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The world's been busy tackling climate change. These are five positive actions!

image credit: http://www.seedballskenya.com/

The biggest environmental crisis facing the world today is climate change. The extreme atmospheric changes over the last century and the ensuing economic and social disruptions that these have had on our lives, give credence to this global crisis. But what is the world up to, in its bid to fighting climate change? In my recent readings, I came across some significant and positive actions that the world, at various levels and sectors, is undertaking to fight climate change and with these and many more, we're headed in the right direction.

 

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To begin with, it is refreshing to know that 120 of the world's countries have made commitment to net-zero carbon emissions to be achieved at various target dates. A few of these include Norway by 2030, the UK and France by 2050 and China, the world's largest emitter of CO2 by 2060. Apart from these "serious-minded" countries, other countries are also doing their bits to mitigate the effects of climate change. Kenya for example is embarking on reforestation initiatives and employing really innovative ways of planting trees. The country is planting trees with special 'seedballs' covered in charcoal dust to prevent animals from eating the seeds and to protect them from sun until the natural environmental conditions are ripped for germination. The seeds are broadcast using various innovative methods to ensure that the seeds take roots where they land. Kenya has distributed over 13 million seedballs since 2016 and the survival rate is remarkably high.

 

About one thousand (1000) multinational companies have commBiodegradable flip-flops made from algaeitted to reducing emissions (World Resources Institute), while some 340 companies have committed to become net-zero. Recall that net-zero emissions by 2050 is the level of commitment that the IPCC says will be necessary to hold global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius in order to avoid the worse impacts of climate change. Top global companies from varied sectors of industry including automotive, oil and gas, consumer goods, technology and services, energy and power, etc have committed to achieving net-zero emissions at various times. Prominent among these companies are Apple Inc., Ford Motors, Amazon, BP and Nestle. All together, these 340 companies have a carbon footprint bigger than the country of France for instance. Educational and research institutions are also making significant contributions to the fight. Research scientists at the University of California, San Diego are making biodegradable flip-flops from algae which are grown in dense ponds. The algae are then turned into paste and its oil extracted to build polymers, just like plastic. The flip-flops can decompose in just 18 weeks when left in compost. This innovative initiative by UC San Diego could help tackle plastic pollution significantly.

 

Cities across the globe have joined the fight. No alt text provided for this imageThe United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) reports that about 400 cities around the world now aim for net-zero emissions by 2050. That is remarkable. Many of these cities are taking great innovative steps to combat climate change. Paris for example is creating about 650km of new cycle lanes by getting rid of some 72% of on-street car parking spaces (Anne Hidalgo/Le Figaro), to make way for the city's new 'corona-ways'. The city also aims at becoming a '15-minute' city where everything you need is close by. The city of Shenzhen in China has electrified its entire fleet of public buses. The whole city of Amsterdam will be a zero-emission zone by 2030 and the city authorities say, by this initiative, Amsterdam will reduce its CO2 emission by 9%, improving air quality and public health. The Toronto-based non-profit organisation, 880 Cities, has reported that about 490 cities around the world have copied Bogota's idea of closing 120km of its streets to traffic every Sunday and on public holidays. This initiative helps to reduce emissions from road transport in cities. The city of Cape Town in South Africa is "moving mountains" to stem the effects of climate change as it faces an 'uncertain climate future'. The city's Energy2040 and ECAP programs provide a road-map for Cape Town to achieve carbon emissions reduction of up to 37% by 2040.

 

No alt text provided for this imageFinancial institutions are abandoning fossil fuels and banking their money in clean energy. The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) reports that 130 private banks have agreed to align with the Paris Agreement. The European Investment Bank will, from 2022, stop funding oil, gas and coal projects. Similarly, the world's largest asset management firm, Blackrock, is shifting its US$7 trillion portfolio to focus on climate change.

 

 

Lastly, but not the least, the mood of the people is also shifting and their conscNo alt text provided for this imageience awakening to the realities of the impending climate catastrophe. From Greta Thunberg's school strikes to the Extinction Rebellion, the public appetite for change and against the "business as usual" is growing rapidly. The global environmental movement, Extinction Rebellion, is aimed at "using nonviolent civil disobedience to compel government actions to avoid tipping points in the climate system, biodiversity loss, and the risk of social and ecological collapse". They say, "life as we know it is on the brink of collapse". In September 2019, over 7.6 million people joined what became known as the largest global climate strike in history. 350.org, organizers of the strikes, say the goal is to "end the use of fossil fuels and transition to renewable energy by building a global, grassroots movement". This is the extent to which the public's interest has risen in the matter of climate change and the desire to reverse or halt the phenomenon. 

 

What is your country, city or company doing to tackle climate change?

What is your individual contribution to tackling the global crisis?

You may want to plant a tree or two, use a bicycle instead of car to work, manage your household energy use or use energy efficient appliances.

Discussions

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 12, 2021

So important to reflect on successes as we work towards even greater progress-- thanks for sharing, Stan! I think the financial institutions shifting away from funding fossil fuels is a huge on that isn't getting enough attention. While some people may view it as performative and them doing the right thing simply for publicity, the motivation isn't as important as the impact it could have on the energy industry. Do you think that will end up having a greater impact than direct policy and/or regulation will? 

