A compilation of stories from around the world about advances in low-carbon economic development and conservation.
Advances in low-carbon economic development
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
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.
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.
‘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.