Three years and six goals to meet targets in the Paris Climate Agreement

A grouping of climate change experts has published six goals that must be achieved by 2020 in order to meet the targets set out in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

In a letter published in the journal Nature, the authors and co-signatories – represented by eminent scientists, business leaders, economists and NGO representatives – declared we must “overcome the risks of climate change” and “act boldly together”.

To meet the Paris Agreement target of limiting global temperature increases to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the experts identified six key goals to be met by 2020:

  1. Renewable energy should make up 30 per cent of global electricity supply and no coal-fired power plants should be commissioned
  2. Three per cent of building and infrastructure stock should come from near-zero or zero-emission buildings each year
  3. Electric vehicles should make up 15 per cent of annual car sales, as well as a 20 per cent reduction in aviation emissions and 20 per cent increase in efficiency of heavy duty vehicles
  4. Policies should be enacted to shift land use from deforestation to reforestation and traditional agriculture to sustainable approaches. In doing so these lands would switch from being carbon sources to carbons sinks by 2030
  5. Carbon-intensive heavy industry should have plans in place to increase efficiency and be on a path to halve emissions by 2050
  6. $1 trillion dollars should be set aside annually for climate action initiatives

The authors choice of 2020 is significant for two reasons.

Firstly, with current global CO2 emissions at a staggering 41 gigatonnes per year, the goals of the Paris Agreement become essentially unattainable if emissions continue at this scale by 2020.

Secondly, 2020  marks the year when a country can formally withdraw from the Paris Agreement, as President Trump has already announced that the US will do.

Although the authors recognise that their goals are “idealistic at best [and] unrealistic at worst” and that the “political winds are blustery”, they remain optimistic.

“We are in the age of exponential transformation and think that such a focus will unleash ingenuity,” the letter reads.

For the first time in history there is almost unanimous international agreement that the risks associated with climate change are too great to ignore and that we must work urgently and collectively.

In many cases, solutions already exist and the transition to low-carbon technology is well underway in many sectors.

The global expansion of wind and solar energy will continue and the global sales of electric vehicles appear to be on the cusp of a rapid global expansion.

The past three years mark the first time that global emissions have stagnated while global GDP has grown, indicating that measures already adopted are beginning to have an effect.

While the recent G20 summit highlights the political and civil tension that exists at present, one clear positive outcome from the weekend’s meeting was the reaffirmed commitment to the Paris Agreement by the world’s most powerful economies bar the United States.

Although the G20 summit has further isolated the US, optimists will focus on the continuation of the US renewable energy transition and emissions reduction and a continued commitment by states, cities, companies and citizens despite the best efforts of the current administration.

In a recent interview, former President of Ireland Mary Robinson – a signatory of the letter in Nature – struck a positive note in relation to the US stance: “What President Trump has done is put climate on the American agenda in a way that it was never there before, and provoked a dynamic response from communities, business, civil society, philanthropy.”

A version of this article appeared in the Green News on July 10th, 2017.

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All new Volvo cars to be electric or hybrid from 2019

Volvo will only produce fully electric or hybrid cars from 2019, making it the first mainstream car manufacturer to commit to a total phase out of cars solely powered by internal combustion engines.

This may well be a landmark moment and one of the clearest a signs yet that traditional petrol or diesel fueled cars may be a thing of the past sooner than many expected.

“This announcement marks the end of the solely combustion engine-powered car,” Volvo CEO Håkan Samuelsson announced yesterday in a live-streamed press conference.

The Sweden-based company, which is owned by the Chinese car manufacturer Geely Holding Group, plans to release five fully-electric vehicles (EVs) between 2019 and 2021, followed by a range of hybrid-powered cars equipped with petrol or diesel engines.

Volvo envisions that they will have 2 million of their new electrified vehicles on the road by 2025.

Car manufacturers scrambling to comply with EU 7 legislation

Mr Samuelsson said the move is a response to customer demands, although it also coincides with the introduction of EURO 7 legislation to set legally binding carbon emission targets by 2020.

The new legislation will limit CO2 emissions of new cars sold in the EU to 95 grams per kilometer. Emissions from the average EU car was 118 grams per kilometer last year.

In 2015, new diesel cars from Volvo and other manufacturers were found by Europe’s largest motoring organisation, Adac, to emit substantially higher levels of pollution than those revealed in existing EU tests. As revealed in the Guardian, Adac tested the cars using an alternative UN standard set to be introduced by the EU this year.

Other manufacturers, such as BMW, Volkswagen, Jaguar and Land Rover, have laid out ambitious plans to ramp up production of electric cars in order to comply with this legislation.

Renault leads the pack when it comes to sales of EVs in Europe for 2017, followed by Nissan, Peugeot, Kia and the much vaunted Tesla.

EV sales continue to break records, but ending subsidies could spell danger

The global sales of electric vehicles hit a record of 750,000 in 2016 and 2017 is set to far surpass that figure again, with projected sales of over 1 million vehicles. China is the largest manufacturer, accounting for 40 per cent of electric cars sold, with the EU coming in second.

However, the fragile nature of the EV market and its reliance on substantial government tax subsidies was recently highlighted in Denmark, where EV sales dropped 60 per cent in the first quarter of this year compared with the same period in 2016.

This consumer U-turn came as the Danish government announced plans to phase out EV tax subsidies between 2016 and 2020. The government has since reversed this decision, however, consumer confusion still exists and it is affecting sales.

In Ireland, EV owners benefit from a €5,000 grant from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, up to €5,000 vehicle registration tax relief and 800 free charge points dotted around the country.

It is clear that EV technology is coming down the road but it is still unclear at exactly what speed and what obstacles lie in the way.

A version of this article appeared in the Green News on July 6th, 2017.

New project launched to study links between flooding and waterborne disease outbreaks

A new research project investigating the links between flooding events and the incidence of waterborne infectious disease outbreaks in Ireland was officially launched at UCD Earth Institute today.

The multidisciplinary project will involve social scientists, environmental scientists, engineers and public health researchers from UCD, University of Limerick, DIT and Trinity College.

Flood damage to infrastructure receives widespread media attention but the potential public health consequences for society from future increased flooding as a result of climate change has received little consideration.

A major public health concern, according to Dr Eoin O’Neill from UCD Earth Institute and principal investigator of the project, is that more intense or prolonged rainfall events can mobilise viral and bacterial pathogens from agricultural and domestic sources, transmit them to rivers and groundwater and increase the incidence of waterborne infectious diseases.

Previous research conducted by Dr. Jean O’Dwyer, a UL-based collaborator on the project, has already shown that increased rainfall in Ireland increases the likelihood of groundwater contamination with the familiar pathogen E. coli. 

The project aims to quantify the effects of intensive rainfall and flooding on the incidence and severity of pathogens and to identify the knowledge and awareness gaps of well owners and users in relation to drinking water sources and flood awareness and preparedness.

It is hoped that this project will help reduce the occurrence of illnesses caused by waterborne diseases, such as gastrointestinal illness.

The project will provide an evidence base to inform policy and practice and develop guidelines to inform public authorities when responding to extreme weather conditions.

According to Dr Paul Hynds – an epidemiologist based in DIT and a collaborator on the project: “This should be of particular interest to Irish policymakers including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Office of Public Works (OPW) as 800,000 Irish people rely on a private unregulated groundwater source (wells) for daily water consumption, in addition to many holidaymakers.”

The project is funded by the Geological Survey of Ireland and the Irish Research Council.

A version of this article appeared in the Green News on July 28th, 2017.