India and China, Full Speed Ahead in Climate Change Mitigation

chinese-and-indian-leaders-meetingWhile the United States is wondering what will happen next on climate change mitigation in their country, both India and China have recently unveiled very ambitious plans to fight local air pollution and global climate change.

According to an article from the Guardian, India plans nearly 60% of electricity capacity from non-fossil fuels by 2027. This makes the Indian government believe that it will exceed its Paris Agreements targets by far, with :

” A draft 10-year energy blueprint published this week predicts that 57% of India’s total electricity capacity will come from non-fossil fuel sources by 2027. The Paris climate accord target was 40% by 2030.”

The Guardian goes on to list how India could become a renewable energy super power in the next decade or so, as investments in the area are booming. From bringing electricity to 400 million people with solar energy to going LED or investing massively in renewables, India has been showing strong leadership in this most important issue for a few years now. To the point that, according to newspapers, renewable energy investments in India to reach $250 billion over next five years, and over a trillion by 2030.

In neighbouring China, the government has announced a plan that it will spend $360 billion on clean energy sources by 2020. This will result in the creation of 13 million jobs and cut significantly the amount of air pollution in Beijing and other Chinese cities.

Meanwhile, Beijing has announced that it will be closing  and/or not building another 104 coal-fired plants that were either due to be constructed soon or were being constructed. This move is significant – 120 Gigawatts of capacity – as it is equal to a third of the amounts of coal-fired plants in the United States.

China installed over 34 Gigawatts of solar PV capacity in 2016 alone as Cleantechnica reported, with over 11 GW in one month alone. This is absolutely staggering as it brings the total solar PV capacity of the country to 77 GW. Yes, capacity almost doubled in one year.

All this can be explained by the fact that renewables are getting more and more competitive every day and that smart countries invest in cost effective and low carbon solutions. In early 1996, the global solar PV capacity was of 200 MW, now the world installs that capacity every single day… Let that sink in. And it probably will not stop anytime soon as to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, solar is now becoming even cheaper than wind.

Edited, original article written by Edouard Stenger

How Climate Change Impacts Our Water Supply

The water cycle, the process by which water circulates through the planet’s atmosphere and waterways, helps make life here on Earth possible.

Climate change, however, caused by excessive greenhouse gas emissions, is disrupting that process. It’s creating a vicious cycle in which higher temperatures, changes in rainfall and water contamination cause environmental consequences that make global warming worse and damage the health of the planet further.

How Climate Change Impacts Earth’s Water

Climate change causes various changes in our water supply, which sometimes leads to pollution and other problems.

Changes in rainfall

Increased temperatures caused by climate change raise the rate of evaporation from both land and oceans, as well as enable the atmosphere to hold more water by about 4 percent for every 1 degree Fahrenheit increase.

This added evaporation will dry out some areas and fall as excess precipitation in others. Generally, dry areas are expected to get drier while wet areas become wetter. This will lead to increasing instances of drought in some areas and more flooding in others.

Increased need for water

As temperatures rise and evaporation amplifies, so will the need for water for individuals, agriculture and industry. Rising population will add to this increased demand.

As certain areas experience more droughts, we’ll have to more frequently transport water where it is needed. Rising water levels in other areas may necessitate infrastructure changes. Both of these essential measures may result in more emissions and more used energy.

A rise in sea levels

Melting ice caps, ice sheets and glaciers, as well as expanding warming waters, will lead to rising sea levels. This could harm coastal communities and various ecosystems, as well as contaminate fresh water supplies.

Rising sea levels could push saltwater into freshwater aquifers, making the water unusable for drinking or irrigation unless it’s treated using an energy-intensive process.

Increased water pollution

High levels of rainfall could overwhelm and damage important infrastructure like sewer systems and water treatment plants and lead to polluted water, causing it to become brown or cloudy. Heavy precipitation could also lead to increased runoff of fertilizers, sediment, trash and other pollutants into water sources.

Impact of water pollution

Water pollution can have a multitude of negative effects on our environment, some of which can lead to even more problems and exacerbate climate change.

