This could be the final straw. McDonald’s will bring forward plans to replace plastic straws with paper alternatives in all of its UK and Irish restaurants.

The fast food chain made the announcement today, stating online “You asked. We listened”. From September, all 1,361 restaurants will be provided with paper straws, saving millions of tons of plastic.

The move forms part of its wider sustainability plans set out earlier this year to make 100 percent its global packaging come from renewable, recycled or certified sustainable sources by 2025.

McDonald’s has been undertaking tests in the UK to find long-term alternatives to plastic straws. Similar testing has started in Belgium and will soon start in the US, France, Sweden, Norway and Australia. In some markets, such as Malaysia, straws will soon be offered only upon request.

“McDonald’s is committed to using our scale for good and working to find sustainable solutions for plastic straws globally,” said Francesca DeBiase Executive Vice President, Global Supply Chain and Sustainability. “In addition to the exciting news from the UK today, we are testing straw alternatives in other countries to provide the best experience for our customers. We hope this work will support industry wide change and bring sustainable solutions to scale.”

Straws are just one part of the huge levels of packaging which McDonald’s is aiming to transform across its entire global supply chain. 50 percent of its packaging currently comes from sustainable sources, and the company has pledged to with local governments and industry to improve this figure.

McDonald’s has a separate goal to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 36 percent by 2030. This will prevent an estimated 150 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere.

                                            McDonald’s broke the news on Twitter

Photo Credit: Nathan O'Nions/Flickr

Read more: McDonald’s to phase-out plastic straws in UK and...

One of the Europe’s largest asset managers is taking strong action against global companies which aren’t doing enough to address climate change.

London-based Legal & General, which has close to £1 trillion worth of assets under management, has released its latest assessment of how 84 global corporations are responding to the risks posed by climate change.

These companies have been identified as playing a vital role in achieving the Paris climate agreement to keep global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius.  

Legal & General has scored their performance across 50 indicators in key areas such transparency on carbon emissions, board governance, business strategy, the position on public policy, and whether they have a corporate statement on the impact of climate change.

Its investment arm has been undertaking the analysis since 2016 as part of its pledge to accelerate action on climate change. This year it held meetings with over half of the companies it assessed and removed the worst performers from one of its funds.

As a result of its work, L&G has now excluded major corporations, such as the China Construction Bank, one of the largest financial institutions in China, and Rosneft Oil, Russia’s second-largest state company.

The China Construction Bank was penalised as a major funder of coal plants and for not disclosing the level of greenhouse gas emissions associated with its business.

Other companies now excluded from the Future World fund include: Japan Post Holdings, Occidental Petroleum, Dominion Energy, Subaru, Loblaw, Sysco Corporation.

L&G will also vote against re-electing the chair of these companies across its other equity funds.

“Climate change is a significant issue for society and investors,” said Meryam Omi, head of sustainability and responsible investment.

“Our role is to ensure companies in different industries transition successfully, and are committed to helping them do that with our Climate Impact Pledge,” she added.

On the flip side, leaders in taking climate action were revealed. French oil & gas company Total was praised for putting a 2 degree scenario at the heart of its future business strategy. Spanish utility Iberdola has also lobbied for stronger emissions targets and for the EU to raise its carbon price.

Read more: Legal & General divests from companies failing...

The EU has approved a new goal to increase its ambitions on renewable energy over the next decade.

Negotiators for the European Commission, Parliament and Council have secured a “political agreement” to raise the existing target from 27 percent to 32 percent. The provisional deal also includes a clause to revise the target by 2023 if necessary.

While the 5 percent uplift was greeted as a “hard-won victory” by the Commission, it was lower than some states were hoping for. Spain and Italy were reportedly pushing for a 35 percent target as was the European Parliament; environmentalists called the new goal inadequate.

Miguel Arias Cañete, the EU’s energy and climate commissioner said: "This new ambition will help us meet our Paris Agreement goals and will translate into more jobs, lower energy bills for consumers and less energy imports.”

“The binding nature of the target will also provide additional certainty to the investors,” he added.

Friends of the Earth Europe, however, criticised the agreement, saying that the EU’s decision makers had only agreed to a “paltry” target that is “inadequate for a climate-safe fossil-free future, and shows a failure to grasp a shifting energy landscape, including rapidly falling renewables costs.”

A stronger deal of at least 34 percent had also won support from the International Renewable Energy Agency. Earlier this year, the organisation released findings that showed the EU could double its renewable energy usage with significant economic and health benefits.

