X Close

UCL Energy Institute Blog

Home

Blogs by staff & students of the UCL Energy Institute

Menu

Archive for the 'Climate Week 2014' Category

Delivering on Paris: how the UK responds to its climate obligations

UCL Energy Institute19 April 2018

Steve Pye, Francis Li, James Price

In a speech at the meeting of Commonwealth leaders in London on Tuesday, Claire Perry, the minister for Climate Change, announced that she would be seeking advice on strengthening UK climate targets, following publication in October this year of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on a 1.5°C warming limit.

This means that the Committee on Climate Change will revisit their analysis and recommendations on the implications of the Paris Agreement on the UK’s long term targets, first provided in 2016. In that report, they concluded that while ‘the Government has indicated it intends at some point to set a UK target for reducing domestic emissions to net zero,……… it is too early to do so now, but setting such a target should be kept under review.’It appears that a review is now imminent.

The CCC’s 2016 view, which was to maintain the status quo on ambition, was based on the need for more evidence on how the UK could achieve a net-zero target, and a prevailing view that the current 80% reduction framework was very ambitious and already represented a considerable challenge for government – thereby raising the question as to what could be gained from strengthening the target. Not a huge amount has changed in the last 18 months; for example, the challenge facing ministers to meet existing targets is evident, as demonstrated by the recent Clean Growth strategy failing to meet its own climate goals, and the policy gap identified by the CCC.

Shortly after the CCC gave its recommendations in 2016, we published a paper in Nature Energy (described in this Carbon Brief article) that explored this very question – what are the implications of the Paris Agreement for UK climate targets?We found that the UK energy system, which accounts for the vast majority of CO2emissions, would need to be carbon emissions free at some point in the 2045 to 2070 period under a 2°C target. The analysis also produced more stringent reduction trajectories than currently set out under the UK carbon budgets.

Making a more equitable contribution to global efforts, and pushing well below 2°C, both aspects which are embodied in the Paris Agreement, would require net-zero emissions by 2045. This means no oil use in our cars, an electricity system based wholly on renewables and nuclear, our homes heated by low carbon electricity or heat but not gas, and industry adopting new low carbon processes and energy.

The target year of 2045 is based on a UK allocated budget of 4 GtCO2from now until eternity. UK emissions are at around 420 MtCO2(including international transport), meaning that if current levels persisted, it would be around 10 years before this budget was used up.

Pursuing an even more ambitious 1.5°C target (which we did not consider in our 2017 paper) would mean leaving the UK with a 30% lower carbon budget than our most stringent 4 GtCO2case. Meeting this target would require truly heroic assumptions that may be difficult to envisage, given that the 2045 net-zero target in our study implied incredibly fast annual emission reductions of 9 %/year and eye-watering economic costs. Furthermore, we used optimistic assumptions on the role of CCS (and negative emissions technologies) which in effect increased the effective headroom available in the UK budget from 4 GtCO2 to 10 GtCO2. Furthermore, we assumed that long term transition policies could be put in place and maintained over time, unaffected by economic crises, social upheavals, or political backsliding on prior commitments, which may be viewed as ambitious assumptions indeed.

The fact that our analysis raised serious questions as to the feasibility of pursuing this type of goal means that proper scrutiny of higher long term ambition is crucial, in view of the science and with a full view of the possible options. And this reconsideration is timely; our paper made the point that to put in place the necessary policies now, we needed to be clear as to the longer term goal. Too little action or poor infrastructure choices in the near term puts climate goals at risk, without the time to take corrective action.

Reflecting on our paper, there are some important avenues for future investigation, to explore what longer term targets are needed, and the types of policies required to achieve them. Firstly, for those pathways that were feasible in our study, they typically were found to have had a significant contribution from CCS. The lack of serious policy consideration on CCS means that such pathways must be revisited, and alternatives explored that are more robust to any failure to scale future CCS deployment. A recent paper in Nature Climate Change offers some ideas in this direction.

Secondly, there needs to be more focus on the multiple options that might be available for reducing our end-use energy demand. This means testing options that are often omitted from models e.g. taxes on specific travel demands e.g. aviation, changes to urban planning that impact how we use energy, and the impact of technology on energy services e.g. mobility. And crucially, we need stronger scrutiny of the demand drivers going into models, which left unquestioned can lock us into higher emitting pathways but which may be fundamentally flawed. Another recent paper urges research in this direction.

