How a Glasgow PACT can advance the climate agenda at Cop26

At November’s UN climate talks, leaders need to deliver on finance promises, raise ambition and accelerate the clean transition

The post How a Glasgow PACT can advance the climate agenda at Cop26 appeared first on Climate Home News.

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What burgers and bananas can teach us about fighting climate change

What burgers and bananas can teach us about fighting climate change

Ben Wolkon is a principal at MUUS Sustainable Investments. This contributed content represents the views of the author, not those of Canary Media.

I recently went out to dinner with a new acquaintance who ordered a hamburger and fries. I’ve avoided eating hamburgers for years due to concerns over the planet-warming methane belched by cows. But I also never want to be “that guy” who pontificates over other people’s food choices, so I said nothing about his order.

It was much harder to stay quiet about what he did next, though. My dining companion reached into his backpack, pulled out a banana and proceeded to eat it while we waited for our meal to be served.

“With what I just ordered, I had to mix in something healthy!” he explained, mouth full of half-chewed banana.

Let’s put aside the lunacy of this fruit-based twist on BYOB. (It was, in a word, bananas.) What I actually want to focus on is the fact that the Banana Move is an excellent analogy for how we should, and shouldn’t, think about the energy transition and decarbonization. Allow me to explain.

Recently, we’ve seen more and more headlines about the expansion of clean energy: renewables’ year-over-year growth, or a record-size solar project, or a jump in electric car ownership. These achievements are obviously great, and they are necessary. But on the other hand, these milestones mean very little unless we’re also dramatically and rapidly reducing fossil fuel use, the biggest driver of climate change, at the same time. We can’t just celebrate that we’re building more substitutes for fossil fuels; we need to actually eliminate fossil fuels.

In other words, if we construct huge solar farms but still keep operating coal and gas power plants, we’re doing the equivalent of eating enough hamburgers to trigger a heart attack — but mixing in some bananas along the way. It’s nice that bananas are healthy, but the totality of our actions would still be deadly.

The En-ROADS climate simulator, which our team at MUUS works with as part of MIT’s Climate Pathways Project, can demonstrate how that’s the case. En-ROADS is a free, easy-to-use model that allows people to “solve” climate change by adjusting sliders that represent different policy interventions. It’s based on an extensive array of scientific research and climate models, and can run tens of thousands of equations at once to tell users the projected environmental and economic effects of countless potential climate solutions.

Here’s the En-ROADS default setting, showing the world under a business-as-usual emissions scenario. This outcome would be within the range of the “high-emissions” scenario outlined in the latest report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. You can see that fossil fuel use increases disastrously, and global temperatures rise by 3.6 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

What burgers and bananas can teach us about fighting climate change

And here’s what would happen if we heavily subsidized renewable energy to the maximum extent possible in the model to accelerate its growth but didn’t do anything else to reduce the use of fossil fuels. The outcome does not look a whole lot different.

What burgers and bananas can teach us about fighting climate change

The simulator shows us that maximum renewables subsidization, with no other action, only takes us from the 3.6°C base case to a slightly lower 3.5°C. The Paris Agreement sets a goal of holding warming to 1.5° to 2°C, so this approach hardly makes a dent. Why? We’ve increased renewables but taken no actions to shut down fossil fuels. We’re eating bananas without ditching the hamburgers. To have any reasonable measure of success in addressing climate change, we need much less of the bad thing, not just more of the good thing.

By contrast, the charts below show what would happen if on top of subsidizing renewables, we also eliminated coal-fired power plants and halved oil and gas use globally over the next decade, while increasing energy efficiency in buildings and industry.

What burgers and bananas can teach us about fighting climate change

En-ROADS tells us this would put us on a pathway to a temperature increase of 2.3°C. It’s still not where we need to be, but a plan that slashes fossil fuel usage certainly gets us much closer to a desirable outcome.

So now you might be asking: If we did all of that work to reduce oil, gas and coal use, and increase renewables and efficiency, but we’re still not under 2°C, what do we have to do to get there?

Using En-ROADS, we can see there are a number of potential pathways involving everything from electrifying vehicles and buildings to reducing deforestation, enacting carbon prices and more. All of these steps would help us limit warming, and as the new IPCC report tells us, every fraction of a degree of warming we avoid makes a serious difference in long-term human well-being.

To bring this article full circle, we can help get to a below-2°C scenario by heavily reducing methane emissions, which come from — among other things — the cattle industry, the source of our hamburgers.

What burgers and bananas can teach us about fighting climate change

Check out En-ROADS and learn more about the different pathways we can take to a livable planet.

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Sow hope, reap solidarity

Asia Solidarity Lab invitation poster

We started conceptualizing the Asia Solidarity Lab during an especially tough time for the world. On top of adding complexity to everyone’s growing concern over the climate crisis, this pandemic heightened sharp inequalities, rendering those who are already marginalized twice vulnerable to societal shocks.

