NDP will vote for Trudeau’s measures, wants immediate action

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. Image: Jagmeet Singh/Facebook

Canadians want to know when the new series of measures the government just announced to deal with the economic hardship brought on by the COVID-19 crisis will come into effect.

To a significant extent, those measures heed the advice of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) and the federal NDP that employment insurance (EI) and sick leave must be extended to the tens of thousands who do not now qualify — especially the lowest paid and most precarious workers.

As economist Jim Stanford has pointed out, the Trudeau government’s just-announced package of measures is a good start, but more will be needed.

As massive as it sounds, the $82-billion package will not be adequate to support workers and their families, and tide over businesses, especially the thousands of small ones, throughout this unprecedented crisis.

Of most immediate concern, however, is the question of timing, and the federal NDP is seized with that issue.

To help get action as quickly as possible, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has written the prime minister to promise his MPs will vote for the Liberal government’s package.

Singh’s purpose in taking this unusual step is to assure the government its legislation will pass. Even if the other opposition parties were to vote against the new measures, the NDP’s support would be sufficient to get them over the top.

Given that, Singh is urging the government to take whatever concrete actions it can, right now, to implement its economic package, and not wait for the full legislative process to reach completion.

While waiting for parliamentary approval, government can take certain steps

The NDP leader has told the prime minister that he is “alarmed at the news that many Canadians will not receive this additional help until April or May.” He encourages the government to “open up applications and provide Canadians with information on how to access these new programs” — even though the new programs do not yet officially exist.

Singh adds that he understands “it may not be possible to actually fund these measures until the necessary legislative process is completed.” What he proposes is that the federal bureaucracy be “put in motion … to begin processing these benefits so that Canadians do not need to wait one day longer than absolutely necessary.”

Singh also suggests a few other easy-to-achieve, immediate measures, in addition to the ones the government has already put on the table.

One of those is “to issue second payments this month of existing income support programs, such as the Canada Child Benefit.”

As well, the NDP leader urges the government and the Bank of Canada to use their powers “to ensure that banks and lending institutions lower interest rates and suspend penalties for late payments.”

Singh also wants assurance that nobody in need will be obliged to first apply for EI and be denied before they are allowed to apply for other new benefits. That would create unnecessary, and, for some, dangerous delays, he says.

Finally, the NDP joins many other others, including those who represent small and independent businesses, in deploring “the low rate of the wage subsidy being offered to businesses.”

“While we support the initiative to help small businesses keep people employed, offering 10% of payroll up to a maximum of $25,000 is simply not enough,” Singh writes.

Singh points to the examples of other countries, such as Denmark and New Zealand, “who have offered much more ambitious subsidy programs designed to keep people employed.”

The bottom line for the NDP is that it will fully support the package the Trudeau government will present to Parliament, when it re-convenes in special session in the days to come. Jagmeet Singh’s party believes the government could and should have done more, but it knows now is not a time to quibble.

The NDP’s main and most urgent request is that the government start taking practical steps to put its emergency fiscal measures into action immediately.

That is a request with which millions of anxious Canadians would no doubt concur, regardless of their political stripe. SOURCE

Electric Vehicles Are the Next Dominant Class of Renewable Energy Buyers

Electric vehicle (EV) adoption is growing rapidly. According to 2019 Bloomberg analysis, annual passenger EV sales surpassed 2 million in 2018, are expected to increase to 10 million by 2025, 28 million by 2030, and will comprise over half of all passenger vehicle sales by 2040, or 56 million vehicles annually.

We will probably see even faster near-term growth for electric buses and light-duty commercial vehicle fleets, especially among the companies and cities with existing renewable energy targets and/or greenhouse gas emissions-reduction targets. For example, the city of Seattle, WA, already had more than 200 plug-in EVs in its municipal fleet as of October 2018, and has committed to switch the entirety of its 4,000-plus vehicles to be electric and fossil fuel-free by 2030. Meanwhile, earlier this year parcel shipping giant UPS placed an order for 10,000 electric delivery trucks as the next big step in its electrification and sustainability strategy.

Even beyond climate-conscious circles, EVs are entering the popular mainstream: they took three of the eight total automobile advertisement spots during the recent annual marketing frenzy in the United States that is also known as the Super Bowl and served as the mode of transport for film festival stars at the recent Berlinale.

EVs + renewable energy = an opportunity too big to ignore

The EV industry has to-date focused its attention on continuing to improve the efficiency and reduce the costs of EVs, build out public charging infrastructure, and overall grow the market. While this is important and will remain an area of focus, industry has paid too little attention to the electricity sources used to power EVs. It’s a case of ‘electrify first, worry about the actual electricity later.’ But on the latter front, there’s low-hanging fruit to seize now.

There is a major opportunity to position EVs as one of the biggest buyers of renewable electricity in the world. For context, RE100 companies—a network of corporations across the globe with 100% renewable energy targets—purchase over 220 terawatt-hours (TWh) of renewable energy each year, making them in aggregate today’s largest global buyer of renewable energy. Yet by 2030, EVs will need nearly three times as much electricity—640 TWh. (For sense of scale, that is equivalent to the annual electricity consumption of 58 million single family homes in the United States.)

