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January 31 2014

23:43

Infographic: Why Build Green?

This infographic from Green Building Canada displays the many advantages of adopting green building practices for new buildings and retrofitting old ones. At first we may only think of “green building” in terms of environmental benefits, but it goes far beyond that. From lowered energy bills and increased resale value to a healthier environment, both indoors and outdoors, green building is the foundation of sustainable development.

 

Why Build Green?

The post Infographic: Why Build Green? appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

December 30 2013

23:48

Will Our Cities Save Us? Municipalities at the Nexus of Change

Editor’s note: The following post is adapted from several previous posts published in GWIR over the past year about how cities are often the best examples of furthering sustainable development, resilience and adaptation in a climate-changed world. This post has been entered in the Masdar Engage blogging contest for the upcoming Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week

At the national and international level climate action is stalled under the unyielding weight of factionalism and meeting the diverse agenda of a global community. At the personal level the issues of climate change and building a sustainable future for our children seems overwhelming; whatever efforts we can lend to the cause feels too small and inadequate.

In many ways meeting the challenge of climate change and sustainable development is often most effective at the municipal level. Cities strike a balance between meeting the diverse needs of its inhabitants with the ability to adopt and adapt to the realities and challenges of global warming, development, infrastructure and energy.

Cities offer the best opportunities for sustainability and resilience in the 21st century. Climate adaptation for cities

In the wake of the devastating storms of 2012, including Hurricane Sandy in the United States, the need for municipal-level adaptation and resilience became clearer than ever. With Sandy, New York and New Jersey saw communities destroyed and lives devastated due in part to decades of poor planning and decimation of natural infrastructure. Urban communities often take the brunt of not only extreme weather events, but the consequences of poor planning and development. The extreme weather trend has only continued globally in 2013, with drought, unprecedented storms and record temperatures in every part of the world.

Coming to grips with the risks, especially as climate change bears down on urban centers with more intense storms, there are a growing number of initiatives aimed at building resiliency in the urban environment. Earlier this year the Rockefeller Foundation announced support for RE.Invest, a new public-private partnership at helping cities across the US integrate increased resiliency in urban infrastructure and adapt effectively to extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy. The Foundation, in partnership with c.dots development and CH2H Hill, has pledged $3 million in the effort.

Initially, RE.Invest will select eight US cities through a national application process to provide seed money and technical support to create “community investment vehicles” that leverage private investment in local municipal water infrastructure.

“Using innovative sustainable infrastructure such as replacing concrete with porous pavement, restoring creeks and wetlands, and increasing tree cover can help cities manage storm water often at a fraction of the cost of upgrading traditional concrete infrastructure.  These projects can also save significant taxpayer money, beautify communities, and make them more attractive to businesses and investor and more resilient to extreme weather,” said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, in a press release.

“As we focus on ensuring the federal government makes it easier for cities to build and invest in sustainable infrastructure, the RE.invest Initiative is a great example of how private organizations can forge creative partnerships that leverage private investment to support clean and healthy cities, and save taxpayer dollars.”

The city as an agent of change

But cities also represent the best, most effective means of implementing proactive change. Dr. Emma Stewart, head of Sustainability Solutions at Autodesk, sees the urbanization of human populations as a “tipping point” for change:

“We are now an urban species by definition,” says Stewart. It took until 1960 to reach 1 billion people living in cities, another 25 years for the second billion, 18 years for the third, and “if projections are right only 15 years to add a fourth.”

From a sustainability aspect there are “significant positives in terms of this tipping point we’ve reached,” explains Stewart:

“So on the social side, cities have been a boon, really, to humans. On the resources side cities also, theoretically, provide us economies of scale delivering basic services like utilities or water, or even health care, safety, security.

As well as investing for adaptation to climate change, many cities and urban planners are adopting methods and policies for creating the “sustainable city of the future.” Initiatives like the CDPCities Program, the Cascadia Center for Sustainable Design and Construction or the Sustainable Cities Institute at the National League of Cities are but a few examples of motivated action on climate action and the future of human development.

Resilient cities

In the face of changing climate, growing resource constraints and increasing population, the conversation lately centers on the idea of resiliency as the new sustainability.  Writing in the New York Times, Andrew Zolli describes resiliency as “how to help vulnerable people, organizations and systems persist, perhaps even thrive, amid unforeseeable disruptions. Where sustainability aims to put the world back into balance, resilience looks for ways to manage in an imbalanced world.” 

It’s a broad-spectrum agenda that, at one end, seeks to imbue our communities, institutions and infrastructure with greater flexibility, intelligence and responsiveness to extreme events and, at the other, centers on bolstering people’s psychological and physiological capacity to deal with high-stress circumstances,” writes Zolli.

Cities are ground-zero for this new resiliency-focused thinking and planning in our chaotic times. And partnerships between cities help shepherd the best ideas across international borders and economic sectors.

On December 3rd, 2013 the Rockefeller Foundation named the first 33 cities for its 100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge. Each city was selected based on its vision, need and plan for building resilience in a manner that connects government, citizens and the private sector. The Challenge is an example of how cities working together can develop and share ideas, innovations and best practices for meeting the common challenges we all face in the 21st century as individuals as well as members in local and global communities.

Will our cities save us?

Is it enough? Can we depend on local governments and private organizations to meet the challenges we face without national and international policy action and individual effort?

In the end the global community will need to step up and do its part and individuals will need to embrace how their singular understanding and action feeds the collective effort to create a livable future. But, as Stewart says, we are an urban species, and it is in the cities where ideas can take root and the great challenge of our times will be met.

Will our cities save us? To the extent that cities, and networks of cities, represent the best collective effort toward a better future, they are the best catalyst of change for a sustainable, resilient future.

In cities we can most effectively plan for the worst and hope (and work toward) the best.

Image credit: Nicola since 1972, courtesy flickr

The post Will Our Cities Save Us? Municipalities at the Nexus of Change appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

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October 22 2013

17:46

DOE Highlights Early Results of US Offshore Wind Energy Research and Development

The potential of US offshore wind energy is huge, says DOE report

The US Department of Energy (DOE) released the special offshore wind edition of its Wind Program Newsletter October 22, highlighting the seminal role federal funding and support is playing in the development of a potentially huge clean and renewable energy resource, one that could go a long way in spurring economic growth and job creation as well as helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions and climate change risks.

Stronger, more abundant and more consistent than onshore winds, US offshore wind energy resource potential in US federal and state coastal waters and the Great Lakes has been estimated at more than 4 million megawatts (MW).

Aiming to “speed technical innovations, lower costs, and shorten the time frame for deploying offshore wind energy systems,” the DOE allocated $43 million to help fund 41 offshore wind power research and development (R&D) projects around the nation back in September 2011. The fruits of this labor, such as an online repository for DOE-funded offshore wind project results, are beginning to show.

US offshore wind energy participants gather in Providence

In addition to providing the public with the latest information on its new website, DOE staff will be discussing results of agency-funded offshore wind R&D and demonstration projects at this year’s AWEA Offshore WINDPOWER Conference and Exposition in Providence, Rhode Island, which began today, October 22.

Threatened, as well as offered opportunities, by the rise of distributed solar, wind and other renewable energy generation, offshore wind power development poses the big US power utilities opportunities they should be eager to seize upon.

Spurred onward by federal support, a formative US offshore wind industry is finally coalescing as well. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) completed the historic first two offshore wind lease sales earlier this year. Deepwater Wind New England LLC won the bidding for two offshore wind energy sites off the Rhode Island and Massachusetts coasts in July. More recently, in September, Dominion Virginia Power won a second competitive offshore wind energy lease.

DOE Advanced Technology Demonstration project partners are also making progress in “developing engineering, design, and permitting plans for their proposed offshore wind demonstration projects,” DOE Wind Program Director Jose Zayas notes in a DOE program update. A total of $168 million over six years was allocated in 2012 to fund seven advanced offshore wind power technology demonstration projects. Most are slated to begin commercial operation by 2017.

Main image credit: Penobscot Bay Pilot
Featured image credit: Stanford University

The post DOE Highlights Early Results of US Offshore Wind Energy Research and Development appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

September 26 2013

23:16

Sustainable Development Goals to Follow Millennium Development Goals

Sustainable Development Goals follow in the footsteps of the Millennium Development GoalsUnder the auspices of the UN, a new global sustainability initiative is taking shape. With the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) having wrapped up its work on September 20th and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set to expire in 2015, political leaders and policy makers are crafting a new development framework based on sustainability.

Millennium Development Goals

In 2000, world leaders set out the MDGs to help eliminate poverty worldwide. MDGs were inaugurated as the “world’s greatest promise” in the pursuit of concrete, measurable improvements on global poverty, hunger, health, education and other key social issues. In June, 2013 the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, called the goals “the most successful global anti-poverty push in history.”

In total, there are eight MDGs, 21 specific targets and more than 60 indicators. We have seen progress on seven of eight MDGs including poverty, hunger, education, child mortality, HIV, water and sanitation. But we have not seen the progress we would like to see on gender equality, particularly as it relates to schooling. One of the outstanding accomplishments of the MDGs involve cutting the number of people who live in extreme poverty by half.

The MDGs have augured unprecedented efforts and significant progress in an effort to address the needs of the world’s poorest people. Overall they have been remarkably successful, however, despite considerable progress, some of the goals are unlikely to be realized by 2015. In addition to assessing the MDGs, leaders and policy makers are now thinking about what comes next.

Sustainable Development Goals

A September 2013 special report from a consortium of organizations led by CIGI and the Korea Development Institute (KDI) reviews a number of options for the post 2015 successors to the MDGs. The report concludes the global community must build on the current MDGs and move beyond meeting basic human needs. In addition to emphasizing the role of adolescent girls, the report supports the creation of inclusive sustainable development goals.

Rio+20 Conference

In June 2012, countries at the Conference on Sustainable Development known as the Rio+20 agreed that levels of environmental protection are insufficient. They put forth the basic outline of SDGs and member states agreed to establish an “inclusive and transparent intergovernmental process open to all stakeholders, with a view to developing global sustainable development goals”.

They agreed to build upon the MDGs and converge with the post 2015 development agenda that included a process to develop a set of SDGs. A number of work streams were commenced to elaborate on the proposed SDGs.

In the Rio+20 outcome document, member states agreed that sustainable development goals (SDGs) must:

  • Be based on Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation
  • Fully respect all the Rio Principles
  • Be consistent with international law
  • Build upon commitments already made
  • Contribute to the full implementation of the outcomes of all major summits in the economic, social and environmental fields
  • Focus on priority areas for the achievement of sustainable development, being guided by the outcome document
  • Address and incorporate in a balanced way all three dimensions of sustainable development and their interlinkages
  • Be coherent with and integrated into the United Nations development agenda beyond 2015
  • Not divert focus or effort from the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals
  • Include active involvement of all relevant stakeholders, as appropriate, in the process

It was agreed that SDGs must be:

  • Action-oriented
  • Concise
  • Easy to communicate
  • Limited in number
  • Aspirational
  • Global in nature
  • Universally applicable to all countries while taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development and respecting national policies and priorities.

