Challenges to ecological and social sustainability require us to integrate limits to resource consumption into all areas, including residential space, write Doris Fuchs, Sylvia Lorek, Pia Mamut and Nils Blossey.
Doris Fuchs is a German political scientist and professor of international relations and sustainable development at the University of Münster, Chair of International Relations and Sustainable Development. She authored this opinion piece together with researchers Sylvia Lorek, Pia Mamut, and Nils Blossey.
Multiple socio-ecological crises challenge our societies to reconfigure patterns of resource consumption. As we are increasingly approaching the exhaustion of planetary boundaries, sustainability and a societal dialogue about how to achieve it need to be introduced to all spheres of human life.
Importantly, the introduction of such measures does not pursue an introduction of lower standards of living, but rather careful planning and inclusive political processes to ascertain what sustainable living spaces that take account of social minima and ecological maxima can look like.
Clearly, humans need to be endowed with a minimum amount of material resources and space to be capable of attaining physical and psychological wellbeing – for many people especially in the Global South this would correspond to more, rather than less space and resources.
Thus, scholars and practitioners have outlined a range of minimum space standards for basic needs satisfaction regarding housing, which are partially based on context-specific parameters in terms of location and building.
Rao and Min, for instance, define a household space of 30m2 for up to three inhabitants and an additional minimum of 10m2 per each further person as a minimum threshold to provide decent living conditions.
The NYC Building Code, in turn, identifies as a standard that at least one room in a dwelling unit must have a size of 13,9 to 20m2, for example. Societal minima for living space may also vary depending on cultural and regional contexts.
Finally, discussions of minimum housing requirements are also driven by rising real estate prices and rents as well as shrinking space in metropolitan areas.
On the other end of the spectrum, the average size of residential homes in advanced economies has generally increased despite declining household size. As home size increases, so does the associated consumption of energy and other resources.
From a perspective of planetary boundaries, therefore, it becomes clear that we also need to engage in a societal dialogue about consumption maxima with respect to residential space.
In this vein, recent studies have calculated how much space an individual could use from a one-planet-perspective and assuming intra- and intergenerational justice. In such calculations, Lettenmeier arrives at an estimated target of 20m2 of residential space per capita.
Grubler et al. attribute more potential to improvements in energy efficiency and arrive at an estimate of 30m2 per capita (in 2050), which equals the present average in the Global North. For a family of four, then, estimates of residential space beyond which ecological boundaries are endangered range between 80-120m2.
Thinking about both social minima and ecological maxima is important for the future wellbeing of humans on this planet. Indeed, they belong together, as the concept of consumption corridors delineates.
However, whereas social minimum standards for housing easily evoke broad approval, thinking about upper limits to residential space is considerably more challenging. Maxima to residential space inevitably lead to conflicts of interest between members of society, which need to be balanced out in democratic processes.
Importantly, such upper (and even lower) limits should therefore not be envisioned as being based solely on scientific estimates and top-down enforcement. On the contrary, broad societal dialogue is necessary to generate an improved understanding of social and ecological conditions and needs, conflicts between them, and options for their joint pursuit.
Moreover, policies supporting the availability of adequate and affordable housing and addressing rising structural inequalities in the housing market need to be implemented alongside any focus on consumption minima and maxima with respect to residential space.
In addition, appropriate infrastructural measures need to ensure that potential contributions to one-planet lifestyles, which may result from current trends towards co-living, smaller home sizes, and cooperative house ownership can be realised.
Challenges to ecological and social sustainability require us to make complex decisions and to integrate limits to resource consumption into our practices and policies across consumption fields. We need to openly discuss social minima and ecological maxima with respect to residential space – just as in any other consumption field.
The above image is for illustration and is of the IISD‘s
This report models the climate change mitigation potential of fossil fuel subsidy reform across 32 countries. The results show how much greenhouse gas emissions—both in per cent as well as in absolute terms—countries can save by 2030. In addition, the model also calculates the subsidy savings countries can gain from fossil fuel subsidy reform. Countries can further increase their emission reductions by adding fossil energy taxation as well as the investments of subsidy savings and tax revenue into energy efficiency and renewable energy to the scenario.
