It takes more than government

green roof busHundreds of people, from all over the world, gather in Bonn, Germany for the twenty-third Conference of the Parties (COP23). At first glance, COP23 appears to be policy driven, science based, and a negotiations filled conference. It is that and more. It has become the place for green industry where 850 different organizations applied to participate in COP23 and offer their products and services.

This interaction did not occur by accident.

When the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997, it called for enabling the private sector to “promote and enhance the transfer of, and access to, environmentally sound technologies” in Article 10 (c). In the Paris Agreement, which entered into force in 2016, Article 6.4 (b) calls for incentivizing the public and private sectors to participate in mitigating green house gases. These treaties create the conditions for private sector involvement in mitigation. So private/non-profit organizations are active participants in COP23 and not simply vendors at a trade show.

A good example of such partnership is in transportation, which is one of COP23’s Global Climate Action (GCA) themes. ABB, a for-profit company with over 136,000 employees spread over a 100 countries, works on projects as varied as sun powered rickshaws and clean energy buses. Non-profits have also played a role in shaping climate change policies. Organizations like the Institute for Transportation and Development Policies (ITDP) work with policy makers on an international level and also seek to influence policies at the local level in urban areas.

These organizations go beyond the boundaries of a country and provide needed technical expertise that policy makers sometimes lack. In a recent GCA meeting at COP23, representatives of these organizations pointed out the need for different climate friendly policies in Barcelona, Spain than in Atlanta, GA. Even though they have populations similar in size, Atlanta occupies an area that is over twenty five times larger than Barcelona.

The end of gas-fired cars?

oslo downtownNorwegian Liberal Party MP Ola Elverstuen announced today that Norway’s four leading political parties have agreed on a ban of gasoline-powered cars by 2025. “After 2025 new private cars, buses and light commercial vehicles will be zero-emission vehicles. By 2030, new heavier vans, 75 percent of new long-distance buses, 50 percent of new trucks will be zero emission vehicles.”

Norway already has a good leg up on this transition.  Approximately 24% of its cars are electric. Oslo has debated banning cars completely (including e-vehicles) in downtown, while building 35 miles of bike lanes by 2019 to complement its public transport array of buses and trams.  The national government has provided incentives for purchasing e-vehicles for several years, including tax exemptions, extra parking, and bus-lane use.  Nudging consumers in this climate neutral direction is made easier by Norway’s copious hydroelectric power (96% of its electricity production energy mix, according to IEA). Consequently, the Tesla or Nissan Leaf has been the country’s top selling vehicle.

Nonetheless, today’s announcement has made car manufacturers see green – kroner, that is. Tesla CEO Elon Musk praised it, calling Norway an “amazingly awesome country.”

Clean cars, clean energy

electric carThis piece in Bloomberg news, The Dirty Road to Cleaner Cars, captures well the conundrum of cleaning up vehicular emissions.  22% of US CO2 emissions come from the transportation sector.  (This number is17% worldwide.)

Tesla set records when it launched its Model 3 in April, racking up more than 400,000 reservations for the $35,000 sedan since then. So it’s clear that there is a level of consumer awareness of, and demand for, reducing tailpipe GHG emissions.

But while electric cars are part of the solution – especially in sparsely populated locations, where mass transit is not feasible (like rural Vermont, where vehicular emissions comprise 26% of our carbon footprint) – they can only be as clean as the source of the juice that fuels them.

Eric Roston writes “with the solar, wind, natural gas, and (still potential) nuclear revolutions, the metabolism of the energy system is accelerating. Electric cars lead the parade.”

For Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University, electric cars are just one of three ways of cleaning up the US energy system.  He first points to improving the efficiency of fossil fuel-generated electricity while also increasing zero-carbon power as quickly as possible before plugging buildings and vehicles into this clean(er) electric power grid.  His mantra? “Clean electricity, and electrify everything you can.