EVs cause less carbon dioxide, ozone, and particulate pollution compared to their internal combustion vehicle predecessors, according to research by the Union of Concerned Scientists, even when EVs draw from electric grids powered by coal. However, EVs aren’t 100% clean unless they are powered fully by renewable energy resources.

Today, too few EVs are powered by renewable energy and even fewer are 100% powered by renewables. We have an opportunity to change this.

Industry should develop solutions to ensure the delivery of 100% renewably-powered EV charging—starting with electric bus, government, and company fleets

The EV sector can learn from corporate procurement, which saw 9.33 gigawatts (GW) of announced transactions in the United States alone in 2019 and moved the cumulative announced transactions in the United States to over 25 GW by the end of last year. Corporate renewable energy buyers have created significant voluntary demand for new renewable energy projects across the globe. Furthermore, given that governments are falling behind their Paris Agreement targets, EVs could serve as voluntary buyers of renewable energy and stimulate an additional 105 GW of new onshore wind and 145 GW of new solar PV capacity.

EV charge point operators (CPOs), electric mobility service providers (eMSPs), and EV original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) should develop a seamless 100% renewable energy solution for EV charging that, in turn, facilitates the development of new renewable energy projects. Why? A green EV charge solution will help CPOs, eMSPs, and OEMs win more contracts with today’s EV fleet owners and become a preferred partner for future EV fleet owners. It will also especially help electric utilities serving as CPOs to secure demand for more new renewable energy projects in their respective service territories.

Delivering clean EV charging at scale means linking every megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity consumed by EV charge events with an equivalent purchase of an energy attribute certificate (EAC), where 1 MWh equals 1 EAC. This will help create more voluntary demand for renewables and create a new situation where there is more demand than supply to drive more new renewable energy projects. Ideally, CPOs, eMSPs, and OEMs would offer EV fleet owners the option to source their EV charging from new renewable energy projects. Offsite sourcing is required and already being used in a few cases today due to physical and economic constraints of on-site solar for EV charging infrastructure. EVgo provides an example of this approach through the traditional renewables procurement method of having a third-party buy EACs on EVgo’s behalf that is equal to the electricity consumption at EVgo charge points.

The EV sector should first target large centralized fleets to reach scale, such as electric bus and shuttle fleets owned by governments, cities, and companies currently making large EV fleet investments. These same early adopters are likely to have ambitious clean energy goals in place and will want to use their EVs to drive new renewable energy supply above the business as usual case. New research from The Climate Group’s EV100 initiative, which is a growing collection of organizations with 100% EV fleet adoption targets that today represents over 80,000 vehicles, also confirms growing corporate interest in zero-emissions EV charging given how over 40% of EV100’s current 67 members charge their EV fleets with 100% renewables.

EV CPOs, eMSPs, and OEMs should provide a clean EV charge guarantee at no cost to the customer to win bids, accelerate EV adoption, and benefit from expected future regulations

A sustainably-powered EV fleet takes advantage of the rapidly increasing efficiencies of powering EVs from renewables and can create exponentially positive environmental impacts in combination with smart, time-sensitive charging. As mentioned, early EV fleet adopters are likely more inclined to want clean EV charging and can be the pilot customer group and ensure that renewable-powered EVs are the default option for late adopters. CPOs, eMSPs, and OEMs can act now and use the market’s scale to develop products that remove risk from customers while providing renewable power without a price premium.

To keep implementation costs to a minimum, we believe 100% renewable powered EV solutions should mitigate transaction costs and take advantage of fast-falling costs of renewables. This includes taking advantage of contractual arrangements like power purchase agreements (PPAs) to source the electricity for clean EV charging at the lowest price possible and boost demand for new renewables projects.

To help CPOs, eMSPs, and OEMs gauge the annual needs for EV fleets, consider an example for electric buses using assumptions from US averages: Electric buses are covered by approximately 50 EACs per year based on the assumption that it takes about 145 kWh for an electric bus to travel 100 miles and US buses travel an average of 34,000 miles per year, creating a 50 MWh annual demand from buses (or one EAC per 700 miles traveled by an electric bus).

We can extend this analysis to make an estimate of the needs of personal EVs to inform clean EV charge solutions developed after successful delivery to EV fleet owners: Personal EV usage can be covered by 4 EACs per year based on the assumption that about 30 kilowatt-hours (kWh) is needed for a personal EV to travel 100 miles and US personal vehicles travel an average of 13,500 miles per year, creating a 4 MWh annual demand from personal EVs. Put another way, one EAC is needed to cover 3,300 miles traveled by a personal EV.

EAC prices range globally from a low of about US$0.05 to highs that surpass US$50 per EAC and a global average roughly US$1 per EAC cost of providing the renewable energy. This means the incremental cost to power an electric bus with renewables is about US$50 per year, with the global minimum and maximum ranging from US$2.50 to US$2,500 per year. For personal EVs, the average incremental cost is about US$4 per year, which could range from US$0.2 to US$200 per year.

