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human activity and the destruction of the planet


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The five major challenges facing electric vehicles

This is a piece published on the BBC website and written by Tim Schwanen, Transport Studies Unit, Oxford University:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-49578790?ns_campaign=bbcnews&ocid=socialflow_facebook&ns_mchannel=social&ns_source=facebook&fbclid=IwAR0Pmyirsb_HK_7TQ2z3EfWoO9ihVQqP04_YmUQBslZJFBJMdQR9NO3_qig

Encouraging more people into electric vehicles is at the heart of the government’s efforts to tackle climate change.

That’s because transport accounts for 23% of the UK’s CO2 emissions – more than any other sector.

electriccar

Sales of all-electric vehicles are up 70% on last year, leading to suggestions that we have reached a turning point. But there are good reasons to remain cautious.

1. Change takes time

One of the UK’s best-selling cars is the all-electric Tesla Model 3. But its success doesn’t change the fact that only about 1.1% of new cars sold this year are electric, and that the market for used electric vehicles hardly exists.

As it takes most UK drivers anywhere between one and 15 years to change their vehicles, many of us won’t be thinking about buying an electric model any time soon.

Target dates for ending the sale of new petrol or diesel vehicles

Year Countries
2025 Norway
2030 Iceland, Ireland, Israel,
Slovenia, Netherlands
2035 Denmark
2040 UK, Sri Lanka, Spain,
Portugal, France, Canada
2050 Costa Rica

Includes bans that have been announced, proposed and put into law, and excludes countries with a target of only no full petrol or diesel vehicles (eg Japan) or a partial target (eg Mexico)

Source: IAE/BBC Briefing – energy

Bigger changes are needed. We will need many more places for charging electric vehicles, for example. And because fuel tax is an important source of income for the government – and electric vehicle users pay lower taxes – changes to the tax system may be required.

Individuals and businesses also need to be convinced that electric vehicles suit their needs. This is perhaps the hardest part.

The government aims to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in 2040, a target criticised by MPs who want the change made by 2030.

But even if these goals are met, it is likely to be decades before the most common vehicles on our roads are electric ones.

2. Limited choice

The number of vans on the UK’s roads is increasing faster than any other type of vehicle, in part because of the rapid growth in online shopping

Small e-vans are already available and the choice on offer is only likely to increase.

It is difficult to compare prices for diesel and e-vans. However, it can be significantly more expensive to lease an electric version of a popular van, than a diesel one. This is likely to mean that electric vans remain unaffordable for many small firms and self-employed delivery drivers for some time.

UK road transport emissions, by mode, 2016 (MtCO2)

Source: BEIS/BBC Briefing – energy

There is more choice for those looking for a new car, but electric vehicles are disproportionately aimed at the higher end of the market. Few all-electric models are available for less than £20,000, and buying a new Tesla Model 3 costs about £37,000.

Prices are likely to continue to fall and operating an electric vehicle tends to be cheaper than a petrol or diesel equivalent. But the higher upfront costs may stop many drivers from buying electric vehicles for the foreseeable future, even when a vibrant second-hand market emerges.

3. Backing the right technology

There are rapid developments in battery and charging technology, but this is causing deep uncertainty. Which charging technologies will become the gold standard?

This is a particular problem for people living in apartment blocks, or houses without a private parking space. Should they expect charging to be available at bollards or lamp posts along their street?

Perhaps home charging will not be as important as it is now. Should drivers use facilities at petrol stations, their office or in empty supermarket car parks at night?

Other options being explored include induction pads embedded in major roads, which charge cars as they drive over them.


BBC Briefing is a mini-series of downloadable guides to the big issues in the news, with input from academics, researchers and journalists. It is the BBC’s response to audiences demanding better explanation of the facts behind the headlines.

This uncertainty about which approach will become most common slows down private sector investment in charging infrastructure. It also makes the role of local authorities more difficult.

Acting too soon could mean betting on the wrong horse. Waiting too long could encourage more people into hybrid vehicles, which are less dependent on charging infrastructure, but still use fossil fuels.

4. Who will pay?

Even when a standard design for charging emerges, the age-old question of who will pay for installing it remains.

It is widely assumed that the private sector will build, operate and maintain charging infrastructure in the UK.

