Renewables are winning the Economics battle

Renewables are winning the Economics battle

ThinkProgress came up with this article Renewables are winning the economics battle against new coal and gas, stunning study shows dated June 18, 2019, to confirm a situation that is more and more prevalent on the ground worldwide. The trend itself is not new. It all started to be obvious not more than 10 years ago with countries mainly of the developed world now consuming 40 per cent less coal than it did in 2008 whilst all renewable generation has shot up 60 per cent in the same time span.

Meanwhile, we could say that the same thing is happening in the MENA region, especially in those oil exporting countries.

By 2030, wind and solar will “undercut existing coal and gas almost everywhere.”

By Joe Romm

Solar Panels and wind turbines in Palm Springs. March 2015. (Credit: Getty)
Solar Panels and wind turbines in Palm Springs. March 2015. (Credit: Getty)

A new study reveals just how stunningly rapid the clean energy transition is.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) reported on Tuesday that renewables are now the cheapest form of new electricity generation across two thirds of the world — cheaper than both new coal and new natural gas power.

Yet just five years ago, renewables were the cheapest source of new power in only 1% of the world, explains BNEF in its New Energy Outlook 2019.

Equally remarkable, BNEF projects that by 2030, wind and solar will “undercut existing coal and gas almost everywhere.”

In other words, within a decade it will be cheaper to build and operate new renewable power plants than it will be to just keep operating existing fossil fuel plants — even in the United States.

The reason for this transformation is the remarkable drop in both solar and wind power prices this decade: Since 2010, wind power has dropped 49% in cost and solar plummeted 85%.

BNEF projects prices will continue to fall for the next decade and beyond, with the cost of solar panels and wind power dropping by another third by 2030. Overall, by 2050, the cost of solar electricity is expected to drop 63% compared to today, and the cost of wind will likely drop 48%.

Because of these ongoing price drops, the world is projected to invest a whopping $4.2 trillion in solar power generation in the next three decades. The result is that solar will jump from a mere 2% of global power generation today to a remarkable 22% in 2050.

Over the same three decades, global investment in wind power will likely hit $5.3 trillion, and wind is expected to rise from 5% of global electricity today to 26% in 2050.

The result is that we are shifting from a world today where two thirds of power generation is from fossil fuels to one three decades from now where two thirds is zero carbon. As BNEF puts it, we are “ending the era of fossil fuel dominance in the power sector.”

Related:

New analysis of solar and wind should put the natural gas industry on notice Renewables to capture two-thirds of the $10 trillion the world will invest in new generation through 2040.

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How countries can learn from Jordan’s renewable energy pivot

How countries can learn from Jordan’s renewable energy pivot

By 2021 the country is aiming to have well over half of its power generated by wind or solar energy In the meantime, how countries can learn from Jordan’s renewable energy pivot is elaborated on by Robin Mills, CEO of Qamar Energy and published on The National of June 10, 2019.

How countries can learn from Jordan’s renewable energy pivot
Jordan is using the vast expanse of sunny and windy Wadi Rum to harness its renewable ambitions.

On the road from Wadi Rum to Petra in Jordan, where signs point to the Sheikh Zayed solar complex, wind turbines turn languidly in a steady breeze. At Petra, even Bedouin encampments have solar panels and many homes in Amman use solar tubes to heat water. The UAE made headlines with its world-record solar installations, but in all the Middle East, the impact of the renewable revolution is most visible in the Jordanian landscape.

By last year, the Hashemite kingdom had installed 285 megawatts of wind and 771MW of solar power, a significant chunk of its total generation of about 4 gigawatts. By 2021, it wants to have 2.7GW of renewable capacity. Over the next decade, Jordan’s efforts could really take off – providing half of all electricity output, in our analysis at Qamar Energy. It is only a small market, but it is an important trailblazer for the region’s aspirations in renewables.

Jordan’s success has been built on good resources, solid policy and the imperatives of an energy crisis. Like most Middle East countries, the kingdom has abundant sunny desert land and, similar to Egypt and northern Saudi Arabia, it’s also quite windy in places.

The country started early on encouraging renewables with the Tafila wind farm, a joint venture with Masdar, built in 2015. It offers investors a reasonable return and gives smaller users such as hospitals and universities the chance to build solar panels on vacant land and transmit the power through a grid.

