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3 Low-Carbon Transportation Technologies Driving Development in the Global South

Transportation accounts for around one-seventh of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And globally, greenhouse gas emissions are rising faster in transportation than in any other sector, with rapid motorization — more cars and trucks — being the principal cause.

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Enhanced mobility has many positive effects on economic development and social welfare, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, including more efficient movement of goods and improved access to jobs, health services and education. But if this is achieved primarily through increased reliance on conventional private cars, it can mean diverting substantial financial resources to roads and suffering worse air pollution and traffic congestion. The benefits are huge, but the costs also can be significant. And this is accentuated in the developing nations of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Most are experiencing rapid population growth and urbanization, and many have fast-growing economies.

But while the United States and some other wealthy countries struggle with crumbling transportation infrastructure riddled with underfunded bus, subway and light rail systems, many developing countries in the global South are facing an interesting challenge: developing low-carbon transportation systems where no formal transportation infrastructure previously existed. This provides both an opportunity and a challenge: because many cities in the global South lack substantial public transportation infrastructure, they can start with a relatively clean slate — but starting from scratch also can be difficult.

Some developing countries also face issues of changing the historical transportation industry structure, said Rachel Kyte, VP of sustainable development at the World Bank, in a 2011 interview. Many coun­tries in Africa, Latin America and Asia have bus systems that are owned and operated by a large number of small operators. Having a large number of small operators allows for low-cost services, but often leads to poor quality due to severe competition. Other problems include dangerous driving practices, pollution and a tendency to have too much service on profitable routes and virtual­ly no service on non-profitable routes.

Despite these challenges, some current and forthcoming innovations in public transportation are already or soon could help countries in the global South achieve low-carbon transportation systems. Here are some of the promising:

1. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)

BRT is a bus-based mass transit system that generally has specialized design, services and infrastructure to improve system quality and remove the typical causes of delay. Sometimes described as a “surface subway,” BRT aims to combine the capacity and speed of light rail or metro with the flexibility, lower cost and simplicity of a bus system.

One of the best examples of BRT in the global South is the TransMilenio in Bogotá, Colombia. Opened to the public in 2000, TransMilenio consists of several interconnecting BRT lines, each composed of many elevated stations in the center of a main avenue. Users pay at the station entrance using a smart card, pass through a turnstile and wait for buses inside the station. The bus and station doors open simultaneously, and passengers board by walking across the threshold. TransMilenio buses enjoy their own dedicated lanes on the city’s sprawling and congested roads. For a city of 9 million people, TransMilenio was a godsend.

During my year living in Bogotá, I experienced TransMilenio firsthand, as it was my primary means of transportation across the sprawling city. While the system works well during non-peak hours, trying to use it during rush hour is a lesson into what it’s like to be a sardine. Granted, my Colombian friends told me of the horrors of trying to get across town before TransMilenio — people were forced to take so-called colectivos, or small private buses that run random routes throughout the city. Colectivos still play an integral role in getting people around, but for long-distance travel within the city, TransMilenio drastically cuts commute times — while it could take hours on a colectivo to get from one side of the city to the other, TransMilenio can cut this down to less than an hour.

2. Traffic-Straddling Buses

As crazy as it sounds, China has built a massive bus that straddles multiple lanes of cars to move commuters without creating additional traffic. Recently unveiled in Qinhuangdao, China, the prototype bus is limited to a 300 meter long track, with limited turns and traffic challenges.

If the bus proves capable of handling a wide variety of streets and traffic conditions, it could one day carry upwards of 1,200 passengers at speeds of close to 40 miles per hour. Adding a fleet of these buses to a crowded city center would be hundreds of millions of dollars cheaper than introducing new subways or elevated trains to help ease congestion.

3. Hyperloop

First proposed in 2013 by Tesla and SpaceX visionary Elon Musk, the ‘Hyperloop’ Transport System, has been promised to be capable of rapidly transporting people from Los Angeles to San Francisco via a tube in under 30 minutes. Earlier this year,Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), the startup aspiring to bring the Hyperloop to life, began construction on a full-scale, passenger-ready Hyperloop. The prototype will run 5 miles through Quay Valley, a planned community rising from nothing along Interstate 5, midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

But the first commercial application of the Hyperloop technology would make more sense in the developing world, according to Dirk Ahlborn, CEO of HTT, during an appearance late last year. Cities such as Beijing and Bombay have serious transportation problems, and the Hyperloop could help address them. If powered by renewable energy, the Hyperloop could provide a form of fast, efficient and sustainable travel. Musk claimed that the Hyperloop is going to do for the 21st century what the railroad did for the 19th.
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Green buildings catching on in South Africa

South Africans are increasingly opting for green property solutions in both their residential and commercial investments. This is excellent news for property values in the future, and is increasingly setting the standard for planning and construction.

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According to a recent study of industry stakeholders by US-based construction think-tank Dodge Data and Analytics, “green building” – that is, designing buildings to limit their environmental impact – is making strong headway in South Africa. It estimated that around 41% of the country’s construction activity in 2015 was green. This was the highest of the 13 countries surveyed.

The countries surveyed include both mature markets for green solutions (such as Germany and the UK), and emerging markets (such as India and Colombia). The average level of green construction activity across all 13 was 24%.

Moreover, South African firms report high expectations of green work in future. Some 61% expect green building to account for more than 60% of their operations by 2018.

Green buildings are rapidly becoming the big story of the real estate industry.

Green buildings make sense

Conventional buildings make a significant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, and consume large volumes of water.
From the perspective of environmental protection, green buildings make sense. It’s particularly encouraging to note that the Dodge study found that going green in South Africa was driven by a sense of it being ‘the right thing to do’, and by the requirements of clients. This shows that environmental concerns are increasingly integrated into the property market.