But businesses have long been slow to get involved, in part because profit margins remain small and government has heavily subsidised the development of charging points. This is slowly changing: BP and Shell have taken over market leaders Chargemaster and Newmotion, and Tesla is actively rolling out its own charging network at motorway service stations.


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Yet the question remains: how large should the government’s contribution be in future infrastructure development?

If getting people into electric vehicles is for the public good, should local government pay for charging points in areas where demand is too low to offer healthy profits?

And how should investment compare with that in social care, libraries or safe cycling routes, especially when local authority budgets remain as tight as they currently are?

5. The zero-carbon fantasy

Even 100% electric vehicles are not a zero-carbon solution.

They may not produce the usual exhaust pipe emissions, but even if all of the UK’s electricity was from renewable sources, there would still be an environmental cost.

Sourcing the minerals used for batteries, dismantling batteries which have deteriorated, and building and delivering vehicles to customers worldwide all involve substantial CO2 emissions. It is impossible to break all of the links.

Electric vehicles are a crucial part of the UK’s attempts to drastically reduce transport’s emissions. Yet they are no panacea.

A large shift away from motorised vehicles is the only way to fundamentally reduce transport’s contribution to climate change, however hard and politically unpalatable that may be.

Read more reports inspired by the BBC Briefing on energy.


About this piece

This analysis piece was commissioned by the BBC from an expert working for an outside organisation.

Tim Schwanen is a professor of transport studies and geography. He is director of the Transport Studies Unit at the University of Oxford.

You can follow him on Twitter here.


Edited by Duncan Walker



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UK Committee on Climate Change says we need to curb airline emissions

There has been much concern over the Government’s plans to expand Heathrow airport, by adding another runway.  The concern is not just being expressed by people living locally to the airport but also those who want the UK to reduce its carbon emissions.

heathrow

British Airways plane coming in to land over houses near Heathrow Airport

A piece in this week’s New Scientist” by Adam Vaughan sets out some of the actions the UK needs to take if it is to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. A bar chart in his article shows that aviation in the UK emits more greenhouse gases than any other sector (31.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent), with agriculture coming second.

See: New Scientist No. 3229, 11th May 2019.

The advisory Committee on Climate Change (CCC) recommendations have also been commented on by the BBC on their website.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-48233548

They also focus on aviation and the planned Heathrow airport expansion. A senior civil servant has said that ministers may have to review their aviation strategy.  And other environmental groups have said that the decision on Heathrow expansion should be brought back to Parliament.

It is a crucial time for flying, with policy on aviation right up to 2050 currently out for consultation.

When the government first laid out proposals for increasing aviation, the UK had an overall target of cutting CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050. But the CCC recently raised the bar of ambition in recommending that Britain should adopt a target of net zero emissions by 2050. That will mean compensating for any greenhouse gases by either capturing the CO2 and storing it, or planting more trees.

Under the previous 80% scenario, aviation had a privileged position. Its expansion would be counter-balanced by additional CO2 cuts in other sectors, like industry.

The CCC makes it clear this is not an option any more in a zero-carbon Britain.



 


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Heat stress in the Global South

https://www.scidev.net/global/energy/news/billions-at-risk-from-heat-stress-at-home.html

Some 1.8–4.1 billion people living in the developing countries of South Asia, South-East Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America are vulnerable to heat-related stress, and lack access to technology to cool their living spaces, according to new estimates.

“Addressing the lack of access to thermal comfort has important implications for reducing the risk of heat-related deaths and dysfunction and improving the well-being of billions of people in the Global South,” Alessio Mastrucci, an author of the study and researcher at the Vienna-based International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), tells SciDev.Net.

The authors note that as health risks rise with global temperatures, the need for air conditioning is expected to add to global energy demands.

Universal access to electricity and adequate and affordable housing are prerequisites to accessing cooling technologies, and are closely linked to meeting several of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) mandated by the UN, the study notes. According to Mastrucci, filling this “cooling gap” links with the SDGs on affordable and clean energy, poverty reduction, health and wellbeing, and sustainable cities and communities.

Clinton Andrews, professor of urban planning at Rutgers University in the United States, says that the study shows that “even after accounting for longstanding adaptations that people living in hot climates have made to local conditions, the poor who lack access to electricity, and therefore air conditioning, are at increasing risk of health problems due to heat stress”.

Although previous studies have estimated demands for cooling on a global scale, few have focused on developing countries, and more specifically where adverse climate conditions and poverty converge.