The biggest impetus to alternative energy was the cut-off from Egyptian gas supplies following the 2011 revolution, because of repeated militant attacks on the Sinai pipeline. Jordan’s budget deficit widened because the country, which imports more than 90 per cent of its energy needs and has historically financed its deficits through grants and soft loans, had to burn expensive oil for electricity. Jordan, which already hosted thousands of Iraqi refugees, had to accommodate an increasing power demand due to an influx of 1.3 million Syrians escaping the conflict in their country.

In response, the kingdom opened a liquefied natural gas import terminal at Aqaba, and negotiated supplies from the American company Noble, which produces from offshore Israel. Jordan has large resources of oil shale, effectively an immature form of petroleum source rocks, which can be cooked into oil. A Chinese-led consortium is developing a power plant based on burning this dirty material.

Jordan’s success has been built on good resources, solid policy and the imperatives of an energy crisis.

Efforts to construct a nuclear power plant have been hampered by a lack of cooling water, public opposition and the high costs of financing. Instead, Amman may opt for smaller, modular nuclear reactors that could be fabricated off-site.

To cover the higher costs of fuel, energy subsidies had to be cut back, putting a heavy burden on citizens at a time of sharp economic slowdown. But this had the positive effect of making individual rooftop solar installations attractive for small businesses and householders.

Local Jordanian companies, such as Kawar Energy and Shamsuna Power, along with Dubai-based companies including Yellow Door Energy, have created viable businesses and high-skilled employment. By the early 2020s, Jordan will have the Middle East’s lowest carbon output electricity grid, despite the carbon-heavy oil shale facility.

Success will soon bring its own challenges. Renewable output will exceed total demand at times, while the country still needs to provide for high-consumption and night-time periods. Hydropower, which could be used to store excess renewables, is minimal in the desert country.

The Red-Dead Sea project is intended to bring water to the Dead Sea, which is fast drying up due to climate change and the overuse of the Jordan River. On the way, the water would generate power for desalination. But the expensive venture faces environmental concerns and political hurdles in co-operating with Israel.

Philadelphia Solar, a local company, has announced plans for a solar plant with battery storage. Concentrated solar thermal plants (CSP), like the one under construction in Dubai, can save the Sun’s heat to generate power overnight. These do not seem to be part of Jordan’s plans yet, but the country has excellent conditions for CSP.

Electricity interconnections with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the West Bank are also underway, which could boost the resilience and renewable share of the whole area’s power grid. It could also send power to help rebuild war-torn Syria.

Jordan’s consumers will have to consider the benefits from the country’s renewable expansion, particularly industries which have complained of high electricity prices. Prices are high during peak demand hours, but this scheme will have to become more flexible to lower prices when there is an excess of solar.

Jordan’s small market and head start in renewable energy means it will reach these hurdles to solar deployment probably before any other country in the region. Its success in devising policies to continue attracting capital, boosting its renewable generation, local employment and electricity exports, while reducing consumer bills, will be an important signal for its neighbours.

This is particularly true for countries in the Arabian Gulf – whose utility companies are thinking about how to overcome similar barriers to their bold renewable plans. Such complementary resources and opportunities open the space for co-operation between these two regional allies.

Robin Mills is CEO of Qamar Energy and author of The Myth of the Oil Crisis.

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Solar panels all over the Sahara desert?

Solar panels all over the Sahara desert?

– Imagine newsletter #2

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Solar panels all over the Sahara desert? Asked Will de Freitas, Environment + Energy Editor, The Conversation, starting with:

You may have seen a variant of this meme before. A map of North Africa is shown, with a surprisingly small box somewhere in Libya or Algeria shaded in. An area of the Sahara this size, the caption will say, could power the entire world through solar energy:

Over the years various different schemes have been proposed for making this idea a reality. Though a company called Desertec caused a splash with some bold ideas a decade ago, it collapsed in 2014 and none of the other proposals to export serious amounts of electricity from the Sahara to Europe and beyond are anywhere close to being realised.

It’s still hard to store and transport that much electricity from such a remote place, for one thing, while those people who do live in the Sahara may object to their homeland being transformed into a solar superpower. In any case, turning one particular region into a global energy hub risks all sorts of geopolitical problems.

The Imagine newsletter aims to tackle these big “what if” questions, so we asked a number of academics to weigh in on the challenges of exploiting the cheapest form of electricity from perhaps the cheapest and best spot on Earth.


Sahara has huge energy potential

Amin Al-Habaibeh is an engineer at Nottingham Trent University who has researched various options for Saharan solar.