Thirdly, and in view of the above, we urge efforts to take stock on what targets need to be achieved by when, in line with the spirit of the Paris Agreement. That means a UK net-zero target with a specific date attached, with this point in time reflecting the key principles of equity, the UK’s capacity to act as a leading G7 economy, and the science. The strength of such a target will be that it will serve to reduce ambiguity regarding when sectors need to achieve zero emissions, providing clarity to policy makers and investors.

As the CCC considers their advice towards the end of this year, there is a real opportunity to position the UK as a global leader in the debate on what actions countries can take to meet the extraordinary challenge agreed in Paris at COP21. Whatever is proposed, it will need to be followed up by a radical set of implementation policies to move beyond weighing our options and placing the UK firmly onto a net-zero pathway.

The power of reducing energy consumption is in our hands

CatalinaSpataru19 June 2015

Setting a thermostat to cool in the summer.

Setting a thermostat to cool in the summer.

According to the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, there are 5.8 billion religiously affiliated adults and children around the globe, which represents 84% of the 2010 world population of 6.9 billion. From this 32% of the world’s population represent Christians. The demographic study was based on an analysis of more than 2,500 census, surveys and population registers.

Also, Pew Research Center has published results on % who believe there is solid evidence that Earth is getting warmer  (more…)

90% of electricity is consumed by buildings – Case study in HK and what the government did

Kin HPoon7 March 2014

Blog by Ivan Poon, UCL-Energy student

Probably we already knew that buildings account for a significant amount of global energy (~40%) and around 33% of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emission. However, building accounts for an even higher proportion of carbon emission in some urbanized cities, such as Hong Kong.

In September of every year, the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) of HKSAR Government publishes the report on Hong Kong Energy End-use and from the latest report in 2013, it is noted that the electricity consumption by buildings kept rising and accounts for 92% of the citywide electricity consumption. *(please note that the report only shows the city’s energy consumption of 2 years ago, i.e. it is the energy consumption of 2011 in 2013 report)

electricity consumption in HK - 2011

Fig. 1 Electricity consumption in HK in 2001 and 2011 (source: EMSD – HKSAR Government)

The summary of the building energy consumption in Hong Kong in 2011 are as follow:
•    The energy consumption of the whole city kept rising for 4 consecutive years and it is highest among these 10 years (278,618 TJ);
•    Buildings consume for 92% of the total electricity used, while it is only 86% in 2001;
•    The energy consumption in HK by commercial buildings to residential buildings is in a portion of around 2.5:1; and
•    If taking other use of fossil fuels into account, buildings in HK consumes 63% of the total energy use, while it is 54% in 2001.
As Hong Kong is a city without much industrial activities, it is understandable that why buildings take such a large portion of energy in the city. But it is still unforgivable that the energy consumption kept rising in the recent decade, when “sustainable development” is emphasized.

The Government is actually aware of such situation and therefore, they are trying to implement different policies in recent years, while the Building Energy Efficiency Ordinance (BEEO) is the key policy among all.
Building Energy Efficiency Ordinance (BEEO)
Building energy related policies in my opinion can be mainly categorized in 3 groups:
•    Overview roadmaps and targets (Sustainable Blueprint in Singapore)
•    Compliance regulations and building energy codes (Building Energy Efficiency Ordinance in Hong Kong)
•    Market instruments (Carbon Cap-and-trade policy in Tokyo)
Building Energy Efficiency Ordinance (BEEO in short) belongs to the second category and was just being implemented since 21st September 2012 in Hong Kong. It mainly comprises of 2 parts:
1.    Building Energy Code (BEC) – for those newly constructed commercial buildings or they would like to undergo a major retrofit, they have to comply with the requirements as stated in BEC. For example, offices can only have 15 W/m2 lighting power density at maximum.
2.    Energy Audit Code (EAC) – Owners of existing commercial buildings have to hire Registered Energy Assessors (REA) to perform energy audits for their buildings. They are performed in stages according to the age of buildings (Newest buildings are the 1st batch and they must do the audit in the 1st year after the policy is implemented). A certificate (only showing that you complied with the ordinance, not ratings on the certificate) will be issued afterwards and is valid for 10 years.

Why commercial buildings?
1.    The energy consumption in HK by commercial buildings to residential buildings is in a portion of 2.5:1, so larger energy saving potential for commercial buildings.
2.    The ownership and tenancy of commercial buildings is easier to deal with.
What is the significance of this policy?
1.    The maximum requirements for BEC would restrain the energy consumption by the new commercial buildings.
2.    EAC would provide valuable detailed energy data to the government for their policy intervention.
Challenges
1.    There are many old buildings in HK, as the EAC requires them to fill in detailed information, e.g. efficiency of the chillers, they might not have the records for that.

