Monday marked the onset of what may be the most important (and most exciting) gathering of world leaders in human history. From November 30 to December 11, representatives from more than 190 countries are coming together to reach agreement on global climate efforts at the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris.
There is a great deal of optimism around the world as national heads come together with commitments in hand. This is a huge step forward compared to past climate conferences which have failed to reach any target that the world could agree upon. It remains to be seen if this positive momentum will result in an accord with the power to spur change on a global scale.
In preparation for the conference, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) evaluated the current research (over 30,000 papers) on the science of climate change. The key takeaway in their synthesis: Scientists are now more certain than ever that climate change is real; it’s caused by human activities – especially the burning of fossil fuels; and it’s already impacting people around the world, from rising sea levels to more extreme weather events. Hence the overarching goal in Paris this week is to frame a deal to prevent Earth from warming above the point of no return (more than 2°C).
In the months leading to the conference nearly every country on the planet submitted their commitments to reduce greenhouse gases based on the IPCC report, called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). The United States’ INDC outlines a commitment to cut emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025, mostly by reducing CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants.
All 156 INDCs, representing 97.8% of global emitters, will be plugged into a final document crafted through the high level negotiations. The COP21 final accord will actually be divided into a “core agreement,” laying out the broad objectives for emissions reduction and how to pay for poor nations’ efforts, and “decisions” describing how these objectives will be achieved.
One hot issue to be settled in Paris is over the legal status of this document. A formal treaty would need the impossible approval of the Republican-controlled US Senate. Instead, President Obama will likely sign off on the accord as an “executive agreement.” There seems to be an understanding that the “agreement” would have more binding legal status than the “decisions,” which would include the national pledges and be subject to revision. The US has held that they will not sign any legally binding emissions targets.
While the commitments to cut emissions by the world’s countries is a great start, without legally binding targets and accountability, these promises hold little weight. It will also be interesting to see if, and how, leaders will establish a path forward with plans to reconvene and re-affirm their targets regularly.
The unfortunate reality is that even if every country followed through with their commitments, scientists estimate that global warming will be about 2.7 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Given that a 2 degree increase is the limit necessary to avert the worst impacts, we will still need to focus on adaptation as well as mitigation to climate change. But on the bright side, it’s a lot less warming than would happen if we continue the status quo without curbing any emissions at all!
This summit isn’t the end of the fight to limit climate change. But considering there has never before been international agreement on climate efforts - the Kyoto Treaty never got off the ground, due in large part to the failure of the US to join - it is a huge step to come together in the battle. As technologies such as solar improve and countries become more confident in their ability to transition to cleaner energy, they can step up their action over time.
Renewable energy stands out as the most common strategy for meeting targets out of all of the INDCs! This is a great sign of growing prospects for the solar industry. According to research by the World Resources Institute, if Brazil, China, the EU, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, and the United States follow through on their commitments, the amount of clean energy installed will more than double by 2030!
The US targets were largely based on the projected outcome of Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which limits greenhouse gas emissions from coal plants and aims to get 20% of electricity from renewables by 2030. The Clean Power Plan has yet to be approved by the Senate and has significant opposition. One can hope that the COP21 and international pressure to act will help on this front. But in a climate where federal tax credits are under threat and state-level clean energy incentives are rapidly drying up, the US commitments on an international stage could be an important backstop to helping the renewable energy sector grow.
Outside the negotiating rooms, thousands of business leaders, state officials, activists, scientists and others from the private sector are also holding events and meetings. The mere existence of the political agreements taking place will lead to increased investment in the renewable energy sector. While the value of political will to accomplish the enormous task of an energy transition shouldn’t be underestimated, the private sector is likely where the real growth will occur without the partisan challenges of the government.
On a final note, we at Run on Sun are thrilled about the events in Paris this week. As the international community finally comes together to tackle climate change our optimism about the world’s ability to act meaningfully is renewed! However, the work that must be done doesn’t end this week. Next week, next month, next year and on and on the fight will continue. Governments, the private sector, and even individuals must continue to act every day on behalf of the only planet we’ve got. Going solar is one of the best ways to reduce your emissions impact from your home or business. We look forward to doing our part!
Run on Sun has been following the exciting developments of Solar Impulse since it’s prototype began its groundbreaking test flight across America in 2013.
After the lessons learned from the American flight, an upgraded Solar Impulse 2 was developed with a wingspan wider than a Boeing 747, more than 17,000 solar cells and 1,300 pounds of batteries. Amazingly, the aircraft still weighs no more than an average car!
Finally, this morning, on March 9th, 2015, Solar Impulse 2 and her team were ready to embark on their record-breaking aeronautical journey around the world. The first leg officially departed from Abu Dhabi at 7:12AM UTC+4. Landing in Muscat, Oman at 20:13PM UC+4 pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg rested for a few hours before continuing onward to Ahmedabad, India.
With a top speed of 50 mph, the entire circuit is planned to take four or five months before returning safely back to Abu Dhabi. You can follow their flight online as well as chat with the mission control center and view cockpit measurements like solar battery storage and pilot heart rate!
Solar Impulse is not only about accomplishing the first round-the-world solar flight. Behind the development of this technological feat lies a very powerful message. Piccard and Borschberg are using each landing as an opportunity to reach out to governments, NGOs, education centers, and the broader public to share what is possible with clean technologies.
