A Draft UN nature deal calls to protect 30% of the planet by 2030, as shown in EURACTIV.com with AFP, reveals our dramatic situation. Is this a good chance not to overlook; only time can tell. The above image is of TRENDS
Draft UN nature deal calls to protect 30% of planet by 2030
Opening the talks in Montreal, UN chief Antonio Guterres warned humanity had become a “weapon of mass extinction” and called on parties to forge a “peace pact with nature.” [UN Biodiversity / Flickr]
A UN nature deal proposed Sunday (18 December) calls to protect at least 30% of the planet by 2030 and asks rich countries to stump up $30 billion in yearly aid for developing nations to save their ecosystems.
Fraught talks seeking an agreement to save the species and ecosystems on which life depends came to a head as summit chair China presented a long-awaited compromise text.
Mapping out action for the next decade to reverse destruction that scientists say threatens a million species, the proposal called on wealthy countries to increase financial aid to the developing world to $20 billion annually by 2025, rising to $30 billion per year by 2030.
It also called on countries to “ensure and enable that by 2030 at least 30% of terrestrial, inland water, and coastal and marine areas” are effectively conserved and managed.
The text includes language safeguarding the rights of Indigenous people as stewards of their lands, a key demand of campaigners.
The compromise text was largely welcomed by conservationists, but still needs to be agreed upon by the 196 signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity before it is finalised.
Risk of pushback
Opening the talks in Montreal, UN chief Antonio Guterres warned humanity had become a “weapon of mass extinction” and called on parties to forge a “peace pact with nature.”
The COP15 meeting is being held in Canada because of China’s strict COVID rules.
Delegates began examining the draft agreement just as the football World Cup between France and Argentina kicked off in Qatar.
A plenary session was scheduled for Sunday evening when countries will have the opportunity to approve the deal. Negotiations over the past 10 days have been slow however and observers warned the talks, scheduled to end on Monday, could run over.
“The Chinese presidency’s draft final paper is courageous,” said Germany’s environment minister Steffi Lemke. “By protecting nature, we protect ourselves.”
“By including a target to protect and conserve at least 30 percent of the world’s lands and oceans, the draft text makes the largest commitment to ocean and land conservation in history,” said Brian O’Donnell, of the Campaign for Nature.
But there was also concern that some areas of the text had been watered down.
Georgina Chandler, of Britain’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said she was worried about a lack of numeric “milestones” for restoring ecosystems by 2050.
“We’re basically not measuring progress until 28 years’ time, which is madness,” she said.
Lawmakers and civil society are calling on the EU to support an ambitious agreement on nature protection at the COP15 international biodiversity conference following concerns the bloc is not defending a robust text.
Another major issue of contention is the funding mechanism.
Developing countries, spearheaded by Brazil, were seeking the creation of a new fund to signal the Global North’s commitment to the cause. But the draft text instead suggests a compromise: a “trust fund” within the existing Global Environment Facility.
Observers had warned the COP15 conference risked collapse as countries squabbled over how much the rich world should pay to fund the efforts, with developing nations walking out of talks at one point.
But Chinese environment minister Huang Runqiu said Saturday he was “greatly confident” of a consensus and his Canadian counterpart Steven Guilbeault said “tremendous progress” had been made.
The more than 20 targets also include reducing environmentally destructive farming subsidies, asking businesses to assess and report on their biodiversity impacts, and tackling the scourge of invasive species.
But the issue of how much money the rich countries will send to the developing world, home to most of the planet’s biodiversity, has been the biggest sticking point.
Lower income nations point out developed countries grew rich by exploiting their natural resources and therefore they should be paid well to protect their own.
Current financial flows to the developing world are estimated at around $10 billion per year.
Several countries have recently made new commitments. The European Union has committed €7 billion ($7.4 billion) for the period until 2027, double its prior pledge.
With a UN biodiversity summit approaching in spring, 2021 has been hailed as a super year for biodiversity. As part of its contribution, the European Commission is preparing legislation to introduce legal protection for 30% of land and sea in Europe.