Now you may argue that the Building Energy Efficiency Ordinance (BEEO) is just being enforced from 21 September 2012 and BEAM Plus (the building environment assessment system, just like LEED) is getting more popular over the years, the energy consumption will begin to drop starting from 2012 or 2013. However, the existing building owners just have to provide their energy data according to BEEO and only the BEAM Plus for new buildings is getting popular due to the GFA concession policy, there should be more to do to reduce the energy consumption by existing buildings.

In long term, the Government can consider the followings:
•    Setting up a comprehensive green building campaign (e.g. Greener Greater Buildings Plan in New York City) and strict targets of energy reduction; and
•    Investigate the possibility in the implementation of a Carbon Cap-and-Trade System for the buildings, just like what the Tokyo Metropolitan Government did.

For the whole report of Hong Kong Energy End-use Data 2013, please visit the following website:
http://www.emsd.gov.hk/emsd/e_download/pee/HKEEUD2013.pdf
More information of BEEO is available by this website:
http://www.beeo.emsd.gov.hk/en/mibec_beeo.html

Video: Climate Change and Resource Use

Seyed MehdiMohaghegh7 March 2014

Climate Week video

 

 

 

 

 

 

At first glance, climate change is all about energy consumption and associated carbon emissions. Other resources than energy greatly matter too however. The use of natural resources leads to carbon emissions and many mitigation options like renewables depend on scarce resources like critical metals. In this video, Professor Paul Ekins, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Resources, and Professor Raimund Bleischwitz, BHP Billiton Chair in Sustainable Global Resources, explain the relation between different resources and global warming. Also, PhD researchers at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources provide insight in the role of energy, water, land and fossil fuels in the changing climate.

Watch the video by Stijn Van Ewijk and Seyed Medhi Mohaghegh, UCL ISR PhD students

Everything we do contributes to climate change

CarolynBehar7 March 2014

Blog by Carrie Behar, UCL-Energy PhD student
Get invovled in the conversation: Follow Carrie on Twitter – @LoLoStudent

Being asked to prepare a blog post for this year’s climate week got me thinking about how my work relates to climate change. To me, climate change is a huge and scary thing. It feels totally beyond my control, and if I do spend too much time thinking about the magnitude of the problem, I feel like giving up altogether and running away to aDream 3 desert island. The problem is, if we all did that, it would be only a matter of time before all the desert islands got full, that is if they weren’t first subsumed by rising sea levels.

Another problem with desert islands is their lack of high speed broadband, lively high streets with shops and bars, and comfortable spaces where I can sit and think and read and write, occasionally engaging in stimulating conversations with my colleagues, or grabbing a bite to eat in a local café. Furthermore, much as I like the idea of spending my evenings lying in a hammock under the stars, I also thoroughly enjoy my own personal routine of waking up in a warm and comfy bed on a Saturday morning and then wasting an hour or so playing on Twitter whilst building up the motivation to face the gym!

So here I am, and here are lots of us, living our lives very much within the constraints of the culture within which we were born and raised. We live in heated (or cooled) houses and flats, eat food imported from all over the world, travel longer distances that we feel comfortable with to get to work or school, and spend much of our time indoors, usually connected to some kind of electronic device. And allReality 3 of these activities, consume energy – lots of energy. This energy that we rely on to live our ordinary lives is generated from a combination of burning of fossil fuels and utilising renewable resources such as wind and solar. And it is the burning of fossil fuels that is accelerating the changes we are seeing in our climate, as explained here.

 

What can energy demand research do to help?

Ultimately, the reason I am here, doing my PhD and writing this blog is because, recognising the contribution of energy consumption in buildings to changes in the world’s climate, the UK Research Councils felt it was worth providing funding for PhD research in both energy supply and use. But what am I actually doing and what do I hope to achieve? And can I really make a difference with my tiny contribution to the vast pyramid of knowledge?

At first glance, looking at how people are adapting to living in new low-energy homes with ‘whole house’ ventilation systems is a long way away from working on ‘solving’ climate change (more about my work here). However, if we understand that energy used in our 27 million homes accounts for nearly a third of total UK energy use, it’s at least clear that there is a strong need to reduce the energy consumption of both new and existing dwellings.

As around 60% of domestic energy use can be attributed to space heating, an effective way of achieving this reduction is to seal up gaps and cracks around windows, doors, floors and roofs to make our homes more airtight and less draughty, thereby keeping the heat in. However, we cannot completely seal up homes, because the activities we carry out inside them generate a range of pollutants which need to be removed. Ventilation is the controlled provision of clean air and the removal of stale air, which typically contains CO2 exhaled by people, water vapour from showering and washing, and smells generated when cooking. These byproducts of everPyramid 3yday domestic activities must be taken out to keep us healthy and prevent nasty things like mould developing.