Powering an EV with electricity is half the price based on US averages of fueling up a new internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle with gasoline. Using estimates from Columbia University research, electric buses would still save cities several thousand US dollars per year—even in the highest-price EAC markets—after accounting for both the higher upfront price of electric buses compared to diesel buses of about $300,000 and annual fuel cost savings of electric buses of $39,000 over their average 12-year lifespan. For personal EVs, customers in the highest electricity price markets would also still reduce operational costs in the highest-price EAC scenario. In other words, even when both electricity and EAC prices are high, renewably-powered EVs are still cheaper to operate than ICE alternatives.

We think EV CPOs, eMSPs, and OEMs should absorb this modest incremental cost as part of their business model to increase the appeal of EVs as a transportation option, secure and retain more EV fleet customers, and capture the avoided carbon credits from expected widespread transportation-related carbon regulations like California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard. However, even if these companies don’t absorb these costs and pass them on to their customers, customers will still reduce their overall operational costs of their EV compared to ICE vehicles.

To drive adoption of EVs and unlock their full economic value, industry should adopt common standards and interoperable solutions across EV business scenarios

EV customers expect their EVs to be plug-and-play ready for business scenarios across geographies beyond serving as a renewable energy buyer. To meet the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s EV customers, CPOs, eMSPs, and OEMs should—in addition to clean EV charging—also make it possible for EV customers to effortlessly:

  • Participate in energy markets and programs (ranging from wholesale market participation to locally managed dynamic pricing programs);
  • Charge their EV at any charge point owned by any market participant;
  • Transact across all charge points; and
  • Integrate with and contribute to transport sector-related decarbonization incentive schemes (like California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard).

These different business scenarios depend on several common components, mainly in terms of identity management and multiparty access to trusted charging data sources. CPOs, eMSPs, and OEMs should adopt technical standards industry-wide that ensure streamlined interoperability and participation across different business applications. Put another way, the EV industry should use device-oriented and publicly accessible digital infrastructure so that any EV can participate seamlessly in any relevant business scenario. This will help make EVs even more attractive and ensure EVs deliver on their full potential, in large part by promoting solution architectures that remove data silos and resulting market inefficiencies.

There are various examples of standards and toolkits fast-becoming available to enable industry to develop and scale their own new EV customer solutions, including:

CPOs, eMSPs, and OEMs can use toolkits like these to make self-registering, grid interactive, and 100% renewably powered EVs a practical reality for customers.

CPOs, eMSPs, and OEMs should capture this opportunity by bringing new solutions to the market today

The Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA) and Energy Web Foundation (EWF) are excited to inform and directly support the technical development of new solutions that unlock the full potential of EVs and boost demand for new renewable energy projects. REBA and EWF welcome feedback, questions, and inquiries about opportunities to develop new digital EV solutions.

Peak Fossil Fuel Demand

Image result for thwenergytransition: rusting gas station fuel pump

Fossil fuel demand in country after country and sector after sector is peaking as the cyclical downturn brings forward the looming structural peak. What has been underway for several years is now accelerating in real time. And while the human tragedy brought by the coronavirus is appalling, a peak in fossil fuel demand is necessary if we are going to have any chance of reaching the goals of the Paris Agreement. Governments now need to make sure that the collapse in prices does not set off another cycle of rising demand.

The fossil fuel sector is highly vulnerable to change at the best of times. It is low growth, has high fixed costs, is propped up by the OPEC+ cartel, and faces an environment of constantly rising regulatory pressure and falling renewable prices. The rapid deployment of new energy technologies means that a structural peak in fossil fuel demand is coming in the 2020s, which is a key reason for the remarkable underperformance of the sector over the course of the last few years.

However, the coronavirus has brought cyclicality into the equation, and total fossil fuel demand will clearly fall this year. The combination of structural change with the cyclical shift is likely to bring forward fossil fuel demand peaks by several years. By the time that demand picks up again, all of the growth may be supplied by renewable energy sources.

The classic example of this is the car sector. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, demand for internal combustion engine (ICE) cars peaked in 2018, at a time when electric vehicle (EV) sales were just 2 million and growing fast. By the time total car demand growth returns to its usual level of 3-4 million, EVs are likely to be providing all of the underlying growth in demand. The result is that ICE becomes a declining industry.

Something similar is now happening in the electricity sector. Global electricity generation by fossil fuels fell in 2019 according to Ember. It is almost certain to fall again this year, even as solar and wind continue to grow. By the time demand growth returns in the electricity sector, solar and wind will be large enough to supply all the growth. This incidentally is a story that we have seen play out many times before; horse demand famously peaked when cars were just 3 percent of their number, and gas lighting demand peaked when electric lighting was just 2 percent of supply.

The consequence of peaking demand for fossil fuels has been playing out for a number of years now, in sector after sector. Peak demand for coal meant lower prices for US coal and the bankruptcy of half the US coal sector. Peak demand for European fossil electricity meant falling wholesale electricity prices, $150 billion of asset write-downs and a collapse in stock prices.

And now we see the story playing out once more. Peaking demand for oil has contributed to the collapse of the OPEC+ cartel and devastated the oil price. If you want to understand how the sector is likely to react to structural demand decline for the first time in its long history, reflect on the fact that the recent 3 percent fall in oil demand has led to a 50 percent fall in the oil price.

