EU leaders back ‘green transition’ in pandemic recovery plan

EU Council President Charles Michel holds a news conference after a video conference with EU heads of state to discuss coronavirus related COVID-19 disease measures, in Brussels, Belgium, 26 March 2020. [EPA-EFE/FRANCOIS WALSCHAERTS]

While attention continues to focus on the urgent health aspects of the COVID-19 outbreak, EU leaders have called on the European Commission to start preparing “a comprehensive recovery plan” that integrates green and digital aspects.

Amid divisions on ways to address the economic fallout of the crisis, EU heads of states concluded an EU summit on Thursday evening (26 March) with a call to prepare the post-crisis period.

EU institutions should “start to prepare the measures necessary to get back to a normal functioning of our societies and economies,” said the final communiqué adopted by the 27 EU leaders after a video conference call.

Such measures should promote “sustainable growth,” the statement added, “integrating inter alia the green transition and the digital transformation, and drawing all lessons from the crisis.”

A previous version of the summit’s final statement, seen by EURACTIV, did not mention the green transition.

The endorsement of green policies as part of the EU’s post-pandemic response was hailed as a victory by environmental groups after Poland and the Czech Republic earlier called for suspending or even ditching the European Green Deal in order to focus all efforts on the health crisis.

“People’s welfare in the longer term is inextricably linked to the health of our environment and climate,” said Ester Asin, the director of the WWF’s European Policy Office.

“A truly ambitious, people-centred European Green Deal must be part of the response and will leave Europe better equipped to tackle the ongoing climate and biodiversity emergencies,” she added.  MORE

TAKE ACTION: Friday April 3rd tell Bill Morneau bailout people not polluters

Meeting banner

Yesterday we were anticipating a Big Oil bailout announcement from Finance Minister Bill Morneau – but your consistent pressure helped delay it yet again.

Our tactics so far have triggered political debate around this decision and left the Big Oil bailout in limbo, but we need to keep thinking of new ways to get our message through and rule out a fossil fuel handout once and for all.

So this Friday April 3 at 12pm PST [3pm Eastern Time] , we’re joining our friends from the Student Climate Strikers, Leadnow, and Dogwood to do something we’ve never done before.

Will you RSVP to join us for a first-of-its kind online rally bringing thousands of people together to speak out against a Big Oil bailout?

RSVP NOW
  • What: People Not Polluters Digital Rally
  • When: Friday April 3rd, at 12pm PST (3pm EST)
  • Where: Join online from your own home!
  • Who: Thousands of Canadians across the country, plus a line-up of inspiring speakers.
  • RSVP here: https://bit.ly/PeoplesBailoutRally

We’ll be joined by experts and politicians (including our very own Tzeporah Berman and former Green Party Leader Elizabeth May) to discuss what’s at stake with this bailout, where this money should be going instead – and the future we want to build together.

We’ll also be doing live tweet storms, singing chants together, showing off our posters – and, like any rally, inviting journalists to cover the event and help get our message into newspapers across the country.

If we can get thousands of people to join the virtual rally this Friday, we’ll not only make a huge impact – but we could literally make history. Will you RSVP and join us online on April 3rd?

The COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented, and it calls for ambitious and urgent relief for workers and communities who have lost their jobs, and for our healthcare system that is already overloaded. What we don’t need more of are irrational actions from government that put polluters before people – like Jason Kenney’s decision earlier this week to cut education funding and put 26,000 teachers’ jobs in jeopardy, only to give $7.5 billion to the Keystone XL pipeline. (No, that’s not an April Fool’s joke – it’s real).

Just like their last big climate decision around the fate of the Teck tar sands mine, Liberal MPs are once again conflicted around a Big Oil bailout. Jason Kenney and the powerful fossil fuel lobby are pushing hard for a massive subsidy. But on the other hand, politician’s inboxes and phone lines are full of messages from voters like you calling on them to support #PeopleNotPolluters and keep their commitment to climate action as they respond to this crisis.