Read more: Should we turn the Sahara Desert into a huge solar farm?


He points to the sheer size and amount of sunshine the Sahara desert receives:

  • It’s larger than Brazil and slightly smaller than the US.
  • If every drop of sunshine that hits the Sahara was converted into energy, the desert would produce enough electricity over any given period to power Europe 7,000 times over.
Solar panels all over the Sahara desert?
Global horizontal irradiation, a measure of how much solar power is received per year. Global Solar Atlas/World Bank

So even a small chunk of the desert could indeed power much of the world, in theory. But how would this be achieved?

Al-Habaibeh points to two main technologies. Both have their pros and cons.

  • Concentrated solar power uses lenses or mirrors to focus the sun’s energy in one spot, which becomes incredibly hot. This heat then generates electricity through a steam turbine.
  • In this image the tower in the middle is the “receiver” which then feeds heat to a generator:
Solar panels all over the Sahara desert?
Aerial view of a large concentrated solar power plant. Novikov Aleksey/Shutterstock
  • Some systems store the heat in the form of molten salt. This means they can release energy overnight, when the sun isn’t shining, providing a 24h supply of electricity.
  • Concentrated solar power is very efficient in hot, dry environments, but the steam generators use lots of water.
  • Then there are regular photovoltaic solar panels. These are much more flexible and easier to set up, but less efficient in the very hottest weather.

Overall, Al-Habaibeh is positive:

Just a small portion of the Sahara could produce as much energy as the entire continent of Africa does at present. As solar technology improves, things will only get cheaper and more efficient. The Sahara may be inhospitable for most plants and animals, but it could bring sustainable energy to life across North Africa – and beyond.


Solar panels could have remarkable impact on the desert though

Installing mass amounts of solar panels in the Sahara could also have a remarkable impact on the desert itself.

The Sahara hasn’t always been dry and sandy. Indeed, archaeologists have found traces of human societies in the middle of the desert, along with prehistoric cave paintings of Savannah animals. Along with climate records, this suggests that just a few thousand years ago the “desert” was far greener than today.

Solar panels all over the Sahara desert?
Long-extinct elephants still remain carved into rocks in southern Algeria. Dmitry Pichugin / shutterstock

Alona Armstrong, an environmental science lecturer at Lancaster University, wrote about a fascinating study in 2018 that suggested massive renewable energy farms could make the Sahara green again.


Read more: Massive solar and wind farms could bring vegetation back to the Sahara


A team of scientists imagined building truly vast solar and wind farms, far larger than most countries, and simulated the impact they would have on the desert around them. They found that:

  • Solar panels reflect less heat back into space compared to sand.
  • This means the surface would warm, causing air to rise and form clouds.
  • This would mean more rainfall, especially in the Sahel region at the southern edge of the desert.
  • And more vegetation would grow, which would absorb more heat, drive more precipitation, and so on
  • It’s an example of a climate feedback.
Solar panels all over the Sahara desert?
Large-scale wind and solar would mean more new rain in some areas than others. Eviatar Bach, CC BY-SA

This may be a nice side effect of a huge Saharan solar plant, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it should happen. As Armstrong points out:

These areas may be sparsely populated but people do live there, their livelihoods are there, and the landscapes are of cultural value to them. Can the land really be “grabbed” to supply energy to Europe and the Middle East?


Solar panels all over the Sahara desert?
Ghardaia, Algeria. Even in the middle of the Sahara, there are settlements. Sergey-73/Shutterstock

Is this climate colonialism?

If we want to deploy millions of solar panels in the Sahara, then who is “we”? Who pays for it, who runs it and, crucially, who gets the cheap electricity?

This is what worries Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò, a philosopher who researches climate justice at Georgetown University. He mentions Saharan solar power as one of the possible policies involved in a Green New Deal, a wide-ranging plan to enact a “green transition” over the next decade.


Read more: How a Green New Deal could exploit developing countries


He points out that exports of solar power could: “Exacerbate what scholars like sociologist Doreen Martinez call climate colonialism – the domination of less powerful countries and peoples through initiatives meant to slow the pace of global warming.”

  • While Africa may have abundant energy resources, the continent is also home to the people who are the least connected to the grid.
  • Solar exports risk “bolstering European energy security … while millions of sub-Saharan Africans have no energy of their own.”

What if we’re looking at the wrong desert?