Stress on ecosystems

Increased levels of nutrients in water from things like fertilizer runoff can cause algae to grow at excessive rates. When this algae dies, bacteria can lower the level of oxygen in the water, creating dead zones where nothing can live.

Garbage that makes its way into ocean waters can also kill marine life that mistake it for food or get caught in it.

Chemical pollution can also harm or kill marine life. It can accumulate in sea creatures in increasing amounts as it moves up the food chain, eventually affecting humans.

Some scientists say ocean degradation could even cause a mass extinction event.

Worsened climate change

As water becomes a scarcer resource, we may need to treat this increasingly polluted water to make it useable. This process requires a lot of energy and could lead to more emissions.

Hope for the future

Climate change is having a negative impact on our water supply, ecosystems and quality. These problems in turn lead to more issues and the overall degradation of our environment.

The situation is clearly serious, but there are some things we can do.

Decreasing emissions by using less energy or switching to renewable energy helps to slow global warming. Turning lights off when not in use, driving less and insulating your home to make it more energy-efficient can all help reduce energy use.

Buying environmentally responsible products and eating a low-impact diet are other lifestyle changes that can have a positive impact.

Expressing your support for environmental protection can also help. You can make your voice heard by writing government officials, voting, posting about it online or simply talking with family and friends.

The effect that climate change has on our water is just one example of the impact it can have. It is becoming increasingly evident that we are at a critical point in time regarding our changing climate and the future of our planet.

By Scott Huntington

Renewable Energy, a Rising Tide

Leading the surge is China, which already has a huge advantage in its current position at the front of the pack.china-investments

China has not only vastly expanded its domestic investment in renewable energy, it is plowing record sums into renewables markets overseas. As our report noted, China put $32 billion into foreign renewables projects in 2016 alone, and last week it said it would increase its bets on renewables by tenfold around the world before the end of 2020. That increased bet is likely to expand China’s renewable-energy employment base beyond its current 3.5 million level. Of note on this point: employment growth in renewables is in sharp contrast to massive worldwide layoffs in the oil, gas and coal industries.

Its domestic renewables push has given China priceless experience ahead of other nations, allowed it to develop leading-edge technology, educated a large, supporting labor force and created financial mechanisms to pay for the expansion. Now China is exporting its renewables juggernaut, taking stakes in projects of note elsewhere in Asia and in Africa, Europe, India, North America and South America.

We think the global boom in renewables will last for decades, driven not just by Chinese investment but by other emerging economies—and by industrialized ones as well. Growth in solar, wind and energy-efficiency initiatives are steadily reducing the costs of production and making renewable energy cheaper than traditional sources. Public pressure to combat pollution and build collective action on global climate change is growing. These are huge combined market forces that as we speak are shaping how electricity production, especially, is being reimagined.

In the fast-moving renewables revolution, economies as diverse as those of Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, Indonesia, Kosovo, Mexico, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and South Africa now have the means to foster prosperity without imposing harsh consequences on public health and the environment.

Meantime in the U.S., national energy-policy discussions are drifting the other way as an evidently over-the-hill gang takes power in Washington with hopes of going back in time to when companies like Exxon mattered more than they do now and when economic growth was driven by fossil-fuel consumption.

Those days are done, though, and so are the days when solar- and wind-powered energy were dismissed by skeptics as sci-fi experiments or “alternative” sources to traditional fossil-fuel generation.

There’s no turning the clock back. Clean energy has gone mainstream.

Abridged, article originally published here

Accelerating Growth to End Poverty without Damaging the Environment

img17001There is consensus that extreme poverty and hunger must be eradicated by 2030 through accelerated, inclusive and equitable economic growth without damaging the environment. This calls for sustainable and integrated, balanced and simultaneous implementation of economic, social and environmental dimensions without one dimension gaining at the expense of others, as agreed at the Rio+20 Conference and confirmed at the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly, when world leaders met in New York City in September 2013.

This paradigm shift from economic growth and per capita income as a measure of development, and relying on a single-sector approach and trickle down mechanism, to an integrated, inclusive, equitable and labor-intensive multi-sector development agenda post-2015 will require a major shift in political will and in ways of doing business.