French-Lebanese architect seeks pro-climate construction transformation
Lina Ghotmeh has pegged her career on sustainable construction.
The French-Lebanese architect wants to see her industry transformed by drastically reducing the use of concrete — a major CO2 contributor — using more local materials and reusing existing buildings and materials.
“We need to change our value system,” the 42-year-old told AFP last month.
The aim is to reduce the carbon footprint of the construction industry and create buildings that can better resist the impacts of climate change.
But it’s not an easy battle.
The industry accounts for almost 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations.
Ghotmeh, who designed the Estonian National Museum and taught at Yale University, doesn’t advocate for fewer buildings — she knows that’s an unrealistic goal in a world with a growing population.
“That would be like saying ‘stop eating,'” she said.
– ‘Don’t demolish’ –
Instead, we should “keep what already exists, don’t demolish,” but refurbish and retrofit old buildings in a sustainable way where possible.
Building a new detached house consumes 40 times more resources than renovating an existing property, and for a new apartment complex that rises to 80 times more, according to the French Agency for Ecological Transition (Ademe).
And then there’s concrete, the main material in so many modern buildings and perhaps the most challenging to move away from.
“We must drastically reduce the use of concrete”, she said, insisting it should only be used for essential purposes, such as foundations and building in earthquake-prone areas.
Some 14 billion cubic metres of concrete are used every year, according to the Global Cement and Concrete Association.
It emits more CO2 than the aviation industry, largely because of the intense heat required to make it.
Alternatives to concrete already exist, such as stone, or making cement — a component of concrete — from calcium carbonate. There are also pushes for low-carbon cement made from iron and steel industry waste.
– Beirut inspiration –
Building more sustainably often comes with a higher price tag — it costs more to double or triple glaze windows and properly insulate a house — but the long-term payoff is lower energy costs.
For Ghotmeh, it’s an imperative investment in our future.
It was her birthplace of Beirut that inspired her to become an architect, spurring a desire to rebuild the so-called “collapsed city” ravaged by war.
In 2020, she completed the “Stone Garden” apartment tower in the city, built with concrete covered with a combed coating, a technique often used by local craftsmen. She used concrete in the construction because of earthquake risks.
The building was strong enough to survive the port explosion in 2020 that destroyed a large part of the city.
And the city continues to inspire her today, even when it comes to climate sustainability.
“Since there is practically only an hour of electricity per day, all the buildings have solar panels now. There is a kind of energy independence which is beginning to take place, by force,” she said.
“Does it take a catastrophe like the one in Lebanon to make this transition?”
Power Technology elaborates on how decarbonising hard-to-abate materials in the MENA region and beyond is not only a material problem but a lot more…
A material problem: decarbonising hard-to-abate materials in the MENA region and beyond
Lowering emissions is the first step in the energy transition, but reducing CO2 alone is not enough to achieve carbon neutrality, says Professor Emmanouil Kakaras of NEXT Energy Business at MHI and Dr Alexander Fleischanderl of Primetals Technologies.
As companies and governments across the world set their course on the path to net zero, the question of what to do about those hard-to-abate industries – namely heavy industry – often threatens to become a stumbling block on that pathway. For some, these big polluters – producing 30% of the world’s carbon emissions – sit uncomfortably within the narrative of transition to net zero. For others, their decarbonisation represents an opportunity.
According to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) Group, carbon avoidance is a crucial step in the transition, replacing the use of fossil fuels with energy from renewable or other low-carbon sources. But reducing CO2 emissions alone is not enough to achieve carbon neutrality. There will remain some intractable emissions that can neither be reduced any further or absorbed naturally – and these will have to be dealt with by carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS).
A test case is the MENA region, home not just to many of the world’s biggest oil and gas producers, but also a number of its hard-to-abate materials manufacturers, the latter relying heavily on the former. This year, the region is host to the COP27 climate conference, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, but for many it still lags behind other regions in terms of policies that support the transition to green energy.