Why technologies alone won’t fix the problem

Several technical solutions have been proposed to deal with the problem of ensuring sufficient ventilation without wasting any heat energy. These are explained in detail in this Energy Saving Trust publication. The idea is that, during winter, air is only permitted to enter and leave through designated and controlled openings, such as trickle vents and ceiling extracts. The house stays toasty and warm, while harmful  pollutants are removed and replaced by fresh air from outside. Problem solved, right?

Unfortunately not. Although these systems have potential, the deployment of technology is not in itself a guarantee of success. Monitoring of energy consumption at completed homes which incorporate these systems repeatedly highlights the large gap between predicted and actual energy consumption. There are a number of factors that contribute to this performance gap and the way that people use and interact with their homes is but one of them. That’s not to say that people are necessarily doing something wrong; rather, there are a wide range of normal activities that we carry out which can impact on energy use. For example, do we regularly cook for family and friends or eat out most nights? Do we prefer baths or showers? And how much time do we spend at home and at what temperatures do we feel most comfortable?actual bath 3

When recommending, specifying or installing a specific ventilation system, there is an inherent assumption that the people living in the house will act in a certain way to get the best use from their technology. The ‘model’ resident would leave the windows closed at all times when the heating is on, and rely on the ventilation to do its job. They would press the booster button each time they cook or shower, and only dry their clothes on the designated drying rack in the bathroom. Furthermore, they would make sure the extract vents were kept free of dust and grease and ensure that filters are changed regularly so that system performance does not deteriorate.

We won’t improve anything without understanding people

Unfortunately this assumption fails to acknowledge the day to day realities of life. Very few of us go about our existence worrying about the energy consequences of our every activity. If we did, we would get very little done and end up a bit mad (and start thinking about desert islands and the like…).

saucepan 3Although you cannot, rightly, force people to behave in a certain way, I would like it to become easier for people to do the most efficient thing, and in the case of domestic ventilation I think we have a long way to go before this is the case. Over the course of my studies I have met people who are largely unaware of the presence of controlled ventilation in their home, let alone knowing what to do with it, as well as  a family with a broken booster button who had no option but to open the window to let out cooking fumes.

Completely unsurprisingly, I am yet to meet someone who is able to explain to me correctly what MVHR, MEV or PSV are and how they work (and if you didn’t get round to reading the Energy Saving Trust publication I mentioned earlier then you probably don’t either!). The residents I have spoken to have never been told that there are filters that need changing, nor that they could save energy and money by keeping the windows closed when the heating’s on. The reality is that we open the windows and forget to close them, dry clothes on radiators, put off housework until it is absolutely necessary and we find a way round things like broken switches that doesn’t involve us calling a handyman.technology 3

And this is why, I believe, the problem of climate change is so hard to resolve. Society seems to be driven by a desire to invent technical solutions  to fix problems. But when we break down the issue into smaller and smaller chunks, for example individual houses and their ventilation systems, we are always left with people and organisations interacting with material things  in unexpected ways and not just the objects themselves.  And it may just be that rather than relentlessly, modelling, simulating and optimising how technologies work, the solutions to global problems could lie in understanding how the minutiae of day-to-day life shape our energy use.

Carrie Behar

 

 

Keeping people on the agenda

FayeWade7 March 2014

In our post for Climate Week 2013, the UCL Energy Social Sciences Group highlighted the importance of understanding the way that people view energy. What people do can be difficult to predict; as we pointed out this can limit the success of strategies aimed at reducing energy use. In our previous post, we commented on the recent launch of the Government’s Green Deal, a programme aimed at improving the efficiency of dwellings by providing a loan for householders to invest in interventions like insulation and more efficient space heating technologies. This loan is then repaid through the energy savings delivered by the intervention. At that time, there were concerns about low uptake of the scheme. One year on we find ourselves with a scheme that has, so far, struggled to take off, prompting widespread media coverage and headlines like: “How the Green Deal turned into the green disaster”[1].

How did the Green Deal turn into the green disaster? There are issues with the complexity of the process (a multi-stage procedure, requiring, for example, an initial assessment before any works can take place), the financing mechanism used, skepticism around expected savings and general awareness of the scheme. Arguably, one of the key challenges is the sheer number of different stakeholders involved in the process. We have the homeowner, the person performing assessment, the tradesmen involved in installing the interventions, the organisations financing the scheme and those involved in the supply chain, all of whom have to be suitably aware of, and able to play their part in, the Green Deal. Coordinating so many individuals and organisations is not an easy task. Somewhere in this complex network, something appears to have come unstuck. To really understand the barriers to uptake of the Green Deal, we need to take a holistic approach to investigating the people and groups who are involved at all levels. Drawing on theories from the social sciences can be an effective way of unravelling the complex interactions between people, energy, organisations, policies and the physical fabric of the built environment.