The outcome document further specified that the development of SDGs should:

  • Be useful for pursuing focused and coherent action on sustainable development
  • Contribute to the achievement of sustainable development
  • Serve as a driver for implementation and mainstreaming of sustainable development in the UN system as a whole
  • Address and be focused on priority areas for the achievement of sustainable development

The outcome document also mandated the creation of an inter-governmental Open Working Group, that will submit a report to the 68th session of the General Assembly containing a proposal for sustainable development goals for consideration and appropriate action.

SDG Open Working Group had its first session in March 2013, and will run through a total of eight sessions concluding in February 2014.

To ensure the prioritization of sustainable development at the highest levels of government, members at Rio+20 also agreed to change from the CSD, which was formed after the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, to the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on sustainable development.

High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development

The first HLPF meeting on SDGs has already taken place at the 68th session of the General Assembly. On September 24, 2013, the HLPF on Sustainable Development reiterated the agreements articulated at Rio+20 and included the following items:

  • Provide political leadership, guidance and recommendations for sustainable development
  • Follow-up and review progress in the implementation of sustainable development commitments
  • Enhance the integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development
  • Focused, dynamic and action-oriented agenda
  • Ensuring the appropriate consideration of new and emerging sustainable development challenges.

At the inaugural ceremony for the HLPF, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “Your forum is a key platform for examining today’s challenges in a holistic and integrated manner. This forum can be the catalyst for a strengthened global partnership for sustainable development, providing political leadership grounded in solid science.”

To advance the work of the HLPF, the UN General Secretary said he will create a Scientific Advisory Board.

General Assembly President John William Ashe said, “We have created this HLPF for the express purpose of delivering more effectively on our aspirations and agendas at a time when we realize that the practice of sustainability provides the only real bridge from our past to our present and our future, and from our planet to our peoples and our prosperity.”

The HLPF will bring together government leaders every four years as part of the General Assembly to address the challenges of sustainable development. It will also meet annually at the ministerial level, as part of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

In 2016, the HLPF will review implementation of sustainable development by all countries and the UN system, in order to bring about accountability and a focus on action.

“People have a right to expect real results from the new Forum, ” said Wu Hongbo, UN under-secretary-general for economic and social affairs. “There are real challenges that must be faced. People need jobs, health care and education,” he said. “And they also need food security, clean air and clean water. They need development that is sustainable, and the Forum has to deliver progress in all of these areas.”

On the morning of September, 25, 2013, the UN General Assembly officially approved the inclusion of SDGs, including environmental sustainability, to replace MDGs. This measure passed thanks in part to a new coalition between poorer countries and the U.S., Europe, Japan and other nations.

“We are resolved that the post-2015 development agenda should reinforce the international community’s commitment to poverty eradication and sustainable development. We underscore the central imperative of poverty eradication and are committed to freeing humanity from poverty and hunger as a matter of urgency. Recognising the intrinsic interlinkage between poverty eradication and promotion of sustainable development, we underline the need for a coherent approach which integrates in a balanced manner the three dimensions of sustainable development. This coherent approach involves working towards a single framework and set of Goals –universal in nature and applicable to all countries, while taking account of differing national circumstances and respecting national policies and priorities. It should also promote peace and security, democratic governance, the rule of law, gender equality and human rights for all.”

Over the next year there will be “substantive discussions” from various working groups, then a debate will occur at next Semptember’s session of the General Assembly and the final goals will be released a year later.

SDGs offer a constructive follow up for a post 2015 development agenda. By replacing MDGs with SDG’s we can continue to reduce poverty while building a sustainable economy. This approach not only addresses the needs of those most in need, it confronts the overarching issue of climate change and environmental degradation which undermines development and threatens civilization itself.
——————-

Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image courtesy of IGBP.net

 

The post Sustainable Development Goals to Follow Millennium Development Goals appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

September 03 2013

18:09

A Roadmap of a Roadmap for a Sustainable, Fossil-Fuel Free Central America

Credit: Costa Rica News

Credit: Costa Rica News

A rapid transition to sustainable, fossil fuel-free Central American economies and societies powered and fueled entirely by renewable energy resources is not only technically possible and cost effective, but would be socioeconomically beneficial, according to a new report from the Worldwatch Institute, with support from the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) and Costa Rica’s INCAE Business School.

Central American governments and societies continue to try to cope with, manage and address deep seated socioceconomic and environmental problems and improve overall living standards and quality of life for fast growing populations. While contributing little in the way of global greenhouse gas emissions (they’re in fact ‘frontrunners’ when it comes to renewable energy use), Central American countries – as is true for all nations around the world — are nonetheless increasingly challenged to address the effects and potential threats climate change and ecosystems degradation pose to their economies and societies.

Though unique in significant aspects, Central America can serve as a microcosm for the state of regional and global affairs when it comes to energy policies, markets, industry and investment, and their ramifications across societies and the ecosystems upon which they ultimately depend. While blessed with an abundance of untapped renewable energy resource potential, Central American governments continue to subsidize fossil fuels heavily. Energy policies, incentives and practices that lock in and assure ongoing fossil fuel dependence and more in the way of carbon and greenhouse gas emissions remain in place, increasing the threats and costs.

It doesn’t have to, and indeed should not, be that way, according to authors of “The Way Forward for Renewable Energy in Central America.” Whether or not unaccounted for costs to the health and integrity of society and ecosystems are factored into policy and investment decisions, the high, and growing, costs of fossil fuel reliance are becoming increasingly clear and real. So are the benefits, and cost effectiveness, of making a rapid transition to complete reliance on a diversified mix of renewable energy resources.

A “Roadmap of a Roadmap” for sustainable energy, economies & societies

“The Way Forward for Renewable Energy in Central America,” Wordlwatch Institute, CDKN, INCAE

The first phase of a holistic and comprehensive initiative to develop “a roadmap of a roadmap” for sustainable energy, economic and social development, “The Way Forward for Renewable Energy in Central America,” assesses the status of renewable energy technologies in Central America, “scopes the improvements that need to happen with regard to the key components of a sustainable energy system and establishes the necessary methodology and groundwork for comprehensive national energy strategies,” Worldwatch explains in a press release.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • Central America, long a frontrunner in hydropower and geothermal energy, is exploring its potential for expanding these technologies in a more sustainable manner while also developing other renewable energy resources such as wind, solar, biofuels, and agricultural waste. Costa Rica is leading the world in its ambition to be “carbon neutral” by 2021.
  • Still, as the economies of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama expand, use of fossil fuels is on the rise, while the use of fuelwood, primarily for cooking, continues to be unsustainably high.
  • Across the region, an estimated 7 million people still have limited or no access to electricity services. Renewables are the only convincing and affordable solution to provide underserved communities that are far from existing grids with access to modern energy services.
  • Central America’s non-hydro renewable electricity share is 13 percent, impressive when compared to the global average of only 5 percent. The urgent challenge for the region is to build on past successes and avoid locking in economically, socially, and environmentally costly fossil fuels for decades to come.
  • The potentials for renewables are enormous: Geothermal alone could satisfy nearly twice the region’s predicted electricity demand through 2020. Existing regional wind powerinstallations currently use less than 1% of the available resource potential. Solar and biomass have enormous potentials throughout the region.
  • Despite their sustainable energy ambitions and policy statements, the seven countries of Central America have been unable to comprehensively design, synchronize, and implement the program of work necessary to promote sustainable energy solutions to their full potential.
  • The full costs and benefits to society of specific energy development options remain unclear. What is evident, however, is that the region pays an enormous socioeconomic price for its reliance on fuelwood and imported fossil fuels.
  • Most Central American countries have been able to greatly improve their investment climate for sustainable energy. Still, powerful financial barriers remain, ranging from the unavailability of capital and the lack of human expertise, to investment insecurity and costly administrative processes.
  • Most countries in the region have concrete policy mechanisms in place for advancing renewables.These policies and measures, however, are not always sufficient to level the playing field with fossil fuels, which are subsidized (directly and/or indirectly) in all Central American countries.

Going beyond Levelized Cost of Energy

Source:

Source: “The Way Forward for Renewable Energy in Central America,” Worldwatch Institute, CDKN, INCAE

The Worldwatch report authors devote a significant amount of time and effort in analyzing the comparative costs and benefits of renewable versus fossil fuel energy. They found that an increasing range of renewable energy resources are cost effective and yield greater and wider benefits whether they are evaluated on conventional levelized cost of energy (LCOE) terms, or broader, more holistic and comprehensive terms, using LCOE+, a methodology that factors in the effects of fossil fuel that are typically ignored, or shunted aside, for the public sphere to bear. As they note,

“A recent LCOE study of Central America by the World Bank compared geothermal, hydropower, and fossil fuel technologies and concluded that renewables are more cost competitive than fossil fuel energy sources.

“The report estimates the cost of geothermal power at 5–8.9 U.S. cents per kWh (kilowatt-hour) and the cost of hydropower at 7–8 cents per kWh. In contrast, for plants powered by heavy fuel oil, generation can beas high as 12–15 cents per kWh; costs of coal-powered generation are 10–11 cents per kWh.

They go on to highlight that,

“standard LCOE estimates still fail to include the true cost of energy due to externalities associated with power generation, as well as the market distortions caused by the heavy use of subsidies. In Central America, both fossil fuels and renewables currently receive subsidies,but the balance leans disproportionally in favor of fossil fuels despite their detrimental external costs.”

A methodology exists to account for these unaccounted for costs exists, however. “Extending the standard LCOE analysis to account for these externalities—through an approach known as LCOE+—can help address these missing factors. Te LCOE+ is an important tool for analyzing the real societal costs of fossil fuel energy and to demonstrate the actual cost gap between renewable and non-renewable electricity production.”

Making climate change mitigation and adaptation a core, strategic element of decision making across the government, public and private sector spheres is increasingly seen as an imperative. Similarly, extending current decision making frameworks and methodologies to account for the unaccounted for public, social and ecological costs of industrial and commercial decisions — as does LCOE+ — is imperative if climate change mitigation and adaptation is to be “mainstreamed.”

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August 20 2013

19:23

Carbon War Room Looks to Crowdfund $1MM to Move Caribbean Islands Off Fossil Fuels

The Ten Island Challenge seeks to get the Caribbean off fossil fuels

Ten Island Renewable Challenge

Small island states’ economies, societies and ecosystems have been burdened by the need to import oil, natural gas and coal since around the time the fossil fuel era began. Now threatened by the effects of climate change – rising sea levels and ocean acidification prominent among them – island states find themselves raising the risks that threaten the sustainability of their societies.