Friday’s rally will be an opportunity to reinforce our message loud and clear: it’s time to put people before polluters and rule out a Big Oil bailout once and for all. Click here to RSVP.

Non-toxic disinfecting: WHAT ARE SAFE AND EFFECTIVE WAYS TO CLEAN AND DISINFECT?

A sparkling bathroom sink.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers these guidelines for household settings:

  • Cleaning refers to the removal of germs, dirt and impurities from surfaces. Cleaning does not kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.
  • Disinfecting refers to using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.

To combat COVID-19, Health Canada offers a list of approved disinfectants for hard surfaces. Some products have hydrogen peroxide as the active ingredient. The Environmental Protection Agency maintains a similar list.

Note: The CDC provides a thorough guide on how to clean and disinfect for COVID-19. And check recommendations from your regional public health agency. (Vinegar is not enough.)

MORE

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Coronavirus won’t stop climate strikes – on the contrary, it could help them

Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg speaks during a “Youth Strike 4 Climate” protest march on March 6, 2020 in Brussels.  AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Sir Michael Marmot, professor of epidemiology and public health at University College London, has said that “coronavirus exposes that we can do things differently”. When it comes to the climate crisis, he added “we must not go back to the status quo ante” – to the way things were before the pandemic.

Changes that we’ve repeatedly been told weren’t possible are, all of a sudden, eminently so. Flights have been grounded and global emissions slashes in a matter of weeks.

Yet it is not simply climate policy which has discovered new realms of possibility, but climate protest, too. Given global bans on mass gatherings, many may have expected the climate protest movement to be put on ice. Yet undeterred activists have found new and exciting ways of adapting to these unusual times.

I’m a young climate activist and have always questioned the impact of mass public demonstrations. Yes, they show that we care a great deal about the environment, but at some point along the way, the science and facts are forgotten and traded in for catchy slogans. With the coronavirus putting a halt to public gatherings, we are able to return to listening to experts. I’ve loved watching the webinars and gaining invaluable information about what I can do in my everyday life to make a difference. Small things like recycling properly, purchasing second-hand clothes, and limiting everyday waste are important and can’t be forgotten.

On Friday, the author and activist Naomi Klein joined Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, head of the climate change unit at the World Health Organisation, for the first Talks for Future webinar. Organised by Fridays For Future, the global climate movement in which more than seven million schoolchildren have participated in the past two years, the webinar was broadcast via YouTube and social media to thousands of young climate strikers around

Though Klein and Campbell-Lundrum disagreed on the effectiveness of various government responses to the coronavirus crisis so far, they agreed on one thing: climate activism could successfully continue during a time of lockdown – and not just through feel-good but ineffective “clicktivism”, but through meaningful online organising. In fact, that lockdown offered exciting opportunities for climate strikers to make new connections with one another.

Far from depleting the movement, in other words, moving global climate strikes online allows for millions more to participate. Swedish climate activist Isabelle Axellson said that “wwe’ve had to expand our team internationally”, including from “the Philippines, from Africa, from Argentina”. In parts of the world where there are few climate strikers, the internet allows their voices to be amplified far wider than would normally be the case. My brother, a 17-year-old climate activist, said: “it’s incredibly exciting and interesting. I can be speaking to someone from Russia one minute – and the next, someone from Kenya.’’

A couple of weeks ago, Fridays For Future called for “a climate strike online, a strike from home and on the Internet”, including webinars and social media posts with placards encouraging climate strikes from home.

Such digital strikes are often accessible to those – such as one 20-year-old living in Mumbai, where political unrest means that gatherings of four or more are grounds for arrest – for whom street protest is not an option.

MORE

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Sustaining sustainability: Lessons from the coronavirus pandemic

Lessons learned stock art

We’re seeing it all: CEOs taking pay cuts amid layoffs, Gap and Zara producing masks in their factories, General Motors and Ford building ventilators, and social media sites such as LinkedIn and Instagram replete with examples of corporate generosity in this crisis-ridden time. But what are the deeper lessons from the coronavirus pandemic that will help companies be more sustainable going forward?

