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The power of reducing energy consumption is in our hands

Catalina Spataru19 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…)

Video: Climate Change and Resource Use

Seyed Mohammad Mehdi Mohaghegh Ahmadabadi7 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

Climate Change and Resources

ucqbaza6 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?

ucqbdnr6 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

 

 

Are carbon sinks just another natural resource?

ucqbsva6 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

Climate Crisis: Emergency Actions to Protect Human Health

Ellie Forward3 March 2014

Blog by Nick Watts, Head of Project, UCL-Lancet Commission
Join the conversation: Follow Nick on Twitter

“Above all, be visionary – this Commission is designing integrated solutions to what has been described as the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”. These were the parting words of Richard Horton – the editor of The Lancet – to the Commissioners at a recent London meeting.

LancetThe 2014 UCL-Lancet Commission on Climate Change and Health is an ambitious initiative bringing together senior international climate scientists, economists, energy experts, and health professionals to present mitigation and adaptation policies necessary to protect human health from climate change, and promote sustainable development. The Commission is truly interdisciplinary and international, consisting a tripartite collaboration between University College London, Tsinghua University, and the Stockholm Resilience Centre. Within UCL, the Commission is working across the Institute of Global Health, the Energy Institute, the Institute for Sustainable Resources, the Geography Department, and the Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy. Presenting its work in February 2015, the commission will ultimately aim to be policy-relevant, taking an academic ‘honest broker’ approach where experts in areas relating to climate change use their knowledge to integrate scientific knowledge more cohesively with policy.

Published in the Lancet – arguably the most influential medical journal in the world – the Commission understands climate change as a ‘health emergency’. Its work is divided in to five working groups, each tackling a particular part of the policy response to this crisis, and tasked with producing a chapter for the final report. Over the next week, a post from each of the working groups should give you a better idea of what they’ve got planned. But in the meantime, here’s a brief summary of what they’re looking at:

1)     WG1 will set the stage by laying out the latest evidence in climate science and the impacts these global environmental changes are having on human wellbeing. The group will attempt to employ innovative methods to demonstrate how global patterns of vulnerability shift with environmental and demographic changes;

2)     In light of the scientific update above, section 2 will examine the most effective solutions to improve resilience in the most vulnerable communities. One area of particular interest being explored is with regards to identifying the limits to adaptation;

3)     Experts in energy and climate change mitigation will explore the emergency technical solutions available, prioritising them according to their cost-effectiveness, time to implementation, and feasibility. In particular, Commissioners in WG3 will explore the ‘epidemiology of energy policy’, looking at what happens when large-scale policy changes are implemented in practice.

4)     The fourth component of the report will discuss a broad range of alternatives to financing the defined technical solutions. They’re looking at a broad range of responses, including international trade, taxation (regressive and progressive), capital and bond markets, and investment incentives and penalties.

5)     The final section will bring together the above policy options, providing insight in to the political mechanisms necessary to trigger a cascade of technical and financial action.

The task ahead of the UCL-Lancet Commission is indeed ambitious, with more than 60 academics and experts from around the world working on it right up until early 2015. The key findings of our work will take some time to come to light, but if the last 12 months are anything to go by, the results of the Commission will most certainly “be visionary”.

Climate Week 2014

Ellie Forward19 February 2014

From 3-9 March 2014, UCL Energy Institute and UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources staff and students will be blogging here daily to celebrate Climate Week 2014.

Topics will include:

  • Climate and health
  • Climate and poverty eradication
  • Climate and water
  • Climate and resources
  • Climate and energy

We will also be publishing a series of blog posts, focussing on themes relating to the newly launched 2014 UCL-Lancet Commission on Climate Change and Health. The commission is an ambitious initiative bringing together senior international climate scientists, economists, energy experts, and health professionals to present mitigation and adaptation policies necessary to protect human health from climate change, and promote sustainable development. The Commission is truly interdisciplinary and international, consisting a tripartite collaboration between University College London, Tsinghua University, and the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Topics will include:

  • Climate Science & Health Impacts
  • Resilience & Adaptation
  • Energy & Technical Solutions
  • Finance & Economics
  • Political Mechanisms

Follow us on Twitter for regular updates on new blogs:

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