For South African property owners, the experience of power outages and escalating electricity tariffs make green solutions such as solar power a practical consideration.

Although greening a building – whether building new or retrofitting – can be expensive, the savings in future operational costs invariably make the initial investment worthwhile.

Green buildings are about comfortable and productive living that takes into account the realities of our environmental stresses. They are also an excellent investment: green features can add to the value of a property and make it vastly more attractive to buyers. And they are also the future: what is considered distinctly green today, will be standard in years to come.
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How to globalize the sustainable city

The New Urban Agenda must reinforce three key city assets, says ICLEI secretary general Gino Van Begin: Ambitious leaders, skilled staff, and strong community and stakeholder engagement.

This is life in a sustainable city. You weave through other cyclists each morning on a seamless network of cycle tracks that bring you straight to work at a renewable-energy start-up. The air is fresh and light, filtered by native trees and shrubs that line the streets.

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Your office is adjacent to a public park that replaced a once-vacant plot of land. It has a popular picnic area that is full of different languages and accents when the weather is dry and a rain garden to absorb excess water from storms. When leaving the office after dark, you can see bright constellations of stars in the sky.

Can you picture this happening in your city? Can you picture it in every city around the world?

For some, the notion of living in a sustainable city can feel vague and distant, a dream of the future. But others are already living in this city or are advancing quickly towards it.

For ICLEI, sustainability is indisputably the necessary path for all city life and operations. Sustainable cities reap the benefits of environmental, social and economic innovation, becoming better equipped to respond to pressing urban challenges, shifting demographic and economic trends, and environmental change. They are designed with people and planet in mind.

Cities, towns and regions across the world join ICLEI to push the boundaries of sustainability and multiply the positive impacts they have on the world. At ICLEI, we envision no less than a world of sustainable cities that go beyond zero waste, are free from fossil fuels, and drive continual innovation in order to protect and enhance life equitably and for all.

A sustainable city goes beyond zero waste to become a productive system, upending the idea that economic growth relies on resource extraction and depletion of finite energy and materials. This city makes the most of existing resources through reuse, sharing, and exchange rather than relying on a continuous path of production and consumption.

In this way, the city restores and enhances natural systems. It also decreases dependence on international resource chains while creating a thriving sharing economy that changes consumption patterns among residents. Imagine a city where organic waste feeds thriving green space and urban gardens and where residents share rather than buy electric cars.

A sustainable city is on the fast track to becoming free from fossil fuels, proving that such dependence is a relic of the past. These cities diversify and modernize mobility and transport, commit to 100 percent renewable energy, and divest from fossil fuels.

Together, these strategies shift the balance of power away from industry. They also open up space for residents and small businesses to decide upon, participate in, and even profit from new energy systems. This is a city where residents sell excess solar power to the grid and can choose to ride biofuel buses or cycle to work.

A sustainable city is also a hub of economic, social and environmental innovation. These innovations, driven by local governments and residents, have the potential to transform nearly every aspect of urban life and city operations.

Innovation in a sustainable city means building a local economy that is brimming with green jobs. That process is supported by skills development and training, encouraging entrepreneurship, and employing smart ways of collecting data and translating it into innovative policy and action.

An innovative city also maps vulnerabilities and risks with data generated by residents. And it provides incubator space for start-up businesses of all kinds.

A sustainable city is on the fast track to becoming free from fossil fuels, proving that such dependence is a relic of the past.

Unique assets

The net effect is that sustainable cities ultimately protect and enhance daily life for all residents.

It is not easy for cities to achieve this vision. It takes myriad small steps to achieve big goals. Yet cities are already making progress and committing to bold action.

The world is past the point of questioning whether sustainable urban development is essential. It is clear that we need sustainable cities, and we are increasingly aware of the figures that support this vision: Cities represent more than two-thirds of the global economy and 70 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions. Over half the global population lives in cities, a figure that will rise to two-thirds by 2050.

We are quickly approaching the Habitat III conference in Quito, where nations will define the course of urbanization for the coming decades. Now is the time to ensure the New Urban Agenda — the conference’s outcome strategy — equips the world to create truly sustainable cities that meet our ambitious vision.

At ICLEI, we are well aware that cities have unique assets, with the potential to shift the trajectory of global development. The New Urban Agenda must therefore reinforce these assets to globalize the sustainable city and its concomitant benefits, with a particular focus on the following three areas.

Ambitious leaders: Sustainable cities have ambitious leaders who push the envelope of sustainability. They communicate a clear vision for their city and ensure that sustainability becomes the norm in daily life and discourse.

Curitiba, Brazil, stands out with a widely recognized tradition of sustainability and transport innovation brought about by visionary planning by Mayor Jaime Lerner in the 1960s. This legacy has continued under the leadership of Mayor Gustavo Fruet, who is advancing transport innovation as part of his own vision to continuously improve quality of life in the city.

The City of Seoul, South Korea, also is widely recognized as a pioneer in urban sustainability. Mayor Park Won Soon, who is also president of ICLEI, envisions a “new urbanization” that fights climate change, achieves energy self-reliance, and allows people and nature to coexist.

Under his leadership, Seoul is creating a thriving sharing city. It is also avoiding 10 million tonnes of greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020 through its “One Less Nuclear Power Plant” programme. The initiative sought to reduce energy consumption equivalent to one nuclear power plant — a goal that was reached before the project moved into a second phase.

Through the New Urban Agenda, nations must make room for ambitious leaders to be visible and engaged, advocating and shaping policies and mechanisms that enable cities to act on their ambitions.