All of this will be moot if Saharan solar never actually happens. And Denes Csala, a lecturer in energy systems at Lancaster University, is sceptical.


Read more: Why the new ‘solar superpowers’ will probably be petro-states in the Gulf


It’s true that much of the world’s best solar resources are found in the desert. Here’s a graph from his PhD research which shows how Saharan nations dominate:

Solar panels all over the Sahara desert?
The sunniest tenth of the world is mostly Saharan countries … and Saudi Arabia. Denes Csala / NREL, Author provided

But Denes says that we’re looking at the wrong desert. In fact, the countries of the Arabian peninsula are better placed to exploit the sun. He argues several factors work in favour of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and co:

  • They have a history of exporting oil.
  • In the energy market, worries over security of supply means countries tend to do business with the same partners over time.
  • Ports, pipes and other infrastructure that have been built to ship oil and gas could be repurposed to ship solar energy as hydrogen.

[Energy security] would be the Achilles heel of a northern African energy project: the connections to Europe would likely be the continent’s single most important critical infrastructure and, considering the stability of the region, it is unlikely that European countries would take on such a risk.

It would be fair to say academics have mixed views about the idea of mass Saharan solar. While the energy potential is obvious, and most of the necessary technology already exists, in the long run it may prove too complicated politically.


Still think this is all fantasy?

Maybe Europeans should look closer to home. The UK Planning Inspectorate is currently examining the Cleve Hill solar farm proposal in Kent, which would involve installing nearly a million solar panels across a marshland site the size of 600 football pitches. To protect against flooding, the panels would be mounted several metres in the air. If built, despite opposition from locals and conservationists, Cleve Hill would be by far the country’s largest solar farm and about the same size as Europe’s largest, near Bordeaux.

Alastair Buckley from the University of Sheffield points out the project would be groundbreaking as, unlike other ventures of this kind, it doesn’t rely on subsidies. With solar power getting ever cheaper, Cleve Hill – if it happens – seems to mark the moment when solar may start paying for itself – even far from the world’s deserts.

Further reading


What is Imagine?

Subscribe to the newsletter Imagine.

Imagine is a newsletter from The Conversation that presents a vision of a world acting on climate change. Drawing on the collective wisdom of academics in fields from anthropology and zoology to technology and psychology, it investigates the many ways life on Earth could be made fairer and more fulfilling by taking radical action on climate change. You are currently reading the web version of the newsletter.

Here’s the more elegant email-optimised version subscribers receive. To get Imagine delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe now.

Click here to subscribe to Imagine. Climate change is inevitable. Our response to it isn’t.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Holistic and long-term solutions for Peace and Sustainability

Holistic and long-term solutions for Peace and Sustainability

Rather than resisting the securitization of climate, advocates and policymakers should be promoting the climatization of security. This means highlighting the shortcomings of current security frameworks and promoting gender inclusiveness and local leadership as holistic and long-term solutions for peace and sustainability.

This May 23, 2019 article of Alaa MurabitLuca Bücken and delivered by Project Syndicate must take many by surprise, mostly because of its angle of vision of the world’s predominant issue of climate change.

Image result for The Myth of Climate Wars?

The Myth of Climate Wars?

NEW YORK – In the years leading up to Syria’s civil war, the country endured three consecutive record-breaking droughts. By forcing internal displacement, the droughts arguably contributed to the social tensions that erupted in popular protests in 2011. But that does not mean that the Syrian conflict is a “climate war.”

As extreme weather events proliferate, it’s becoming increasingly easy to find a link between climate change and violent confrontations. In Sudan, the ethnic cleansing carried out by former President Omar al-Bashir has been tied to the Sahara Desert’s southward expansion, which fueled social unrest by exacerbating food insecurity. Territorial disputes in the South China Sea have also been connected to food-security concerns, rooted in competition over access to fishing areas. Some now warn of a “brewing water war” between Egypt and Ethiopia, triggered by the latter’s construction of a dam on the Nile River.

But the “climate war” narrative is deeply flawed. From Syria to Sudan, today’s conflicts are the result of multiple complicated and interrelated factors, from ethno-religious tensions to protracted political repression. While the effects of climate change can exacerbate social and political instability, climate change did not cause these wars. This nuance is important, not least for the sake of accountability: climate change must not be used to duck responsibility for resolving or averting violent confrontations.