The researchers looked at the energy needed to meet cooling needs of populations exposed to heat stress by taking into account climatic conditions, type of housing, access to electricity and ownership of air conditioners.

energy infographic

“We estimate that between 1.8 and 4.1 billion people in the Global South — with a median of 3.7 billion for 26 degrees Celsius set point threshold and at least five days of annual exposure — are potentially exposed to heat stress in their homes,” says Narasimha Rao, co-author of the study and assistant professor of energy systems at Yale University in the United States.

Closing the cooling gap would mean a rise in energy demand of 14 per cent above current global consumption of electricity in homes, their model suggests. This demand is expected to be met mainly by using air conditioning, which is costly and environmentally damaging.

The authors note that timely policies to make air conditioning technologies efficient and affordable, and to improve the design of residential areas in order to reduce heat island effects, would benefit both the climate and development.

With acknowledgements



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2018 Lancet Report on Health and Climate Change

This is a second report, published in the Lancet; the first, published in 2015, was summarised in Chapter 1 (page 26) of my book.

This new report concentrates on predicting how climate extremes may impact on human health; for example, heat waves, changes in water (brackish) due to sea level rise, causing increases in disease-bearing insects, such as mosquitos, drought, reduced crop yields, causing malnutrition, a waning workforce. as outdoor workers cannot work for long hours in hot and humid conditions.  A great concern is about the effects of heat waves on the elderly (65 years+) and whether there will be a ‘systemic failure’ of hospitals in coping with adverse weather conditions.

The full report may be found at:

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(18)32594-7/fulltext

and an excellent summary from Carbon Brief at:

https://www.carbonbrief.org/the-lancet-extreme-heat-threatens-systemic-failure-of-hospitals

The following image gives a summary of the issues and is adapted from a diagram issued by the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council:

http://www.yvsc.org/changing-climate-impacts-human-health/

health and climate change

A youtube video summarising the Lancet report is at:


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Climate economics need updating

Bob Ward, Policy and Communications Director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment (LSE), has written a letter to the Financial Times on 28th December 2018.  It is copied in its entirety below:

“Your excellent editorial “ How to rescue the global climate change agenda” (December 27) is right to call for a transformation of the policy discussion on climate change in order to accelerate the transition to a zero-carbon economy. However, you neglected to highlight a key solution: economists and finance ministries must stop relying on models that are simply not fit for purpose when making investment decisions.

The potential impacts of climate change caused by fossil fuel use are grossly underestimated by the current generation of economic models, which cannot quantify the cost of, and therefore omit, tipping points in the climate system, such as the destabilisation of the land-based ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica, and apply inappropriate discounting such that huge damages to future generations are trivialised.

Similarly, economic models overestimate the costs of new zero-carbon technologies because they do not take adequate account of co-benefits, such as reductions in local air pollution, and of processes such as learning by doing. These models have failed to forecast how quickly the production and development costs of renewable energy technologies, such as wind and solar, have fallen over the past few decades and years.

The consequence of these shortcomings was starkly illustrated earlier this month during the Nobel Prize lecture by William Nordhaus, the great pioneer of climate economics. He told the audience in Stockholm that his widely used model indicates “optimal climate policy” would result in global warming of 3C by the end of this century and 4C by 2150. Such a result is simply not credible when compared with the scientific evidence collated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change earlier this year, showing how devastating a global temperature rise of more than 1.5C would be.” 

climate dryness


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Nitrogen Dioxide pollution around the world

With acknowledgements to Unearthed.

In the last few years, governments and corporations around the world have come under increasing pressure to act on a global air pollution crisis.

In Europe, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) has been at the centre of the debate, following the dieselgate scandal and numerous legal battles faced by governments that have been shown to be in breach of legal limits.

As the World Health Organisation hosts its first global air pollution conference, new satellite data reveals the scale and spread of global NO2 on an unprecedented scale, from lignite power plants in Europe to wildfires in Africa.

Mapped against known pollution sources, it shows that NO2 pollution doesn’t come from diesel pollution alone; it is also emitted by coal, oil, gas and biomass plants as well as forest fires and crop burning.

The article shows a map of the world showing how much pollution surrounds the major urban areas of the world.  Unfortunately, it cannot be reproduced here but readers wanting to see it in detail should visit:

https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2018/10/29/nitrogen-dioxide-no2-pollution-world-map/

It is well worth a visit.