Skilled staff: Sustainable cities can exist only with skilled government staff members who know precisely how to achieve the ambitions of city leaders. They understand the technical, natural and social systems that underlie everyday life in their cities, and can deliver interventions that will change the course of development.

Deborah Roberts of eThekwini municipality in Durban, South Africa, is one such example. As head of environmental planning and climate protection and Durban’s first chief resilience officer, she has invigorated biodiversity and community-based adaptation as a central part of urban planning. Ultimately, the aim is to bring together people and ecosystems in a way that creates jobs and alleviates poverty.

In 2011, Roberts helped rally more than 100 local governments around urban adaptation by bringing the Durban Adaptation Charter for local governments to the international climate talks that year. Most recently, in 2015, she was elected as co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II on Adaptation, as the first scientist with an urban practice background to take on this global role.

The New Urban Agenda must ensure that cities receive adequate funds to hire skilled staff and build their capacity to shape and carry out ambitious programmes and projects.

Strong community and stakeholder engagement: Civil society holds collective knowledge that is full of potential for outside-the-box thinking based on intimate knowledge of daily life in city neighbourhoods. Residents and community-based organizations are sources of ideas, data and feedback, and if leveraged properly, they can become powerful agents of change.

The City of Reykjavík, Iceland, has opened up unused urban space for residents to experiment with potential sustainable uses that support plans to liven public space, enhance creativity and engage residents in designing their own surroundings. Residents receive grants from the city to experiment temporarily with their space to spark discussions around more-permanent use.

At Habitat III, nations must encourage open processes for engaging members of civil society, and empower cities to respond to the demands, ideas and needs they present.

These are the key assets that differentiate cities and make them stand out from the crowd. When all three of these factors are strong, cities can transform themselves — and consequently the rest of the world. Now is the time to globalize the sustainable city and empower cities to lead this change.
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Paris Climate Accord’s Impacts to be Felt Beyond Emissions Through Supply Chains, Sustainability Initiatives

The unprecedented Paris climate accord is expected to bring additional focus on most or all sustainability initiatives by companies, and require additional tracking and reporting efforts, said executives at Source Intelligence (SI), a global compliance solution provider.

The Paris climate accord includes commitments from 186 of the 195 signatory countries to cut or limit the growth of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as more transparent reporting. These countries, in turn, are expected to place additional requirements on companies to reduce their overall carbon footprint, SI officials said.

“Already, just days after this historic accord, there are calls for stronger and lasting due diligence to ensure the goals and ideals of this pact will be fulfilled. This means continued and heightened focus on companies based in the European Union, in the Asia-Pacific region as well as the United States to carry out even more sustainability initiatives or increased reporting of these efforts,” said Jess Kraus, Chief Executive Officer of Source Intelligence. “The pressure for accurate and thorough reports will only increase.”

Source Intelligence, whose roots were in carbon reduction solutions, has now emerged as the global leader for supply chain transparency and reporting. Having created a scalable technology supported by a 24/7 multi-language engagement team and the world’s largest supplier data base, SI is currently providing an invaluable resource to many of the world’s largest brands facing a variety of compliance matters. These include mandatory conflict mineral reporting in the U.S., restricted substances reporting in the EU, human trafficking on a global basis and more.

Source: 3blmedia


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5 Energy Storage Trends to Watch in 2016

Looking back at 2015, it has been an exciting year for energy storage and for the renewable energy industry as a whole. We saw ever-increasing rates of rooftop PV installations, along with other renewable sources, and a concurrent increase in the installation of cutting-edge battery storage and management systems. In some cases, storage by itself has been more popular than ever, particularly in places where weather events can create reliability issues for the local grid.

As we look forward to 2016, we expect to see an even faster adoption of DERs, as both consumers and utilities look to increase the reliability and environmental aspects of the grid. While there are many factors at play, the five things worth watching in 2016 that will have outsized impact on the market.

1. Environmental and economic concerns will combine to accelerate the retirement of coal-fired generation and increase the importance of renewables.

One of the top concerns at the recent Climate Change Conference in Paris was to reduce the contribution of coal-fired electric plants to greenhouse gas emissions. Even before the conference began, the U.K. pledged to close coal-fired generation plants much earlier than previously planned. Both the U.S. and China, two of the largest coal users in the world, are reducing the role of coal in energy production over the coming years in order to meet vital environmental goals.

At the same time as environmental concerns are top of mind, lower cost is driving the increase in use of other energy sources. This is true both for fossil fuels like natural gas, as well as renewables like solar and wind. Between environment and economics, it seems unlikely that we’ll see any reversal of the downward momentum for coal as an energy source in 2016.

However, that doesn’t mean that we’ll see an overnight replacement of coal with renewables. In fact, even as China and the U.S. reduce the use of coal-generated electricity, its use could actually increase in India without some significant changes in the political and economic situation there. The good news is that nanogrids and microgrids that combine distributed generation with local energy storage can provide an important and economical alternative, especially in poorer or more isolated communities that are far removed from the grid. This can help not only in India, but around the world in places where it is just too costly or difficult to extend the existing grid.

2. The demand for flexibility from consumers and utilities alike will continue to increase.

One of the most important effects of the widespread use of customer-sited renewable generation and storage is to demonstrate to consumers that there are reliable, safe and environmentally sound alternatives to the traditional electricity market. As consumers examine the potential, they will insist on even more options and flexibility in terms of how their power is generated, stored and managed. They will expect any utility or other entity they deal with to provide this kind of flexibility, while at the same time maintaining a safe and reliable energy supply.