For example, sociological theories position energy use as largely invisible[2] and instead focus on the routine practices that people carry out in their daily lives, some of which consume energy and resources (e.g. cooking a Sunday roast) and some of which may actually save energy (e.g. the daily activities of an insulation installer). In these theories, the context in which certain practices occur is very important. So, for example, what are the circumstances under which a homeowner would decide to make improvements to their home? Are they really interested in saving energy, or would they prefer that to be a happy side effect of installing a brand new kitchen or adding value to their property by building out the loft? And how do they feel about taking out a loan to finance these kind of ‘invisible’ improvements that the Green Deal offers? These are the kind of questions that social scientists ask, questions that need to be investigated much more if we are to boost the success of promising, but highly complex, programmes like the Green Deal.

The relevance of the Green Deal to a number of the topics relating to climate demonstrates the multi-dimensional nature of these issues. Five topics were outlined for the content of these Climate Week blogs; these are the relationship between climate and health, poverty eradication, water, resources and energy. Arguably, the Green Deal has implications for all of these topics within the context of buildings. For example, the quality of our buildings and thus the energy, and money, it takes to be comfortable in them has a direct impact on the health and poverty levels of their occupants. So, not only is the lack of Green Deal uptake a problem involving multiple individuals, it also impacts on several elements of the climate problem. Consequently, it’s important to understand this problem, and so many others within the energy field, from a range of different perspectives.

The UCL Energy Social Sciences Group recognise this and have built an expanding group of multi-disciplinary individuals, all looking at energy problems from a variety of disciplines and perspectives. In the last year we have continued to build on the strengths of the Social Sciences Group, including hosting a regular reading group and welcoming a range of external speakers from the wider UCL community and beyond. These events have covered a range of topics, varying from studies of the tradesmen installing external wall insulation to transition management in low-carbon neighbourhoods. We are currently planning a conference aimed at bringing together the different perspectives of social sciences and energy that are being applied across UCL. If you’d like to find out more about the group, visit the UCL-Energy Social Sciences Group website, or email ucl.energy.ssg@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[2] DECC & CHATTERTON, T. 2011. An introduction to Thinking about ‘Energy Behaviour’; a Multi Model Approach. In: CHANGE, D. O. E. A. C. (ed.). DECC.

 

 

Climate Change and Resources

AlexZardis6 March 2014

Blog by Alex Zardis, Student at the Bartlett School of Graudate Studies

Climate Week means different things for different people, it may mean the promotion and campaigning of a sustainable and low-impact lifestyle to influence the next generation, for myself, I see it as a chance to reflect on our individual behaviour and to look at our personal resource use and attitude. Many different parties are rallying and legislating towards the use of renewable energies and the sustainable use and recycling of materials/products. This is absolutely essential for our societal evolution and these efforts are the first steps forward in an enormous path towards sustainable living, but these steps alone without a major catalyst will not see the major structural change that is needed, not least in our lifetimes. My previous thermodynamics lecturer in Cardiff believed that we will still be using coal and oil as a main source of fuel at the end of our lifetimes, if this would be true it brings a realisation our society has built its infrastructure so dependent on these fuels and related technologies. Individually, to increase the efficiency of our resource use we have a very strong alternative to make a significant impact. We can contribute on a personal scale and little by little, a lot is changed.

Cautious resource use does not strictly have to relate to combating climate change and is generally good practice. As a generation whose elders were taught to use resources carefully and wisely under strict military rationing, these practices have sometimes passed down and arrived to ourselves, under the wise words of our grandmothers ‘never to waste a penny’, or rather dubiously perhaps never to waste a really old, out of date can of baked beans or whatever may reside far too long in their cupboards! However we are all guilty of falling short to expectations of sustainable resource use. Despite good intentions and a positive attitude to resource use, sometimes we fall guilty to convenience and to laziness. Maybe it’s just too far to keep take that can or plastic bottle to find the next recycling bin rather than the close waste bin, maybe the appeal of a brand new iphone or computer rather than replacing a screen or battery is appealing. Possibly a now un-used but perfectly fine item lays dormant while the chance for it to be passed on, sold or re-used is wasted.  We can use this opportunity of climate week as a chance to make more of an effort in our lives to re-use items and utilise the entire life-cycle potential of our products.