Using the Global Subsidies Initiative – Integrated Fiscal Model (GSI-IF model), this report models the impact of fossil fuel subsidy reform (FFSR) on greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions for the following 32 countries: Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Germany, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, the United States, Venezuela, Vietnam, the Netherlands, and Zambia. In total, these 32 countries accounted for 77% of global carbon dioxide emissions, 72% of global GDP, and 72% of the global population in 2019.
The GSI-IF model uses semi-continuous simulations to forecast energy demand and corresponding GHG emissions. It considers the gradual removal of all fossil fuel subsidies to consumers until 2030, a gradual introduction of a 10% fossil energy tax until 2030, and the investment of 30% of both subsidy savings and tax revenues to energy efficiency and renewable energy from 2021, respectively 2026, onwards.
The research finds a simple country average in GHG emission reductions of about 6% by 2030 compared to business as usual, while the data shows that FFSR can reduce as much as 35% of emissions in the countries modelled. Adding emission reductions from the fossil energy tax as well as the investments of parts of the subsidy savings and tax revenues into sustainable energy would almost double the average GHG emission reductions to 11.8% by 2030. Cumulative fiscal savings from FFSR alone by 2030 total close to USD 3 trillion across the countries analyzed, with total cumulative GHG emissions abated from FFSR of 5.4 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) by 2030—equivalent to the annual emissions of about 1,000 coal-fired power plants or 3.8 billion cars. For every tonne of CO2e removed through FFSR alone, governments save about USD 546.47 on average. When considering the resources reallocated via the subsidy swap, governments can increase their emission reductions and still save USD 164 for every tonne of CO2e removed.
Turkish environment minister touts ‘Climate Resilient Cities’ at G20 meeting
Murat Kurum says integrated plus harmonious policies, strategies needed during environment ministers session
Turkey’s environment and urbanization minister praised “Climate Resilient Cities” on Friday during an address to a high-level G20 meeting.
Speaking at the Cities and Climate Action session, Murat Kurum defined climate resilient cities as those that use natural resources effectively, ensure the balance between production and consumption and develop and implement participatory policies.
Kurum was in Naples, Italy to attend a meeting of environment and energy ministers from the Group of 20.
He said for these kinds of cities, integrated plus harmonious policies and strategies are needed.
Emphasizing that in addition to increasing the resilience of cities, durable infrastructure applications are one of the important issues for adaptation to climate change at the local level, Kurum said it is extremely important to accelerate durable infrastructure investments and to use resources efficiently.
Noting that the transformation of cities should be placed at the top of priorities to be successful in combating climate change, Kurum said: “As Turkey, we know that determination in this matter is important to be successful. We are taking steps to ensure the highest level of cooperation on a national and local scale.”
Turkey is expanding its smart city and zero waste practices with regional and local action plans that were started in the Black Sea region, said Kurum.
“As the Ministry, we have accelerated our efforts to reduce energy consumption in our buildings,” he added.
“We carry out all our construction activities with this sensitivity, in our 2.5 million houses we have built so far and 300,000 urban transformation houses that are currently underway,” he said.
Kurum added that Turkey chooses natural materials, install solar energy systems and implement systems that produce their own electricity in all of its urban transformation projects, social housing and public buildings.
Carbon emissions to reach record levels in 2023 as stimulus spending fails to match net-zero ambition says IEA executive director Fatih Birol. Would the man nevertheless be heard at the oncoming COP 26 of Glasgow?
The financial resources allocated by governments globally to clean-energy measures in response to the Covid-19 crisis currently represent only 2% of the $16-trillion in total fiscal support set aside for economic stimulus, the International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) new Sustainable Recovery Tracker shows.
The $380-billion announced to support clean-energy actions as of the end of the second quarter of 2021 is set to be supplemented by an additional $350-billion a year between 2021 and 2023.
The IEA warns that such spending will fall well short of what is required to meet global climate goals and is expected to result in a surge in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
The IEA calculates these allocations to represent only 35% of what is required to meet the Sustainable Recovery Plan outlined in its recent special report, titled ‘Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector’.
The economic recovery measures announced to date would also result in CO2 emissions climbing to record levels in 2023 and continuing to rise thereafter.
While the CO2 trajectory is 800-million tonnes lower in 2023 than it would have been without any sustainable recovery efforts, it is still 3 500-million tonnes above the pathway set out in the Net Zero by 2050 report, which recommended $1-trillion of spending globally on clean-energy measures in recovery plans.
