Renewable Energy Growth Mitigates Climate Change While Boosting Economy, IEA Reports
The International Energy Agency (IEA) announced this month that 2014 carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector leveled off—the first time in 40 years this has happened without being linked to an economic downturn.
According to the IEA:
“Global emissions of carbon dioxide stood at 32.3 billion tonnes in 2014, unchanged from the preceding year. The preliminary IEA data suggest that efforts to mitigate climate change may be having a more pronounced effect on emissions than had previously been thought.
The IEA attributes the halt in emissions growth to changing patterns of energy consumption in China and OECD countries. In China, 2014 saw greater generation of electricity from renewable sources, such as hydropower, solar and wind, and less burning of coal. In OECD economies, recent efforts to promote more sustainable growth—including greater energy efficiency and more renewable energy—are producing the desired effect of decoupling economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions."
While this halt in global emissions may not survive this year's cut in oil prices, it's still a promising sign that the increased adoption of renewable energy technology, increased use of energy efficiency measures and the transition to a renewable economy, is well underway.
In Europe, three countries have already met their renewable energy targets five years ahead of schedule. According to United Press International, Bulgaria, Estonia, and Sweden have all surpassed the required goal of 20 percent renewable energy by 2020, mandated by the EU for each member country, with several other European countries, such as Italy, Romania and Lithuania, not far behind.
China's commitment to reducing air pollution has likely had a huge effect on the leveling off of global carbon emissions, as its dependence on coal dropped for the first time in a decade and its clean energy consumption increased. Bloomberg Business reported that:
“China led in renewables last year with investments of $89.5 billion, accounting for almost one out of every three dollars spent on clean energy in the world, according to BNEF figures released in January."
The U.S also reached new renewable energy milestones, with solar accounting for one-third of new generating capacity last year, more than any other energy source besides natural gas. The Washington Post also reported that electricity generated from renewable energy in 2014 outgrew that of fossil fuels, with wind power growing faster than all other sources and solar power more than doubling.
An important stimulus for the deployment of solar in the U.S. has been the Solar Investment Tax Credit, which has contributed to the over 1,600 percent annual growth in solar installation since 2006 and 86 percent increase in solar employment over the past four years. Unfortunately, this credit is set to expire at the end of 2016, threatening the thriving solar industry. The International Business Times reports a possible drop in solar installation of more than 85 percent in 2017 if the credit is not renewed. It would be a shame to see the momentum of solar interrupted with the expiration of the credit, much like the wind industry experienced with the on-again/off-again expirations and extensions of the Production Tax Credit. While a recent U.S. Department of Energy analysis on wind power finds that wind will be cheaper than natural gas within a decade even without a federal tax incentive, an inconsistent tax credit has made steady, long-term development of wind power difficult, according to Bloomberg Business.
While the shift to renewable energy is clearly underway in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, government needs to do more to accelerate the use of renewable energy while decelerating the growth of fossil fuels. As Chris Mooney from the Washington Post puts it:
“Here's the bad news … Wind and solar are still only contributing a small fraction of the total electricity that we use, and far, far less than coal. They may be growing faster, but they're very far behind."
The U.S. federal government has a variety of tools it can deploy in order to influence the energy consumption of corporations, individuals, and even other nations. The most fundamental of these tools, and one which can be best done by government, is to fund the science needed to build the technological base for a sustainable economy.
We need to develop a way to get off of fossil fuels and more efficiently store energy. While there may be plenty of fossil fuel supplies left in the crust of the Earth, it is increasingly complicated to get it out of the ground, transport it and burn it. We need to focus our brainpower on developing cheaper, more reliable and more convenient forms of renewable energy, and direct policy toward developing and implementing new renewable energy and energy storage technologies. Government must fund the basic research, and enough of the applied research, to demonstrate possible profitability.
In my new book, Sustainability Policy: Hastening the Transition to a Sustainable Economy, written with my Columbia University colleagues William Eimicke and Alison Miller, we argue for increased government funding for the basic science needed for renewable energy and other sustainable technologies. We explain how government can help direct capital toward the commercialization of new technologies and can use its vast purchasing power to help speed the implementation of these new technologies. By exploring innovative sustainability initiatives being implemented by governments—at the state, local and federal levels—this book shows the importance of public-private partnerships in creating a sustainable economy.
While the private sector has a significant role to play in the transition to a sustainable economy, it cannot make the transition from a waste-based economy to a renewable one by itself. This transition can only happen if we create public-private partnerships, as the public and private sectors are equipped for different roles and there are specific tasks uniquely suited to government. Public-private partnerships have been behind some of the most transformative technologies in our history: the internet, the cell phone, GPS, jet planes and so on. We need to continue to invest in the technologies of the future.
In my view, the transition to a renewable economy has begun. Our demand for a clean economy and for breathable air, healthy food and drinkable water is stimulating the development of new technologies. Hastening the transition to a renewable energy economy is a difficult but feasible task, and one which can only be accomplished with increased government support.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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Green groups applauded Sen. Jeff Merkley on Wednesday for introducing a pioneering pair of bills that aim to "protect the long-term health and well-being of the American people and their economy from the catastrophic effects of climate chaos" by preventing banks and international financial institutions from financing fossil fuels.