Stan Akembula's picture
Stan Akembula on Jan 13, 2021

Thanks Matt for the comment. Yes some people may view these interventions as 'just PR gimmicks' but trust me, there are really serious capital investment flights from fossil fuels to renewables. In the last decade alone, global investment in coal has plummeted by 80%. Coal plants are being shut around the world as a result. In 2008, Peabody Energy was the largest privately-owned coal company in the world. In 2016, just 8 years later, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In 2020, global capital investment in RE was US$1.5 trillion surpassing coal, gas, oil and nuclear power combined. According to Goldman Sachs, investment in RE is projected to be US$16 trillion over the next decade. In 2020, more than 66% of new capital investment in power generation alone went to renewable power. These are the real practical steps that investors and financial institutions are taking in favour of RE and they have direct impact on the RE industry. So yes, while I agree that policy and regulatory frameworks are necessary for the energy transition to RE, the real impact lies in where the money goes! 

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 13, 2021

the real impact lies in where the money goes! 

For better or worse, it's hard to argue against this truism! Thanks for the great insights and the follow up. 

Julian Jackson's picture
Julian Jackson on Jan 15, 2021

While I am an enthusiastic advocated for a "Green Industrial Revolution" and Smart Cities to engage in a new leap forward to much cleaner technology, including of course many things suggested above and others, reforestation/rewilding and better building insulation are easy wins, unfortunately the reduction in Arctic ice is uncovering new fossil fuel deposits which several nations, including Russia, are eyeing with glee and will undermine emissions reduction elsewhere, so outlook is not wholly positive. Fossil fuels are responsible for plastics and pharmaceuticals which aren't easily phased out.  

John Snyder's picture
John Snyder on Jan 15, 2021

The climate crisis is due to CO2 already in the atmosphere.  If the world stopped emitting more CO2 today, the crisis would continue to get worse.

Reforestation is the only action mentioned here that removes CO2 from the atmosphere.  It is ineffective if more trees are cut down for biomass than are planted.

Investors depend on growth rates.  The faster the better.  Renewable Portfolio Standards and tax incentives in the U.S. were mandated to get investment in job creation. They have accomplished that.  When mandates, tax incentives and growth rates disappear, investors will search for the next golden goose.

Recession and cheap natural gas are more effective at reducing current CO2 emissions than Renewable Energy, especially when biofuels emit CO2. 

The cost of addressing the climate crisis will be high.  And those costs should be distributed equally across the globe according to an individual's ability to pay, not by government mandate.

Government mandates to shut down the coal industry penalize the poor by denying them high paying jobs, coal as a cheap fuel for heating and cooking, and a better quality of life.  Why is this morally consciable?  To feel good about reducing CO2 emissions?  To make money from investment in Renewable Energy? 

Net-zero carbon emissions requires that we mine carbon from the atmosphere instead of the ground to make transportation and heating fuels.  This will be expensive and require carbon-free nuclear power to recycle gigaton quantities of carbon.  But the costs can be distributed justly by an individual's ability to pay for recycled fuels.

So please stop with meaningless net-zero goals based on growth in Renewable Energy.  Give investors the next golden goose, create jobs, stimulate the Covid19 devastated economy, enhance our national security, and stop saving the planet on the backs of the poor in this world.  How?  Mandate recycling of CO2 from the atmosphere with carbon-free electricity, including wind and solar.  Provide tax incentives for investment in the infrastructure necessary to recycle CO2. 

Think of recycling as reforestation on steroids.

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Jan 15, 2021

If, as you say:

When mandates, tax incentives and growth rates disappear, investors will search for the next golden goose.

Tax penalties for carbon emissions should be the next "golden goose".   That will help avoid this:

... cheap natural gas are more effective at reducing current CO2 emissions than Renewable Energy...

It may be that carbon taxes will propel renewables and battery storage still further ahead.  The development of safe and cost effective technology to fill the gap will decide.

Rami Reshef's picture
Rami Reshef on Jan 17, 2021

Interesting post Stan Akembula! It reminds me of a coach that suggested that he was able to improve his soccer team's game not by criticizing the players' mistakes, but instead praising them fervently on their best plays, by so doing encouraging them to repeat them. Perhaps by widely promoting these important sustainability successes we can encourage others to follow their lead.  

Our company GenCell is looking to expand our zero-emission fuel cell deployments in Africa,where we know that many regions suffer from air pollution caused by the emissions from fossil fuel generators.  Our efforts are constrained in many locations by the lack of hydrogen infrastructure - without accessible hydrogen, or liquid ammonia for our soon-to-be-commercial off-grid solutions, our fuel cell solutions have difficulty achieving sufficient ROI. 

If the bankers that are interested in promoting Renewable Energy in Africa were to finance green hydrogen and green ammonia production in Africa,which could be synthesized using the daytime surplus energy from large sun and wind farms, we could use this fuel to rapidly expand rural electrification on the continent, electrification that would drive more local businesses and improve quality of life for many Africans.  

I join you in commending the many positive steps that have been taken to stop climate change so far and hope that they will inspire us all to double down on our efforts and accelerate the transition to a clean energy future.

Stan Akembula's picture
Stan Akembula on Jan 20, 2021

Very interesting concept there with GenCell, Rami. Admittedly, air pollution is a major environmental challenge in many cities in Africa, including Lagos Nigeria, Nairobi Kenya, Accra Ghana, Johannesburg South Africa, etc. There been talks about green hydrogen on the continent in recent times. I have participated in a couple of conferences where green hydrogen has come up strongly especially in Kenya, Botswana, Uganda and Tanzania.

However, I think that the concept has yet to receive attention in Africa, as it has in other parts of the world. The early adopters are always best winners; thus it may be refreshing to begin looking at the potential scaling up this technology in strategic parts of the continent.

Together, we can rid the world of CO2 emission and bring clean and affordable energy to many.

Stan Akembula's picture

Thank Stan for the Post!

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