“The key challenge to decarbonising this hard-to-abate sector, particular to this region, is the lack of a consistent and well-thought-out, detailed plan for what will happen to the CO2,” says Professor Dr Emmanouil Kakaras, executive vice president, NEXT Energy Business at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries EMEA.
“As I have said on many occasions, decarbonising the hard-to-abate sectors is not a technological problem: we have in our portfolio the key technology to achieve that. However, because of the magnitude of the amount of CO2 emissions we are dealing with – maybe if we count everything in the region we are talking at least 100 million tonnes per year to be managed and permanently stored and so on – we need to have a coherent strategy to deal with [that]. And that has prerequisites, both for regulation and the infrastructure creation.”
Dr Alexander Fleischanderl, Head of Green Steel at Primetals Technologies, a joint venture of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and partners, agrees on the need for more policy action. Talking specifically about the development of green steel markets in the region, he says: “What it requires in the MENA region to set the right playing field to be competitive, and especially to accelerate renewable energy production, [is] more political support from the governments. So if we compare it to Europe or the US, where there’s been strong support from the government, like in Europe with the Emissions Trading System or the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, or the US with the 45Q programme [of tax credits for carbon sequestration], or now the Inflation Reduction Act, I believe strongly that the MENA region, especially the Middle East, should set up a similar taxonomy to accelerate the transition.”
But despite these supporting mechanisms, the energy crisis Europe is currently experiencing means it is unlikely to be able to offer green metallics at competitive prices on a global level, says Fleischanderl. “So going back again to MENA, the price of renewables will be on a very different level compared to Europe, at least over the next decade,” he says.
“In the MENA region today, green hydrogen can already be produced at a price level of $3 to $4 per kilogram, compared with the European price level, which is for sure above $7 or $8. It’s simply a great opportunity for the MENA region to invest and expand quickly into renewable energy, green hydrogen, and also in green metallics as soon as possible.”
Investment in renewables to replace the fossil fuels used in materials production is a key step towards the decarbonisation of these sectors. But they are, says Kakaras, energy-intensive sectors which, by definition, are difficult to abate. The energy requirements are massive, and will demand the realisation of the region’s huge untapped potential in renewables development.
Green hydrogen in the spotlight
“Green hydrogen – low-carbon hydrogen – is the most significant pathway to decarbonise the hard-to-abate industries,” says Fleischanderl. “If we talk about the steel sector, there are not many opportunities to leave carbon and fossil fuels behind. One pathway is replacing the fossil fuels with green hydrogen.
“The second one is electrification of the processes to run on electric power, and the third one is carbon capture, storage and utilisation. Everyone now is really hunting for the first option, replacing the fossil fuels with green hydrogen. So, what is still missing to decarbonise the hard-to-abate sector is the massive amount of green hydrogen that is required for that journey.”
This will require similarly large amounts of investment. Kakaras points to a couple of recent initiatives in Europe: the IPCEI Hy2Use project, only just approved by the European Commission, will provide up to €5.2bn in public funding to support the use of hydrogen in the industrial sector. This is expected to unlock an additional €7bn in private investment.
There is also the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), designed to avoid carbon leakage and to encourage partner countries to establish carbon pricing policies. This, says Kakaras, “in essence is a good idea, but it has to be implemented in a very transparent and objective way in order not to create any market distortion”.
European policymakers, he explains, need to “balance the effort to maintain some industrial activity in Europe and to maintain the competitiveness of such production [with] on the other hand measurable carbon reductions where it makes sense.” And striking this balance is not easy.
When it comes to nudging producers in the right direction, he prefers a carrot rather than a stick method. “I generally would like to see from the policymakers more of an active investment promotion in green technologies to increase the yield of green, carbon-free products, rather than penalising existing businesses, which will not bring the transformation needed to achieve carbon neutrality.”