Now proven in the field and more affordable than ever, developing a diversified mix of renewable energy resources affords island nations a way out of the fossil fuel trap, as well as the means to do their part in mitigating global climate change.

Joining with ten Caribbean island nations, the Carbon War Room, in partnership with The Make Yourself Foundation, last week announced the launch of an Urgency Network Campaign crowdfunding drive to raise $1 million for the Ten Island Renewable Challenge, an initiative that aims to transition these 10 Caribbean island nations to 100 percent renewable energy, and then move on to do the same for island nations in the Pacific.

“There is no Planet B!”

“Friends, I often say ‘there is no Planet B!’ Let’s take good care of our planet by bringing environment and economics together. We’ll start by implementing renewable energy on islands, and then expand to the rest of the world,” Carbon War Room president Jose Maria Figueres Olsen states on the Urgency Campaign website.

The Carbon War Room joined with Sir Richard Branson – himself the owner of a Caribbean island – and Christina Figueres, executive director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in launching the Ten Island Renewable Challenge at the Rio+20 Earth Summit in June 2012.

As the Carbon War Room states on the Ten Island Renewable Challenge Urgency Network Campaign website,

“Islands across the globe face huge risks to their futures as they are extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and they also face huge financial challenges in the way they live today. The dependence on imported fossil fuel to produce energy is hugely expensive, and people living on islands are paying the some of the highest prices in the world just for food, water and energy.

“The additional demand we make, as tourists doesn’t help the situation either. The use of air-conditioned hotel rooms, cars, and the huge amounts of waste left behind are all putting an even bigger strain on its resources.

Carbon War Room project teams are now in place and working in Aruba and St. Lucia while working to start up activities in eight other Caribbean island nations, including Grenada and the British Virgin Islands.

The solution is straightforward and practical today, Carbon War Room continues: move away from fossil fuels and develop a diversified mix of renewable energy resources, including solar, wind, marine and waste-to-enegy, that “are all in abundance and don’t place a burden on the environment. And like the best things in life, they are free!”

An honest broker for a renewable energy transition in the Caribbean

A lack of institutional capacity hinders the realization of such fundamental change, however. On their own, Caribbean island nations typically lack all the resources and expertise needed to assess their renewable energy resource bases, develop strategic plans and then implement them. The Carbon War Room is trying to address this by working as “an ‘honest broker’ for islands, helping the best available technologies, attracting the right experts and the investment, because we want to help them choose the best technology options for their islands, their economy and the people.”

Care to make a small contribution to the effort? Head over to the Urgency Campaign’s Ten Island Renewable Challenge website. As the Carbon War Room states: “Your donations will help islands identify and develop the solutions they need, building on their own expertise and skills so that technologies can be installed – and islands can become energy independent.”

Branson has offered Necker Island, which he owns, as a demonstration site for the project. Multiple bidders have responded to a request for proposals (RFP) issued in February for the installation of renewable energy solutions. Wind and solar installations are expected to begin later this year.

Main image credit: The Urgency Network
Featured image credit: Angelo Domini, courtesy flickr

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July 16 2013

16:31

Study Shows Growth in Climate-Themed Bonds

“Bonds and Climate Change: The State of the Market in 2013,” HSBC Climate Change Centre of Excellence, Climate Bond Initiative

Climate change adaptation is a core aspect of President Obama’s National Climate Change Action Plan. Developing the institutional framework and cost-effective private-sector financial mechanisms to stimulate and leverage public policies and programs remains a key hurdle that needs to be surmounted if the aims of the President’s national strategy are to be realized, however.

Continuing a pioneering effort to monitor and assess “green” infrastructure financing and investments, the HSBC Climate Change Centre of Excellence commissioned and the Climate Bond Initiative produced, “Bonds and Climate Change: The State of the Market in 2013.” The number of climate-themed bonds outstanding nearly doubled in 2013, researchers found, reaching some $346 billion.

Bonds for climate change adaptation

Focusing on seven climate themes – Transport, Energy, Climate Finance, Agriculture & Forestry, Waste & Pollution Control, and Water – the study corresponds “to our view of the emerging low-carbon, climate-resilient economy,” the study partners state. “It is designed to ring-fence goods and services that enable the transition to low-carbon growth that is also resilient to the impacts of a changing climate.”

Climate Bond Initiative used the seven climate change themes to screen the use of proceeds of bonds issued in markets worldwide and “arrive at a universe that is 100% aligned with the low-carbon, climate-resilient economy.”

Researchers found climate change bonds were issued by corporations, financial institutions, municipalities, state-backed entities and project special purpose vehicles (SPVs). A second level of filters entailed verifying their selection using Bloomberg descriptions and revenue breakdowns “cross-checked with company disclosures and other market sources to confirm alignment with climate themes,” the report authors explain.

According to the report’s authors,

“Our updated 2013 estimate has reiterated the perception that the climate-themed bond market is not niche, lacking scale or liquidity.”

Ultimately screening over 10,000 bonds from 2,300 issuers, 1,200 from 260 issuers with a total outstanding principal of $346 billion qualified across all seven climate themes. That’s just shy of double – 99 percent higher – than the $174 billion estimate of the amount outstanding in 2012.

“Bonds and Climate Change: The State of the Market in 2013,” HSBC Climate Change Centre of Excellence, Climate Bond Initiative

“Bonds and Climate Change: The State of the Market in 2013,” HSBC Climate Change Centre of Excellence, Climate Bond Initiative

With a total $263 billion in climate bonds outstanding, the Transport sector accounted for the large majority, just over 70 percent. Climate bonds outstanding for the Energy ($41 billion) and Finance sectors ($32 billion) ranked second and third, respectively.

The Climate Bonds Initiative expects institutional investors – pension funds, insurers, etc. – will expand the range of criteria used to expand the range of climate-theme bonds they invest in. Two factors will add momentum and fuel growing investment in climate-theme bonds, they say: 1) growing focus on implementation of environmental, social and governance goals of the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) to fixed income portfolios, and 2) the need for institutional investors to adjust their portfolios in light of the expected advent of a 2015 international climate accord.

More than 1,000 companies representing some $32 trillion in assets under management have signed the PRI. Meanwhile, some “$22 trillion of assets under management fall undr the Global Investor Coalition on Climate Change that issues regular policy statements outlining investor requirements on international and national climate policy,” the report authors point out.

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June 11 2013

18:33

UN, World Bank, IEA Gear Up to Achieve Sustainable Energy for All

The UN and World Bank seek to motivate the international community toward sustainable energy with the "Sustainable Energy for All" initiativeLast year UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon created and set in motion “Sustainable Energy for All,” a global initiative that aims to realize what to many may seem irreconcilable goals: mitigating climate change by fostering deployment of green, renewable energy systems and boosting energy efficiency while also stimulating socioeconomic development and growth by providing access to modern energy services for all those who lack it.

A year on, some 170 national governments have signed on to SE4ALL, pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by doubling renewable energy capacity and energy efficiency, and providing access to modern energy services to all those living in their countries. Private sector businesses and other organizations have pledged to invest billions of dollars to achieve SE4ALL’s goals. Aiming to raise the public profile of the initiative, the UN General Assembly has declared the decade 2014-2014 a “Decade of Sustainable Energy for All.”

While notable gains in energy efficiency and renewable energy deployment have been made worldwide, rapid industrialization, population growth and ongoing growth in the use of fossil fuels has all but negated progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and stimulating green, responsible socioeconomic development. Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions rose 1.4 percent in 2012 to a record high of 31.6 billion tons, that despite reductions in the world’s developed economies (emissions in the the US were at their lowest level since the mid-1990s), the IEA announced while presenting its latest annual World Energy Outlook in Stockholm this week.

An institutional “Sustainable Energy for All” framework emerges

Fossil fuels continue to account for more than 80 percent of the world’s energy mix, while “a population four times the size of the United States still lives without access to electricity,” according to the recently launched Global Tracking Framework, a multi-agency effort led by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the World Bank.

SE4ALL’s ambitious goals are to help foster a doubling of energy efficiency, a doubling of renewable energy capacity and universal access to modern energy services by 2030. Putting an institutional framework and mechanisms in place to monitor and track progress and share information is critical to success. To that end, the International Energy Agency (IEA) and World Bank launched the Global Tracking Framework.

“The Sustainable Energy for All initiative is a rallying cry to tackle the twin crises of energy poverty and climate change, and this Global Tracking Framework is an important first response,” Maria van der Hoeven, IEA executive director and a member of the Advisory Board of the SE4ALL initiative, was quoted in a press release.

“By measuring the scale of the challenge, it provides a crucial reference against which the partners of the SE4ALL initiative, and all of us, can track progress towards building a cleaner energy system for all. The IEA has advocated stronger action to tackle energy poverty for more than a decade as part of its World Energy Outlook, but more needs to be done to tackle the problem. It is a moral imperative and we cannot afford to ignore it.”

Local challenges to achieving global “Sustainable Energy for All”

Renewable energy made up 18 percent of the global energy mix and energy efficiency had increased an average 1.3 percent per year since 1990 as of 2010, according to the Global Tracking Framework’s initial report. An estimated 17 percent of the global population lacked access to electricity and 41 percent “still relied on wood or other biomass to cook and heat their homes.”

Focused, determined action is needed worldwide if SE4ALL goals are to be achieved, but “the nature of the challenge differs across countries and, for each of the SE4ALL goals,” the report authors note. Looking to address this, the report singles out “20 ‘high-impact’ countries that are crucial to making major progress.”

In addition, the IEA and World Bank found that realizing SE4ALL goals will require green energy investment increases of at least US$600 billion per year out to 2030 as compared to the current level. Of that total, investment in boosting energy efficiency will need to increase $394 billion, that for renewable energy by $174 billion per year, that for universal access to electricity by $45 billion per annum, and that for universal access to modern cooking by $4.4 billion per annum.

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May 29 2013

18:37

Autodesk Walks Its Talk: Reduces Emissions 34 Percent Since 2009

Autodesk mission to a more sustainable worldAutodesk opened its doors 31 years ago with the now ubiquitous AutoCAD software, starting a revolution in computer-aided design and modeling. Since that time the company has changed the face of building and industrial design, infrastructure modeling, media production and more. There is likely not a movie you’ve seen lately that has not utilized Autodesk software, or some aspect of an urban landscape close by that was not planned, modeled and built using Autodesk tools.

What I’ve learned in my several years of following the company and getting to know many of its key players is that Autodesk is much more than just a purveyor of high-tech design tools. The mission of the company is to empower innovative thinking and help lead the way for sustainable manufacturing, building design and urban development - to help build a better world.