In agrarian societies where the majority of people live in extreme poverty and unemployment or under-employment, the acceleration of traditional methods of economic growth to create jobs and end hunger and poverty will mean enhancing agricultural methods of de-vegetating land and damaging the environment through biodiversity loss, soil erosion, dropping water tables, shrinking water bodies and adverse impact on thermal and hydrological regimes, resulting in intense and frequent droughts and floods.

On the other hand, introducing or speeding up intensive and mechanized agricultural methods using green revolution technologies of high-yielding seeds that require the application of high doses of fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation, including using underground salty water, will end up damaging the environment and reducing water supplies. This has already happened in some Asian countries.

In developed countries, continued or an acceleration of current patterns of consumption of meat and dairy products that rely on huge amounts of agricultural feed, and result in massive food waste, as well as increasing demand for non-food agricultural products like cut flowers, will mean that more land will be brought under cultivation by clearing vegetation or replacing food production in areas already under cultivation, as has happened in Uganda. Alternatively, more fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation will be used to increase land productivity, resulting in environmental pollution.

To overcome these trade-offs and successfully address unemployment, hunger and poverty, a new approach to production and consumption patterns is needed. The new approach should end food losses and waste, and apply labor-intensive methods rather than labor-saving machines. It should use a combination of organic and inorganic fertilizers and pesticides to boost productivity without damaging the environment.

In developing countries, much food, especially perishable produce like fruits and vegetables, is lost through pre-and post-harvest leakage. Controlling food-destroying birds, insects and wild animals before crop harvest and improving storage, including cold facilities and agro-processing after harvest, would go a long way in reducing food losses, thereby making more food available without applying environmentally destructive extensive or intensive agricultural methods. Degraded lands would be restored through labor-intensive re-forestation programs that would create jobs and raise incomes to pull people out of intergenerational extreme hunger and poverty.

Experiments by smallholder farmers in some African countries have shown that labor-intensive, environmentally and socially-friendly technologies such as crop rotation, terracing and contour farming, as in the Machakos district of Kenya, mixed cropping and mixed farming of crops and animals, zero grazing, small-scale irrigation and water harvesting schemes and fertilizer trees have boosted agricultural productivity and food availability and affordability, reducing hunger and poverty without damaging the environment.

Thus changing production methods, including mechanized agriculture, that are environmentally and socially-unfriendly and eliminating pre-and post-harvest food losses in developing countries and consumption patterns in developed countries, including massive food waste, would go a long way in creating needed jobs and making more food available and affordable, ending hunger and extreme poverty by 2030 without damaging the environment. However, this success will require changing political mind sets and ending business as usual in production and consumption patterns in the post-2015 development agenda.

Article originally published here

Cambodia’s Experiment With Responsible Tourism

In Cambodia, local communities open their homes to visitors as part of community-based tourism.

While most visitors to Cambodia are still struggling to find the perfect spot to capture the sunrise of Angkor Wat among the crowd, some have already heard the call of the local community and found their tranquility there.

Over the past few years, more and more Cambodian communities in the rural areas have become willing to open their homes to visitors, inviting visitors to get a taste of the local culture or to explore the wildlife in the country.

Unlike general tourism, which is mostly organized by private tour operators, meaning the bulk of the profits leave the community, these Community-Based Tourism (CBT) and Community-Based Ecotourism (CBET) projects are managed by local communities themselves or with the local communities strongly involved in the decision-making process. The profits thus benefit local communities directly, improving their community development.

There are currently 66 CBT and CBET projects across Cambodia, according to a recent brochure published by Cambodia’s Ministry of Tourism. These projects offer the visitors a wide range of options to explore the country in many different ways, from visiting floating villages and taking jungle trekking tours to joining bird and dolphin watching tours.“In order to do the CBET and CBT in the right way, in a way that is not exploiting the communities, then you must engage and consult with local communities… These communities need to be empowered in the decision-making process and that’s absolutely essential,” said Alison Curry, marketing technical adviser at Sam Veasna Center (SVC), a non-profit NGO that works with eight local communities to promote bird watching and other ecotourism activities while reducing deforestation and poaching in these protected areas and contributing to community development.