Bringing the focus back to MENA, Kakaras cites the partnership with Aluminium Bahrain (Alba) as evidence of MHI’s decarbonisation work in the region. Earlier this year, MHI and Alba announced a feasibility study looking at applying carbon capture technology on Alba’s operation – the world’s largest aluminium smelter outside of China. The group’s power solutions brand, Mitsubishi Power and other partners, were contracted to design, engineer, procure, construct and commission a 680.9 megawatt (MW) combined cycle gas turbine power block, which will be able to run on clean hydrogen in the future.
“This particular industry [aluminium] is electricity intensive and it features very high indirect and direct CO2 emissions,” Kakaras says. There are efforts to reduce the indirect carbon footprint through the use of high-efficiency combined cycle plants for power production, and post-combustion CO2 capture installation.
“What is more important, however – and it is really what we call hard to abate – is the direct emissions from the smelting process,” he continues, explaining that what makes it so difficult is that “the concentration of the CO2 in the flue gas from the smelter, what is at the end emitted into the atmosphere, is very low: something like 1%. And that’s the most, I would say, challenging exercise that we are jointly undertaking with Alba, where we, for the first time worldwide, are trying to capture CO2 at such a low concentration.”
He is confident that MHI and Alba can rise to the challenge, though, praising “the visionary approach” of Alba. “If we want to move to what we call green aluminium, we have to tackle the direct emissions. We are working together to develop customised technology based on scrubbing technology that could tackle this particular emission measure.”
But the region’s materials sector still has a long way to go in terms of applying CCUS technology, without which the transition to net zero won’t be possible, says Fleischanderl. “It’s forecasted for 2050 that one third of global steel production will be produced utilising coal. So the only way out for these assets is to apply CCS, or CCUS more particularly. And going back to the MENA region, there’s only one carbon-capturing plant in the steel sector today, and that’s with Emirates Steel, which has applied carbon capture on an industrial scale for one of its direct reduction plants [the Al Reyadah project in Abu Dhabi].”
The conversation has moved on from whether CCUS is necessary, or indeed possible, says Kakaras. “We cannot achieve decarbonisation without CCUS; that is now commonly accepted. Some 15 years ago, the issue of carbon capture was met with scepticism because, of course, it comes at an additional cost. Now, we have the technology and we can prove that with a foreseeable carbon pricing structure, we can deliver the technologies and practically capture CO2 at, I would say, a range that it is well below $100 per tonne.”
He adds that the region’s governments are launching initiatives for storing carbon not just offshore, as is the case in some parts of the world, but underground as well, “thus bringing the costs of CO2 capture and storage significantly down”.
Of course, climate change is a global issue, not a regional one, and both Kakaras and Fleischanderl acknowledge that greening the hard-to-abate materials sectors will require a global solution. Which has implications for the way in which energy is traded across the world.
“The trade of green energy will become the major game changer to the transition of the hard-to-abate industry,” says Fleischanderl. “It will likely be the transport of green ammonia that will support this transition in other regions of the world. So again, talking about Europe, Europe will strongly rely on the input of renewable energy, likely in the form of green ammonia or green hydrogen, for application to the hard-to-abate sector.
“The operational costs to produce green metallics are around 80% related to the energy cost, so it seems quite logical that there might be relocation of the upstream facilities in iron making to where the energy is cheap, and not transporting the iron ore into Europe any more but adding more value to this iron ore, producing direct reduced iron [DRI], HBI [hot briquetted iron], and shipping these metallics into Europe for further processing.”
The much-hailed but expensive ‘power-to-X’ solutions – converting surplus renewable electricity into heat, hydrogen or synthetic fuels – are also ripe for development, says Kakaras. “Especially in the [MENA] region, the challenge is to have carbon-free electricity which will be in such an oversupply, because of the geographical and conditions of population and so on, that will permit the so-called power-to-X technologies to be implemented in this region. In simple words, if power-to-X will not happen in this region, then where will it happen?”