Autodesk recently released their fifth sustainability report, focusing on the company’s environmental and social impacts during FY13. Over the past year, the company increased its revenue 4 percent while its carbon footprint was down by 8 percent year over year. Some highlights from the report include:

  •  Autodesk reduced its carbon footprint by 8 percent YOY, or 34 percent over base year (FY09) to 56,400 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). The company is on target to meet its climate stabilizing target set with C-FACT.
  • The amount of renewable energy used by the company increased to 30 percent globally and more renewable energy, totaling 11,900 megawatt hours (MWh) in FY13, compared with 6,140 MWh the prior year.
  • This year, Autodesk established a human rights policy that describes how it promotes human rights amongst employees, suppliers and business partners, and customers. Additionally, the company became a signatory and published its first communication on progress to the United Nations Global Compact, a voluntary initiative that outlines 10 principles in the areas of human rights, labor, environment, and anticorruption.
  • Since 2010, more than 1 million students and educators have accessed the Sustainability Workshop, a site dedicated to teaching the basics of sustainable design.
  • Provided thousands of companies across 27 countries with world-class software to design, visualize, and simulate their groundbreaking ideas through the Autodesk Clean Tech Partner Program.
  • Contributed more than $2,849,000 in cash donations to community organizations; matched $256,000 in employee donations; and provided $2,600,000 value in product donations.  Autodesk employees logged 6,000 hours volunteering at schools, food banks, animal shelters, and other organizations and participating in walks, runs, bike rides, and other events to benefit communities worldwide.

The message from CEO Carl Bass emphasizes Autodesk’s commitment to “help the global community of people who are, right now, creating a better world.”

These words might ring hollow were it not for the fact that Bass and his team truly walk the talk.

Image credit: Parsons Brinkerhoff (developers of the Seattle City Model in partnership with Autodesk)

 

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May 14 2013

21:40

Worldwide Efforts to Combat Drought, Desertification to Take Shape in Namibia This Year

Efforts to tacle accelerating drought and desertification take shape this year an Namibia  Land degradation – more specifically drought and desertification – have become increasingly pressing problems for a growing number of countries around the world, threatening efforts to alleviate poverty, improve basic health and sanitation and address socioeconomic inequality, as well as spur agricultural and sustainable economic development.

The only multilateral, international agreement linking development and environment to sustainable land management (SLM), high-level representatives from 195 nations will be gathering in Windhoek, Namibia from September 16-27 for the 11th bi-annual Conference of Parties (COP) to review implementation of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Meeting for the first time in southern Africa, UNCCD delegates will review implementation of the convention to date and plan for the ensuing two years of programs and actions.

One of the greatest challenges to sustainable development

Desertification, along with climate change and the loss of biodiversity, were singled out as the greatest challenges to sustainable development at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Unfortunately, desertification, land degradation and drought (DLDD) have accelerated during the 20th and 21st centuries to date, posing fundamental problems and challenges for drylands populations, nations and regions in particular.

Severe land degradation is estimated to be affecting 168 countries around the world, according to a first-of-its-kind cost-benefit analysis (CBA) of the global effects of desertification released during the UNCCD Conference and Committee Meeting held this past April in Bonn, Germany. That’s up sharply from 110 as of a previous analysis of data submitted by UNCCD parties in the mid-1990s.

The resulting losses, in lives, human potential, biodiversity and ecosystems health and integrity are alarming. Resulting in the devastation of an area three times that of Switzerland every year, UNCCD analysts estimate that the annual costs of combating land degradation have reached $490 billion…and that’s only expected to increase.

Home to some 2 billion people, approximately 40 percent of the Earth’s land area is considered drylands. Due to a combination of human activities and natural forces – climate change now prominent among them – 10-20 percent are already considered degraded. The total land area affected by desertification is estimated to range between 6 million and 12 million square kilometers, putting the livelihoods and lives of a billion inhabitants at risk.

In the report, “The Economics of Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought: Methodologies and Analysis for Decision-Making,”  UNCCD estimates the costs of land degradation to be between 3-5 percent of global agricultural Gross Domestic Production. Furthermore,  “the cost of siltation of water reservoirs is estimated at USD18.5 billion per year, and salinity in global agriculture at about USD12 billion per year.”

Combatting Desertification via Sustainable Land Management

Continual research, development and rapid implementation of sustainable land management practices are the keys to meeting the challenges DLDD poses, according to the UNCCD. Unfortunately, progress in this regard has been slow and halting. Commodities, other products and ecosystem services afforded by land and ecosystems being affected by DLD are not being valued accordingly, nor are government and private sector institutional frameworks geared towards addressing the issue comprehensively or effectively, experts assert.

Posing a fundamental threat to agricultural and broad, sustainable socioeconomic development, crafting and implementing sustainable land management policies cuts across all facets of a society and challenges long, and often strongly held attitudes, values and institutional frameworks. That makes the process of addressing DLDD awkward, cumbersome and difficult, posing varied, substantial and difficult-to-resolve trade-offs and conflicts of interest.

In the midst of carrying out a ten-year strategy to address DLDD and foster development and implementation of sustainable land management policies and practices, the UNCCD is marshaling the resources of member nations in an effort to combat DLDD through sustainable land management. Part and parcel of this global initiative, UNCCD is identifying, helping develop, implement and sharing effective policies and best practices.

“SLM and ecosystem restoration are the key to enhancing the resilience of systems that are vulnerable to DLDD,” the UNCCD CBA report authors state. “Effective policies need to be based on a good understanding of the challenges faced on the ground.

“Generally speaking, policies that have successfully addressed a transition to more sustainable land-use practices have used participatory approaches, responded to local perceptions and priorities, enjoyed adequate government and civil society backing, and promoted technical packages with low risk and strong economic incentives.”

Furthermore, they go on, “Addressing weak governance and policy-induced distortions that operate through markets to promote  land-degrading activities are arguably amongst the most efficient means of tackling land degradation in developing countries.

“Lastly, given a rising global demand for commodities built on an unsustainable price signal (e.g. wheat price speculations) that converts natural capital for free to provide food, fiber, fodder and fuel, finance must become more accountable for its impact on nature, creating opportunities for change.”

Image credit: iJuliAn, courtesy flickr

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May 07 2013

18:15

Rising Temperature, Sea Level On Track to Wipe Out Major World Cities Former Shell Exec Tells UN

Global community risks catastrophic sea level rise if current fossil fuel and c02 emissions stay on trackConsensus among the world’s leading climate scientists has established a 2°C rise in global mean temperature as the tipping point for runaway climate change, but even that could result in catastrophic rises in sea level of as much as 6-7 meters (23 feet), energy expert Ian Dunlop and policy planner and scholar Tapio Kanninen told audiences at packed meetings and panel discussions at UN headquarters in New York City organized by the Finnish Mission to the United Nations, the Club of Rome, the Temple of Understanding and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Sea level rises of 6-7 meters would wipe out coastal cities, including London, New York, Shanghai and Tokyo, and that’s even if we could somehow manage to limit global average temperature rise to 2°C this century, Dunlop and Kanninen told shocked audiences at the UN, according to a Club of Rome report.

On track for 4C rise in global temps; 230-foot rise in sea level

If current trends in fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions continue, global temperatures would rise as much as 4°C or more. That would lead to sea level rises of up to 70 meters (230 feet), Dunlop and Kanninen stated as they “presented new evidence demonstrating the severity of the crisis of global sustainability and global survivability,” the topic of discussion for the mix of diplomats, political decision makers, sustainable development experts and NGOs who attended the meetings.

Dunlop’s experience in the field includes over 30 years working as an engineer and senior executive at the Royal Shell Group. He also is the former leader of Australia’s Emissions Trading Panel.

Commenting on the latest scientific evidence, “Today’s leaders refuse to accept that climate change science and the concept of Peak Oil condemns the international community to a catastrophic future,” Dunlop said.

“Why are we still exploring for fossil fuels since we can only burn 20-30% of reserves if we wish to keep climate change to the 2°C limit, while current policies will result in warming of 4-6°C?”

Perhaps even more shocking a 4°C rise in temperature results in a global human carrying capacity of 0.5-1 billion as compared to a present-day human population of 7 billion.

Urgently needed: drastic economic restructuring, emergency response mechanisms

Scientists have identified a number of climate change tipping points the reaching of which “exponentially and dramatically accelerate global warming trends,” Kanninen, a fomer long-time UN staff member and policy planner, pointed out. These will be reached in “a matter of years, not decades. We must take action before it is too late to avert a catastrophe,” he was paraphrased as saying.

Current policy measures and institutional frameworks are incapable of avoiding or preventing these scenarios from playing out, the pair emphasized. What’s needed, they said, is “a change in the entire system plus an emergency response.

“If runaway climate change leads to rising sea levels the next move has to be to urgently overhaul the UN and our global governance system so it is capable of dealing with rapidly changing global and regional conditions.”

 

Image credit: Cherrylynx, courtesy flickr

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September 04 2012

18:45

Obama Forges Ahead on Clean Energy, Launches Industry Energy Efficiency, Advanced Solar Energy Research Initiatives


Concentrating solar plant in the California desertPresident Obama and his administration continue to forge ahead, rolling out renewable energy and energy efficiency initiatives in the face of intensifying rhetoric and ongoing opposition. Two announcements this past week highlight additions to the proactive, forward-looking framework for energy policy the President, his administration and supporters have been assembling.

On August 30, president Obama issued an Executive Order to spur investments in industrial energy efficiency, including combined heat and power (CHP). In addition, the Department of Energy (DOE) Aug. 29 announced it’s launching five new research projects aimed at further reducing the cost of photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP).

Strengthening US Manufacturing by Improving Energy Efficiency

Noting that the industrial sector accounts for more than 30 percent of total US energy consumption, the President’s Executive Order on industrial energy efficiency and CHP:

  • Sets a national goal of 40 gigawatts (GW) of new CHP installation over the next decade;
  • Directs agencies to foster a national dialogue through ongoing regional workshops to encourage the adoption of best practice policies and investment models that overcome the numerous barriers to investment, provide public information on the benefits of unlocking investment in industrial energy efficiency, and use existing Federal authorities that can support these investments;
  • Directs the Departments of Energy, Commerce, and Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agency, to coordinate actions at the Federal level while providing policy and technical assistance to states to promote investments in industrial energy efficiency.