Local councils and the government already provide the services for us to recycle a great range of products, however we should be increasing our use of these facilities. An entertaining and ‘easy to digest’ set of promotional video shorts have been created by the government to explain the actual process that our products go through whilst they are recycled, these are available to view at this website and highly advised to watch! www.recyclenow.com/how_is_it_recycled

These facilities can help discourage the dumping of waste via landfill and to reduce electrical waste and its illegal exportation. Most electrical products are covered under an EU legislation called the WEEE waste electrical and electronic equipment legislation, if you look on any electricity using product within your vicinity, it is likely that it will be covered by this legislation and have a crossed out wheelie waste bin WEEE logo displayed. This legislation and logo display means that the companies involved in its retail and distribution are obliged by law to cover the costs for the product’s safe return and recycling. Whilst this option is provided it is not particularly well known or advertised, hence it is now our turn to be more pro-active about the use of these services.

From another perspective our resources can have their lives extended by re-use rather than re-cycling. Only recently a great local example has been demonstrated and pursued. Reclaimed material leftover from the 2012 Olympic Games was sourced to create a community skatepark in Hackney Wick, East London. This story was supported by Google and told as a commercial. The story video can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GvgqDSnpRQM. Since its inception it has seen its lease extended by a year, offering local skateboarding, bmx and rollerblading enthusiasts another season of riding.

Concerning the overall perspective of resource use within our society, we are in an age where we are viewing sustainability and the resourceful use of our belongings with increasing positivity. Although despite this It is saddening that behind the individual perspective that this blog entry covers, major entities, companies, corporations and governments still consume far more than they need, and end up with left over waste that is disregarded. UCL does have incentives and is aware of their responsibility to be a sustainable business. However, as could be the case in this day and age, sustainability may be a buzz word within an organisation’s brief, so let’s take a look at a small selection of the realised actions and that are being taken by UCL in conjunction with Green UCL:

These concern campus wide initiatives, though within UCL individual departments are encouraged to develop their own sustainability strategies. An example of this can be the archaeology department which has listed their incentives and objectives: www.ucl.ac.uk/archaeology/about/facilities/green. My department, the Bartlett School of Graduate Studies, has their own incentives too and we are an environmentally conscious department. There is however always room for improvement and a closer monitoring of the air conditioning of un-occupied rooms within the campus could be pursued, as well as the provision of more cycle parking.

I shall round up my talk concerning sustainability and resources, I hope that this blog has been entertaining and possibly educational! I understand that I have approached this from the perspective of a local London citizen and have not widened the scope of the report to focus on the global issue. I would like to think that in this case the small differences can be achieved individually and create a direct impact on our lives whilst contributing to the greater cause of sustainable resource use, which needs our combined support as a global movement. I hope that during this climate week of 2014, myself and the audience of UCL can make a positive change towards sustainable resource use.

Climate and Land-Use Change: Managing a safe land-ing?

Darshini NRavindranath6 March 2014

Blog by Darshini Ravindranath, UCL ISR PhD student

A combination of increasing scarcity of some natural resources, climate change and growth in global population to 9 billion by 2050 are creating conditions for a ‘perfect storm’.

The economic, social and ecological costs of climate change on vulnerable communities will be colossal. The impacts are depressingly palpable; rising sea levels, storm surges, declining groundwater levels, wildly unpredictable rainfall patterns, have led to large-scale depletion of ecosystem services. Climate change is set to challenge our existing notions of the utilisation and value attached to land. Simultaneously, increasing demand for food, fodder, fibre, timber and other biomass-based raw materials, is putting further pressure on these changing landscapes, leading to unsustainable land-use patterns.

Waiting for water, in a drought prone village in Southern IndiaTravelling through India for fieldwork related to my projects has allowed me to test my knowledge firsthand. I have found landowners and workers, tied to income and livelihood from land and monsoon to be extremely vulnerable to current climate variability and future climate change. Household concerns in these areas can often be linked with unsustainable use of land, water and biomass resources. The three issues are inter-linked in a typical ‘village ecosystem’, and a failure in one aspect will lead to complex knock-on effects on the others. For example, wind and water led soil erosion elicits land degradation, low water availability and low and non-sustainable biomass (food) production. A common practice I came upon in areas of low water availability was a fixation with excessive digging of bore-wells to source water for irrigation, which was leading to further ground-water decline. Somini Sengupta, who wrote an article on India’s groundwater woes for the New York Times, best captures this phenomenon.  She writes, ‘with India’s population soaring past 1 billion and with a driving need to boost agricultural production Indians are tapping their groundwater faster than nature can replenish it, so fast that they are hitting deposits formed at the time of the dinosaurs’. Similar headlines have emerged in Africa, where issues of land access mean a groundwater crisis looms despite recent discoveries of vast aquifers.