“Since the Covid-19 crisis erupted, many governments may have talked about the importance of building back better for a cleaner future, but many of them are yet to put their money where their mouth is,” IEA executive director Fatih Birol said in a statement.
“Not only is clean energy investment still far from what’s needed to put the world on a path to reaching net-zero emissions by mid-century, it’s not even enough to prevent global emissions from surging to a new record,” he warned.
The IEA found that governments have mobilised $16-trillion in fiscal support throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, most of it focused on emergency financial relief for households and firms.
Based on an analysis of over 800 policy measures across more than 50 countries, the tracker shows that government spending for energy-related sustainable recovery measures has been channelled mostly through programmes that already exist, such as energy efficiency grants, public procurement, utility plans and support for electric transport options.
In addition, most of this spending is in G20 economies, with recovery measures announced to date in advanced economies expected to meet 60% of the investment needs set out for these economies in the Sustainable Recovery Plan.
In emerging and developing economies this share falls to 20%, where many countries have focussed their more limited fiscal leeway primarily on emergency health and economic measures.
The tracker shows that, while advanced economies have earmarked about $76-billion a year in government spending from 2021 to 2023 for clean energy, emerging and developing economy governments have earmarked only $8-billion yearly over the same period.
A report published in March by the Global Recovery Observatory, an initiative of Oxford University’s Economic Recovery Project and the United Nations Environment Programme, also concluded that recovery spending was falling short of nations’ commitments to a sustainable recovery.
The analysis concluded that only 18% of recovery spending announced to the end of February could be considered ‘green’ and that this spending was mostly accounted for by a small group of high-income countries.
It also concluded that global green spending, to date, had been incommensurate with the scale of the ongoing environmental crises of climate change, nature loss and pollution.
Can net-zero carbon emission targets be met without crashing the economy? wondered Cornelia Meyer in her article.
Can net-zero carbon emission targets be met
July 09, 2021
The campaign for net-zero emissions by 2050 is gaining momentum ahead of COP26 in November
Divestment of assets may burnish image of oil companies, but will not lead to desired decarbonization
BERN, Switzerland: Global warming was on the international agenda long before the UN Framework Conference on Climate Change produced the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, widely seen as a landmark for the environmental movement. But it was the Paris Agreement, signed by 196 parties at COP21 in December 2015, that promised to be the game-changer.
The agreement stipulated that any rise in temperatures by the end of the century must be limited to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels. Scientists believe that in order to achieve this the world must reach net-zero emissions by 2050, which necessitates a 45-percent carbon-emissions reduction between 2010 and 2030.
According to the World Resources Institute, 59 countries, which between them are responsible for 54 percent of global emissions, have committed to binding net-zero targets. The UAE is reportedly considering its own net-zero goal by 2050, which would make it the first OPEC state to do so.
China, the world’s biggest CO2 emitter, has pushed back its net-zero deadline to 2060, as has its neighbor Kazakhstan. Russia and India, together responsible for 11.5 percent of global CO2 emissions, have yet to make any commitment.
There is, nevertheless, considerable momentum ahead of the COP26 summit in Glasgow this November. The majority of the countries that so far have committed to net-zero targets did so in 2020. The US followed suit in 2021.
Countries and multilateral entities such as the EU have the legislative power to drive change. But if net-zero targets are to be met, civil society plays a significant role.
Greta Thunberg is a case in point. The Swedish activist’s school strikes galvanized young people around the world and influenced the political agenda of many countries. So much so that parties have had to sign up to the green agenda in order to garner votes.
However, it is undeniable that the required changes will permeate every aspect of our lives. Action is needed to eliminate coal-fired power stations; install more renewable energy sources; retrofit buildings; decarbonize cement, plastics, aviation and shipping; expand public transport networks; and shift road traffic to electric vehicles. The list goes on.
All of the above will require huge investment. Indeed, the US intends to plough a good proportion of its post-pandemic infrastructure spending into green finance.
In the GCC, Saudi Arabia is leading the way with the Saudi and Middle East Green initiatives, which aim to reduce carbon emissions by 60 percent with the help of clean hydrocarbon technologies and by planting 50 billion trees, including 10 billion in the Kingdom.