The benefits associated with realizing improvements in industrial energy efficiency and CHP are many and varied. Those mentioned in the Executive Order include:

  • Improving U.S. manufacturing competitiveness: By accelerating these investments, manufacturers could save at least $100 billion in energy costs over the next decade.
  • Creating jobs now through investments upgrading our manufacturing facilities: Meeting the President’s goal of 40 GW of new CHP over the next decade would mean $40 billion to $80 billion of new capital investment in American manufacturing facilities. Most of these efficient technologies are made right here in the United States.
  • Offering a low-cost approach to new electricity generation capacity to meet current and future demand: Investments in industrial energy efficiency, including CHP, cost as much as 50% less than traditional forms of delivered new baseload power.
  • Significantly lowering emissions: Improved efficiency can meaningfully reduce nationwide GHG emissions and other criteria pollutants.
  • Enhancing grid security: Investments in industrial energy efficiency reduce the need for new electricity infrastructure (transmission and distribution) and improve overall electric reliability.

Supporting the Executive Order, DOE and the EPA released a new report entitled, Combined Heat and Power: A Clean Energy Solution.

DOE also announced five new company commitments to the President’s Better Buildings, Better Plants initiative. Kingspan Insulated Panels, Cree, General Aluminum Manufacturing Co., Paperworks and HARBEC Inc. have signed on the program, pledging to improve the energy intensity of their operations by 25 percent over ten years.

To date, partners in the Better Buildings, Better Plants program have realized at least $80 million in costs savings as a result of their efforts. The total’s expected to reach a cumulative total of some $1 billion by 2020.

Building on SunShot Initiative’s Success

The President and his team also continue to be busy seeking ways to further stimulate and foster growth and development of renewable energy. Looking to build on the success of the President’s SunShot Initiative, the DOE intends to invest some $3.4 million in five research and development (R&D) projects to be carried out by multi-disciplinary research teams with members from industry, universities and national laboratories.

The past decade has seen explosive growth in the global solar energy market. American companies are helping to lead this dramatic progress—driving lower costs and introducing new, better performing technologies into the marketplace,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu stated in a press release.

“These collaborative projects announced today harness the immense capabilities of our Scientific User Facilities to invent and deploy new technologies that will strengthen American manufacturing and technical competitiveness,” said Secretary Chu. “As part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy, advanced solar energy technologies are helping to provide clean, renewable electricity for homes and businesses across the country while diversifying the United States’ energy economy.”

DOE categorizes the five solar power research projects according to two levels.Two projects making up the first have been awarded a total $900,000 to establish research partnerships that will use existing tools at Energy Department Scientific User Facilities.

The first project entails PLANT PV partnering with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Molecular Foundry to develop 3-D mapping tools for higher performing thin-film solar PV materials, DOE explains in a press release. For the second, the Univ. of Colorado will use tools at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to research development of inexpensive high-temperature CSP materials.

The DOE’s investing $2.6 million in three, second level solar power research projects. All three involve establishing full research programs at a Scientific User Facility with the aim of developing new tools and expanding the capability of each facility to conduct advanced solar energy research.

One project entails Sandia National Laboratory researchers joining with counterparts from the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies in New Mexico to improve the efficiency of thin-film PV materials. A second involves Arizona State Univ. researchers working with x-ray technologies at Argonne National Laboratory. For the third, Stanford Univ. will partner with SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory to research inexpensive ways of printing solar PV cells.

A complete, descriptive list of the projects is available online at the DOE’s EERE website.

Image credit: International Rivers, courtesy flickr

August 07 2012

17:23

A Small Business Solar Energy Success Story…in New Jersey


A solar success storyThough it typically has are often long, hot summers, the small, mid-Atlantic state of New Jersey’s not known for year-round sunshine. Nonetheless, technological advances, lower costs and state and federal incentives– along with consumer enthusiasm, has made the Garden State a prime market for solar photovoltaic (PV) power.

The effects are seen in the small business sector, as new solar PV businesses establish themselves and already established ones extend their business lines into the solar PV market, or completely reinvent themselves to capitalize on growing demand for solar power.

An instance of the latter, Freehold, NJ-based Trinity Solar started out life as Trinity Heating & Air. Seeing promise in New Jersey and Mid-Atlantic states’ emerging solar energy market, and able to leverage the knowledge, skills and resources it had acquired, the company reinvented, and renamed, itself in 2004, when the company began focusing on installing solar PV systems for residential and commercial customers.

Reaching the 4,000 Solar PV System Milestone

Yesterday, Trinity Solar announced the installation of its 4,000th solar PV system. Announcement of the milestone comes just some nine months after it had installed its 3,000th solar PV system.

Trinity’s success in developing its own projects and solar PV systems installation has garnered national attention. The company was ranked as one of the fastest growing companies in the country by Inc. Magazine. NJBIZ named it New Jersey’s #1 green energy company, according to a Trinity Solar press release.

“We’re proud of our many accomplishments,” stated company president and CEO Tom Pollock. “Our primary objectives are to deliver high quality products to our customers and to provide a sense of honesty and integrity.”

New Jersey’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) and solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) have been key elements underlying Trinity’s success, as well as that of other businesses large and small now active in the state and broader region. Some 16,715 solar PV systems with a total 831.6-MW of generating capacity had been installed in New Jersey homes and businesses as of June 30, according to NJ’s Office of Clean Energy.

Originally enacted in 2002, New Jersey’s RPS requires that 22.5 percent of electricity providers’ retail electricity sales for Energy Year 2021 (end of May) come from qualifying renewable energy sources. A separate solar power “carve-out” requires them to obtain at least 4.1% of their electricity sales from qualifying solar electric generation sources by the end of Energy Year 2028.

The mandate has led state utilities to develop their own solar and renewable energy projects, contract for others, and help finance smaller residential and commercial solar PV installations. Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G) is looking to state regulators to approve as much as $883 million of additional investment to extend and expand its solar energy programs. Approval would result in the utility being able to develop some 233-MW more of solar PV generating capacity in New Jersey.

Approval of the additional investment would also create green jobs. Some 300 direct jobs per year would be created over the ensuing five years, PSE&G parent company executive vice president Caroline Dorsa told investors and analysts during a 2Q earnings conference call.

Graphic Credit: Trinity Solar

July 31 2012

22:19

Hybrid Micro-Hydro/Wind-Diesel Systems to Supply Clean Energy to Patagonia Communities


Technological advances and significant reductions in cost have made installing clean, renewable energy systems an increasingly attractive, beneficial and viable option for individuals, communities, businesses and energy providers around the world. That’s especially the case in remote, isolated communities where grid access is not available or prohibitively costly, and even more particularly, when such communities are located in often rich yet fragile natural environments.

Such communities have typically relied on diesel fuel generators for electrical power. That’s changing, as communities, along with power utilities and government authorities, look to insulate themselves from the high and volatile cost of diesel and other petroleum fuels, as well as the harmful environmental and health effects of diesel and fossil fuel combustion. Switching to renewable energy systems provides substantial benefits.

First and foremost is the reliable provision of clean, renewable electrical power, power that can open up new opportunities and change lives for the better. The environmental and health benefits are equally substantial: significant reductions or complete elimination of carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, as well as the land and water pollution associated with fossil fuel combustion and consumption.

One instance of this is currently moving forward in Argentina’s world-famous Patagonia region, a region rich in ecological and cultural diversity. Contributing to realizing the aims of the UN Sustainable Energy for All initiative, the Global Sustainable Electricity Partnership (GSEP) last week announced that environmental licenses had been issued for two non-profit demonstration micro-hydro/wind-diesel power projects in the small, remote Patagonia communities of Chorriaca and Cochico.

Sustainable Energy for All

GSEP develops non-profit renewable energy projects worldwide that promote sustainable energy development and/or reduce GHG emissions. In line with Sustainable Energy for All’s ambitions, the GSEP projects in Patagonia have three primary objectives: reducing CO2 emissions by reducing diesel fuel use and inefficiencies; promoting local renewable energy resources; and providing sustainable, reliable power 24×7 to community consumers.

Located in Argentine Patagonia’s Neuquen province, both the small communities of Cochico and Chorriaca lack access to the national grid. They rely on diesel fuel generators for electricity, which is provided on an intermittent basis.

Aiming to provide clean, renewable electricity to the communities reliably on a continuous basis, project plans call for a micro-hydro facility to be built in Cochico and a wind-diesel plant in Chorriaca. Each will have a 90-kW (kilowatts) capacity, which, though modest by modern urban standards, is sufficient to meet community residents’ needs.

Covering the construction and operation phases of the hybrid micro-hydro/wind-diesel power projects, the Environmental Management Plan (EMP) GSEP and provincial government-owned power utility EPEN submitted proved acceptable to local authorities, paving the way for the two demonstration projects to move forward. Once up and running, EPEN will take ownership of the two hybrid renewable energy systems. The GSEP project team has begun final negotiations with the project’s builders with an eye toward beginning construction shortly thereafter.

The project stakeholders view the two hybrid community renewable power projects as pilot tests that may be replicated in other communities in Patagonia. Attention is being paid to the use of appropriate technology and maximizing local resources and socio-economic development potential.

“The transfer of technical know-how and experience will also help build human capacity for the development, operation and maintenance of the selected systems in these communities,” GSEP elaborates. “Such experience could be repeated in a number of similar towns within the province of Neuquén and others in Argentina that are isolated from the main grid.”

May 09 2012

18:02

European Elections and Sustainable Development in America


European voters rejected austerity in favor of growth. What will that mean for sustainable development in the US?In Europe, voters have chosen growth over austerity and this has implications for the U.S. economy and sustainable development. The Greek and French electorate’s rejection of austerity will have a dramatic effect on European spending, including investments in sustainability. These changes can also be expected to reverberate across the Atlantic.

In France, Francois Hollande’s presidential victory has derailed Nicholas Sarkozy’s austerity policies and in Greece, the parties supporting the international rescue package have lost control of parliament. In both countries, voters decisively said no to austerity and yes to growth.

France and Greece Choose Growth over Austerity

Both France and Greece appear to be doing a 180 on austerity. Hollande has been critical of the austerity policies central to European bailout deals. He promises to ease austerity measures and increase taxation on the wealthy. Hollande has pledged to renegotiate the European fiscal pact that was signed in December 2011 and he wants to issue common European bonds to finance growth through investment in sectors like renewable energy.

Investment in renewable energy is only one of several commitments that have pleased France’s Green Party (which received 2 percent of the French vote). During the campaign, Hollande promised to diversify France’s energy, including promises to cut the country’s nuclear dependence in half by 2025. He also vowed to increase renewable energy and respect France’s international engagements to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This will help France reach and perhaps even surpass its EU-backed sustainability goals of 20 percent by 2020. Greenpeace France notes that the newly elected President of France has called for the EU to increase its GHG emissions target to 30 percent by 2020.