Of course, more flexibility for individual consumers means utilities have to deal with more complexity, while they also face increased challenges to maintain grid reliability. Consumers will want systems that can automatically make the best choices about energy usage and deliver the highest return; utilities will want to be able to manage the power coming onto the grid from these consumers, as well as deal with demand issues and keeping peak costs in check. With those demands and pressures, the role of storage and intelligent management in enabling flexibility and reliability is going to increase dramatically.

3. Legacy NEM will give way to new tariffs that are more closely tied to grid operating costs.

When rooftop solar was still in its infancy — and systems were far more expensive and less efficient than they are today — many states created net energy metering (NEM) regulatory structures that provided financial support for homeowners who were early adopters of solar. Those supports did their job and drove the uptake of solar, which in turn helped make the solar industry stronger, even as solar panels became cheaper and better.

Now that solar has become more widespread, there is a new set of issues to face, including the cost of managing and upgrading the grid to accommodate this two-way energy flow, and ensuring that the cost of some consumers going solar doesn’t fall so heavily on the shoulders of other ratepayers.

We’ve already seen this addressed in Hawaii, which retired its old NEM regulations in favor of more market-based tariffs, including some intriguing new options for “self-supply.” The California PUC is also considering new regulations that shift in the same direction. Given that these two states are setting the direction for solar in the rest of the country, we’re likely to see an acceleration of this shift from first-generation NEM tariffs to new approaches.

As these new tariffs are established, they will create an even greater demand for advanced storage options and control technology. For example, taking full advantage of the self-supply tariff in Hawaii is possible only when consumers have intelligent battery storage of significant capacity. Even consumers who want to use a more traditional grid-connection tariff will see a better return on their solar investment using intelligent storage.

4. Smart homes will get smarter; intelligent appliances and home control devices will proliferate.

We’re already seeing second- and third-generation devices for the intelligent home, from thermostats and heating/AC units to water heaters, appliances and lighting. As devices get smarter and easier to use, prices are declining. That sets the stage for greater adoption in 2016, both in existing homes and in new construction.

This is a crucial component for overall reduction in energy consumption and, importantly, for demand management. As homes get smarter, it will place a greater premium on software standards for controlling and managing all those diverse units, both for providing homeowners with flexible control and for giving utilities the ability to manage them automatically to match tariffs or homeowner settings. This will spur the adoption of an industry standard control platform on the utility and device manufacturer side, a platform that also has to work with the home’s energy storage and on-site generation systems. Look for significant movement toward this standardization in 2016.

5. DER and storage will accelerate the development of the energy cloud.

Where we’re really heading with all these changes is toward a transformation of the century-old one-way grid into an “energy cloud” that resembles the IT cloud, offering not just power, but services as well, on demand. This is going to change everything about the industry, from the design of the grid to how it is managed — and by which entity or entities. This is going to bring a lot of new players into the mix along with existing utilities and generators. The energy cloud will support the flexibility that consumers want and help them manage costs, while also creating new revenue opportunities for all the participants.

Source: greentechmedia


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Royal Caribbean get green after sustainability report

Despite a fleet that includes some of the largest cruise ships at sea, Royal Caribbean International is reducing its greenhouse gas emissions and has expanded its Save The Waves goals – according to its 2015 sustainability report.

While its new Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas ships include skydiving machines and robotic bartenders, new technologies have helped them become some of the lowest-emission ships in the industry.

The company’s air lubrication system creates a reduced friction layer of billions of microscopic air bubbles on a ship’s hull, which have helped its new Quantum-class ships to emit about 20 percent less carbon dioxide than previous designs.

“At Royal Caribbean, we are working to ensure that sustainability remains at the heart of our business,” says Richard D. Fain, Chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

“We bring 5,000,000 guests to nearly 500 ports around the world every year and we understand the need to act responsibly towards the oceans that we sail and the places we visit.

“Our mantra is continuous improvement and we constantly strive to find new and better ways to meet those goals.”

In 2014, the company launched the Sustainable Destinations Alliance for the Americas with the Caribbean Tourism Organisation, the Organisation of American States, the US State Department and Sustainable Travel International.

The SDAA is the largest scale partnership of its kind to focus on destination sustainability in the Americas.

Royal Caribbean International’s sustainability report also reveals that the company reduced greenhouse gas emissions in 2014 to 21.4 percent lower than its 2005 baseline.

And it became the first cruise line to launch a specialised autism initiative, in collaboration with Autism On The Seas – a group that organises cruises for adults and families living with autism, Down’s Syndrome and related disabilities – to make the ships a more welcoming environment for autistic guests and their families.

The company increased responsible local sourcing in Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand – with a 20 percent increase in this in Australia and New Zealand.

And it also received a first-ever certification from RAINN, the largest anti-sexual violence organisation in the United States, recognising the company’s professionalism in preventing and responding to security incidents.

The full Sustainability Report may be viewed at www.RCLCorporate.com/environment and for information about cruise itineraries go to www.royalcaribbean.co.uk

Source: express


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SA must divest from coal and oil

Banks are funding the fossil fuel industry, and profits continue to be harvested at the expense of lives and the planet, writes Nicole King.

Johannesburg – Last year was the hottest on record, it has been confirmed, and we risk runaway climate change, so it’s time for a Global Day of Divestment action.

Load shedding. Coal and oil price volatility. Greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change. Devastating floods in Malawi. New mining licenses under consideration. Your bank is potentially funding them.

On Global Divestment Day, millions of people across the world pulled hard on one of the threads that connects all of these pieces together, drawing the fossil fuel industry and the banks and institutions that fund it into the spotlight.

Friday the 13th might well have been unlucky for those who would prefer that business proceeds as usual and that profits continue being harvested at the expense of people and the planet.