An interim target to source 20 percent of its energy consumption from renewables is set for 2020. The latest figures for 2016 show the bloc is on course to achieve this with a combined total of 17 percent. However, achievements vary widely across member states, with some countries, such as Sweden, reaching over 50 percent renewables already.

Read more: EU sets new 32% renewable energy target for 2030

An official Government report will show that Germany has missed its 2020 target to cut carbon emissions.

The revelation, reported in the German magazine Der Spiegel, will put pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel to address the country’s faltering low-carbon economy.

According to the magazine, the 2017 Climate Protection Report shows that Germany is on course to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 32 percent by 2020, falling short of its intended target of 40 percent, compared to 1990 levels.

The underlying causes for the 8 percent gap purportedly came from “unexpected” economic and population growth.

Germany has invested huge sums in its transition to cleaner technologies, which has seen the amount of renewable generation reach 30 percent. However, its continued reliance on coal-power, especially the most carbon intensive lignite plants, has undermined this strong progress. Any economic growth is, therefore, matched by a dependency on fossil fuels.

Over 1 million migrants were also accepted into the country at the height of the Syrian civil war between 2015 and 2016.

The pressure on Mrs Merkel, who has spoken repeatedly on the need to fight climate change, will inevitably increase under her new coalition government. The missed target has been widely expected and was abruptly scrapped earlier this year.

Michael Schäfer, at WWF’s German branch said the report was a “120-decibel alarm” and showed the distance between words and actions by the federal government.

"What else has to happen so that the German government finally takes its own goals to combat global warming seriously?”, "…The 2020 and 2030 climate targets are still achievable, but only with the right measures. The transport sector, the building sector, agriculture and industry must finally recognise that,” he added.

The government, however, remains committed to reaching its 2030 target of reducing emissions by 55 percent.

Photo Credit: Ekem/CC

Read more: Reports: Germany set to miss 2020 climate targets

Samsung has become the latest international company to take the significant step towards obtaining 100 percent of its energy from clean sources.

The South Korean conglomerate made the announcement this week, and will first make the change at its operations in the United States, Europe, and China within the next two years.

Switching to 100 percent renewable energy across its office buildings, factories and other facilities should a major impact on the environment. Its electronics arm is one the world’s largest tech companies with a presence in 73 countries. In the long-term it will seek to switch to renewable energy at every global site, but has targeted the major markets where the transformation can happen quickest.

“Samsung Electronics is fulfilling its duty as a corporate citizen by expanding and supporting the use of renewable energy. As demonstrated by our expanded commitment, we are focused on protecting our planet and are doing our part as a global environmental steward.” said Won Kyong Kim, executive vice president.

Its global headquarters will take the first step by installing 42,000m2 of solar panels at Samsung Digital City in Suwon. Further investments in solar arrays and geothermal power will be made across two of its major facilities in South Korea from 2019. 

“We welcome Samsung Electronics’ declaration to expand the roll-out of renewable energy across its global sites,” said Jochem Verberne, at WWF. “This is an important step and we look forward to working with Samsung on further measures to reduce the company’s climate impact across its value chains.”

The company will also extend its clean energy efforts across its extensive supply chain. From next year, its top 100 partner companies will have to set their own renewable energy targets, and Samsung will work with the Carbon Disclosure Project to making it a reality.

Read more: Samsung Electronics commits to 100% renewable...

A new report from Green Alliance has found the untapped opportunities for the UK to source most of its plastic demand from recycling.

The policy document is a call to create a stronger recycling market in the UK rather than the government’s current policy of simply increasing collection rates. This leads to very high exports, running at two thirds of all plastic, while the country only recycles 9 percent of the material domestically.

Creating the right policies and a secondary market to increase recycling within the UK could be a major boon to the economy. The report estimates that 71 percent of the demand for plastic packaging could be provided by recycled material.

The report recommends three new policies to address the issue of plastic exports. These include ensuring all plastic products and packaging have a mandatory level of recycled content; short-term subsidises to stimulate the market; and a fund to reduce risk among investors.

The government also needs to create a long-term strategy which will provide the level of certainty and reliability which will bring major manufacturers into the game. Establishing such circular economy principles can also have a major impact on the economy, creating thousands of jobs and billions in economic value.

Libby Peake, senior policy adviser on resources at Green Alliance, said: “If the UK wants to lead the world in addressing the global scourge of plastic pollution that means creating a circular economy at home that allows us to turn discarded plastics back into new products. Just collecting plastic and shipping it abroad doesn’t solve the problem.”