It is somehow evident to me that we are still “living in the past,” and that many companies continue to subscribe to the Milton Friedman dictum that the “social responsibility of business is to maximize profits.”

This crisis, like many others before it, has shone a light on the phenomenon of the “Tragedy of the Commons,” the notion that when individual companies or industries try to maximize private gain, it inevitably leads to collective loss, typically in the form of degradation to our people and planet. Case in point: Firms such as Gap or Starbucks that kept their doors open until last week in pursuit of sales put people — their workers and customers — at risk of catching the virus and spreading it to many others.

Currently, the plastics lobby is trying to overturn the ban on single-use plastic bags, at great cost to the planet, citing dubious public health concerns with reusable shopping bags. This myopic focus on the single bottom line of profits needs to be replaced by the embrace of the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit. And this shift in perspective can be achieved only by adopting the fourth “P” — the compass of Purpose, which forces us to address the all-important question of “why we do what we do.”

Defining a sense of purpose inevitably will lead all companies to realize that business belongs to society and not the other way around. This is a powerful step forward to becoming more stakeholder-centric and not just caring about shareholders but other key stakeholders as well, including employees, consumers and communities.

Jobless claims have shot up to a record high of more than 3 million in the last week alone. To make matters worse, 40 percent of American households cannot afford an exigency payment of $400. Why? This is because profit continues to trump people, and rank-and-file employee pay and benefits remain abhorrently low in the U.S. Workers at Amazon had to strike to protest inhumane working conditions, which does not speak well for one of the richest companies in the world. Similar stories abound, despite plenty of research to show happier and engaged employees are way more productive and contribute positively to company profitability.

The current crisis shows in unequivocal terms that the frontline and shop-floor employees surviving hand to mouth are more vulnerable than the rest of us. The same is true for climate change and other impending crises.

Unlike their CEOs, poor workers living in Manhattan have no place to go when the sea level rises. In this vein, it is key for companies to realize that the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of addressing climate change and ending poverty are related — and the poor amongst us will be disproportionately affected when the climate crisis hits.

Now is the time to strengthen our social fabric. Companies must lobby to increase social protections for the less privileged — a living wage, health care and other forms of insurance that European citizens take for granted — to increase societal resilience. Writing checks each time a crisis hits is a bad idea.  MORE

Oceans can be successfully restored by 2050, say scientists

Despite being treated as humanity’s rubbish dump for decades, the oceans of the world are proving remarkably resilient, says a new scientific review.

Building on that resilience could lead to a full recovery within three decades, the researchers argue.

Climate change, and the challenges of scaling up existing conservation efforts, are the big hurdles, they say.

The researchers caution that the window for action is now very narrow.

The oceans have been exploited by humans for centuries, but the negative impacts of our involvement have only become clear over the last 50 years or so.

Fish and other marine species have been hunted almost to extinction, while oil spills and other forms of pollution have poisoned the seas.

Over the last few decades, the growing influence of climate change has bleached corals, and seen the ocean’s acidity increase. This was documented in last year’s special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

sharks

 

This new review recognises the scale of the problems but also points to the remarkable resilience of the seas. Humpback whale numbers have rebounded since the ban on commercial whaling. Image copyrightMANU SAN FELIX

The proportion of marine species assessed as threatened with global extinction by the IUCN has dropped from 18% in 2000 to 11.4% in 2019.

“Our study documents the recovery of marine populations, habitats and ecosystems following past conservation interventions. It provides specific, evidence-based recommendations to scale proven solutions globally,” said lead author Carlos Duarte, who is professor of marine science at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia.

“We know what we ought to do to rebuild marine life, and we have evidence that this goal can be achieved within three decades. Indeed, this requires that we accelerate our efforts, and spread them to areas where efforts are currently modest.”

