A compilation of stories from around the world about advances in low-carbon economic development and conservation.
Advances in low-carbon economic development
Bitcoin Popularity Raises Need for Renewable Energy
The World Economic Forum reports that the surging Bitcoin uses a “truly staggering” amount of energy, raising questions as to whether the world can environmentally afford it. Currently, one transaction of the cryptocurrency requires the same amount of electricity as powering a single house for a month – and Bitcoin mining uses the same amount of electricity every year as the country of Denmark. By 2020, Bitcoin mining could be consuming the same amount of electricity or more as the rest of the world, and 60% of Bitcoin miners’ incomes could be spent on electricity bills and other operational costs. The rise of the cryptocurrency prompts an even greater need for acceleration of renewable energy worldwide.
UNFCCC Announces COP 23 Will Be Climate-Neutral
In advance of 23rd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP23), to be held in Bonn, Germany with COP23 President Fiji, the UNFCCC has announced that the COP will be both climate neutral and “sustainable to the greatest possible extent.” The climate neutrality effort will employ energy efficiency improvements, renewable energy use, and offsetting of unavoidable emissions. Sustainability and climate goals will also be achieved through enhanced waste management initiatives. Needed offsets will be obtained where possible through sustainable development investment in small island developing States (SIDS), in recognition of the Fijian Presidency of COP 23. For more, see http://bit.ly/2xQmrfX. Planet Pledge is sponsoring a side event on Nov. 9th at COP23 on “Achieving Socially and Ecologically Beneficial Renewable Energy Systems through Community Engagement”; see http://bit.ly/2zEqA8d for more.
Elon Musk says it's possible to power the US entirely with solar
Speaking recently at the National Governors Association meeting, Elon Musk told governors that the U.S. could be entirely powered by solar panels spanning an area of only about 100 by 100 miles. He added that the batteries needed to store the energy and ensure “24/7 power” could cover “one square-mile. That’s it.” Musk offered several recommendations to move forward swiftly on this initiative, including combining rooftop solar and utility-scale solar plants to ensure broad, localized, and efficient coverage. Once this goal is achieved, the U.S. could eliminate over 1,800 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the amount generated by the country’s current electric power sector — representing 35 percent of the overall CO2 energy-related emissions in the U.S.
Prime minister Modi could lecture Trump on climate change — India is leapfrogging the US on renewables
India is making vast strides towards its Paris climate accord commitments, and hopes to obtain 60% of its energy from non-fossil fuel sources by 2027. Most notably, tens of thousands of remote villages in India may in fact “leapfrog” over fossil fuel infrastructure and move straight to solar, hydropower, and biomass as their first sources of electricity. India is guiding this transition by shutting down coal plants. For example, Coal India, the world's largest coal company, recently announced it was closing 37 mines due to economic losses. India's energy minister has announced the government wants to eliminate coal imports entirely; and from July 2015 to July 2016, India's "coal plant pipeline" fell by 40 gigawatts. By contrast, 64% of American electricity came from fossil fuels in 2016.
Utilities are increasingly offering customers access to large-scale renewable energy options
Over the past few years, U.S. utilities have begun offering new, large-scale renewable energy options to their customers. World Resources Institute data shows that across 10 U.S. states, utilities now offer 13 green tariffs, or programs that let customers purchase large-scale renewable energy over the grid. The increasing cost-competitiveness of renewable energy is driving this shift, with the vast majority of utility executives predicting utility-scale wind and solar to increase moderately or significantly over the next 10 years. Another reason for this shift is the escalating demand for renewable energy on the grid, with more companies committing to 100 percent renewable power, and greenhouse-gas reduction targets becoming the norm for major corporations. As a result, states with renewable energy options have become more competitive in attracting high-growth corporate business.
New UN report shows accelerating renewable energy investments
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has released a new report finding that the cost of clean energy continues to drop significantly, spurring the addition of record levels of renewable energy capacity in 2016. The report, “Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2017,” adds that new renewables sources will generate energy equivalent to the world's 16 largest existing power producing facilities combined. Further, investment in renewables capacity in 2016 was “roughly double that in fossil fuel generation.”
Giant wind farm may open new era as NC taps its wind resource
North Carolina, which has some of the strongest wind resources on the East Coast, has begun operation of its first wind farm, despite lawmakers’ earlier attempts to block the project. The wind farm features over 100 turbines across 22,000 farmland acres, generating enough energy to power 61,000 homes a year. The focus of its operations will be to power a data center for online retailer Amazon. Republican legislators had raised “phony” objections that the turbines would interfere with military radar, a claim the Navy quickly refuted. In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the wind farm will bring welcome tax revenue to the area and increase income productivity for local farmland.