Still, military and climate experts argue, climate change is a “threat multiplier,” and thus remains an important national security issue. Climate advocates and academics, however, have long avoided or rejected discussions of “climate security” – not to diminish the risks that climate change poses, but because they fear that framing climate change as a security issue will undermine efforts to mitigate those risks, by enabling the incremental securitization of climate action.

Securitization is often a political tactic, in which leaders construct a security threat to justify deploying extraordinary, even illegal measures, that infringe on people’s rights. If the fight against climate change is securitized, it could, for example, be used to rationalize new restrictions on the movement of people, enabled by and reinforcing anti-migrant sentiment.

Framing climate as a security issue can also challenge already-strained international cooperation on climate governance while driving investment away from necessary interventions – such as the shift to a low-carbon economy – toward advancing military preparedness. The accompanying apocalyptic discourse, moreover, could well lead to public disengagement, further weakening democratic accountability.

Yet, even as some United Nations member states express concern about linking climate change more closely to security, most countries are moving in precisely that direction. In 2013, the American Security Project reported that 70% of countries view climate change as a threat to their security, and at least 70 national militaries already have clear plans in place to address this threat.

The UN Security Council is also becoming more active in the climate security field. After recognizing the role of climate change in the Lake Chad conflict (Resolution 2349), the Council held its first debates on the relationship between climate change and security, with the participation of a large and diverse group of member states.

Given the impact of climate change on issues like migration and health, decoupling discussions of climate action from national security considerations may never have been feasible. On the other hand, linking climate change to security can positively contribute to mobilizing climate action. The key to avoiding the pitfalls of securitization is to move beyond paradigms – which overemphasize military-focused “hard security” narratives – that continue to shape security policy and public discourse. One way to achieve that is to take a more gender-inclusive approach to conflict prevention and resolution.

Research shows that women are more likely to pursue a collaborative approach to peacemaking, with actors organizing across ethnic, cultural, and sectarian divides. Such an approach “increases the prospects of long-term stability and reduces the likelihood of state failure, conflict onset, and poverty.” When women participate in peace negotiations, the resulting agreements are 35% more likely to last at least 15 years.

Sustainable peace is possible only by recognizing the necessity of local women’s leadership, who have relevant expertise and yet are currently excluded from national and multilateral frameworks. After all, if policy decisions are to meet the needs of the affected communities, members of those communities must have a seat at the table.

For example, in Indonesia, Farwiza Farhan has acquired unique insights from years of facilitating community-inclusive forest conversation that respects local stakeholders. In Somalia, Ilwad Elman has proved her ability to navigate intersectional peace-building efforts through her organization, Elman Peace.

Of course, there is also an imperative to give more women the tools they need to join in this process. The interconnections identified in the UN Sustainable Development Goals provide a functional roadmap for delivering the needed equity. In particular, improving reproductive health (SDG 3) and education (SDG 4) of girls and women is one of the most cost-effective ways both to mitigate climate change (SDG 13) and to empower them as community leaders (SDG 5).

Rather than resisting the securitization of climate, advocates and policymakers should be advancing what the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute calls “the climatization of security.” This is best done by using security to increase the salience of climate action, highlighting the shortcomings of current security frameworks, and promoting gender inclusiveness and local leadership as holistic and long-term solutions for fostering local, regional, and international peace.

Luca Bücken is a policy adviser and strategist who focuses on migration, security, climate, and justice.

Alaa Murabit, a medical doctor and Executive Director of Phase Minus 1, is one of 17 Sustainable Development Goals Advocates appointed by the UN Secretary General. 

Costs of Technologies reshaping Energy-related Investment

Costs of Technologies reshaping Energy-related Investment

Following on the ever-increasing ease of accessibility of all renewables-hardware, the costs of technologies reshaping energy-related investment per The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Investment 2019 report have mainly affected and/or facilitated the surging demand for even more power. In effect, it is in the developing world, including, the MENA region where the market seems to be the highest, that this is happening before our very eyes. Hence this article of the World Economic Forum.

A general view of the DanTysk wind farm, 90 kilometres west of Esbjerg, Denmark, September 21, 2016. Picture taken September 21, 2016. To match EUROPE-OFFSHORE/WINDPOWER  REUTERS/Nikolaj Skydsgaard - D1BEUNDQTLAA
The costs of technologies are reshaping energy-related investment
Image: REUTERS/Nikolaj Srkydsgaad

The world invested almost $2 trillion in energy last year. These 3 charts show where it went

By Charlotte Edmond, Formative Content.