The risk is that fossil fuel demand could bounce back as people reduce their efficiency investments, drive more and buy bigger vehicles, so the role of government now is to stop this from happening. Governments need to remove wasteful fossil fuel subsidies and implement a tax wedge between the falling price that the fossil fuel sector gets and the price that the consumer pays.

A tax wedge can accomplish three things. First, it stops us from getting addicted to cheap oil again; second, it helps to raise government revenues at a time when money will be needed to help a weak economy; and third, it taxes the fossil fuel sector for the externality cost that it imposes on the rest of society through global warming and pollution. Outside the road sector, the OECD has shown that the fossil fuel sector is very lightly taxed, at only around $3 per ton of CO2.

This crisis gives us the opportunity to bend the arc of change in the direction of hope, away from fossil fuels and to sustainable renewables. We must seize that opportunity.

‘Protecting forests is crucial to cure pandemics,’ indigenous leaders say

A conversation with Levi Sucre Romero, Bribri leader

Levi Sucre Romero, BriBri indigenous person from Costa Rica and the Coordinator of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests (AMPB). Photo of Joel Redman/If Not Us Then, used with permission.

Indigenous leaders from Costa Rica, Brazil, and Indonesia who recently attended a conference in the United States have said that pandemics like COVID-19 will become increasingly common if forests are not preserved.

The leaders gave a press briefing in New York on March 13 organized by Covering Climate Now, a global journalism initiative co-founded by the Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation

At least a quarter of medicine molecules derive from plants; 80 percent of people worldwide rely on botanical drugs, and biodiversity is crucial to finding new medicine. Yet, deforestation in the world’s most biodiverse forests is advancing fast.

A growing body of scientific research suggests that indigenous peoples are key to protect forests, but those peoples are increasingly victimized by violent land conflict. In Costa Rica alone, two Bribri leaders have been killed in the past 12 months and so far no one has been prosecuted.

At the press briefing, the leaders also blamed large multinationals such as Cargill and Unilever for not respecting their land rights.

To find out more, I interviewed Levi Sucre Romero, from the Bribri community in Costa Rica and leader of the Coordinator of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests (AMPB). The interview has been translated and edited for brevity.

Melissa Vida (MV): What’s the link between COVID-19 and our way of life?

Levi Sucre Romero (LSR): Reading about the origins of the coronavirus, we can see that human activities have invaded and reduced the space available for animals. Not only has it been reduced, but we are in such a predatory development model that humans are encroaching their space too much – that is what is happening with the soybean plans in the Amazon forest. All these animals are gathering in one place… and who knows what effects pollution and chemicals have on these species, which are vulnerable. It’s a mismanagement of our so-called development.

MV: How can we recover from COVID-19?

 LSR: The coronavirus, like the other pandemics that will increasingly occur, is a consequence of our planet’s imbalance. There will be many other pandemics, such as the “fungus disease from Panama”, likely to attack all our banana production and have enormous consequences on our communities.

What is the alternative? Variety and diversification, but it is unlikely to happen because the market is concentrated on a single product. Diversifying is key and our traditional indigenous farms have medicine and all kinds of products. And I’ve been thinking: we in the indigenous territories can still sustain ourselves even when cities fall. We are returning to our capacities of self-sustainability.

Woman and child from the Rama Indian River community in Nicaragua, petting a wild boar. Photo by Melissa Vida, used with permission.

MV: So hope can be found in the forest?

LSR: Yes, but when the forests are cut down, where are we going to get medicine? We have said it over and over again but… So far decision makers haven’t paid much attention to us. Imagine, countries have actually increased their number of mega-projects and monocultures, which accelerate deforestation, to fix their budget [by making profit]. They’re going backwards.

MV: Do pharmaceutical companies come to see you for medicine?

LSR: That’s another angle. We have always said that our knowledge is available for anyone wishing to help cure diseases created because of climate change, but we have never said: “Come exploit us, come and steal everything we have.” I find it hard to understand that economic powers can be so blind to certain things. Whenever they see an opportunity to plunder and make money, well, they’ll do it. That is what we have always denounced, we must be careful [with these companies].

MV: Why isn’t Costa Rica listening, according to you?

LSR: I believe that Costa Rica is a reflection of what is happening regionally: The governments have not been able to understand that the communities — that is, the people, the indigenous people, those of us who live with the forest — are a key factor in the protection of those resources and a key factor of human survival. Politicians just do not understand.

MV: Why has deforestation accelerated in Central America in the past ten years?

LSR: First, the economic situations in our countries are dire and big companies use that argument to say, “We are going to plant a monoculture and we are going to give you a job.” People think that that is [economic development], but it isn’t. They are taking advantage of the poor economic situation of rural people. Second, the legislation and enforcement of laws [to protect forests and our rights] are really weak in the region. Third, drug-trafficking is growing in the region, they are using our forests. Fourth, and that is my personal opinion, Central American countries are more focused on solving their budget deficit than on protecting the forests. They are more concerned about their revenues, about their taxes, about foreign investment.

Woman and child from the Rama Indian River community in Nicaragua. Photo by Melissa Vida, used with permission.