There is an urgent need to shift away from such inefficient farm practices, supply chains and diet choices towards long-term sustainability, profitability and health. Unfortunately, very little is being done towards this, especially in developing countries, where such problems are magnified due to heavy reliance on climate-dependent sectors.

The solution to these challenges can be met, at least in part, by sustaining land (or soil) quality and water supply. Most studies to date (with a few notable exceptions) have focused on one challenge or another (e.g. GHG mitigation, water provision, food security), but have not considered the multifarious cumulative effects that arise from the use of land, water and biomass. To solve these complex problems, it is critical to understand how diverse social and ecological drivers affect land systems.

The role of the state is critical. Changing land-use patterns have created a confusing palette for local governments. The focus must be to understand how best to improve resilience of communities and incorporate it into local land-use planning strategies in a synergistic manner. Utopian as these ideas may seem, it is essential to help the local population as well as local governments to better understand the value and potential of their land, prevent unsustainable land-use and therefore aid in the sustenance of robust livelihood systems. Feeding a population of 9 billion by 2050 requires concrete and coordinated evidence-based action.

Picture caption: ‘Waiting for water, in a drought prone village in Southern India’; Photo by: Darshini Ravindranath

 

 

“Half the work, twice the effect” – from a Chinese proverb to the cost-effective responses to the climate crisis

AimeeWalker6 March 2014

Blog by Wenjia Cai, UCL Lancet Commission

Right now I am sitting in my office in Beijing, where the air quality has been labeled by “hazardous” for almost a week. I am suffering from my sore throat, but I have nowhere to escape.

I believe this is the kind of frustration faced by many people, when they know climate change is threatening their health. The negative health impacts are happening, and are very likely to cost us a fortune.

Some simple but serious facts [1]-[3] are shown below. Of the world’s total population,

Wei 1

These are the most vulnerable people in the world. They are never the biggest contributors to the climate change crisis, but they are the ones being affected the most. Their health has been greatly threatened by droughts, floods, hunger, vector-borne diseases, home damages and health services interrupts.

Take hurricanes and storms for example. Hurricane Sandy hit the northeast coast of the United States, causing widespread damage and around 100 people died. However, in the developing world, such storms take a much greater toll. In 2007 and 2008, two very severe storms – Sidr and Nargis – caused the deaths of more than 10,000 and around 138,000 people in Bangladesh and Myanmar, respectively. In fact, statistics shows that only 5% of tropical cyclones occur in the north Indian Ocean, but they account for 95% of such casualties worldwide[4].

To respond to the climate crisis, greenhouse gas mitigation certainly aims for the root of the problem; yet some simple and low-cost adaptation measures can have instant effects.

Peter J. Webster, a professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, USA, advocates for the establishment of network between the forecasters of global weather and climate in the developed world, and research, governmental and non-governmental organizations in the less-developed world[4]. He estimated that such a network could produce 10-15-day forecasts for south and east Asia for a wide range of hydrometeorological hazards (including slow-rise monsoon floods, droughts and tropical cyclones), which will cost as little as $2~3 million a year, but save billions of dollars and thousands of lives.

On the basis of a World Bank report[5], one analysis concluded that about $ 40 was saved for every dollar invested in the regional forecasting and warning system. 

Fortunately, as commented by Webster, Bangladesh already benefited from such network. In 2007 and 2008, Bangladesh experienced three major floods. Each was forecast successfully ten days in advance and mitigation steps were taken.

This is one successful story of how we can quickly adapt to the coming climate crisis in a cost-effective way. The following table is excerpted from the major-task list of the “National Strategy of Climate Change Adaption” in China[6], published in November 2013, which may also provide us some hints on the other cost-effective options.

 

Major tasks to protect human health under climate change context in China
Improve the health and epidemic prevention system construction –strengthen disease prevention and control system–amend the indoor and working environmental standards–monitor drinking water hygiene conditions
Carry out monitoring and evaluation, as well as public information services –evaluate climate change impacts on the health of vulnerable people–establish the health-related weather monitoring and early warning networks, and public information service system
Strengthen the emergency system construction –develop and improve the health emergency plans for heat stroke, snow and ice, haze and other extreme weather and climate events

 

We are standing in the historic moment of addressing the climate crisis. Any delayed action may result in irreversible change and unaffordable costs. To make the right strategy, the traditional cost-effective analysis (CBA) can shed some light and help us choose within the large pool of adaptation and mitigation options. Obviously our choices will lean towards those options which don’t need high investment and will eventually pay for itself. In fact, there are many such options which can have the “twice the effect” with “half the work”. Our report will try to identify them. It’s also expected that, after considering the monetized health benefits, those options will become much more cost-effective, which can strengthen the will and catalyze the actions from politicians and investors.