22 May 2019

The world invested $1.8 trillion in energy last year, with spending on renewables stalling, while oil, gas and coal projects increased.

The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Investment 2019 report shows overall global investment in energy stabilised in 2018 after a recent decline, with the power sector continuing to make up the biggest proportion of this spending. Much of that investment has been fueled by the world’s rapidly increasing demand for electricity.

Investment in coal increased for the first time since 2012, despite reduced Chinese spending to focus on power generation.

When it comes to cleaner fuels, there was little movement in the overall investment in renewables and no net addition to capacity, driven in part by the falling costs of some technologies. But production of biofuels, which has fallen behind the IEA’s sustainable development targets, saw a rise in investment last year.

The agency’s report also showed minimal increases in energy efficiency investments, with spending on transport efficiency remaining constant even though sales of electric vehicles are motoring upwards.

Indeed, the IEA warns there is a “growing mismatch between current trends and the paths to meeting” the world’s climate goals laid out in the 2016 Paris Agreement and “other sustainable development goals.”

The changing landscape

The costs of technologies are reshaping energy-related investment, as the chart below demonstrates.

Some of the most marked changes have been seen in the power sector, where there have been dramatic falls in the costs of solar, onshore wind and battery storage.

Prices for some efficient goods such as light-emitting diodes (LED) and electric vehicles have continued to fall, too. But investment in efficiency innovations is still being held back by governmental policy and financing challenges.

On the other hand, there has been little change in the costs of nuclear power projects and carbon capture and storage – a technology that aims to trap greenhouse gases before they enter the atmosphere.

Who invests the most?

China remained the biggest market for energy investment last year, even as the US is rapidly catching up, the IEA report said.

Increases in oil and gas — particularly in the shale sector — have driven the bulk US investment. By contrast, China is putting much of its money into low-carbon projects, with big investments in nuclear power and renewables.

India is the most rapidly growing market for investment. Elsewhere, investment in energy generally has fallen in recent years in Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, according to the agency.

Have you read?

Universities struggling with the concept and agenda of ‘Greening’

Universities struggling with the concept and agenda of ‘Greening’

University World News GLOBAL : Although young people are driving a global wake-up call on climate change and the need to reduce our carbon footprint, many universities struggling with the concept and agenda of ‘greening’ and their achievements to date have been “scattered and unsystematic”, UN Environment, the leading global environmental authority, warned this week.

UN urges universities to be catalysers of sustainability

By Brendan O’Malley  18 May 2019 Share



In a report published on its website, it says some schools and universities are leading by example and reducing carbon emissions, promoting renewable energy and becoming “hotbeds of activism on the defining issue for a generation”.

But, it says, “while some noteworthy exemplars of university sustainability initiatives exist around the world, there is a need to maximise the potential benefits by encouraging their replication in as many universities as possible globally.”

This article is part of a series on Transformative Leadership published by University World News in partnership with Mastercard Foundation. University World News is solely responsible for the editorial content.
Across the world, UN Environment is working with universities to set up national and regional Green University Networks to enable institutions to incorporate low carbon-climate resilience development strategies and sustainability in education, training and campus operations.

“Decarbonising our economies and lives will be a defining and recurrent element of any profession until the end of this century,” said Niklas Hagelberg, coordinator of the Climate Change Programme at UN Environment. He said going carbon-neutral provides a great opportunity to “demystify carbon neutrality for students” and can give them a practical experience through inclusion in curricula and operations of the school or university.

UN Environment has produced the Greening Universities Toolkit V2.0 to inspire universities to design, develop and implement strategies for green, resource-efficient and low carbon campuses.

The toolkit aims to encourage and promote the contribution of universities to the overall sustainability of the planet and help them become agents of change. Drawing on innovations and best practice in sustainability, it looks at defining sustainability, initiating transformations, indicators, technologies for transformation, policy governance and administration and resources for change.

It includes dozens of case studies from Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America and North America outlining sustainable campus innovations implemented.

Climate emergency

In Britain, declaring a climate change emergency, the University of Bristol had already become what is thought to be the world’s first higher education institution to issue its own ‘climate emergency’ declaration, reflecting growing student unease over the slow pace of official action. Two weeks later, parliament, on 5 May made history by declaring a ‘climate change emergency’.

Bristol University said it wanted to acknowledge the deep concerns of its students and reaffirm its “strong and positive commitment to take action on climate change”. It is already acting to reduce its own carbon footprint.