The scientific health check for the Earth is dire. Last year was the hottest year since records began in 1880, with average combined temperatures across sea and land rising to 0.77º Celsius above the 20th century average. Nine of the 10 warmest years have been experienced since 2000. As a result, the frequency and severity of flooding and droughts are increasing and sea levels are beginning to rise.

We are shattering other records too: burning record amounts of coal and oil, investing record amounts of capital in fossil fuels and producing record levels of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global temperatures to rise. Burning fossil fuels is the number one driver of climate change and globally. At least 80 percent of all known reserves need to stay in the ground if average temperatures are to be kept to a 2º Celsius future rise, a target that is unlikely to be met without radical change.

We have to act now. That is why people of conscience are using their collective power as bank account holders, students and academics, religious leaders and members of faith-based communities to get banks to stop future investments and public institutions to divest from coal and oil. The global divestment movement includes 181 individuals and institutions – representing more than $50 billion (about R583bn) in assets – that have pledged to divest from fossil fuels.

In South Africa, all of the banks fund fossil fuels, so people have been getting behind the Fossil Free Africa campaign to call for their banks to change direction, starting with Nedbank. The “green bank” could become the industry leader by disclosing its investments as a first step toward ultimately committing to stopping funding future fossil fuel projects.

In the fight for climate justice, the human cost of rising temperatures is proving too high. The recent flooding in Malawi and Mozambique claimed hundreds of lives and left thousands more people homeless and facing food shortages and hunger.

At the same time, water scarcity across Africa is increasing, including in South Africa. Northern Kenya is experiencing its worst drought in 60 years. Too often it is those who have done the least to cause climate change who are paying the ultimate price, but everyone of us will soon feel the impact.

In Springs, for generations people have been living with the impacts of mining, first from coal then gold. Communities in Kwa-Thema and other locations now face four new open-cast coal mines, some of which will border residential areas. There is scepticism about the promises of jobs and fear about the health risks associated with polluted water and air.

Then there is the coastline. In November, President Jacob Zuma announced Operation Phakisa, the government’s plan to fast-track economic development through oil and gas exploration off the coast, including a potential 3.5km-deep oil well off KwaZulu-Natal’s coast. ExxonMobil has applied for exploration rights which include plans for seismic tests in the Indian Ocean in the highly volatile Agulhas Current, bringing with it a potential threat to marine life from Richards Bay to the Eastern Cape.

So why, with the risk to people and the environment, do we seem to be falling deeper into this addiction to fossil fuels? The impact of volatile oil prices is changing the energy dynamics globally and some, like climate campaigner Naomi Klein, see this as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make major global changes to energy policy.

These could include a moratorium on drilling in the Arctic and on countrywide fracking following the example set by countries like Scotland. Prices for a barrel of oil are at 50 percent of their mid-2014 levels, suddenly making extreme energy projects like fracking far less economically viable. Some projects face the potential of becoming risky “stranded assets” for banks and investors.

In South Africa, however, growing domestic demand for energy from coal means that many new coal mines are likely to be unaffected by oil price shocks.

There is also interest in the potential for oil, so new mining licences for coal and exploration licenses for offshore oil drilling are being considered by government.

The country has plenty of low-grade and highly polluting “cheap” coal, one of the key reasons for Eskom building the coal-fired power stations at Medupi and Kusile.

What government, labour and civil society do seem to agree on is that we must undertake a just transition away from fossil fuels to a clean energy future powered in large part by renewable energy

A clean energy future powering a low carbon development path is possible. What is needed is a step change in ambition and political will to scale up the renewable energy revolution.

Nuclear is not an option. A R1 trillion deal could bankrupt the country, the environmental risks are too high and the 10-16-year build time would mean breaching the upper limit of our agreed carbon dioxide targets as emissions grow.

Renewables can deliver thousands of megawatts more quickly than any other option and are the only solution to connect finally the approximately 1.5 million people in rural communities who would otherwise stay off the grid. South Africa is among the top 10 countries globally when it comes to renewable generation capacity, but according to Eskom this accounts for only about 500 megawatts out of a capacity of about 44 000MW. This renewables figure is planned to rise to 3 725MW by 2030, accounting for no more than 8 to 10 percent of total generation capacity.

Back the renewable energy sector and the benefits will multiply. Technology solutions will improve the efficiency and reduce the cost of solar and wind turbine units. Advances in electricity storage will help unlock the biggest win, to extend access to electricity potentially through community-owned local generation facilities that move us away from massive central production and costly grid infrastructure. With scale, job creation will follow.

This kind of just transition will not happen overnight, but with the lights going out, people are no longer prepared to sit and wait for government and businesses to act. For too long, global leaders have failed us by protecting the fossil fuel industry and putting short-term economic and political goals before our long-term survival.

The global fossil fuel industry and the banks financing it can no longer neglect their responsibilities.

In South Africa that goes for Nedbank, Standard Bank and Absa/Barclays, among others who continue to pump billions of rands into projects across the continent.

South Africa stands at a crossroads.

Your bank, pension fund, university, church, mosque, synagogue and temple could be funding the burning of more fossil fuels, the destruction of more land and livelihoods, and an increase in water scarcity because it uses huge amounts of water to dig out, clean and burn coal. Worst of all, we risk perpetuating the environmental crimes that will see people pay with their health yet still have no electricity to show for it just as their parents and grandparents before them.

The alternative is to demand divestment and fight for a vision and ambition that will sustain communities and connect millions more to clean electricity.

That is why, on Global Divestment Day, we will be standing in solidarity with the millions of people fighting the consequences of our changing climate.

Fossil fuels are history, renewables are the near future.