Wenjia Cai is an assistant professor of Global Change Economics in Center for Earth System Sciences, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China. E-mail: wcai@tsinghua.edu.cn. The blog content only shows the views from the author, and cannot represent the opinions of any organizations or working groups.

References:
[1] World Bank, 2013. World Development Indicators 2013. http://data.worldbank.org/region/WLD (accessed Feb 25th, 2014)
[2] Da Silva J, 2013.. World Food Day 2013: Towards Sustainable Food Systems. http://www.fao.org//about/who-we-are/director-gen/faodg-opinionarticles/detail/en/c/203152/ (accessed Feb 25th, 2014)
[3] World Health Organization, 2013. 10 Facts on Climate Change and Health. http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/climate_change/facts/en/index5.html (accessed Feb 25th, 2014)
[4] Webster P, 2013. Improve weather forecasts for the developing world. Nature, 493: 17-19.
[5] Teisberg TJ, Weiher RF, 2009. Background Paper on the Benefits and Costs of Early Warning Systems for Major Natural Hazards. https://www.gfdrr.org/sites/gfdrr.org/files/New%20Folder/Teisberg_EWS.pdf (accessed Feb 25th, 2014)
[6] National Development and Reform Commission, 2013. China’s National Strategy of Climate Change Adaption. http://qhs.ndrc.gov.cn/gzdt/W020131213626583538862.pdf (accessed Feb 25th, 2014)

 

Are carbon sinks just another natural resource?

StijnVan Ewijk6 March 2014

Blog by Stijn Van Ewijk, PhD student, UCL ISR
Join in the conversation, follow Stijn on Twitter

The use of natural resources is intricately tied up with climate change. Most notably, the consumption of fossil fuels leads to carbon emissions which in turn cause climate change. Also, carbon sinks like forests regulate the climate by taking up carbon dioxide. Just like fossil fuels, these carbon sinks are increasingly being traded. However, the commodification of carbon sinks may be harmful and counterproductive.

Photo Climate Week Blog_SVEIn carbon markets, emissions in one place can be offset either by reducing emissions elsewhere, for instance by energy-efficiency measures, or by sequestering emissions, for instance through reforestation. Carbon dioxide sequestration through reforestation turns a forest into a commodity like many other natural resources. In practice, there are clear limits to carbon offsets: space is finite and mature forests cannot sequester additional carbon. Also, there are many competing land uses such as agriculture and infrastructure.

Commodification of carbon sinks typically serves a short-term economic agenda of efficiency maximization. Proponents argue that by allowing carbon and carbon sinks to be traded, both can be produced at locations where the conditions are optimal. For instance Brazil has more potential for cheap carbon sequestration while carbon intensive electricity generation plants are most efficiently located close to high electricity demand in Western Europe.

In addition to the limited global potential for offsets, there are some other disadvantages to the commodification of carbon sinks. Here are three of them.

  • Ethically, it can be undesirable to pay someone else to take care of your harmful carbon emissions since poorer nations may be forced into selling offsets at short term profits. On the long term, such nation could benefit more from other land uses.
  • Practically, it is hard to measure and regulate carbon offsets. For example, if a forest is about to be cut, does it count as an offset to ultimately not cut it? In some countries, this ambivalence has been exploited by “planning” increased deforestation.
  • Economically, in the long run, global carbon offsets may not be beneficial. Easy offsets in developing countries reduce the incentive for innovation in production and energy technology that can bring more efficient abatement in the long run.

Unfortunately, carbon offsets programs are often seen as a legitimate option for climate change mitigation. Influential sustainability indicators like the Ecological Footprint (EF) heavily emphasize carbon uptake by forests and strongly suggest that devoting land to forest is the primary means to managing climate change. Not only nations, also consumers offset their emissions too easily by for instance buying carbon offsets along with their plane tickets.

Currently, the Western world emits most carbon dioxide while having very limited potential for reforestation. With developing countries quickly catching up, especially China, it seems more attractive to seek for long-term solutions that bring down carbon emissions than to legitimate further emissions with reforestation projects. Clearly, carbon sinks should not be treated as just another natural resource.

Photo credit: Joshua Mayer under CC