made this possible. This good news only highlights the rate of change regarding solar energy, reports India Times.

Analyst Tim Buckley (director of energy finance studies) wrote in his article on the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis’s website that this shift away from the dirtiest fossil fuel and towards solar in India will have “profound” ramifications for global energy markets. He tells about how 13.7GW of planned coal power projects have been canceled so far this month.

It all started in January of 2016 when Fortum, a Finnish company, got on board to generate electricity in Rajasthan at record low tariff (a guaranteed price) of 4.34 rupees per kilowatt-hour (about 5p). At the time, Mr. Buckley said that this price was so low it would never be repeated.

He was wrong about that! Just 16 months later, an auction for a 500-megawatt solar facility resulted in a tariff of just 2.44 rupees. That’s 31% less than the wholesale price charged by a major coal-power utility of 3.2 rupees! From that moment, everything turned in favour of renewable energy.

Mr. Buckley said: For the first time solar is cheaper than coal and the implications this has for transforming global energy markets is profound.

Time to invest in Africa

The African continent is about to seize every available opportunity to attract investments, according to the second edition of Africa Investment Forum in Johannesburg, hosted by the African Development Bank. The summit is one of Africa's premier investment conference and brings together pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, private investors, policymakers, private equity firms, and heads of government.

Highlighting how Rwanda was working to improve the investment ecosystem, President Kagame recounted multiple initiatives ranging from policy initiatives such as ensuring predictable governance, ensuring rule of law, guaranteeing security to investment support such as hubs, innovation fund among others.

"We have concentrated on creating a good environment for people to do business, a predictable governance system, security, in a region of East African Community that is probably the fastest growing region on our continent and Rwanda being part of and benefiting from that," he said.

The President was speaking alongside South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo, and Prime Minister Carlos Agostinho do Rosário of Mozambique on a panel discussion on Investing in Africa.

"Let's do what we know we have to do, let's involve our women, see more numbers of women becoming CEOs because they are many who are capable, we should not leave our women behind, that's what we have tried to address. We know we should have transparent, accountable systems of government, we have to create rule of law in our environment for people to expect certain things to happen and that's what happens. I cannot give advice that anyone doesn't know in this room, everyone knows what we are talking about. Let's just do it," he added responding to a participant who asked for advice on how to increase investment in Africa." Kagame said.

He challenged leaders and stakeholders from across the continent to seize every available opportunity to get towards where the continent ought to be.

"It is not just knowing what you ought to do or being capable of it, it is about actually doing it," Kagame said.

 

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