Source: IOL


 

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How green is working from home? When it makes sense to stay out of the office

by Andreas Wilson-Späth

The idea of allowing employees to work from home instead of requiring them to work in a centralised company office every day is not new. Together with more flexible working hours, remote working became a well-established practice in North America and Western Europe in the years following the Second World War.

In recent times it has experienced a considerable upswing, not least because of the perception that it offers distinct environmental benefits. But how much greener is working from home really, and should you consider it as an option for your own business?

Changing attitudes meet new technologies

A growing trend away from process-based staff assessment towards a more outcomes-oriented approach, along with an acknowledgment of the advantages of allowing employees greater freedom in time management, has led many companies to consider homeworking as a viable alternative to full-time office-based jobs.

This marked change in attitude has been encouraged in part  a range of technological innovations—from videoconferencing and smart phones to broadband internet connectivity and cloud-based data sharing — having become more widely accessible and affordable. A number of governments, including those of the UK and the USA have endorsed progressive homeworking policies for civil service workers, and in the UK more than four million employees out of a total workforce of 30 million now usually work from home.

Eco benefits

In a global business environment increasingly affected by concerns over the looming threat of climate change and the need for sustainability, remote working has been touted as an effective measure to significantly reduce corporate as well as personal carbon emissions.

The reason is obvious: for most people, travelling to and from work on a daily basis represents by far the largest portion of their overall greenhouse gas emissions and thus the biggest single environmental impact they have.

An American study suggests that more than 98% of a typical individual’s work-related carbon footprint is accounted for by the CO2 released into the atmosphere during their daily commute.

At a first glance, avoiding these emissions by working at home offers obvious advantages over driving to work every day. But is the equation really quite that simple?

No one-size-fits-all solution

Earlier this year, the UK’s Carbon Trust, a not-for-dividend organisation that promotes a move to a low-carbon economy
among governments, businesses and the public sector, published
a study that investigated the potential environmental benefits of homeworking. The results are very interesting, and while they strictly apply to British conditions, they are certainly relevant to South African companies who are thinking about giving their employees the choice of working remotely.

The study confirms that an average UK employee can save approximately 260 kilograms of CO2e (equivalent carbon dioxide) per year by working from home during two days of every week. It highlights two additional factors that can tip the balance of carbon emissions in the opposite direction, however.

Both the distance individual employees travel to get to work
and the mode of transport they use have important effects. Homeworking was only found to offer a net saving on carbon emissions if the person travels a distance by car that is greater than seven kilometres (one way). If they take the bus or train, the tipping point lies at 11 and 25 kilometres respectively.

So working from home provides the greatest environmental benefits for people who live far away from their place of work. Clearly this has significant implications in the South African context where many people travel large distances to work. If they use public transport or cycle or walk to the office, however, working from home may not save any carbon emissions at all.

The reason for this is that staying at home involves energy usage and carbon emissions that would not occur otherwise. These involve powering computer equipment and other appliances, lighting, as well as heating and cooling requirements, all of which depend on specific behavioural patterns, climate and weather conditions and the energy efficiency of the homes involved.

In the cold British winter months, the Carbon Trust estimates that having to heat the average house for just one additional hour per day would eliminate any carbon savings accrued from avoiding an average daily work commute. The organisation’s Hugh Jones warns that “companies must be careful to ensure that they get the balance right, for if employers do not take account of their individual circumstances, a rebound effect from employees heating inefficient homes may actually lead to an increase in carbon emissions”.

While South Africa is favoured with a much milder climate than the UK, home-cooling, air-conditioning and heating may still make considerable contributions to the net carbon emission balance and may, depending on specific circumstances, tip it in a direction that would favour working in a centralised office over working at home.

Massive potential savings

Having emphasised the importance of carefully considering the specific circumstances under which homeworking policies are implemented, the Carbon Trust’s report leaves no doubt that the practice promises very significant potential benefits to companies.

In combination with hot-desking, in which multiple employees share a single desk, remote working allows businesses to raise desk occupancy while reducing office space, resulting in lower energy consumption, carbon emissions and costs.

For a company with 100 employees, the associated annual savings are estimated at between 270 and 700 kilograms of CO2e per employee and between R1.7 million and R3.4 million. The UK as a whole would stand to lower carbon emissions by over three million tonnes of CO2e per year and costs by over R50 billion annually if an additional four million people worked from home.

The report highlights a case study of a homeworking roll-out implemented by the BT Group, a British telecommunications company, which resulted in a 14 000-tonne CO2e reduction and financial savings of more than R100 000 per full-time homeworker over a period of 12 months.

When telecoms and financial services provider O2 asked its entire head office workforce (bearing 125 mission-critical employees) to work away from the office for just one day in 2012, they saved a cumulative total of 2 000 hours of commuting time and over
12 tonnes of CO2e while reducing electricity and water consumption by 12% and 53%, respectively.

Things to consider in your own business

Employers who want to explore the option of homeworking in their own business should take into consideration a number of issues. While the practice does allow them to greatly rationalise and optimise their office space through, for example, the introduction of hot-desking and a variety of novel technologies, leading to a potential reduction in space, costs, energy consumption and environmental footprint, they need to carefully evaluate the particular circumstances of their workforce.

How far from the office do their employees live? Do they commute in private vehicles or by foot or public transport? Do they live in energy efficient homes? Will homeworking actually result in a net decrease in overall carbon emissions?

Business owners who are intent on making real improvements as opposed to merely ‘green-washing’ their operations cannot simply ask their employees to work from home and ignore whatever additional carbon emissions they may cause while doing so. That would amount to wilfully outsourcing part of their responsibility to a sustainable future.

