Tech behemoths Google and Facebook have upped their respective pledges to the environment, joining the ranks of Apple and Microsoft. Earlier this year, Microsoft pledged to go carbon negative by 2030, meaning it will account for all the carbon it has ever produced and add enough mitigation to counteract its effect.
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By Jo Harper
Only 10% of global energy utility companies are expanding their renewable energy capacity at a faster rate than their gas or coal-fired capacity. That is the main finding of a study by Galina Alova from the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford.
The Matter of Gas<p>The report found that 10% of utilities favored growth in gas-fired power plants, dominated by the US utilities exploiting the country's shale gas reserves, followed by Russia and Germany.</p><p>"Renewables and natural gas often go hand in hand," Alova said, adding that companies often choose both in parallel. "So, it might be just in media reports we are getting this image of investing in renewables, but less coverage on continued investment in gas." </p><p>It might also be the case that gas is viewed as a transition fuel, relatively less carbon emitting and providing load-balancing services to intermittent renewables generation, Alova said.</p><p>Dave Jones, senior electricity analyst for independent climate think tank Ember, agrees with Alova that utilities have hindered the transition by "misunderstanding the future of gas." Utilities have a mindset to build big centralized power plants, replacing a coal power plant with a gas power plant, he said. "Fortunately, most of the gas hype across the world is now dying down, as wind and <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/cheap-solar-energy-prices-explained/a-53590607" target="_blank">solar now provide cheaper options</a> for generating electricity," Jones said.</p>
Green Movement Taking Place<p>Over a fifth of Europe's energy was generated by solar panels and wind turbines in the first half of 2020, according to a report by Ember. Denmark came out on top, generating 64% of its energy from these renewable sources, followed by Ireland (49%) and <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/renewables-make-up-over-half-of-germanys-power-mix/a-52986924" target="_blank">Germany</a> (42%).</p><p>In Ember's half-year review released in July, renewables exceeded fossil fuel generation for the first time ever, producing 40% of the EU's power, with fossil fuels contributing 34%. However, globally only a tenth of all energy was generated by these sources during the first half of 2020. </p><p>Last year saw the use of coal to generate electricity around the world fall by a record 3%. In part due to COVID-19, coal generation in the first half of 2020 again broke records with a drop of 8.3%. In the EU, the drop was higher, as coal energy generation fell by nearly a third.</p>
Slowly Getting There?<p>Utilities have been slow to understand how quickly wind and solar would drop in price, and also how quickly governments would want to move away from coal. "Many utilities have been caught off guard by the speed of the transition, and have suffered financially ever since," said Jones.</p><p>The world this year has generated one-tenth of its electricity from wind and solar, double from the 5% in 2015, and that increase has led to a fall in market share of coal generation, Jones added. </p><p>Valentina Kretzschmar from consultancy Wood Mackenzie says BP's recently announced strategy has created a new industry benchmark. BP plans to increase investment in its low-emission businesses, including renewable energy, by tenfold in the next decade to $5 billion (€4.5 billion) a year, while cutting back oil and gas production by 40%.</p><p>In July, Royal Dutch Shell won a deal to build a wind farm off the coast of the Netherlands, while France's Total has agreed to make several large investments in solar power in Spain and a wind farm off Scotland. Total also bought an electric and natural gas utility in Spain. Shell has said it will <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/mexico-sells-rights-to-19-offshore-oil-fields-for-over-500-million/a-42393559" target="_blank">delay offshore oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico</a> and in the North Sea.</p><p>US giants like Exxon Mobil and Chevron, however, have been slower than their European counterparts to commit to climate goals.</p><p>"I have seen a substantial shift between companies in the fossil fuel clusters toward renewables," Alova said. "This signals that the companies that have been growing fossil fuel portfolios in the earlier time periods might be switching to renewables more recently."</p>
Transitioning to renewable energy can help reduce global warming, and Jennie Stephens of Northeastern University says it can also drive social change.
For example, she says that locally owned businesses can lead the local clean energy economy and create new jobs in underserved communities.
"We really need to think about … connecting climate and energy with other issues that people wake up every day really worried about," she says, "whether it be jobs, housing, transportation, health and well-being."
To maximize that potential, she says the energy sector must have more women and people of color in positions of influence. Research shows that leadership in the solar industry, for example, is currently dominated by white men.
"I think that a more inclusive, diverse leadership is essential to be able to effectively make these connections," Stephens says. "Diversity is not just about who people are and their identity, but the ideas and the priorities and the approaches and the lens that they bring to the world."