MV: So maybe the Coronavirus pandemic is an opportunity to think differently?

LSR: I do not see it as an opportunity, I see it as what we have been saying for a long time to the world and to politicians and which is evident today: we must take care of the forest, we must have our own development system, we must not accept these mega-projects… we have been saying this for years and nobody listens to us.

So, I believe that when pandemics like this happen, politicians may think to themselves: “These people are right”. We know what we are talking about. This is knowledge that has been passed down ancestrally and we know that any type of imbalance ends up deteriorating everything. The Earth is a living being like us. When she becomes unbalanced, there are consequences, and we are living them now.

MV: What gives you hope?

LSR: The fact that we, as indigenous peoples, are increasingly organized. We are gaining more and more knowledge. We have more communication tools. Also, we have successful experiences in the region, like in forest management, in organic production, in solar panels managed by women. We are returning to our roots, to our indigenous cultural knowledge in order to survive. Because now it is about survival.

Governments must act to stop the coronavirus – but we can’t return to business as usual

If our aim is to protect human and environmental health, restoring the status quo is not good enough. Thankfully, there is an alternative.

Image: julian meehan, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

For the first time in eleven years, the World Health Organization has declared a pandemic. At the time of writing the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has spread to at least 114 countries and killed more than 4,000 people.

Around the world businesses have been shut down, events have been cancelled, and economic activity has ground to a halt. Some countries have placed entire populations under quarantine, while others have advised people to stay at home and ‘self-isolate’.

The pandemic poses a number of challenges for the global economy. Without access to adequate healthcare or sick pay, many people have little choice but to put others at risk or face economic hardship. Declining revenues risk creating potentially fatal cashflow problems for small and medium sized businesses. As with all crises, it will be those who can afford it least who will suffer the most.

But the pandemic is also causing a headache for global capital: trillions of dollars have been wiped off global stock markets, as fears a global recession grow. The IMF recently predicted that a recession half as severe as the global financial crisis would leave $19tn of corporate debt – nearly 40% of all corporate debt in major economies – at risk of default. This could trigger a potentially destabilising cycle of events in the global banking system – a system that is still on life support from the global financial crisis.

In response, governments and central banks have slashed interest rates and increased government spending in an attempt to mitigate the economic slowdown. Additional measures, such as debt repayment holidays, support for cash-strapped businesses and even ‘helicopter money’, are also being considered.

These measures all share a common goal: to stave off a recession and return the global economy to normality as quickly as possible. At this critical juncture, we must ask if this is really the right objective.

The cost of business as usual

A few weeks ago, NASA published striking satellite images showing how the fall in economic activity in China following the coronavirus outbreak dramatically reduced air pollution in the country. Based on this data, a group of US academics have estimated that this fall in air pollution may save over 50,000 lives – a figure that dwarfs the 3,100 lives that have been lost to the coronavirus in China. This suggests that the coronavirus may have saved more lives than the disease has taken in China.

If this sounds farfetched, consider that Chinese air pollution is estimated to cause around 1.6 million premature deaths each year. This isn’t just a problem for China. Most of the goods produced in Chinese factories are exported and consumed in Europe and North America. In recent decades, rich countries have effectively outsourced their pollution – along with its human and environmental cost – to China and other countries. Whether we realise it or not, we tolerate these deaths as a price worth paying to get cheaper goods.

Air pollution is not the only indicator that has improved since the outbreak. Carbon emissions in China have also fallen by a quarter, mainly thanks to declining industrial production and energy demand. If this trend continues elsewhere, analysts say it is possible this will lead to the first fall in global emissions since the 2008-09 financial crisis.

None of this means that pandemics are in some way desirable, or that we shouldn’t act. On the contrary, it’s essential that governments take swift and urgent action to contain the outbreak, save lives and mitigate any short-term economic instability.

But once the outbreak subsides, attention will inevitably turn to how the global economy can be rebooted. Before we rush to reinstate ‘business as usual’, we should pause to consider the impact this might have on human and environmental health.

Since humans first set foot on the moon in 1969, a third of arable land across the world has been lost to erosion or pollution. The populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians have declined by 60% on average. We are living through the sixth mass extinction, the last being that which saw the end of the dinosaurs. Over half the world’s tropic forests have been destroyed, and more than a third of all summer Arctic ice has melted. The rate of top soil degradation has led some to estimate that there could only be 60 global harvests left. On top of all of this lies the small matter of the climate emergency.

Our economic system has pushed our environment beyond safe operating zones, threatening the foundations upon which civilisation depends. Scientists warn that without “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”, the result will be devastating and irreversible damage to our climate and environment.

Restoring the status quo would not be a neutral act – it would be an active decision to deepen our environmental crisis.

Towards a Global Green New Deal

If we really care about the health of people and planet, we should think twice before we decide to spend money on accelerating this destructive trajectory. While it is essential that jobs are maintained and undue hardship is avoided, propping up the status quo is not the only option available.

Instead, governments could forge a different path by unleashing a vast programme of investment to decarbonise the global economy as fast as is feasibly possible, and bring our environmental footprint within fair and sustainable limits. The effect would be to mobilise resources to transform our energy, transport, housing and agriculture sectors, decarbonise production and consumption, and restore our natural ecosystems.