The university has reduced carbon emissions by 27% since 2005 through a combination of technical measures, including heating controls and LED lighting. It has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2030 and in March 2018 it announced plans to divest completely from all investments in fossil fuel companies within two years.

“The University of Bristol plays a key role in fighting climate change; it does this through its research, its teaching and how it operates,” said Professor Judith Squires, deputy vice-chancellor and provost.

“Calling a climate emergency highlights the urgency of the task we are engaged in and I hope others join us in increasing their action on this, the biggest challenge we face.”

UN Environment said it is fitting that Bristol University should be a leader in this field: it houses the Cabot Institute for the Environment, home to several of the lead authors on reports for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, including last year’s devastating analysis that the world is running out of time to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Many other positive examples among universities exist to inspire innovation and action.

Achieving carbon neutrality

For example, Bowdoin College in Maine in the United States became carbon neutral in 2018, two years ahead of the schedule it pledged as part of the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments. The private liberal arts college reduced its carbon emissions by 29%, from 16,326 metric tons in 2008 to 11,620 metric tons in 2017.

Bowdoin College installed a cogeneration turbine, which produces electricity as a by-product of generating heat, converted buildings from oil to natural gas, insulated 5,100 feet of underground steam tunnels, replaced thousands of lights with efficient LED bulbs and diverted more than 50% of its waste from landfills.

To account for its remaining emissions, the college is investing in carbon offsets with regional impacts, and in renewable energy credits associated with wind farms. Additionally, Bowdoin is announcing a pioneering renewable energy project partnership that will result in the largest solar array in the state of Maine.

This will involve working with other educational institutions to help fund construction of a 75-megawatt solar project in Farmington. The project is expected to offset nearly half of Bowdoin’s annual electricity consumption.

As part of its carbon neutrality action plan, Bowdoin has held energy reduction contests, trained eco-reps to educate the campus community and employed about 200 students to raise awareness about climate change among their peers.

It has increased its composting of food waste, switched security officers out of vehicles and onto bikes to use less petrol, and has insulated buildings and sealed doors and windows to reduce energy waste.

In Washington DC, American University also reached carbon neutrality two years ahead of schedule. It now uses 21% less energy per square foot than it did in 2005.

The college has six LEED-certified buildings, with four others planned. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is the most widely used green building rating system in the world.

American University also has eight green roofs, seven solar panel arrays and nine bioretention basins and rain gardens. All of its shuttle buses run on biodiesel, the campus is also bicycle-friendly and the university has planted more than 1.2 million trees in the city to offset greenhouse gas emissions from commuting.

Half of American University’s power needs come from a solar panel farm it established in North Carolina in partnership with the George Washington University and George Washington University Hospital. The other half comes from renewable energy credits.

Australia’s Charles Sturt University was certified the country’s first carbon neutral university in 2016. As well as procuring carbon offsets, it has introduced electric carts on campuses, commissioned solar photovoltaic systems, established battery recycling centres and beefed up its recycling processes.

In Kenya, Strathmore University set out to become the first climate neutral university in the country and installed a 0.6 MW rooftop solar plant to provide energy and reduce its carbon footprint. The Strathmore Energy Research Centre decided to export the excess energy to the grid and a power purchase agreement was signed in 2015. The solar plant is also used as a live laboratory to train technicians to design and maintain such installations.

UN Environment says it is working with other Kenyan educational institutions through the Kenya Green University Network, which was launched in 2016 in collaboration with the National Environment Management Authority and the Commission for University Education. The aim is to integrate sound environmental practices and knowledge sharing into Kenya’s 70 public and private universities.

Direct personal action

Students across the world in schools and universities have also taken direct, personal action. At West Hollow Middle School in Long Island in the United States, students have taken the UN’s Climate Neutral Now pledge to measure the school’s greenhouse gas emissions, reduce what they can and offset the rest using certified emissions reductions.

UN Environment said such action has effects that ripple out into the community. West Hollow School has produced a full curriculum for teachers to raise awareness among students and encourage both pupils and staff to also work on reducing their carbon footprints at home.

For Bristol University student, Giles Atkinson, who had a key role in organising the petition to declare a climate emergency, universities can take a leading role in responding to climate change.

“This [climate emergency] declaration will help communicate the urgency of the situation and inspire further action. We hope that other universities follow suit,” he said.