Advances in global conservation
Scientists Discover 115 New Species In Southeast Asia
According to a recent report, scientists have discovered 115 new species in the Greater Mekong region of Southeast Asia. Some were discovered in unexpected places, including a snail-eating turtle found in a local food market. Species discovered include 88 plants, 11 reptiles, 11 amphibians, two fish, and three mammals – primarily found near the Mekong River in Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. Scientists took care with identification, with one – a mountain horseshoe bat – declared a new species only after a decade of investigation. Species identification allows for better implementation of conservation laws, and illustrates there is much still to be learned about the natural world.
Legal systems need to evolve to recognize rights of nature
Organized by the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, the 4th International Rights of Nature Tribunal met alongside the 23rd United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties to apply new legal options for incorporating nature’s rights into climate and conservation decisionmaking. Nine Tribunal judges, representing legal and environmental expertise from around the world, heard seven cases involving climate-related injuries to people and planet. Linda Sheehan with Planet Pledge assisted as a Prosecutor for the Earth, along with a co-Prosecutor based in Ecuador.
Connecting with endangered species
Serving the direction that “we will conserve only what we love,” a new book by photographer Tim Flach and zoologist Jonathan Baillie offers stunning photographs and information on some of the world’s most critically endangered ecosystems and species. Finding that “for our own wellbeing we have to reconnect with the wild,” their work compiles 20 months of shooting into a collection of over 180 pictures from around the world, both above and below the water. The photos pose the question of what the potential disappearance of these ecosystems and species means to us, and opens the door to reverse this trend. One step is to act now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our homes and communities, as climate change is rapidly driving many of these habitats and animals toward extinction (see http://bit.ly/2l20VQQ).
Global FinPrint guides shark conservation in Dominican Republic
Following the recent ban on fishing and trading all species of sharks, rays, parrotfish, and sea urchins in Dominican Republic waters, officials there have begun working with Global FinPrint, a three-year scientific survey of reef sharks and rays throughout the world, to track populations. Francisco Domínguez Brito, Environment Minister, said that by monitoring shark and ray activity, Global FinPrint will help guide future decisions based on scientific data. The Minister added that “some fishing gear is bringing these wonderful marine animals to the brink of collapse" and that action is needed now to avoid destroying everything. Working with the scientists, officials are assessing species distribution and abundance around the island nation, which will allow them to monitor changes over time and make policy adjustments as populations hopefully recover.
‘Protect Wildlife’ project seeks Philippines biodiversity conservation
Philippines environmental officials have announced the adoption and USAID funding of “Protect Wildlife,” which will address threats to the nation’s most biodiverse habitats and unique species. These “mega-diverse” terrestrial and marine areas and species face wildlife poaching and trafficking, destructive fishing, and conversion of critical forests, mangroves, and wetlands. The 2014 International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species includes over 800 species in the Philippines, with more species discovered since. “Protect Wildlife” will combine technical assistance for government and conservation partners, as well as environmental law enforcement, science and technology, partnerships for conservation financing, and a campaign for changing people’s behavior towards biodiversity.
Great Barrier Reef hit by bleaching for the second year in a row
For the first time, scientists have measured severe coral bleaching in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef over two straight years. Bleaching occurs when coral is exposed to higher than normal water temperatures. Scientists warn this will eventually kill the coral without “urgent and rapid action to reduce global warming." Swift action is also needed to reduce threats from climate change-induced storms. For example, Tropical Cyclone Debbie at the end of March "struck a section of the reef that had largely escaped the worst of the bleaching." Ongoing climate conservation initiatives will need to escalate and expand further to prevent the devastating, permanent losses we are witnessing in the Great Barrier Reef.
Conservation success for otters on the brink
Good news for otters is being reported from California to Cambodia. A century ago, the California southern sea otter was hunted nearly to extinction, with only about 50 animals left. Legislation to protect the otters and reduce coastal pollution, combined with the rescue efforts of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, have helped push their numbers over 3,000. Another otter success story is being written in Cambodia. The “hairy-nosed otter” had been thought to be extinct throughout Southeast Asia. However, some small populations were later found, including in four sites in Cambodia. Groups including Conservation International are working to restore critical habitat, establish protection zones, educate local communities, and develop alternatives for local fishermen to avoid ensnaring the otters.