“We shouldn’t be listing targets, but rather solutions – ways of meeting those targets. Because these solutions exist. Our society could already cut energy consumption in half by replacing old, outdated, polluting technology with clean technologies. Couldn’t we, all together, persuade governments to modify the legal framework so as to encourage the replacement of polluting technologies by cleantechs? That would at least make debates constructive and international climate conferences interesting.” - Bertrand Piccard
In conjunction with Solar Impulse’s round-the-world flight, the pilots started an online campaign called “Future is Clean”. In December 2015, they will share the largest collective voice in favor of clean technologies with global leaders at COP21, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. You can add your pledge and share with your networks at www.futureisclean.org.
Here in SoCal discussions on water conservation are a regular occurrence. We all know the management of water resources in California is critical given increasing populations, increasing strains on our enormous agricultural ‘breadbasket’, and ever-decreasing precipitation as the effects of climate change worsen. However, how many of us think about energy in terms of water conservation?
According to the International Energy Agency, energy production accounts for 15% of the world’s water withdrawal – water withdrawn from groundwater. Thermoelectric power plants account for over one third of the fresh water withdrawn in the US. Shockingly that volume is greater than the water used to grow our food!
So which energy sources are hogging our precious water and how? Actually, most energy generation technologies — including coal, nuclear, biomass and even concentrating solar power – consume astounding amounts of water. It is necessary primarily for cooling thermal power plants, as well as fuel extraction, transport and processing. This results in both the depletion of available freshwater resources and affects the quality of our remaining resources downstream due to the polluting effects of energy-related outputs.
Sunlight, on the other hand, is an infinitely abundant resource in most water-stressed parts of the world, including here in California. The World Energy Outlook, published by the International Energy Agency reported that photovoltaic (PV) solar energy is one of only two electricity generation technologies with negligible water consumption.
PV energy systems provide a sustainable solution to the water-energy nexus by generating clean electricity with little to no water use. With the smallest carbon footprint, lowest life cycle water use, and fastest energy payback time in the industry, thin-film PV modules provide a sustainable solution to water scarcity and energy security.
Water conservation must be a priority in water-stressed parts of the world. While PV solar is unlikely to provide enough power for the entire state any time soon, individuals and businesses installing roof-top solar can make a positive difference. It turns out, not only in reducing air pollution from dirty energy but also in saving our water resources!
It is important to note the other half of the energy-water nexus. Energy is required to produce, treat, and distribute water. So, even if solar is providing your electricity, the water you use is still linked to polluting energy sources. Combining smart water conservation techniques, such as those suggested in this EPA list of household water saving methods, with going solar is the best bet for ensuring our planet’s resources will continue to provide for our future.
California Governor Jerry Brown’s inauguration was historic in more ways than one. After all, this is his fourth term - despite the legal limit of just two (the term limit was imposed in 1990 after his earlier terms in the 70’s). But perhaps even more historic was the content of his exciting inaugural speech. Among many plans for a healthier and more economically viable state, Brown proposed ambitious green energy goals including growing renewable energy to 50% by 2030. Coincidentally, on Tuesday we posted a blog encouraging readers to support the policies and politicians defending and expanding solar opportunities.
Gov. Brown described California as an environmental policy trendsetter. We already lead the nation in solar energy usage, energy efficiency overall, cleaner cars and energy storage. However, with the majority of scientists agreeing that we must limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius by 2050, much more comprehensive measures are necessary.
If we have any chance at all of achieving that, California, as it does in many areas, must show the way. We must demonstrate that reducing carbon is compatible with an abundant economy and human well-being.
He outlined the following three goals to accomplish by 2030:
California is already on track to reach its goal of one third energy derived from renewable sources by 2020. So, although 50% by 2030 sounds bold because no one else is doing it, it is actually feasible. This could mean the continuation of tax breaks and other financial incentives for homeowners to go solar. Given that transportation accounts for 40 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, incentives and infrastructure to get drivers in electric cars are also likely.
I envision a wide range of initiatives: more distributed power, expanded rooftop solar, micro-grids, an energy imbalance market, battery storage, the full integration of information technology and electrical distribution and millions of electric and low-carbon vehicles.
It won’t be easy accomplishing Brown’s goals with the oil industry leaders and some politicians opposing anything green. As mentioned in Tuesday’s post, we must remain diligent in supporting policies and politicians fighting for a cleaner world. By his speech, Governor Brown once again demonstrated that he is such a politician, with his practical and no-nonsense stance:
Taking significant amounts of carbon out of our economy without harming its vibrancy is exactly the sort of challenge at which California excels. This is exciting, it is bold and it is absolutely necessary if we are to have any chance of stopping potentially catastrophic changes to our climate system.
We are at a crossroads. With big and important new programs now launched and the budget carefully balanced, the challenge is to build for the future, not steal from it, to live within our means and to keep California ever golden and creative, as our forebears have shown and our descendants would expect.
In a dramatic joint announcement coming out of the APEC summit in China, President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have committed to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. (H/T climatecrocks.com)
The agreement calls on China to peak its GHG emissions by no later than 2030 and increase the use of non-fossil fuels to 20% by that date. Meanwhile, the US will cut its GHG emissions by 26-28% (compared to 2005 levels) by 2025. For the two largest emitters of GHG, these steps by the US and China are historic and much needed.
“As the world’s two largest economies, energy consumers and emitters of greenhouse gases, we have a special responsibility to lead the global effort against climate change,” Obama said Wednesday in a joint press conference with Xi.
UPDATE - We noted that this was a really big deal, but the graph below is truly the picture worth a thousand words:
While the impact of the actions from the US and China alone are significant, as the graph shows, their greatest benefit is in serving as an example for other countries to follow.
Beyond the practical significance in helping to combat climate change, China’s commitment - coming as it does from the head of the Communist Party - takes away the deniers’ favorite argument: that it is meaningless for the US to act since China never will. Well guess what, China is acting.
Sorry deniers, what else have you got?