Prior to the election, France’s right leaning Sarkozy government was criticized for doing little for the environment. In an October, 2011 article published in the French daily Le Monde, MPs from the “ecological” wing of the Socialist party derided the center-right’s environmental record. They chided the “environmental passivity of the right” saying that after 10 years of leadership, “France invests nine times less than Germany and five times less than China in clean energy.”  They further drew attention to the fact that there are no French businesses among the top 10 producers of wind turbines or photovoltaic panels. They also pointed out that in terms of wind production per inhabitant, France was in thirteenth place in Europe and the country had no offshore wind developments.

The fate of Greece is much less certain. The results of Greek parliamentary elections are inconclusive, fueling fear that Greece will become the first developed nation to default on its debt.

If a coalition government cannot be formed, Greece will go back to the voters some time in June, but this will be too late for the bailout package being offered by the EU. If Greek political leaders cannot form a government, the country will default on its debt and cease to be part of the EU. This will have a calamitous impact on the economy of the entire continent and the wider world. Whatever the future holds, it is now clear that Greeks have refused austerity.

Rio+20

All of this intrigue takes place just ahead of the Rio+20 conference, which will take place on June 20 – 22, 2012. This is the fourth major summit on sustainable development since 1972. The summit brings together at least 100 global leaders and 50,000 participants from around the world, including corporate executives and representatives of various social movements. Participants will focus on growth, and address specific concerns as they relate to oceans, food, energy, biodiversity and climate. The summit aims to find ways to support sustainable development.

U.N. Secretary General Bank Ki Moon wants to bring sustainable energy to even the most remote corners of the planet and 3,000 scientists will present a new science for Planet Earth at Rio 20 known as the State of the Planet Declaration.

However, some of Europe’s key players will not be attending the Rio Conference. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will not attend nor will British Prime Minister David Cameron. Despite rearranging the summit’s dates so they would not coincide with Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, Cameron announced he will not be attending Rio. US President Barack Obama is also likely to stay on the campaign trail rather than go to Rio.

Whatever happens in Rio, the elections in Europe have changed the political map and this has implications for the forthcoming American election.

Sustainable Development in America

Austerity in Europe was not good for the growth of sustainability or the American economy and social unrest born of economic hardship compounded the problem. The end of austerity is good news for advocates of sustainable development and those who want to see more growth in the American economy.

In Europe, government investment to stimulate growth will benefit the American economy. It may also make it easier for the Obama administration to increase its commitment to sustainable development. As should be obvious to all with even a passing interest in American politics, when it comes to sustainable development, the Democrats are the only game in town.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has an economic strategy that has austerity at its heart. Events in Europe may encourage Americans to question the Republican vision for America. According to the European narrative, spending cuts further slow the economy and actually increase debt. This puts Republicans squarely at odds with the new economics sweeping across Europe.

As stated by Richard Eskow, a senior fellow at the liberal Campaign for America’s Future, this should bode well for the Democrats:

“This should be the Democrats’ moment, a time to make political gains in the most honorable way possible: by fighting for what’s right. Today’s radical Republicans want to destroy government and slash the very spending that’s needed to rescue the economy. The GOP is even rejecting the common sense spending on roads and bridges embraced by past Republicans from Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush. As austerity measures eviscerate Europe’s economy and undermine the political popularity of its leadership, this should be the Democrats’ finest hour. Unfortunately, too many Democratic leaders have preferred to echo the austerity rhetoric of their Republican opponents — and of Europe’s embattled leaders. The president’s last debt deal with John Boehner was a milder version of European austerity, and it slowed our country’s tentative growth. And yet he’s reportedly pushing for another “Grand Bargain,” leaving him with a muddled economic message, and Americans in a prolonged state of fear.”

There is reason to believe that Americans may support government spending at least until there is stronger growth and more jobs. Americans may very well follow the French and the Greeks who have chosen to abandon austerity in favor of growth.

The near term fate of sustainable development hinges on governments adopting a policy of growth rather than a policy focused on austerity.
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Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: National Post/Getty Images

May 02 2012

17:56

Is Sustainable Development Viable?


Aspects of strategic and coordinated action for sustainable development:Although it is clear that growth within the current economic paradigm is environmentally unsustainable, it is less clear whether the adoption of sustainable development can save our planet from environmental collapse. Countries are aggressively trying to stimulate their economies and create new jobs while at the same time, it is becoming increasingly obvious that we urgently need to address a range of far-reaching environmental problems.

In 2011 the International Resource Panel, hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), warned that by 2050, the human race could be devouring 140 billion tons of minerals, ores, fossil fuels and biomass per year – three times its current rate of consumption. The report demonstrated that most of this consumption comes from the developed world (up to 40 or more tons per person in some developed countries compared to an average of four tons per year for people in places like India).

Some believe that sustainable development could bring about meaningful change. Sustainable development focuses on reducing the amount of required resources through improved economic management, product design, and technology. Environmental sustainability emulates the biosphere and functions as part of the ecosystem. This means being efficient, adapting to local conditions and using sources of energy which are renewable. At its best, sustainability incorporates the concept of cradle-to-cradle design, which factors the entire life cycle.

Sustainable development supports economic growth. The Brundtland Report argued that economic growth was necessary for poorer nations to meet their needs; they also used this argument to support economic growth in all nations.

Criticisms of sustainable development

For many people concerned about ecological degradation, growth is an environmental anathema and sustainable development does not make sense. This idea was elaborated by Michael Redclift in his 2005 paper “Sustainable Development (1987–2005): an Oxymoron Comes of Age.”

A 1993 paper by Herman E. Daly and Kenneth N. Townsend argue that it is impossible for the world economy to grow its way out of poverty and environmental degradation. According to these authors, the term “sustainable growth”, when applied to the economy, is a “bad oxymoron.” The term sustainable development makes sense for the economy only if it is understood as development without growth. “To delude ourselves into believing that growth is still possible and desirable if only we label it “sustainable” or color it “green” will just delay the inevitable transition and make it more painful.” The authors advocate a policy for the U.S. and other industrialized countries that prevent growth by taxing resource extraction, especially energy, very heavily.

Environmental sustainability precludes fossil fuels

Sustainable economic growth is utterly impossible as long as oil, coal and natural gas provide nearly 88 percent of the world’s energy needs. According to EIA (the US Energy Information Administration), total world consumption of marketed energy will increase by 49 percent between 2007 to 2035. The International Energy Agency predicted that Chinese energy demand would soar 75 percent by 2035, accounting for more than a third of the growth in global consumption.

The most egregious source of energy is coal, in India, more than 50% of commercial energy demand is met with coal and according to 2008 statistics, coal accounts for 71 percent of China’s energy mix. The US is not much better with 23 percent of its total energy demand being met with coal. Economic growth that includes fossil fuels precludes the possibility of a livable planet.

Incorporating the environment into the economic system

For development to be truly sustainable, it must balance human welfare with the welfare of the planet. Sustainable development can avoid environmental degradation by integrating the environment into the economic system. Environmental economists argue that environmental degradation is a function of the failure of the market system to put a value on the environment.

Cost-benefit analysis (CBA) and economic instruments offer a couple of ways in which environmental values could be incorporated into economic activities. Economic instruments include taxes and charges on polluters that aim to internalize environmental costs into the decisions of companies and individuals. This provides an incentive to curtail environmental degradation.

There are a number of other ways the environment could be factored into our economic decision-making. Measuring environmental damage includes the value of earnings lost through health problems associated with pollution. It also includes health care and the costs associated with decreased agricultural yields.

In such a system, valuing the environment must account for future generations of humans and other species. The cost of ecological destruction must be prohibitive and not limited to monetary costs. This translates to criminal sanctions including jail terms.

Can technology save us?

Technology is an important adjunct of sustainable development. Improving technology makes growth and environmental sustainability compatible. According to the Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences, economic growth can be made compatible with environmental enhancement, but “technologies affecting all societal activities must reflect the goals of sustainable economic development.”

Environmentalists Winin Pereira and Jeremy Seabrook (1991) point out that a high of living standard is unsustainable. They say: “

“Economic growth can be made compatible with environmental enhancement only if the emission of pollution is less than that which can be assimilated and transformed by the natural environment. In order for resources to be conserved, all articles must be manufactured so as to be fully recyclable. Further, they must be manufactured, transported, used, and recycled with energy from renewable sources only.”

The apparent conflict between growth and environmental sustainability may be at least partially addressed by new technological developments. A good example comes from recent advances in catalytic science.

“With the recent advent of molecular design techniques, the modernized form of this broadly applicable technological tool has the potential to change the face of the four fundamental needs of humanity–health care, food supply, energy, and materials. This can be done in a way that provides a path to environmentally sustainable development for all citizens of the planet.”

Ecological economics and decoupling

While conventional economics is concerned largely with economic growth and the efficient allocation of resources, ecological economics has the explicit goal of sustainable scale (rather than continual growth), fair distribution and efficient allocation.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development states that “business cannot succeed in societies that fail,” and societies that do not reduce their resource intensity are doomed to fail.

Ecological economics must reach far beyond the understanding of conventional economics and focus on people and nature.

In economic and environmental fields, the term decoupling is used to refer to the ability of an economy to grow without incurring corresponding increases in environmental pressure. An economy that is able to sustain GDP growth without having a negative impact on the environment is said to be decoupled.

We now have a leadership competency model for sustainability. The expansion of sustainable business opportunities can contribute to job creation.

Innovative economics internalizing ecosystems

There is no single economic answer to the environmental crisis we face. The closest thing we have to a useful approach is cultivating pragmatic innovation. Going forward, our economies must constantly adapt to meet present and future needs.

While some would like to do away with the concept of profit, this may not produce the results they seek.  Peter Drucker said that “profit for a company is like oxygen for a person. If you don’t have it, you’re out of the game. But if you think your life is about breathing you’re really missing something.”

From this standpoint, a business should aim to make a profit to ensure it is financially sustainable, but this should not be at the expense of the planet or the life forms that inhabit it.

We cannot continue to treat ecosystems as economic externalities. Conservation of resources is best served by putting a price on natural systems so that they are not overused and degraded. Internalizing these externalities entails using market strategies like ecotaxes and incentives, tradeable permits for carbon, and the encouragement of payment for ecosystem services.

Europe 2020

Europe 2020 is the EU’s sustainable development growth strategy. The EU wants to become a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy with high levels of employment, productivity and social cohesion.

Concretely, the Union has set five ambitious objectives – on employment, innovation, education, social inclusion and climate/energy – to be reached by 2020. This includes building a more competitive low-carbon economy that makes efficient, sustainable use of resources. It also involves protecting the environment, reducing emissions and preventing biodiversity loss.

The EU intends to boost sustainable growth through resource-efficiency in Europe. Economic growth will be decoupled from resource and energy use by:

  • reducing CO2 emissions
  • promoting greater energy security.
  • reducing the resource intensity of what we use and consume

ADB strategy 2020

ADB Strategy 2020 is Asia’s sustainable development growth strategy. ADB’s efforts in greening economic growth aim at promoting environmentally sustainable and inclusive growth while addressing climate change.