The road to 2050
Are there any other questions over the future direction of travel? As regards the steel industry, Fleischanderl notes the ambition of national targets. “I would say first of all, the scene is set, so the transition is going to happen. And 90% of the global steel production nations have committed to carbon net zero by 2050 or 2060, so it’s going to happen.
“But what keeps me up at night, if we talk about the major roadblocks, is the fact that the amount of renewable energy and low-carbon hydrogen required for the steel sector is so massive that it’s not about any roadblock of technologies or new pathways; it’s simply that I’m wondering if the timeline to provide this massive amount of renewable energy and low-carbon hydrogen can meet the requirement of the net zero pledges by 2050.”
As the spotlight turns to MENA for COP27, the world will be looking for reassurances that these targets are indeed achievable, and that the region and its most hard-to-abate sectors are making progress towards them.
Actions are born here and there, but it is agreed that the battles for cleanliness are episodic and are a concern for hygiene without adhering to them in the preconceived that supposes the vast field of the Environment. This one does not stop at a garbage collection story but culture and etiquette problems.
The subject is a civilizational one. Behaviour is the first clue that reveals the actual profile of human society, and best dismantles its cultural level.
Populations in the MENA region, in their majority, like many other peoples around the world, have only timidly integrated themselves into the debate on global warming and the greenhouse effect.
And that to observe well, they give the impression that they have other cats to whip than to dwell on the now more apparent vicissitudes of the climate.
A multitude of causes is at the origin of this disinterestedness, sometimes giving free rein to the exaggeration of individualism, going so far as to transform living together into a nightmare where no one finds his account.
Concerns, first of all, about the imperative of just sharing familiar places and respect for the neighbourhood in all its forms seem indelible. When the “push off, I am here!” and the irrational settles into the national or local rule, it is futile to address the real problems of the Environment because their realities are all based on the degree of culture of the population. They are also in the colours of the walls, the decibel of the horns, the whispers, or the appearance of vociferations that take the simple and friendly discussions.
There is a beginning to everything. The garbage collection problem is serious, but the environmental field is much broader and more profound than garbage bin management.
Abdulmajeed Albalawi, smart city programme director at Madinah Regional Authority, explains how the Saudi Arabian city is harnessing innovation to not only solve urban challenges, but promote Madinah’s cultural and historical heritage to citizens and visitors alike.
Madinah’s status as a holy city means a lot of the activity in the city is centred around the Holy Mosque
Madinah is primarily known as a holy city – where do your smart city ambitions intersect with that identity?
Abdulmajeed Albalawi: We’re mainly focused on solving city challenges and improving quality of life for our citizens. In that way, there’s no contradiction between Madinah as a holy city and Madinah as a smart city. We see our smart city strategy as an enabler to meet the needs of the city and its people, and to create positive experiences for those people.
Our aim is to become more holistic and to introduce more tools that will serve our citizens. That extends to the holy elements of the city and people’s lives and will make the city more suitable for those needs.
Our objectives are to improve city life for all citizens and create new jobs and economic opportunities – for example, around start-ups and technology. These are the driving forces behind the projects that Madinah has taken on so far, and as we see it, one influences and helps to solve the other – improving quality of life leads to better opportunities and a better urban economy.
As part of this work, we’ve designed an engine to capture the challenges the city faces so we can more easily connect together the issues and needs with solutions, with a view to meeting our main objectives.
When are some of the primary challenges that Madinah is facing?
AA: We have challenges split into two sections – business and operational. In terms of business challenges, we’re aiming to reduce the unemployment rate in the city through the projects we launch, and improve the digital skills of the workforce as part of that.
On the operational side, we’re looking at how we break down siloes between departments and promote a more open mindset. It’s a clear challenge for a lot of cities that needs to be solved, and for Madinah we want to overcome it to ensure that everyone can work towards our smart city objectives in the right way.