In 2008 we bailed out the banks – this time we should bail out the planet. Countries that have contributed the most to environmental breakdown have a moral obligation to lead by example, and support other countries as part of a global just transition. As well as placing the global economy on a more sustainable path, this would create a new wave of high-skilled, low carbon jobs.

This plan has a name: a Global Green New Deal. In the face of a growing environmental emergency, it’s the only game in town. We simply cannot afford a return to business a usual. SOURCE

Restoring soils could remove up to ‘5.5bn tonnes’ of greenhouse gases every year

Replenishing and protecting the world’s soil carbon stores could help to offset up to 5.5bn tonnes of greenhouse gases every year, a study finds.

Dam in place to re-wet blanket bog at RSPB Forsinard Flows, Flow country, Caithness, Highland, Scotland. Credit: Nature Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo

This is just under the current annual emissions of the US, the world’s second largest polluter after China.

Around 40% of this carbon offsetting potential would come from protecting existing soil carbon stores in the world’s existing forests, peatlands and wetlands, the authors say.

In many parts of the world, such soil-based “natural climate solutions” could come with co-benefits for wildlife, food production and water retention, the lead author tells Carbon Brief.

Ground up

The top metre of the world’s soils contains three times as much carbon as the entire atmosphere, making it a major carbon sink alongside forests and oceans.

Soils play a key role in the carbon cycle by soaking up carbon from dead plant matter. Plants absorb CO2 from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and this is passed to the ground when dead roots and leaves decompose.

But human activity, in particular agriculture, can cause carbon to be released from the soil at a faster rate than it is replaced.

Few countries record data on soil-carbon loss directly from agriculture, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent assessment report, making it difficult to understand the degree to which soil carbon losses are contributing to climate change.

The new analysis, published in Nature Sustainability, takes a look at how protecting and replenishing soils – both in agricultural and natural landscapes – could instead help to combat warming.

If finds that, if techniques to improve soil carbon were rolled out at the maximum assumed level worldwide, they could remove up to 5.5bn tonnes of CO2e a year.

The study’s lead author Dr Deborah Bossio, lead soil scientist at the Nature Conservancy, an environmental NGO that advocates for nature-based solutions to climate change, tells Carbon Brief:

“I talk about soil as being the forgotten solution. What we’re really trying to emphasise is that soil is important and so it should not be ignored, but also not exaggerated.”

Counting carbon

For the analysis, the authors built on an earlier study which looked at the global greenhouse gas removal potential of all “natural climate solutions”. The term is used to describe a range of negative emissions techniques that aim to enhance the ability of natural ecosystems to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

The study framework assumes natural climate solutions are deployed on a global scale. However, the methodology does not allow natural climate solutions to compromise land that is currently used by wildlife or food production.

Bossio explains: “We’re asking: ‘What’s the land area available for change?’”

The research finds that a quarter of all the greenhouse gas removal ability of natural climate solutions comes from soil-based techniques, such as protecting and restoring forest soils, peatlands and wetlands.

The chart below shows the greenhouse gas removal potential of various soil-based natural climate solutions. The figures are shown in billion tonnes of CO2e per year.

The global greenhouse gas removal potential of various soil-based natural climate solutions (CO2e in billions of tonnes per year). Data source: Bossio et al. (2020). Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.

The research shows that the largest greenhouse gas removal potential comes from protecting existing forests and reforestation. This technique could offset 1.2bn tonnes of CO2e a year, when only forest soil carbon is considered.

Forests soils are a globally important carbon store. They can be particularly carbon-rich because they absorb high densities of dead plant matter. Forest soils also play a significant role in absorbing methane.

Another soil technique with large potential is “biochar”, according to the research. Biochar is a carbon-rich charcoal which, when sprinkled on land, can boost soil carbon storage.

A mound of biochar, including charred wood, soil, wet weeds, dead leaves and dry sticks. Credit: Ron Emmons / Alamy Stock Photo

A mound of biochar, including charred wood, soil, wet weeds, dead leaves and dry sticks. Credit: Ron Emmons / Alamy Stock Photo

It is often suggested that biochar should be spread across agricultural land because, as well as enhancing soil carbon storage, it could enhance crop productivity.

Other agriculture-based soil carbon techniques with large potential include “cover cropping”, which is the practice of planting crops to cover soil rather than for being harvested, as well as including more trees in cropland.

Both of these techniques could help protect and build on soil carbon stocks because the roots of plants can act as anchors, lessening the impact of soil erosion, Bossio explains.

Such agricultural techniques can be seen as “no-brainer” options for boosting soil carbon, she adds:

“Protecting what’s still in the ground and rebuilding the soil carbon in our agricultural systems is pretty much a no-brainer, because of all the multiple benefits that we get. In a lot of our farming systems, soil carbon levels are at a state where, if you improve them, you get benefits in terms of water regulation, water quality, stabilising production and resilience in the systems.”

Restoring and protecting peatlands could also help to sink large amounts of greenhouse gases, the study says.

Peatlands are carbon-dense boggy environments made up of partially decomposing organic matter. They cover just 3% of the world’s surface, but hold up to a third of its soil carbon.