ADB is committed to doing a better job of managing biodiversity and natural resources. They realize that large-scale ecosystems are central to the future well-being of Asia-Pacific. They will focus on national leadership, innovative partnerships and integrated approaches.

ADB’s climate change program focuses on five region-wide priorities: (i) expanding the use of clean energy; (ii) encouraging sustainable transport and urban development; (iii) managing land use and forests for carbon sequestration; (iv) promoting climate-resilient development; and (v) strengthening related policies and institutions.

A range of approaches are necessary, including regulations, market-based instruments, voluntary schemes, and information disclosure. Environmental impact assessment and social safeguards processes are also important. In total, it is estimated that it will cost 8 trillion dollars in infrastructure investment to get to where they need to be.

Recognizing that many of the region’s critical ecosystems transcend political boundaries and that several pollution issues have a transboundary nature, governance arrangements at the regional and subregional level are also increasingly becoming a necessity.

This agenda is generally consistent with the green economy and green growth concepts as discussed in the Rio+20 process.

The Rio+ 20 Conference on Sustainable Development

The Rio+ 20 Conference on Sustainable Development provides a strategic opportunity for the global community to take stock of the current status of the environment and its links with supporting inclusive economic growth and poverty reduction.

The UNCSD will need to develop a new agreed vision and a set of solutions and mechanisms that can support and finance inclusive and environmentally sustainable growth. It is also important to develop mechanisms using innovative approaches that leverage both public financial resources and the private sector.  To achieve this goal, there will need to be incentives to help shift economies to a sustainable path. This may include removing harmful subsidies and providing tax breaks and other incentives.

Governments will need to work together in support of strengthening the environmentally advantageous technologies of developing nations. This includes incentives such as market-opening measures, intellectual-property protection, support for universities and other research institutions.

Governments will also have to pursue arrangements for monitoring and assessing environmental conditions and their economic implications.

Sustainable Development is an Ethical and Social Issue

There are important ethical and political and social dimensions associated with sustainable development. Government incentives, market based mechanisms and even punitive measures are not adequate in and of themselves. Incorporating environmental sustainability on a broad scale is also a matter of cultural and social change. Ultimately, it reflects a dramatically transformed value system which acknowledges the overarching value of the natural world.

One need only look at the domestic unrest in so many European countries to realize that growth (or the lack thereof) is also a social issue. As William Rees has said: “economic growth is a major instrument of social policy. By sustaining hope for improvement, it relieves the pressure for policies aimed at more equitable distribution of wealth.”

We need to develop new ethics and new forms of social decision-making that integrate the environment. We also need incentives to stimulate technological innovation.

It is not certain that sustainable development will succeed, but it may be the best chance we have not only to save our economies but to save our planet from an environmental apocalypse.

——————-
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

April 10 2012

14:08

Nature Tourism Boosts Local Economies along with Environmental Conservation, “Green” Practices


Nature-based tourism is boosting local economies while also helping conserve the natural environment, according to University of Florida research. Studying nature tourism businesses in Costa Rica, Taylor Stein, report author and University of Florida associate professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, found that successful ones “usually invested in environmental protection and maintenance,” while “tour businesses of all sizes circulated money throughout local economies,” according to a UF news report.

Providing patrons an environmental ‘feel-good’ factor about their vacations is a key strategic element for Costa Rica’s larger, successful ecotourism businesses, but successful nature tourism businesses “walk the walk” as well as “talk the talk,” Stein found.

“It used to be that you didn’t see hotels bragging about the fact that they don’t wash the bath towels every day of your stay,” he was quoted as saying. “But now, it’s rare not to see these signs in most hotels. If that makes customers happier, the hotels will do it.”

Besides helping customers know and feel they’re supporting a healthier, more sustainable natural environment, successful nature tourism businesses in Costa Rica also go the extra yard when it comes to highlighting their businesses actual “green” practices and the value and importance they place on environmental conservation. “They provide environmental education to visitors, supported conservation initiatives, recycled waste and used environmentally friendly equipment,” the UF report notes.

Stein also found that successful nature and ecotourism businesses in Costa Rica are also intensely focused on local spending and business networking. In addition to employing local residents, they focus on purchasing supplies locally and use local lodging.

Florida Aims to Boost its Nature Tourism

Florida is aiming to boost nature tourism in the state. That prompted Stein, with the assistance of graduate student Lisa Seales, to study nature tourism businesses in Costa Rica, a longstanding top ecotourism destination. Nature tourism was the fastest growing sector of Florida’s tourism industry in the 1990s. There hasn’t been much in the way of definitive research on Florida’s nature tourism market segment since then, but Stein believes it can be again.

Counties across Florida are looking to attract tourists to their natural attractions, according to Stein. Brevard County is aiming to position itself as a top nature tourism destination, he noted. Located on the Atlantic coast, Brevard County is home to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Sebastian Inlet State Park and “several other notable attractions.” “That’s a pretty big deal for Florida,” Stein commented. “We’re not used to saying ‘come to our forests, come to our springs.’”

Stein himself is helping promote nature tourism in Florida. “His latest project focuses on ways to market the Florida National Scenic Trail, which covers 1,400 miles from the westernmost part of the Panhandle to the southern tip of peninsular Florida,” according to UF’s report.

*Photo credit: National Scenic Byways Program

October 12 2011

18:33

US Denial versus European and Asian Sustainable Growth


The US continues to bury their head in the sand about climate changeWhile much of the rest of the world seems to see the dangers of climate change, many Americans appear to be woefully oblivious. Embracing a green, low-carbon economy is a sustainable way of dealing with the problems of resource depletion, economic uncertainty and climate change.

Europeans understand the severity of the threat posed by climate change far better than Americans. An October 2011, Eurobarometer poll found that Europeans consider global warming to be one of the world’s most serious problems. According to this poll, 68% of Europeans rate climate change as a “very serious” problem. One-fifth of Europeans indicated that climate change is the single most serious problem. Only poverty is considered a more serious problem than climate change, followed by the current economic crisis. (In fact the poor are the ones who will be most affected by climate change and the overwhelming costs of climate change make it a pressing economic issue).

As reviewed in an Eco-Business article, the Green Growth Forum, held in Ha Noi on October 4, 2011, was part of an Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) initiative where 180 European and Asian delegates shared their experiences on incorporating green growth models.Speaking at the forum, the Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Vu Van Ninh said that green growth not only served as a vehicle to foster global economic growth and recovery, but also as a tool to implement sustainable development based on social and environmental protection.

Miyon Lee, director general of the International Co-operation Team of the Presidential Committee on Green Growth in South Korea, said that all countries had a responsibility to develop green growth policies before it is too late.

The Eurozone has their green priorities in order, and increasingly, so does Asia, but America remains woefully behind in sustainability. European and Asian nations understand that economic concerns do not trump environmental concerns. However, in America, economic growth takes precedence over climate change. Climate change consistently ranks near the bottom on the list of Americans’ concerns. As stated in Roger Pielke Jr.’s “Iron Law” of climate policy, “When policies on emissions reductions collide with policies focused on economic growth, economic growth will win out every time.”

If we do not change our ways, economic growth will evaporate, taking jobs with it. Yet somehow, a small group of corporate interests have managed to introduce an element of doubt into the debate causing many Americans to buy into misinformation rather than subscribe to the scientific evidence. This is a travesty, not just of science, but of common sense.

Economic growth is not incompatible with managing climate change. As stated in a Treehugger article, “Europeans understand this better than Americans, and have managed to not only recognize the threat, but to reduce emissions while growing their economy.”

All around the world, people are beginning to develop national and regional strategies to minimize their impact on the earth. In the U.S., corporate interests beholden to the old energy economy have successfully resisted efforts to save the economy, the planet and its inhabitants.

If senior Asian and European officials can work on ways of transitioning economies from a ‘grow first, clean up later’ approach toward a greener development path, why can’t America?

It is a miscarriage of reason that in the U.S., short term economic issues are being used to justify ongoing environmental genocide.

——————-

Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

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August 24 2011

19:34

World Water Week 2011: The Business of Water Management Requires Collaboration


World Water Week opens on August 22World Water Week is the annual meeting place for the planet’s most urgent water-related issues. Organized by Stockholm International Water Institute, it brings together the world’s experts, practitioners, decision makers and leaders to exchange ideas, foster new thinking and develop solutions.

World Water Week opened in Stockholm on Monday August 22nd with calls for better urban water management to ensure food and water security.  Around 2,500 experts from some 130 countries are attending the 21st edition of World Water Week in Stockholm. They are working on preparations for the United Nation’s conference on sustainable development set to be held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012. The group expects to publish a declaration at the end of this week (August 26).

Despite the U.N.’s adoption of a resolution recognizing access to clean water and sanitation as a human right, 1.6 billion people continue to live in areas affected by drought, and that the number could easily rise to two billion without immediate efforts to manage the situation.

As the migration from rural areas continues, 830 million poor currently live in urban areas. Such rapid growth is straining natural resources and infrastructure. These areas often lack water and sanitation services which is a leading cause of mortality for both children and their mothers. Investments from governments and companies now will pay dividends later.

“More than ever we need new technologies and policy solutions…to compensate for water shortages hitting a growing number of the world’s inhabitants,” Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation, Gunilla Carlsson, said in her opening address at the World Water Conference.  “Increased access to clean water supplies and sanitation is an important catalytic force for development,” Carlsson said, insisting “the costs of not acting far exceed the costs of well-functioning, sustainable water resource management.”