We see our smart city strategy as an enabler to meet the needs of the city and its people, and to create positive experiences for those people
There are other challenges out in the city that we’re facing, too. Madinah’s status as a holy city means a lot of the activity in the city is centred around the Holy Mosque, both for residents and visitors from around the world. As a result, there is a constant flow of people in and around the mosque which we need to manage to cope with crowding in the centre of the city. To deal with this challenge, we have launched an incubator in partnership with universities, experts and start-ups from around the world.
The incubator will be dedicated to solving further urban challenges in Madinah, too, identifying and defining the issues being faced and then engaging in a continuous problem-solving process with experts to overcome them. It’s a unique proposition for the city to work in this way and to have potential solutions being recommended on a continual basis from international experts.
What kind of technology-based solutions is Madinah looking to deploy to solve these challenges to become a smarter city?
AA: Our technology partners are crucial in achieving our goals as a smart city. We’re currently working with FIWARE and using their technology to create our own smart city platform. Madinah is the first middle eastern city to make use of FIWARE’s platform. We chose FIWARE’s open platform because our objectives call for us to view Madinah from a ‘city as a system’ perspective, and to solve problems based on what the system is telling us.
The smart city strategy seeks to improve city life for all citizens and create new jobs and economic opportunities
There’s no contradiction between Madinah as a holy city and Madinah as a smart city, said Abdulmajeed Albalawi
We’re now creating our city as a system via the FIWARE platform, meaning we’re connecting the dots between Madinah’s services, operations and departments, and beginning to break down siloes to identify the right solutions to issues at the right time. We’re collecting data from all over the city and connecting it together to enable data analytics, which will be really important in how we work out the kinds of solutions we require.
The main benefit of breaking down these operational siloes is being able to better define issues and challenges, as we have much more context on the city and its operations as a whole. It’s crucial for Madinah to be able to work in this way, and the challenge with crowds at the holy mosque illustrate why; we need to understand where the problem originates so we can solve it at the source.
Another benefit is that Madinah’s city departments have been able to collaborate more often and more easily. In turn, that has meant we have been able to push towards our primary objectives more collectively.
Outside establishing the smart city platform through FIWARE’s technology, we’re now looking into smart lighting. We see connected streetlighting as the beginning of a nervous system for the city, able to gather data about the city and monitor pedestrian and traffic flow, as well as air quality. We’re also exploring how we can use the same infrastructure to promote messages and information to citizens through digital signage. The streetlights and all associated monitoring will feed back into the smart city platform to give us a more holistic view of the city and how it is operating.
We have recently signed an agreement to build a full-scale digital twin of Madinah using satellite imagery, becoming the first city in the Middle East to do so
Coming back to the crowd challenges around the holy mosque and the central area of the city, we’re also developing a simulator to model those crowds. We’re currently designing the model and later will deploy sensors in the city to gather data to be able to monitor crowds and simulate scenarios. This won’t necessarily be a full digital twin of the mosque, but will be a mirror for the movement within and around it, including parts of the city infrastructure and operations that have an impact on movement and crowding.
We have recently signed an agreement to build a full-scale digital twin of Madinah using satellite imagery, becoming the first city in the Middle East to do so. We’ll use the 3D model digital twin for urban planning, traffic management, crowd management and urban analytics across the entire city, not just the centre and the holy mosque. We anticipate that we’ll have a digital twin of the city in the next three months.
How can innovation help to protect and promote Madinah’s history and culture?
AA: Through all of this smart city work, it’s important that we also look to promote the city’s culture and history, so we’re assessing how we can use technology to bring that history back to life. Here, Madinah is looking to use a combination of augmented reality and digital twin technology to illustrate our history in a more dynamic and modern way, both for the benefit of citizens and visitors.
I think innovation is all about how to open doors to experiences and the city’s unknowns. Technology is a great enabler for Madinah’s heritage and culture and can help to show everyone in the city how its identity has developed to become what it is now. We’re not designing the city around technology, we’re designing it around experiences, and how those experiences can create stories to be shared among people. Madinah’s culture flows through that process and innovation just helps us to draw it out.
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