According to the Tourism Statistics Report published by Cambodia’s Ministry of Tourism, more than 4.7 million international tourists visited Cambodia last year. “Around 10 percent to 20 percent of tourists in Cambodia visit the CBT and CBET sites,” said Ho Vandy, secretary-general of the Cambodia National Tourism Alliance.


cambodiaThe inflow of visitors has improved the livelihood of the locals in Banteay Chhmar, a village located in the northwest of Cambodia that is known for its namesake cultural heritage — an 800-year-old temple built by King Jayavarman VII, the same king who built Bayon.

The locals at Banteay Chhmar started a project called Banteay Chhmar Community-Based Tourism (Banteay Chhmar CBT) in 2007. The project is dedicated to the preservation and protection of the cultural heritage as well as implementing responsible tourism practices in the area. Besides visiting the temple, the local community in charge of the project also welcomes visitors to have a genuine local experience by staying at homestays, taking a village tour, or getting a ride on an ox-cart.

“This CBT project benefits the local people and I can also help my family by taking part in it,” said 32-year-old Kit Sokuon, who is one of the 11 local tour guides at Banteay Chhmar CBT.

Before joining the CBT project in 2011, Sokuon worked in the field every day, growing rice and cassava. He didn’t know any English at that time. “It was really hard work. Now, besides being a farmer, I can also bring tourists to visit the beautiful temple, showing them around my childhood playground and share the history of the king with them,” he says. “It is a good job for me.”

Khlout Sopheng, vice president of Banteay Chhmar CBT, said 1,392 visitors visited Banteay Chhmar last year, bringing in revenue of around $45,000. Approximately 19 percent of the income will be collected in the community local fund, which will be used in waste collection services, cleaning the moat, opening a library, and other community development-related activities, Sopheng added.

The responsible tourism project in the village has also educated locals about the importance of the preservation of Banteay Chhmar. “Before we set up the project, many people looted the stones and the sculptures [in the temple] and sold them to outsiders,” said Tath Sophal, general manager at Global Heritage Fund-CBT. Global Heritage Fund is a San Francisco-based non-profit organization that supports the conservation work and Banteay Chhmar CBT. “As more and more local people join our project, they know that only supporting the preservation of the temple can help them earn more money so there is no looting now.”

To make sure that the 76 direct members Banteay Chhmar CBT is working with can all get to participate in the project, all of the tour guides, homestay owners, and cooks will take turns to welcome the visitors. “After seeing the success of the project, there are more and more locals applying for being our direct members, but we have to find a balance between the number of visitors and the number of CBT members so we can’t take everyone in,” said Sopheng.

Some 100 kilometers to the southeast lies Prek Toal, a floating village that has begun a CBET project called Saray Tonle in 2004 with help from Osmose, a non-profit NGO focusing on conservation through education and ecotourism.

Chim Sopheap, executive director at Osmose, said that before Osmose introduced the concept of ecotourism to Prek Toal, the village was really poor and no visitors would go there. Now, more than 7,000 visitors have discovered the floating village culture in the area, by joining a water hyacinth handicraft workshop or taking a traditional paddle boat tour.

“Prek Toal has become a relatively rich village after the CBET project was started. In the past, Osmose had to support the total cost of the repairing of their floating platform, which costs at least $6,000, but now, the village can afford at least 50 percent of the cost,” said Sopheap.

The success of Saray Tonle’s project was so significant that some locals in Prek Toal have also started their own CBET projects in the area. But Saray Tonle, which works with around 100 families in Prek Toal, is still “the leading CBET project in the area,” Sopheap noted.

However, CBT and CBET projects in Cambodia are still facing some challenges in the communities and there is also a lack of dialogue between the local communities, the Cambodian government, and local tour operators in terms of creating a supportive environment for the implementation of responsible tourism in the communities.

Somborath Dy, operation manager at Cambodian Rural Discovery Tours, which works with four local communities in the provinces of Kratie and Stung Treng, pointed out that when they’re promoting CBT and CBET in local communities, “a lack of youth participation, knowledge of tourism, hospitality skills and tourism products” are the biggest challenges for them.