The researchers identified nine components that are key to rebuilding the oceans: salt marshes, mangroves, seagrasses, coral reefs, kelp, oyster reefs, fisheries, megafauna and the deep ocean.

The scientists recommend a range of actions that are required including protecting species, harvesting wisely and restoring habitats.

reef fish

 

“We now have the skills and expertise to be able to restore vital marine habitats such as oyster reefs, mangrove swamps and salt marshes – which keep our seas clean, our coasts protected and provide food to support entire ecosystems,” said co-author Prof Callum Roberts from the University of York, UK.  Image copyrightMANU SAN FELIX

“Science gives us reason to be optimistic about the future of our oceans, but we are not currently doing enough in the UK or globally,” he added.

A big challenge is climate change, which is raising sea levels and making the waters more acidic. The amount of warming that has already taken place will likely make rebuilding tropical reefs quite difficult.

“If we don’t tackle climate change and raise the ambition and immediacy of these efforts, we risk wasting our efforts,” said Prof Duarte.

“We also need to move closer toward reducing pressure on fish stocks, and tackle elements of pollution, such as plastic litter,”

Another big question is money. The new study estimates that it will costs $10-20bn a year to rebuild marine life by 2050. But the review also points out that for every dollar invested, the expected return would be $10.

The authors acknowledge that governments have many other issues on their minds right now but they believe that rescuing the oceans is a very achievable goal.

“Failure to embrace this challenge, and in doing so condemning our grandchildren to a broken ocean unable to support high quality livelihoods is not an option,” added Prof Duarte.

The study has been published in the journal Nature. SOURCE

Renewables make up over half of Germany’s power mix

Just over half of electricity used in Germany was created by renewable energy sources at the start of 2020. But some wind and solar advocates warn investment is needed for that to remain the case.

Solar panels in Germany (picture-alliance/dpa/S. Hoppe)

Germany’s target for renewable energy sources to deliver 65% of its consumed electricity by 2030 seemed on track Wednesday, with 52% of electricity coming from renewables in 2020’s first quarter. Renewable energy advocates, however, warned the trend is imperiled by slowdowns in building new wind and solar plants.

The federal BDEW energy and water federation and Baden-Württemberg state’s ZSW solar and hydro research center observed a 7% percent renewables jump from 44.4% in the same period last year, in comparison to fossil-fuel consumption.

Read more: Winds of change push German power grid to brink

Wind, especially offshore wind turbines, solar panels and other sources generated 77 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) compared to 67 kWh in the first quarter of 2019.

Using the standard EU’s electricity consumption measurement, Germany’s total, also from conventional coal, gas and nuclear plants, amounted to 148 billion kWh.

The 7% jump in renewables came despite conventional plant closures and pandemic impacts on industry, said both, while also noting “special effects” such as record winds in February and plentiful sun in March that benefited turbines and voltaic panels.

That trend could, however, not be extrapolated for the whole of 2020, warned the BDEW and ZSW, pointing to local objectors and current investor indecision.

Read more: Climate-friendly heating: How to stay warm without fossil fuels

Some residents, arguing on health and scenic grounds, resist the building of more wind turbines and the laying of extra arterial power lines to transmit electricity captured at North Sea wind farms to Germany’s industrial south.

The record figures stand in contrast to investment deterrents, which if not quickly removed would make Germany’s target of 65% self-sufficiency unreachable, said BDEW head Kerstin Andreae.

Germany’s pandemic-induced economic woes compounded the situation, Andreae added.

Given the current downturn, ZSW executive board member Frithjof Staiss contended that investors would turn to renewable energy projects that were less fraught with risk than the current “volatile share market.”

The renewables record, noted the BDEW and ZSW, was achieved despite the shutdown of Germany’s Philippsburg 2 nuclear power plant at the end of 2019 and the placing of brown coal power plants on standby to cover emergencies.

