COP23: Forward-Thinking Companies Are Shifting Markets and Driving the Clean Energy Transition
By Mike Peirce
The Conference of the Parties (COP) is a place for policy and a place for deals. But the COP is also a moment in time—a chance for the wider climate community to reflect on progress towards a clean energy transition, to challenge the terms of the debate, and to put forward ideas, money and commitments to action.
For those not spending the time marching the kilometer or more between the negotiators' Bula Zone and the Bonn Zone—stopping off at the U.S. Climate Action Pavilion on the way—you can still feel the surge in interest: a flurry of state-of-the-world journalism, the publication of academic and practitioner research, and pronouncements from political leaders and campaigners.
The Climate Group's work takes place at this spot on the border of the negotiations. We know from our work with business leaders and policymakers that climate action is happening outside of the negotiating room as much as in it, with leading sub-national governments and major companies accelerating the transition to a zero-emissions economy.
At the close of last week and through the weekend, the Bonn conference hosted a succession of debates, structured thematically as Energy Day, Transport Day and Industry Day. Over these three days, the COP crowd heard a series of new commitments and statements of progress across three areas of action that we believe define 21st century business leadership—renewables, energy productivity, and electric mobility.
The Climate Group's business programs—RE100 (renewables), EP100 (energy productivity) and EV100 (electric vehicles)—are focused on these three key areas. By bringing together leading businesses making the highest levels of commitments, they are designed to create demand signals that can shift markets in favor of clean technologies, as well as influence the wider policy landscape.
Why are these campaigns needed? The simple answer is that large companies are major consumers of energy; they are vehicle fleet owners and bulk purchasers; and they are landlords and owners of much of the urban built environment. Through their procurement and management decisions, these businesses—collectively—can quickly shape and re-configure markets. Our campaigns seek to harness this power to help accelerate the clean energy transition by getting corporates to make ambitious commitments.
EV100 provides a platform for companies to showcase their electric vehicle leadership, enabling them to reduce investment costs through best practice sharing, and engage in dialogue with governments and other stakeholders to collaboratively address the remaining barriers. And on Energy Day, four businesses from New Zealand, Japan and the Netherlands committed to transition to electric vehicles by 2030, joining the ten companies that formed the launch group for the campaign in September.
On the same day, RE100 announced a new joiner, the international consultancy and construction company Mace, which strives to create more sustainable cities and communities. This UK-based company is committed to achieving 100 percent renewable electricity globally by 2022. More significantly, as the 115th member of RE100, the company joins a group which now generates demand for more than 153TWh of renewable electricity annually—more than it takes to power Poland.
The contribution of EVs to the energy transition is of course highly dependent on the supply of renewable energy. Equally, the role of renewables is maximized when companies are able to radically reduce the consumption of energy for every unit of output or value created. This ambition to enhance the productivity of energy is at the heart of the EP100 campaign. And Energy Day also heard from one of India's leading cement producers, Dalmia Cement, who announced that the company is already almost halfway towards its goal of doubling its energy productivity by 2030. The company has one of the lowest carbon footprints of cement production globally.
In the next few days, we will wait to hear the impact of these and other announcements on the COP negotiations. The continued momentum we're seeing should provide the spark and reassurance needed to drive greater ambition among policymakers But the most distinctive message is that the action is continuing apace in any case. Why? Because it makes business sense. Forward-thinking companies are acting now to ready their operations for the future, while responding to consumer demand. With the backing of policymakers at COP23, they will be inspired to move even faster.
Sweden's reindeer have a problem. In winter, they feed on lichens buried beneath the snow. But the climate crisis is making this difficult. Warmer temperatures mean moisture sometimes falls as rain instead of snow. When the air refreezes, a layer of ice forms between the reindeer and their meal, forcing them to wander further in search of ideal conditions. And sometimes, this means crossing busy roads.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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