In the beginning, our tagline for this event, “sow hope, reap solidarity” seemed like such an impossible task. How do you, with a straight face, actually ask people to keep hoping and believing in the face of so much suffering? At a time when the mere act of hitting refresh on our newsfeeds showed us even more reasons to be paralyzed by fear, what’s the use of yet another online event when we could just go and carry on the work of collective care and mutual aid offline without having to wax poetic about it?

I’m still navigating my personal answers to these questions. But what changed is I know now that I am not alone.

I am not alone because more than twenty organizations came onboard and built this space with me. I am not alone because hundreds of people from over forty countries have registered to collectively reflect on our hurt, our frustrations, our dreams, and our visions. I am not alone because we have decided that when combined, our capacity to hold space for both grief and breakthroughs is boundless.

I am not alone, I was never alone, and I will never be alone in this fight. Will you help invite more people to join?

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The Asia Solidarity Lab, happening this Thursday, is about inviting those in diverse fights to share in the process of building a better future together. Will you share this invitation with two friends or family members who you’d like to be included in this collective moment?

Asia Solidarity Lab invitation poster

Help promote this one-of-its-kind event – share this with your friends and family!

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Newsletter: Return of the tech that didn’t work 10 years ago

Newsletter: Return of the tech that didn't work 10 years ago

If at first an idea doesn't succeed, wait a few years, raise a bunch of VC cash and try again.

That's the unexpected philosophy behind a resurgence in electric-vehicle battery swapping. Ample (not to be confused with EV charging startup Amply) just raised $160 million for its contrarian EV charging concept, Eric Wesoff reports.

On paper, the idea has some appeal:

  • People like driving electric, but they don't like waiting for ages to charge their cars.
  • Swapping fully charged batteries happens fast, delivering a customer experience as good as or better than a gas station.

The reason this is contrarian is it was the same idea pioneered by Israeli startup Better Place, which imploded nearly a decade ago in one of the biggest cleantech bankruptcies ever.

In that sense, the Ample investment parallels investor interest in Heliogen, which is hoping to bring back concentrated solar power after that tech lost out to mainstream PV solar panels years ago. That startup is going public, chasing a $2 billion valuation.

Just because something didn't work at an earlier stage of the market doesn't mean it never can. But the onus is on these companies to prove why things will be different this time around.

Some reasons for Better Place's downfall may not apply anymore:

  • That company came very early on in the adoption of EVs, so there was a much smaller customer population to attract.
  • Better Place took a capital-intensive approach, building out a nationwide network of highly engineered battery swap stations before it was clear the business model worked.

I stumbled upon an abandoned Better Place station at a highway rest stop during a reporting trip to Israel in 2018. It was built to last, and the swapping area now doubles as a garbage receptacle.

Newsletter: Return of the tech that didn't work 10 years ago
Newsletter: Return of the tech that didn't work 10 years ago

Many of the dynamics that Better Place struggled with still hold true, though:

  • The business model involves innovating on hardware while also becoming a real estate developer and operating customer-facing charging stations. That's doable in theory, but requires a lot of different skillsets.
  • Success also requires convincing car makers to play along, which is never an outcome that should be taken for granted.

Eric asked co-founder Khaled Hassounah how Ample hooks up its batteries to the wide variety of cars on the market and heard this unconventional response:

"At this stage, everybody builds more or less the same battery, even though they try to convince us otherwise."

That's a very different message than, say, what carmakers and battery companies are telling the world, which is all about sophisticated fine-tuning and competitive differentiation. And certainly, car batteries come in different sizes and shapes, but Ample says it has a way to standardize across all that.

Another problem is that this vision conflicts with the dominant form of battery ownership—namely, anyone buying an EV is sinking a bunch of their cash into the battery. To then turn around and let Ample yank that expensive asset out and replace it with other batteries that are supposedly just as good requires a capacious degree of flexibility from both customer and vehicle warranty.

Then again, a move away from the current battery ownership model could make a lot of sense.

  • Electric-bus-maker Proterra offers a battery lease program, so transit agencies can buy the bus, but pay a service fee to use the battery, lowering the upfront cost.
  • Ample is testing its product with Uber in San Francisco. Fleet owners with pain points around charging time could see business benefits to something like this.

The actual battery swap was never the obstacle for Better Place. And Ample says it designed an easier way to do it. It also says its stations are modular and can be plopped down in a parking space without heavy construction: "A whole city deployed in weeks"!

Minimizing infrastructure needs for EV charging is a good idea. But that timeline takes an exceedingly optimistic view of permitting and land acquisition. And there's still the question of how much power is needed to charge a city's worth of Ample stations, which absolutely will have impact on local grid operations.

But it's a new decade, so why not give it a try?

By the way, I'm going to be off newsletter duty for the next few days as I recharge my batteries — or swap them out, if you prefer. Have a restful week, and I'll see you back here next week!