Using another measure, gross electricity produced, the two groups calculated that with exported electricity included in their calculation, renewable sources made up 49% of Germany’s gross electricity production in the first quarter of the year. SOURCE

Small Farms Offer Big Solutions as Global Issues Turn Focus to Home

The global pandemic has pulled into focus some of the more important components of our society. The recent ‘Clap for our Carers’ witnessed people across the UK coming out on to their streets to praise the National Health Service (NHS) and its workers. Despite social distancing, communities seem to have come more together. Sanitation workers, emergency services, delivery drivers and food producers amongst others have also been rightly recognised as vital to the functioning of our life.

This recognition is heartening. Food has also been a focal point for many, with many preparing for isolation by increasing their weekly shop, revealing the fragility of the just-in-time model employed by supermarkets.

The growth of food and farming has been increasingly distanced in our modern, (post) industrial society. This is in part due to the history of concentrated land ownership – with half of the UK’s land remaining in the hands of 1% of the population. It is also in part due to the genius of our technological world — and the belief in ‘Big solutions’ made possible with plentiful fossil fuels.

Currently, 72% of land in the UK is managed for agriculture: roughly about one-third arable and two-thirds pastoral. Most of which is dominated by an industrial paradigm. With the fruits of such great feats come serious consequences. The globalised food system means long supply chains, far off producers in distant countries suffering poor regulation and governance resulting in poor working conditions and exploitation.

Industrial agriculture, due to its scale, often relies on large machinery, large inputs of fossil fuel and large inputs of agrochemicals.

However there has always been a strain of thinking that has questioned this trajectory, and a system that fed the world well before the (ironically called) ‘green revolution’

With the pandemic forcing a change in perspective, is now a time to rethink other paradigms we take for granted yet hold dear: namely, food and farming?

Is it possible to re-introduce ways of growing that are resilient, kinder to the planet, involve more people and works with the grain of nature? ‘Agroecology’, the application of ecological principles to agricultural systems and practices, has the potential to do this. MORE

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COVID-19 will Slow the Global Shift to Renewable Energy, but can’t Stop it

Shutdown in Seattle to slow the spread of coronavirus empties the streets, March 26, 2020. Less economic activity means less revenue for utilities. AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

The renewable energy industry, which until recently was projected to enjoy rapid growth, has run into stiff headwinds as a result of three era-defining events: the COVID-19 pandemic, the resulting global financial contraction and a collapse in oil prices. These are interrelated, mutually reinforcing events.

It’s much too early to be able to assess how large their economic, environmental and policy impacts will be. But as someone who has worked on energy policy in academiathe industry, the federal government and Wall Street, I expect a significant short-run contraction followed by a catch-up period over the next few years that returns us to the same long-term path – perhaps even a better one.

Falling energy demand

The most obvious result of these shocks is clear: Economic contractions reduce power demand, because every form of economic activity requires electricity, directly or indirectly. The 2008-9 recession reduced power demand in the United States by about 10 years’ worth of growth. Put another way, national utility sales did not exceed 2008 levels until 2018.

U.S. electricity use on March 27, 2020 was 3% lower than on March 27, 2019. That difference represents a loss of about three years of sales growth. Electricity use will trace the same path as total economic output as the crisis unfolds, but will drop much less in percentage terms. That’s because electricity use is a necessity, and essential services and households will continue to use power. Some, like health care, will use much more.

Industry revenues will also suffer, because most utilities are voluntarily halting shutoffs due to bill nonpayment and deferring planned or proposed rate increases.

SE Future@SE_Future

‘It’s Like a Snow Day Every Day’: Coronavirus Threatens Commercial Renewables Demand http://dlvr.it/RScN2v 

View image on Twitter

Clean energy has momentum

Countervailing factors will partly offset this decline, at least in wealthy countries. Many renewable plants are being installed for reasons other than demand growth, such as clean power targets in state laws and regulations, and are already under contract or construction.

Government policies and public pressure are also forcing utilities to retire coal-fired power plants. Since 2010, 102,000 megawatts of coal generating capacity have been retired – nearly one-third of the total U.S. coal fleet – and at least 17,000 megawatts more are expected to retire by 2025. Most of this will likely be replaced by wind, solar and hydropower.