A thorough survey of all employees, followed by a homeworking trial (perhaps for a particular subsection of staff), during which measurable environmental impacts are monitored and compared to business-as-usual scenarios, are necessary to ascertain whether offering remote working as an option can in fact deliver the eco benefits it promises. If successful, such a trial could then be extended to a larger section of the workforce or the company as a whole. Depending on the circumstances of individual employees, business owners could help to ensure the positive outcome of a work-from-home policy by offering their staff assistance in improving the energy efficiency of their homes. In instances where remote working is not an option, they should consider incentivising the use of public transport. Of course, a number of other positive aspects of remote working should be kept in mind as well, including:

• a reduction in the consumption of petroleum, a valuable, non-renewable natural resource,

• a reduction in unproductive time spent commuting to and from work along with significant savings on money previously spent on paying for transport,

• greater personal freedom, convenience and flexibility for employees, leading to improved employee work-life balance, job satisfaction and staff retention, and

• perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, higher staff productivity, which has been confirmed by several studies of homeworkers.

Employers also need to take into account that working from home is not for everyone, improved ecological footprint or not. Most companies who use remote working offer it as an option for their staff rather than a requirement, and combine homeworking with working in the office on different days depending on job roles, patterns and priorities. During a typical week, part-time homeworkers may thus have regular office days to allow for face-to-face interaction with colleagues as well as work-from-home days on which they benefit from being able to concentrate on tasks without interruptions.

Source: Green Economy Journal Issue 15


 

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Changing the way business is done: A critical review of two South African integrated reports

By: Carol Adams

The potential of integrated reporting to drive changes in the way business does business lies in its focus on long- term strategic planning, the multiple capital concept and its potential to change how we define value. A focus on short-term financial value is increasingly being seen as bad for business, let alone society and our natural resources.

Changing the way business leaders and their investors think is a prerequisite for real change towards social, environmental and economic sustainability. A focus on the longer term and thinking about value in non-monetary terms, means thinking about people, relationships, know- how and the natural environment and how they create value, rather than just what they cost or how we impact on them. And a reading of the best South African integrated reports reveals a concerted effort to think about the business differently.

It is pleasing to see reports which highlight key non-financial performance indicators, along with financial indicators right up front. For example, in Sasol’s case these include environment, safety and equity measures and, in the case of greenhouse gas emissions (only) a quantified long-term (2020) target. It is also exciting to see reports which talk about values and goals in broad terms and analyse the context in which the business is operating, its risks, including reputation risk, and opportunities.

Some of the reports available, such as Sasol’s 2013 annual integrated report, attempt to follow the IIRC’s consultation draft, but they all predate the recently released International <IR> Framework (IIRC, 2013 and Adams 2013). Yet they provide many learnings for companies new to integrated reporting.

Sasol explicitly acknowledges the link between values and behaviour:

“Our shared values define what we stand for as an organisation and inform our actions and our behaviour. They determine the way in which we interpret and respond to business opportunities and challenges.”
-Sasol Annual Integrated Report 2013 p7

So what behaviours is Sasol aiming to nurture? A focus on people, relationships and long term value for those connected with the company: “To grow profitably, sustainably and inclusively, while delivering value to stakeholders through technology and the talent of our people in the energy and chemical markets in Southern Africa and worldwide…our common goal To make Sasol a great company that delivers long-term value to its shareholders and employees; a company that has a positive association for all stakeholders”. -Sasol Annual Integrated Report 2013 p6

‘Sustainably’ in this case might mean both “environmental sustainability and longevity: “We also remain acutely aware of the environmental impact of extending our operations to 2050. We are working on initiatives to mitigate greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions as well as on those related to air quality and water stewardship.” -Sasol Annual Integrated Report 2013 p27.

Social and environmental issues feature prominently in ‘top issues impacting our business’ (page 30), but neither here, nor in ‘Looking towards 2050’(page 27) is there any mention of the carbon bubble. Should there be? Well, it has been getting quite a lot of attention, it may impact on value to investors (and employees and stakeholders) and integrated reporting requires identification of material issues and discussion of the context in which a company is operating including risks and opportunities. So, yes, I think there should be a discussion on the likelihood of a carbon bubble impacting on future value.

Sasol appears to see the fight as being with regulators. “Risk of climate change and related policies impacting Sasol’s operations growth strategy and earnings” is identified as a regulatory risk (page 47) with possible regulatory interventions identified as carbon taxes, product carbon labelling, carbon budgets and carbon-related border tax adjustments linked to bilateral agreements.Sasol discusses efforts to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions, but also notes it is engaging in “co-ordinated regulatory intervention”(page 47). In the context of its concern about the cost of such interventions, this would appear to mean trying to stop them, a move unlikely to be in the interests of protecting natural capital.

The report has been ranked highly (see EY, 2013) and indeed, I did get the feeling that there had been some considerable ‘integrated thinking’, demonstrated by the discussion on value, strategy and the business model. But I was left wondering if all the reported activity around reducing carbon emissions was an attempt to hide the elephant in the room (the carbon bubble) and delay regulation. Of course, I should not be surprised by this (see Adams, 2004 and Adams and Whelan, 2009), but I am disappointed to see integrated reporting used in this way.

On the positive side, Sasol has identified how each stakeholder contributes to value creation (pages 38-9) along with more commonly provided information on how they engage with each stakeholder group, what their expectations are etc. The process of determining materiality set out at the front of the report involved consulting stakeholders amongst other steps.