To help shed some light on the issues, 2degrees streamed live webinars of the World Water Week sessions. Here is a summary of those sessions:

  • On Monday, August 22nd, the Global Water Adaptation Action Alliance (GWAAA), World Bank and Conservation International (CI) discussed climate and hydrological regimes determining water availability, and how well institutions are managing water resources. This session addressed the challenges of balancing energy, food and ecological security in a changing climate. It provided an interactive forum for overcoming barriers to respond sustainably to emerging conditions.
  • On Tuesday, August 23rd, the Water Footprint Network (WFN) & Swedish Textile Water Initiative (STWI), Coca Cola Europe, The Nature Conservancy, and others addressed the Sustainability of Water Footprints: From Assessment to Strategic Response. They presented innovative research and case studies from both the public and private sectors to demonstrate this cutting edge of the water footprint assessment. As explained in the session, by unlocking the information embedded in the water footprint, all actors can take the most effective action toward reducing the impacts of water use.
  • Also on Tuesday, August 23rd, Ceres, Global Environmental Management Initiative (GEMI), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), WBCSD and the World Resources Institute (WRI) addressed Corporate Water Risk Management: Seeking Solutions. The session explained that water risk and its management are important to business and stakeholders. Companies are partnering with others to better understand risks, reduce impacts, seize opportunities and, ultimately, drive change towards more sustainable practices and policies. Solutions involve use of innovative tools, a selection of which were showcased, along with user experiences and exploring how they fit together.
  • On Wednesday, August 24th, FAO Rome, UNESCO, Stockholm Environmental Institute, King’s College London, International Youth Council, Women for Water Partnership, SIWI, Value Chain Development, University of Nebraska, WWF, World Bank, GWP, and more discussed World Water Day 2012 – Water and Food Security: Call for Solutions. This much anticipated debate focused on the viability of water and food security solutions. The core topics debated were: innovation or traditional methods; intensification or greener agriculture; food import or self sufficiency; increasing food production; or reducing food waste and adopting sustainable diets.
  • Also on Wednesday, August 24th, Building Partnerships for Development in Water and Sanitation (BPD), Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and Adviser on Urban Environment and Development (WASTE) discussed Understanding the Opportunities for Entrepreneurs in Getting Sustainable Services to the Poor. Interest in market-based approaches to solving development challenges continues to grow. This session explored the different markets and incentives for sanitation service supply chains and discussed new business models to engage the private sector.
  • On Thursday, August 25th UNEP, UNESCO, WHO, FAO, French National Committee of International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID) & French Chapter of the International Water Association (ASTEE) addressed the question, Which Water Quality for Which Uses? A Regulators’ and Practitioners’ Perspective. How can water quality standards and guidelines protect water resources for multiple ecosystem services, and water uses? Key policy-makers, regulators, and researchers from around the world discussed the development of international water use guidelines, drawing on the results of the recent UNEP-UNESCO study.

Given the amount of water used by industry, the business community has a crucial role to play in sustainably managing water. According to some estimates, it takes 16 gallons of water to produce a single microchip, one pair of jeans takes 2,900 gallons, a single hamburger takes 634 gallons, and one cup of tea takes 9 gallons.

Although businesses seem to be increasingly focused on energy, many are less focused on water. However, there is an intrinsic link between water and energy. The business community needs to tackle the energy and carbon implications of supplying clean water and disposing of wastewater.

The Energy Saving Trust has produced a report on quantifying the energy and carbon effects of water saving. The focus is on domestic use, (i.e. households), but we need to see more focus on business and industry.

Although it is an uphill struggle getting sustainability professionals to accept that all of our natural resources need to be used sustainably and managed in combination with one other, some businesses are making major efforts.

A recent Greenbiz article interviewed sustainability professionals that are taking significant steps to reduce their companies’ water footprints. For example, Intel recycled 2 billion gallon of water in 2010, and MillerCoors brewery is planning to save as much as 16 million gallons of water.

Since 1998, Intel has invested more than $100 million in water conservation programs at their global facilities. To date, the company’s comprehensive and aggressive efforts have saved nearly 40 billion gallons of water — enough for roughly 370,000 U.S. homes for an entire year. Intel also harvests as much water from its manufacturing processes as possible and directs it to equipment such as cooling towers and scrubbers.

Since February 2007, the Dow Chemical Company facility in Terneuzen, Netherlands, has been reusing municipal household wastewater to help preserve community water supplies and reduce demand for desalinated water in a water-stressed region. Every day, Dow takes 2.6 million gallons of municipal wastewater and applies reverse osmosis technology to reuse the water twice. More than 70 percent of the wastewater is reused in manufacturing plants, and then used again in cooling towers before it is released into the atmosphere as steam. This purification process requires half the chemical treatment and 65 percent less energy than desalinating the same amount of sea water, and the energy savings are equivalent to lowering carbon dioxide emissions by 5,000 tons per year.

Levi Strauss & Co. is working to build sustainability into everything they do, including reducing the water used throughout the life-cycle of their products. Based on their research, they know that they can reduce the most water by focusing on more sustainable cotton farming and by educating consumers about how they care for their products. They are also reducing water use in the part of the supply chain where they have more direct influence. The company has challenged itself to reduce the amount of water for a pair of jeans from an average of 42 liters of water to as little as 1.5 liters.

For MillerCoors, water efficiency is critical to their business, and they are focused on working towards their 2015 goal of reducing overall water usage by 15 percent. They are testing new innovations in their breweries to reduce or replace water-based processes completely.

Anheuser-Busch is making progress towards their ambitious water reduction goal. Their success so far is based not on one big innovation or major investment, but on a system-wide approach that relies on integrating sustainability into the DNA of their management philosophy, not just on technology upgrades. The company has introduced measurable, aggressive water conservation targets which they have linked to individual rewards. They have reduced their global water usage by 6 percent in 2010 and by more than 19 percent since 2007, saving the equivalent of nearly 16,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools over three years.

MGM Resorts International is acutely aware of its responsibility to minimize its use of water. They take a comprehensive approach to this challenge, and look for innovative ways to reduce their consumption.

The Coca-Cola Company aims to maintain a water sustainable business on a global scale, so they developed and implemented a water stewardship strategy, with a global goal to safely return to nature and to communities an amount of water equivalent to what they use in their beverages and their production by 2020. Since 2005, with the help of respected partners like WWF and USAID, Coca-Cola has engaged in more than 320 water projects in 86 countries. Projects have focused on watershed protection and conservation, expanding community drinking water, sanitation access, and improving water for productive use.

SABMiller India is working to protect the water supply for the brewery and local farmers. The region has traditionally suffered from over-extraction and poor water management, which has resulted in a significant drop in the aquifer level, posing serious risks to both SABMiller India and the livelihoods of local communities. In response, SABMiller India worked with local partners to construct four water recharge dams to prevent excessive water run-off and facilitate the natural water replenishment of the groundwater. Since their construction, it is estimated that there has been a net rise of the groundwater by 31 feet, representing almost as much water as was extracted last year by the brewery. Additionally, SABMiller helped local farmers reduce their water use by establishing demonstration fields in 10 local villages to showcase water-efficient irrigation techniques and crops. Farmers that took on the improved plant varieties have decreased their water usage and improved their incomes by as much as 147 percent.

Due to the complexity of the issues surrounding water scarcity, cross-sector collaboration is crucial to establishing successful strategies for water management in business and industry. New partnerships are required that evaluate water risks in the value chain and share best practice to manage these risks.

Collaborative approaches to water management deliver positive results for entrepreneurs, water companies, global corporations and domestic water users, which in turn secures positive outcomes for both local communities and businesses.

——————–

Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

 

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May 18 2011

00:29

Decoupling Resource Consumption from Economic Growth and Human Prosperity


UNEP report makes the case for a new prosperity based on economic decoupling from resource consumptionIn a report released last week, the United Nations Environmental Program projects that aggregate natural resource consumption could triple from current levels by 2050, to an average total of 140 billion tons  of ores, minerals, biomass, and fossil fuels per year.  The report warns that “the prospect of much higher resource consumption levels is far beyond what is likely sustainable” and calls on governments to “decouple” economic growth from the rapid rate of resource consumption.

With a world population expected to reach nine billion-plus people by mid-century, along rising prosperity in developing countries, it is essential, the report says, to “realize that prosperity and well-being do not depend on consuming ever-greater quantities of resources.”

The UNEP said there are already growing shortages of essential raw materials, including oil, copper, and gold. As these resources become rarer, extracting what is available will require more fuel and water to produce (think deepwater offshore drilling).

The concept of decoupling does not mean stopping growth, but learning how to do more with less, especially in the developed world, the report suggests. Achim Steiner, head of UNEP, says that rich countries find a way to “freeze” per capita consumption as a means of not only alleviating the environmental destruction from uncontrolled rates consumption, but also to avoid runaway prices and increased global conflict.

“Decoupling makes sense on all the economic, social and environmental dials,” Steiner told the Daily Telegraph. “People believe environmental ‘bads’ are the price we must pay for economic ‘goods.’”

“However, we cannot, and need not, continue to act as if this trade-off is inevitable. Decoupling is part of a transition to a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy needed in order to stimulate growth, generate decent kinds of employment and eradicate poverty in a way that keeps humanity’s footprint within planetary boundaries,” he said.

Redefining human prosperity

In his book Prosperity Without Growth, Tim Jackson lays a foundation for coming to grips with the unsustainability of current rates of consumption, calling into question the false dichotomy between environmental stewardship and economic growth and redefining the idea of human prosperity :

“The prevailing vision of prosperity as a continually expanding economic paradise has come unravelled,” Jackson writes. “Perhaps it worked better when economics were smaller and the world was less populated. But if it was ever fully fit for purpose, it certainly isn’t now.

Climate change, ecological degradation and the spectre of resource scarcity compound the problems of failing financial markets and economic recession. Short-term fixes to prop up a bankrupt system aren’t good enough. Something more is needed. An essential starting point is to set out a coherent notion of prosperity that doesn’t rely on default assumptions about consumption growth.”

Only through serious reexamination of the basis of human prosperity in relation to resource consumption will the world be able to balance the growing aspirations of more and more people. As economies in the developing world grow, they are in a position to align their growth within principals of sustainability. At the same time, rich nations will need to aggressively decouple their economic growth from increasing rates of resource extraction and consumption. The balance is only achieved when the seemingly disparate needs of both worlds find common ground within the limits of the one world we all inhabit.

Many may see the choice as a zero-sum game – winning comes at the loss of another. But if “winning” is defined as prosperity now and for future generations, then pitting winners against losers is the road to ruin.

“At the heart of the book lies a very simple question,” writes Jackson in his book. “What can prosperity possibly look like in a finite world, with limited resources and a population expected to exceed 9 billion people within decades? Do we have a decent vision of prosperity for such a world? Is this vision credible in the face of available evidence about ecological limits? How do we go about turning vision into reality?”

First steps of a decoupled economy

Some decoupling of growth to rates of consumption has already started, the UNEP report states. World gross domestic product rose by a factor of 23 through the course of the 20th century, with resource use only rising by a factor of eight. The urbanization and increasing focus on sustainable urban development is lowering per capita consumption – but it isn’t enough, the UNEP warns. Current decoupling is relative and “at a rate that is insufficient to meet the needs of an equitable and sustainable society,” the report said.

The UNEP urges “significant changes” in government policy, corporate behavior, and individual consumer demands. Whether that happens or not does not reduce the inevitability of significant change of one sort or another in the coming decades.

The world our children will inhabit will not look like the one in which we now live, just as the world I was born into fifty-two years ago could only imagine what has now come to pass in the early 21st century. If change is assured the choice is then not to try to stop it, but to guide it in a direction sustainable growth and prosperity for the whole human endeavor.

Additional sources and further reading:
UNEP report home: Decoupling: natural resource use and environmental impacts from economic growth
Report summary
(pdf)

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