Restoring wetlands could also have an important role in removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, according to the research.

Like peatlands, wetlands contain water-logged carbon-rich soils. A recent study found the Amazon’s wetlands are twice as carbon rich as its rainforests, with soils holding the majority of this carbon.

Overall, it is worth noting that the estimates are global – and it is likely that different countries will benefit most from different soil-based solutions, says Bossio.

For example, Mongolia, a country with vast grassy plains, could benefit most from stemming the conversion of grassland to agricultural land, she says. Whereas Indonesia, a country with vast peatlands and wetlands, could benefit more from protecting those environments.

Co-benefits and costs

The study also explores the likely costs and co-benefits of each soil-based natural climate solution.

The chart below shows the proportion of CO2e removal for each technique that would be low-cost (black), cost-effective (grey) and not currently cost-effective (white). The techniques are grouped into three categories: forests (top), agriculture and grasslands (middle) and wetlands (bottom).

A colour key indicates if the technique is likely to have co-benefits for air (yellow), biodiversity (green), water (blue) and food (red).

A summary of the costs and co-benefits of various soil-based natural climate solutions. The chart shows the proportion of CO2e removal for each technique that would be low cost (black), cost-effective (grey) and not currently cost-effective (white). A colour key indicates if the technique is likely to have co-benefits for air (yellow), biodiversity (green), water (blue) and food (red). Source: Bossio et al. (2020)

A summary of the costs and co-benefits of various soil-based natural climate solutions. The chart shows the proportion of CO2e removal for each technique that would be low cost (black), cost-effective (grey) and not currently cost-effective (white). A colour key indicates if the technique is likely to have co-benefits for air (yellow), biodiversity (green), water (blue) and food (red). Source: Bossio et al. (2020)

The chart shows how avoiding the degradation of forests, peatlands and wetlands would be the most low-cost way to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale.

However, it is worth noting that ecosystems still face major threats in many parts of the world. For example, recent satellite data shows that Amazon deforestation could reach a record high in 2020. Meanwhile, the world’s largest tropical peatland is being threatened by a plan to drill for oil.

Other low-cost and cost-effective options for enhancing soil carbon could come from agricultural systems, the results show. However, large-scale change is needed to encourage farmers to pursue such options, says Bossio:

“There’s a lot of barriers right now to change in our agricultural systems. One of the biggest is disincentives in agricultural policy. There’s also a lack of knowledge about changing current practice. We tell farmers ‘just plant cover crops’ – but that means a farmer needs to know when to plant them, which to plant and how to manage them.”

Reforming agricultural policies around the world could be a way to encourage farmers to take up soil-based solutions, she adds:

“We need to be removing the disincentives in our current agricultural support systems…so farmers could be acknowledged for a range of societal benefits that they can provide.”

The study “does a good job of fleshing out the challenges to implementing schemes to protect and enhance soil organic carbon”, says Trisha Gopalakrishna, a research student in ecosystems at the University of Oxford who was not involved in the research. She tells Carbon Brief:

“It is a good first step and I would be further interested in refined analyses for each of the specific activities and regional analyses for different countries.”

Like peatlands, wetlands contain water-logged carbon-rich soils. A recent study found the Amazon’s wetlands are twice as carbon rich as its rainforests, with soils holding the majority of this carbon.

Why Scientists Should Shape Environmental Policy

The case of fracking in Pennsylvania shows that if experts and fossil fuel industry leaders can cooperate, innovation is possible.

Signs opposing fracking

Signs opposing fracking are posted in the front of the yard of an Evans City, Pennsylvania, home on Feb. 23, 2012. KEITH SRAKOCIC/AP

Solar power, wind energy, smart grids, and energy storage often command the current discourse on energy innovation. Yet none of these technologies has transformed the U.S. energy landscape to the degree of high-volume hydraulic fracturing, known as “fracking,” which is unlocking previously inaccessible crude oil and natural gas from underground reservoirs. Thanks to fracking, the 40-­year decline in U.S. domestic crude oil production has reversed, and the United States has recently become a net exporter of natural gas for the first time.

For many, this record-setting pace of oil and gas production is no cause for celebration, because it reflects a continued reliance on fossil fuels. Nevertheless, fracking has made oil and gas plentiful and cheap, making these energy resources hard to resist. Like it or not, we may depend on oil and gas—and the technologies that produce them—for the foreseeable future.

Fracking begins after a gas or oil well is drilled and involves injecting a mixture of water, sand, and chemical additives into rock. The high pressure causes the rock to fracture, providing conduits for the oil and gas to flow into the nearby wellbore. Public perceptions of fracking are shaped by controversies between an industry that has downplayed the risks of fracking and the citizens alleging that it has polluted air, contaminated drinking water, and scarred landscapes.

People within communities hosting fracking were scared, looking to experts to make sense of this issue. While experts were easy to find, definitive answers were in short supply. The deployment of fracking had raced ahead of the science needed to illuminate its potential impacts. As fracking activities evolve, uncertainties remain. MORE

Military sees surge in sites with ‘forever chemical’ contamination

Military sees surge in sites with 'forever chemical' contamination

© Greg Nash

The military now has at least 651 sites that may have been contaminated with cancer-linked “forever chemicals,” a more than 50 percent jump from its last tally.