The Standard Bank Group (SBG) does not suffer the same perception that the nature of its business is fundamentally unsustainable, as some would have of Sasol, but banks come up against scrutiny with regard to the nature of the projects they fund, and they are generally mistrusted by many. Demonstrating a contribution to creating value for the societies they depend on and diligence with regard to the environmental impacts of the projects they fund is therefore critical for their long term success. The Standard Bank Group appears to do this better than many. The real proof of course comes in information about the nature of loans made.

The reader of SBG’s annual integrated report is left with the feeling that the bank sees its success as inextricably linked with its relationship to society. For example, socioeconomic development and provision of sustainable and responsible financial services are identified as material issues.

“The bank aims to embed sustainability thinking into its business processes there are a number of determinants of materiality, including the bank’s values and accountability and responsibility for sustainable development rests with the board” -SBG’s annual integrated report p 46.

The report includes a value added statement (page 49), information on stakeholder engagement processes and explains its approach to environmental and social risk screening. Sustainability risk is explicitly mentioned alongside other operational risks (page 90).

Another strength of the SBG report is its disclosure on remuneration of it executives. Some are not so bold. One of the Guiding Principles of the International <IR> Framework is ‘conciseness’.

At around 130 (Sasol) and 180 (SBG) pages, neither report examined here can be said to fulfil that, but they contain information including financial and governance information which goes beyond the Framework’s content elements.

Source: The Sustainability and Integrated Reporting Handbook


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No Easy Answers When Disposing of Oil and Gas Wastewater

We all want easy answers. And often times the harder the question, the easier we want the answer to be.

Increased natural gas use, for example, can help decrease U.S. greenhouse gas emissions as it has a lower carbon content compared to coal or oil. Natural gas also can help transition our energy mix to more renewable energy sources. This is because properly designed, gas-fired generation can respond quickly to pick up the slack if the wind suddenly dies or clouds unexpectedly roll in. But, these benefits mean nothing if the communities where gas is produced suffer air and water pollution, or if methane – a powerful global warming pollutant that is the primary ingredient in natural gas – is allowed to leak into the atmosphere unchecked.

We all should be worried about global warming and the role that sloppy oil and gas production and distribution practices contribute to the problem. But communities where oil and gas development is taking place are also worried about how oil and gas drilling is impacting their water supplies. This is a key issue and one aspect of the groundwater contamination concerns, rightfully gaining attention in these communities, is how and where toxic wastewater is disposed of that is produced along with oil and gas. But here, too, the answers don’t come easy.

The basic regulatory framework

More than 25 percent of the country’s approximately 700,000 injection wells handle produced water from oil and gas operations. The quantities are huge – at least 2 billion gallons per day. And this fluid is not harmless. Produced water from oil and gas operations is usually much saltier than sea water (it will kill plants and can ruin soil) and is often laced with heavy metals and radionuclides that are naturally present in the formation being drilled.  In addition, this produced water can contain hundreds of toxic chemicals – anti-freeze to name just one example.  The current standard practice for addressing this potential environmental hazard is through injection of the water into geologic formations suited to permanent disposal.

The 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act gave the EPA oversight of underground wells injected with chemical-laden fluids for disposal and other purposes. In most cases, EPA delegates the authority to state agencies, but in some states, such as Pennsylvania, EPA regulates the wells itself.

EPA’s Underground Injection Control (UIC) program generally has received high marks. In fact, many environmental advocates believe it is important to expand the program to include hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells, which was largely excluded from UIC regulation by the “Halliburton loophole” passed by Congress in 2005.

Challenges with existing methods

For all its high marks, the UIC program also has its problems. For starters, it is uncertain whether all states are following EPA’s definition of “Underground Source of Drinking Water”– the water that is supposed to be protected.

Leaks sometimes occur from storage tanks at UIC wells.

Other challenges include: inadequate investigations in some jurisdictions of the surrounding disposal area to make sure no unplugged wells or natural faults allow wastewater to migrate into water supplies; not always assuring that pressures during injection are held low enough to avoid breaks in caprock that protect aquifers;  failing to make sure that injection is always limited to permitted intervals;  and responding to the  increasing number of small and medium size earthquakes that are linked to injections.

Underfunding of regulatory programs compounds the problem, making it harder to provide the public with assurance that their water quality is protected from oil and gas development.

Wastewater Recycling: Buyer Beware

Recycling oil and gas wastewater for reuse in hydraulic fracturing operations is on the rise. The challenge, however, is that recycling requires storage and transport, and almost always requires some sort of treatment. How new residual waste streams are dealt with that carry far more toxic and concentrated substances than the water treated is a major environmental concern as companies jump on the recycling trend. Growing interest in the Appalachian Basin to treat oil and gas wastewater and discharge it into surface streams has heightened attention on these matters. Right now, these discharges are subject to EPA’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), but as EPA recently noted in its Preliminary 2014 Effluent Guidelines Program Plan, “current regulations may not provide adequate controls for oil and gas extraction wastewaters.”

Recycling wastewater does reduce the need for freshwater and reduce the volumes that need to be disposed, but it can make disposal much more challenging – particularly when we don’t know enough about the treatment process and resulting waste products.

Diligent oversight needed

Permanent storage using underground injection wells remains by far the most common disposal method. At this point, it also appears to be the least risky, not to be confused with “unrisky”.

But there are things that can be done right now to help us begin to minimize these risks, such as updating requirements for the installation and maintenance of pits and tanks, assessing risks posed by new forms of transport and adopting appropriate risk controls, and doubling down on efforts to identify and remediate leaks and spills.

Bottom-line: none of this is simple. And questions about management of this produced water from drilling operations further demonstrates why we need to stay vigilant in better understanding the environmental impacts of oil and gas development. Having worked most of my career on these issues, it is clear to me that incremental but near-constant improvements are essential to minimize risks and protect communities.

Source: The Energy Collective