These steps were recently acknowledged by John Kerry, the US climate envoy, who had high praise for Riyadh’s plan to invest $5 billion in the world’s largest green hydrogen plant in NEOM — the smart city under construction on the Red Sea coast.
The EU’s Green Deal will similarly be financed by €600 billion from its Next Generation pandemic-recovery plan and the European Commission’s seven-year budget. The plan is aggressive in setting out how to decarbonize the economy. Given its environmental dimension, the Green Deal’s carbon border adjustment mechanism has the potential to revolutionize tariffs worldwide.
The price of carbon may also rise by 50 percent to €85 per ton by 2030. This is a step in the right direction, but carbon pricing will only be truly effective if it is applied globally. In which case it can become a mechanism for directing actions and allocating investments.
This is the story for rich nations with the funds and technology needed to implement rapid change. But what about the developing world, which faces significant climate threats but has limited means to adapt?
The Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement and the UN’s Green Initiative obliged wealthy nations to fund climate-adaptation costs in developing countries. The Paris Agreements’ Green Climate Fund, in particular, was groundbreaking in this respect.
However, Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, has had to call on rich nations to meet their $100 billion-a-year pledge to fund mitigation and adaptation measures in developing nations. According to The New York Times, only a third of this sum has actually been met.
* Net-zero will be achieved when all global greenhouse gases released by humans are counterbalanced by their removal from the atmosphere.
Then there are the private sources of funding behind net-zero initiatives, which are particularly important because finance is a cornerstone of the Paris Agreement, binding as it does global providers of capital into the agenda.
Environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles — the non-financial factors that investors look at when identifying risk and growth opportunities — constitute the fastest-growing asset class in the world. Deloitte expects some 50 percent, or $34.5 trillion, of all professionally managed money in the US will flow into ESG-compatible investments by 2025.
On July 7, Aviva Investors and Fidelity International, alongside another 113 investors overseeing assets worth $4.2 trillion, urged 63 of the world’s global banks to up their game on climate change, including the publication of short-term climate targets compliant with the International Energy Agency (IEA)’s net-zero scenario before annual shareholder meetings.
While this is an encouraging sign, there remain several questions about standards and so-called greenwashing. So far there are no universally agreed ESG standards, although several institutions, including the World Economic Forum (WEF), are working to create their own benchmarks.
The drive towards ESG investments channels funds towards green companies and has diminished the investor base for oil, gas and coal.
Most big companies have subscribed to net-zero 2050 targets and many European oil majors have defined themselves for some time now as ‘energy firms’ rather than oil giants, with aggressive plans to shift their activities toward renewables.
While these developments will lead to higher greener-energy production, they can also be misleading. Oil majors increasingly divest assets, which other entities, particularly in the private equity space or national oil companies, snap up on the cheap.
Shuffling the deckchairs might help improve the image of publicly listed oil companies, but it will not necessarily move more carbon out of the system.
The purists, meanwhile, want to defund hydrocarbons altogether. In May, the IEA issued a report, titled “Net Zero by 2050,” which recommended no new investments in upstream oil and gas assets after 2021.
It says clean-energy investment needs to triple to $4 trillion by 2030. Although well-intentioned, the proposal is much more feasible for developed countries, which can afford measures like the electrification of road traffic. But in developing countries, where almost 800 million people have no access to electricity, gas is still needed as an affordable transition fuel.
The IEA report also said the new green economy could create 30 million jobs. It was unrealistic, however, when it calculated job losses of 5 million. In some of the world’s developing countries, many more than this number work in the coal sector alone.
Also, many Western governments underestimate the role that carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) will play in decarbonization of the economy. The concept of the circular carbon economy, which will reduce reuse, recycle and remove carbon, and which was endorsed by the G20, could be better appreciated by decision-makers.
Furthermore, nobody has yet compiled a full environmental and economic analysis of the life cycle of various sources of energy. A failure to understand their impact could lead to policy failures and the misallocation of funds.
In all of the above, clear and predictable regulatory frameworks are essential if initiatives are to win the backing of investors. In other words, expect the journey to net-zero to be bumpy, occasionally acrimonious, and not as straightforward as many would like.
* Cornelia Meyer is a Ph.D.-level economist with 30 years of experience in investment banking and industry. She is chairperson and CEO of business consultancy Meyer Resources. Twitter: @MeyerResources
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