So she says by elevating diverse voices, organizations can better connect the climate benefits of clean energy with social and economic transformation.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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By Isabelle Gerretsen
"When I told people I was going to grow tomatoes in the desert, they thought I was crazy," Sky Kurtz, founder of Pure Harvest Smart Farms, told DW.
Water Scarcity and Fossil-Fuel Reliance<p>The technology uses minimal land and up to 95% less water than conventional agriculture. </p><p>The hydroponics system places the plants' roots directly into a water-based and nutrient-rich solution instead of soil. This "closed loop" system captures and recirculates all the water, rather than allowing it to drain away — useful for a country like the UAE suffering from extremely high water stress.</p><p>Globally, agriculture accounts for 70% of freshwater withdrawals, and UAE is extracting groundwater faster than it can be replenished, according to the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA).</p><p>"Water is very expensive over in the UAE, but energy is cheap as it is subsidized," says Jan Westra, a strategic business developer at Priva, a company providing technology to vertical farms.</p><p>The artificially controlled environment is energy intensive because the air conditioning and LED lights need a constant source of electricity.</p><p>This bringing forth of life in the desert could come at a high environmental cost. Most of that energy comes from carbon-emitting fossil fuels, even as the Middle Eastern country feel the effects of climate change.</p><p>By 2050 Abu Dhabi's average temperature is <a href="https://benthamopen.com/FULLTEXT/TOASCJ-13-56" target="_blank">predicted to increase by around 2.5°C</a> (36.5 F) in a business-as-usual scenario. Over the next 70 years patterns of rainfall are also expected to change.</p>
Integrating Renewable Energy<p>Although Pure Harvest is building a solar-powered farm in neighboring Saudi Arabia, its UAE operations get electricity from the carbon-intensive national grid.</p><p>Investing more in renewables "is a goal of ours," Kurtz told DW. He said the company has not set a clean energy target but is working on various green power projects, including a plan to integrate solar power generated in UAE into its operations. </p><p>However, Willem van der Schans, a researcher specializing in short supply chains at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, says sustainability and clean energy should be "inherent in the technology and included in plans when starting a vertical farm." </p><p>He argues that many vertical farming companies are not sustainable in terms of energy as they still view clean power as an optional "add-on."</p><p>Ismahane Elouafi, director general of the government funded ICBA in Abu Dhabi, acknowledges that vertical farming has some way to go before achieving "real sustainability," but she believes the innovations are "promising."</p><p>Improved battery storage, increasingly efficient LED lights and cheaper solar panels will help, she adds. </p>
Local Solutions<p>By 2050, the UAE government wants to generate almost half its energy from renewable sources.</p><p>Fred Ruijgt, a vertical farming specialist at Priva, argues that it's important to factor transport and refrigeration into the energy equation. Vertical farming uses more energy to grow crops than traditional agriculture, but because crops are grown locally, they do not have to be transported by air, sea or truck over long distances. </p><p>"The energy saving is difficult to calculate exactly, but the advantages of locally grown crops are huge," he says, adding that those grown in vertical farms not only use less water and pesticides, but that they also have a longer shelf life due to minimal transportation time. </p>
Food Security and Coronavirus<p>In 2018, the UAE set out its vision to become a hub for high-tech local food production.</p><p>Companies and investors have flocked to the region, attracted by the 0% corporate tax rate, low labor costs and cheap energy. With their help, UAE aims to reduce its reliance on imports and make its food system more resilient to shocks like climate change and pandemics. </p><p>Oshima from Aerofarms says the coronavirus pandemic has brought "greater appreciation of how fragile the supply chain is and raised questions about food safety and security."</p><p>When the UAE went into lockdown in April, imported supplies of perishable goods like vegetables fell and business boomed for local suppliers.</p><p>ICBA's Elouafi said they have helped keep the UAE well-stocked during the pandemic.</p><p>"With the help of local food production and adequate imports, there has been absolutely no shortage of food in the UAE," Elouafi told DW.</p><p>Climate change, however, poses an altogether more complex threat to the country in the long-term. Given climate change's likely impact on food production, she says vertical farming has shown it is "an economically viable proposition even with harsh climatic conditions."</p>
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The computer and phone giant Apple pledged to be carbon neutral by 2030, following the lead of other tech companies dedicated to mitigating their impact on the climate crisis. Apple's commitment extends to its massive supply chain, which supplies computers, tablets and iPhones to customers around the world.
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World Mayors Call for Car-Free Streets, End to Fossil Fuel Subsidies as Part of ‘Green and Just Recovery’
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