U.S. electricity generation is shifting toward lower-carbon fuels, including natural gas and renewables, and away from coal. EIA

Despite the current crisis, there is long-term pressure from many directions to add carbon-free energy. Fifty U.S. utilities have already committed to carbon reduction goals, including 21 companies that pledge to become carbon-free by 2050.

Voluntary green energy purchases by U.S. companies increased by almost 50% in the last year, to 9,300 megawatts – almost 1% of all U.S. power capacity. And residential customers are choosing to buy more renewable energy through options such as community solar programs.

Defaulting to dirty fuels?

Since early 2019 crude oil prices have collapsed, declining almost 64%. As oil market guru Daniel Yergin recently observed, this drop is likely to be steep and prolonged:

“[I]t’s a problem of an oil price war in the middle of a constricting market when the walls are closing in. Normally demand would solve the problem in a way, because you would have lower prices that act like a tax cut and it would be a stimulus. But not in this case because of the freezing up of economic activity.”


Oil companies are bracing for a prolonged period of low prices.

This oil price collapse has also reduced U.S. natural gas prices by about one-third from year-ago levels. Like electricity and oil, natural gas use rises and falls with economic activity; it is somewhat less sensitive to economic trends than the highly reactive oil sector, and more sensitive than comparatively stable electricity use.

Ordinarily, cheaper natural gas – which is widely used for generating electricity – would stimulate electricity demand by reducing the price of power, thus increasing economic growth. But in this unusual era, the effects of lower oil and gas prices on renewables will be somewhat murky and complex, and will probably differ substantially by market and region.

For some new plants in places where policies do not effectively mandate renewable energy, continued or even new use of oil and gas generation will look cheaper. For example, replacing dirty diesel generation with solar power plus some form of energy storage will not look nearly as attractive now as it did a year ago.

This is especially worrisome in emerging nations, where the overwhelming imperative is to expand electricity supply as cheaply as possible. These economies are always short on capital and highly sensitive to energy costs. If they opt for cheap fossil fuels instead of renewables, it will be bad for air quality and climate policy.

The fact that central banks are promoting ultra-low or even negative interest rates to respond to the economic crisis could mitigate this risk by making renewables, which have high capital costs, cheaper to install. The key is avoiding a wholesale shift to new fossil fuel generation.

Parts shortages

The most significant near-term impacts on renewable plants that are already contracted or under construction may be felt through supply chains. Renewable industry executives are anticipating delivery and construction slowdowns, either because nations shutter industries to slow the spread of coronavirus or because workers start getting sick.

Many parts for large-scale renewable projects come entirely or partially from China, other parts of Asia or the United States. These are specialized supply chains with few ready substitutes.

The COVID-19 outbreak has already slowed Chinese production of solar panels and materials, delaying projects in countries including India and Australia. Manufacturing disruptions in China could contribute to a significant one- or two-year dip in renewable additions.

Bloomberg Australia

India’s renewables installations are set to slow after the country enforced a three-week lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus https://trib.al/EdJyOuK 

India Renewables Projects Set for Slowdown on Lockdown

India’s renewables installations are set to slow after the country enforced a three-week lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus, according to BloombergNEF.

bloomberg.com

All in all, I expect that a slowdown in renewable energy growth will be one of many deeply tragic effects of the virus-plus-contraction double whammy. Impacts in emerging markets, where a new fossil-fueled plant locks in decades of new carbon dioxide emissions, are especially concerning.

But these effects will not be uniformly negative, and nothing about this crisis will change the long-term trend toward carbon-free energy. Once the global economy bounces back, perhaps this episode will convince world leaders to accelerate climate policy efforts, before the next climate-induced disease vector or weather event triggers yet another global economic shock.

SOURCE


Director, Institute for Sustainable Energy, and Professor of Practice, Questrom School of Business, Boston University

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