“Not enough education and understanding of tourism can lead to a lack of respect and support for it, in favor of practices with more immediate economic returns,” said Thourn Sinan, chairman of the Cambodia Chapter of the Pacific Asia Travel Association.

Besides a still low awareness of responsible tourism, too much reliance on NGOs and hard-to-access sites are other factors that hinder the development of CBT and CBET in Cambodia. “Most CBT and CBET that I know of have been set up by NGOs or with significant NGO involvement… The reliance on NGOs for CBT and CBET in Cambodia is much stronger than I’ve seen in many places,” said Amy McLoughlin, awards manager at Wild Asia Responsible Tourism and co-founder of Ayana Journeys, a tour operator that promotes responsible and educational tours in Cambodia.

She adds, “I’ve never seen these sites being over-crowded and one of the reasons to date is probably the access. It takes time to get there. People are put off by the connectivity of locations.”

While more and more local communities are leaving their mark on the tourist map of Cambodia, they’re also calling for the government and tour operators to give them a boost to reach a broader market. “Currently, Cambodia tourist support, in terms of their marketing, is entirely focused on what I call temples and tragedy,” said Curry. “They are not promoting Cambodia to those many tourists who want to come in and to experience local culture and local community or nature and wildlife.”

Dy suggested that the Cambodian government should reduce taxes and support the budget of tour operators actively promoting CBT and CBET. Currently all the CBT and CBET groups in Cambodia don’t need to pay taxes to the government. According to Johnny Orn, former SVC Director, local non-profit NGOs like SVC, which puts all the profit it makes back into conservation and community development, only pay taxes on salary and labor and withholding taxes, but other tour operators need to pay full taxes.

The development of tourism can be a double-edged sword: it brings income to the local communities, but it can also cause over-development and have a negative impact on the inheritance of tradition and local culture. And these are the problems that all the parties involved in the CBT and CBET trend in Cambodia might be facing in the long term.

“The Cambodian government should have accurate understanding of the definition of what CBT and CBET is while assisting with marketing,” noted McLoughlin. She added that there is a big difference between having a high volume of visitors go into quite vulnerable communities to observe them and having quality visitors engaging in the projects owned by the communities.

Vandy suggested that the key for these local communities to stay competitive in the travel industry is to keep their identities. “If they don’t keep their tradition, it will be hard for them to attract more people from cities or other destinations.”

As in Banteay Chhmar, to prevent over-development, the CBT has made an agreement with the government that none of the properties in this protected area can be sold to outsiders; neither are outsiders allowed to build guesthouses or hotels in the zone. “We hope we can have a maximum of only 5,000 visitors every year. If the number of visitors grow over this number, there are many things we can’t control,” said Sophal.

Can this remote, tranquil village escape the fate of being disturbed by mass tourism in the future? “To do things right is a challenge, but it is a challenge worth doing,” said Curry.

Article by Afore Hsieh, originally published here

Wind and Solar Costs Are Plummeting: Now What Do We Do?

For years, debates about how to reduce carbon emissions from electricity generation were framed as trade-offs: What is the cost premium we must pay for generating zero-carbon electricity compared to fossil fuels, and how can we minimize those costs?

Fortunately, the holidays came early this year for renewable energy: In investment company Lazard’s annual report on the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for different electricity-generating technologies, renewables are now the cheapest available sources of electricity. This flips the question of clean-versus-cost on its head. And in 2017, we’ll be asking: How much can we save by accelerating the renewable energy transition?

The story from Lazard’s 10th annual report is clear. Rapid technology cost reductions mean wind and solar are now the cheapest form of generation in many places around the country, without federal subsidies like tax credits.

What does levelized cost of energy mean?

Lazard uses LCOE analysis to identify how much each unit of electricity (measured in megawatt-hours or MWh) costs to generate over the lifetime of any power plant. LCOE represents every cost component – capital expenditure to build, operations and maintenance, and fuel costs to run – spread out over the total megawatt-hours generated during the power plant’s lifetime.