The information was released Friday in a report from the Department of Defense (DOD), part of a task force designed to help the military remove a class of chemicals known as PFAS from the water supply near numerous military bases.

PFAS, used in a variety of household products as well as an “AFFF” fire fighting foam relied on by the military, has been deemed a forever chemical due to its persistence in both the environment and the human body.

The military has been under increasing pressure to clean up contaminated sites, previously estimated to be as many as 401 locations. Each of those sites where PFAS may have been used must still be evaluated to determine whether it’s been contaminated, as well as the extent of the exposure.

“This report also makes it clear that we are still learning the full extent of the impact on our communities. The identification of over 250 new sites where PFAS was potentially released is astonishing,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said in a statement.

“It is critical that the department provide communities with timely assessment of these sites, communicate transparently with impacted households, and quickly act to protect civilians and service members alike from these forever chemicals.” MORE

Game Over for Kenney

Jason’s ace? There was always the federal government to bash. Not anymore.

kenney-cartoon.jpg

Cartoon by Greg Perry.

One of the many stories that the pandemic has eclipsed is Jason Kenney. Alberta’s premier is suddenly at risk of going from being one of Canada’s most successful populist politicians into its most outdated leader.

Before COVID-19 turned Times Square into a ghost town, shut down the NHL, and closed Parliament, the New York Stock Exchange, and the Taj Mahal, Kenney was making news directing elbows into Justin Trudeau’s grizzled beard — elbows sharpened by years of political skirmishing. He kept bugging Trudeau to concentrate on the economy. Alberta’s primarily.

It was the familiar harangue: Ottawa was failing the West and the energy sector, and it had to stop or else. Trudeau had other fish to fry, including extravagant promises on fighting climate change — promises he largely broke during his first term, and for which he was punished by voters in 2019.

After crushing Rachel Notley and the NDP in that year’s provincial election, Kenney turned his guns on the feds with a vengeance. His base was suffering from extreme economic angst. Nothing concentrates the mind like being out of work. Alberta’s premier had lots of targets: the hated carbon tax, the cancellation of the Energy East pipeline in 2017, and sluggish progress on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

With the decision by Teck Resources to drop its $20.6 billion Frontier mine in the tar sands, and Warren Buffett walking away from the $9-billion Quebec LNG project, it was easy for Kenney to twist the narrative and blame Ottawa again. Trudeau was doing for foreign investment what COVID-19 has done for cruise ship bookings.

Dealing with a PM who had just lost his majority government, Kenney’s bully-boy tactics seemed to be working. Trudeau appeared to be back on his heels. Kenney rallied other premiers to his side, and got the hotter heads back home doing the separation two-step.

Kenney stamped his cowboy boots with vigour. Trudeau had to hand over wads of stabilization cash, approve more pipelines, and even help clean up the province’s environmental mess, a legacy of irresponsible oil industry players. According to Kenney, Ottawa should adopt Alberta’s orphan mines. (It just might). Otherwise, national unity would be at stake.

Oil crash fever

In the middle of mugging the feds, Kenney was hit by a double whammy for the ages. COVID-19 took the world by storm, crashing the stock market like a house of cards. And then there was the catastrophic drop in the price of oil after Russia, OPEC, and Saudi Arabia rumbled over the issue of cutting supply to prop up sagging prices.

Russia would not agree. Saudi Arabia then increased its production massively, and slashed its prices in an effort to get Moscow to bow to cuts. Mr. Putin didn’t blink. Welcome to West Texas Intermediate oil hovering around $22 dollars U.S. a barrel — less than a third of the price needed by Teck Resources to make its Frontier project in the tar sands viable.

And welcome to the truth about the tar sands and Jason Kenney. Turn out the lights, the party’s over. It has been for quite some time. This week, oil made from Alberta bitumen was going for just over $7 a barrel, discount and all.

The premier lives in the past, a place where successive Conservative governments relied on what they believed would be ever-increasing oil revenues; where you didn’t have to have a real Sovereign Wealth Fund like Norway’s; you didn’t need a sales tax; climate change didn’t exist; gas would always be cheap; and no one had ever heard of shale fracking.

Jason’s ace?

If things really got sticky in the patch, there was always the federal government to bash. Not anymore.

The real world has suddenly supplanted Kenneyland.

Yesterday’s oil patch

Trudeau can’t be blamed for either COVID-19, or the catastrophic drop in the price of oil. There is only a ticking clock on fossil fuels as they overheat the planet, decades of bad resource management in Alberta, and Jason Kenney’s determination to carry on the tradition. SOURCE

Dr. Jane Goodall’s message of hope amid the coronavirus pandemic

Jane Goodall: ‘My job is to give people hope‘. It is half a century since she began her seminal work studying chimpanzees in Africa. But Jane Goodall says her work is far from finished.

Image result for anderson cooperAnderson Cooper talks with Dr. Jane Goodall, legendary conservationist, about humans’ interactions with animals and how we can avoid pandemics like the novel coronavirus.

See the video here