Because different plants have different operating characteristics and cost components, LCOE allows us to fairly compare different technologies. Think of it as finally being able to evenly compare apples to oranges.

How wind and solar are winning the day

According to Lazard, wind costs have fallen 66 percent since 2009, from $140/MWh to $47/MWh.

Large-scale solar’s cost declines are even more dramatic, falling 85 percent since 2009 from more than $350/MWh to $55/MWh.

The case is even clearer when federal subsidies are considered: Tax credits drive renewable energy costs down to $31/MWh for wind and $43/MWh for solar. These low prices are not only cheaper than building new natural gas plants, but they are also cheaper than many fossil fuel power plants on their marginal cost (i.e. costs for operating, maintaining, fueling, etc.) alone.

In other words, it’s now cheaper in many places to build new wind or solar energy plant than it is to simply continue running an existing coal or nuclear plant:

What does it all mean?

Even with these new numbers, more natural gas plants are being built every week, expensive coal is not retiring as fast as economics would dictate, and the rapid transition to renewable energy isn’t happening fast enough to prevent the worst effects of climate change.

At least three stodgy institutional barriers limit renewable energy deployment today:

  1. Difficulty accessing high-quality wind and solar resources
  2. Misguided alarmism about the reliability of renewables
  3. Misconceptions of the cost of running the grid with more renewables

While just wind and solar alone could potentially power the entire U.S. many times over, the windiest and sunniest (and thus cheapest) places to generate wind and solar power are often in remote locations, far from large cities with lots of power demand. Costly, drawn-out processes for siting transmission and power plants make these projects unnecessarily expensive and stifle investment. Policymakers can turn to America’s Power Plan for recommendations on streamlining the siting process and limit local impacts to create policy that reduces siting costs for renewables in the U.S.

Managing America’s grid with variable renewables also requires rethinking how we operate and plan our electricity systems, and many utilities have been slow to adapt. Grid operators sometimes claim we need to back up solar and wind an equal ratio of fossil fuel power plants like coal or gas for “when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow,” but that’s just not true. Adding wind and solar can reduce the risk of a large outage – what are the odds the wind unexpectedly stops blowing everywhere or the sun is suddenly blotted out by clouds everywhere? In fact, government analysis shows we could quadruple the amount of wind and solar on the grid today without running into reliability issues.

Besides reliability, defenders of the old paradigm of large, fuel-fired power plants argue wind and solar come with integration costs, i.e. backup generation and transmission lines to connect remote locations to the grid. But attributing these costs to any one technology makes little sense across a big grid, where a diverse mix of power generation naturally smooths variability like an index fund versus a single volatile stock, for example.

Gas, coal and nuclear power also require new transmission, fuel supply and storage, and large backup reserves. Like renewable sources, they also have “integration costs,” even without accounting for the health and climate costs of carbon dioxide and other pollution.

A new paradigm

Transitioning our electricity sector away from fossil fuels is no longer just an environmental imperative; it’s an economic one. Free markets now favor solar and wind — look no further than gas-rich Texas for evidence: Texas has over three times more wind capacity than any other state, and solar is expected to grow 400 percent by 2022.

Outdated policies leave us unprepared to take full advantage of the rapid cost declines we’re seeing in the wind and solar industry. The time is now to radically adjust for a paradigm where wind and solar form the backbone of our electricity grid.

Article by Mike O’Boyle  originally published here
Images courtesy of America’s Power Plan


IDB Approves US$100mn Loan for Chile’s Sustainable Energy Sector

renewenergyThe Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) approved a US$100mn loan to the government of Chile to finance a sustainable energy program.

Objectives of the program include simplifying the rate structures and processes of natural monopolies; fomenting competition in the generation and transmission segment; and promoting the development of renewables and energy efficiency, IDB said in a statement.

The program “will develop a long-term energy policy … whose goals are to boost competition and efficiency in the energy market, improve institutional capability, encourage diversification and the use of renewable energy sources, promote efficient energy use, and increase exchanges and transfer of energy at the international level,” IDB said in a statement.

Chile has stated a goal of achieving a 70% renewable-powered electricity sector by 2050.