The issue of exporting plastic to be dealt with elsewhere has become acute since China banned foreign imports earlier this year on various different waste products. So far, this has led nations, such as the UK, to look to other markets, such as south-east Asia, to deal with their plastic waste, or to simply increase incineration rates.

Peter Maddox, director of sustainability charity WRAP said: “The time has come for the UK to take more responsibility for its own waste.”

“The UK government has shown ambition in its 25 year environment plan and has a great opportunity through the forthcoming resources and waste strategy to ensure that the policy framework enables a thriving and commercially successful UK recycling sector to capture the value from waste here at home,” he added.

Photo Credit: Peter Facey/CC

Read more: Recycling can provide 70% of the UK’s demand for...

Planting trees is a simple way to offset some of the carbon emissions we pump into the atmosphere.

But alone it is not enough to prevent the runaway impacts of climate change.

New research claims to have made a major step forward in the economic viability of directly removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, using a new type of technology.

A Canadian company, called Carbon Engineering, has published peer-reviewed findings, which show the process can now be done for less than $100 per ton. This is a major improvement on current estimates of $600 per ton.

There are various types of carbon capture and storage technology, designed to suck the climate-polluting gas out of the air, or at the source. It is seen by some scientists as an ideal way of stopping climate change, but it has proved difficult to commercialise, and its large-scale feasibility is disputed.

Carbon Engineering’s innovation is to create a way of turning the carbon dioxide into a liquid fuel, using extractor fans and a cooling tower.

The new findings are based on three years of research at a site in British Columbia, led by Harvard Professor David Keith.

“We’ve been working on direct air capture since 2009, running our pilot plant since 2015, and we now have the data and engineering to prove that direct-air capture can achieve costs below $100USD per ton,” he said.

The company believes its “proven” technology can help benefit the climate in two ways: both by removing carbon dioxide and by providing a clean fuel for the transport sector.

It is reportedly producing one barrel a day of the fuel, but with a long-term ambition to scale-up production to 2,000 barrels.

Steve Oldham, CEO of Carbon Engineering, said: “Our clean fuel is fully compatible with existing engines, so it provides the transportation sector with a solution for significantly reducing emissions, either through blending or direct use. Our technology is scalable, flexible and demonstrated.”

The full research paper was published in Joule and can be read here.

[embedded content]

Source: Globe and Mail

Read more: ‘Breakthrough’ made in lower cost carbon capture...

Renault Group has announced a major investment in the production of electric vehicles in France.

The global manufacturer will commit 1 billion euros to four factories in northern France in a bid to solidify its leadership in the growing electric car market.

The fresh injection of cash will help support a doubling of capacity for its Zoe model; enable further growth for its Kangoo electric van, and create a new site to produce electric vehicles for its alliance with Nissan. It will also triple production of its electric motor with the introduction of a more advanced machine from 2021.

The investment is part of Renault’s four-year plan to increase its turnover to 70 billion euros and create 20 models of car which are either fully electric or have electric parts.

The French company’s famed alliance with Nissan has helped the two become global leaders in electric vehicles. In 2017, Renault saw a 37 percent growth in EV sales in Europe, and an overall market share of 23.8 percent. Its successful Zoe model increased its sales by a huge 44 percent, highlighting the task other manufacturers, such as Tesla, have in breaking the European market.

Carlos Ghosn, Chairman and CEO of Renault, said: "The acceleration of our investments in France for electric vehicles will increase the competitiveness and attractiveness of our French industrial sites. Within the framework of its Drive the Future strategic plan and with the Alliance, Groupe Renault is giving itself the means to maintain its leadership in the electric vehicle market and to continue to develop new sustainable mobility solutions for all".

Earlier this year, Renault-Nissan also announced plans to invest in the next generation of battery technologies, called solid-state. These batteries are smaller, cheaper and can purportedly run at a higher capacity than the current lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles. The alliance is targeting 2025 to bring the technology to market.

Credit: M 93 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 (DE)

Read more: Renault to commit €1 billion in boosting...

A major international study has found a tripling of ice loss in Antarctica over the past five years.

The rate of ice melting into the oceans is increasing at an alarming rate, according to a group of 84 scientists taken from 44 international organisations.

The scientists found that before 2012 ice was being lost at a steady rate of 76 billion tonnes, which contributed 0.2 mm to the rise in sea levels.

Since 2012, this has grown to 0.6mm representing an annual loss of 219 billion tonnes.

The international team, led by NASA, the University of Leeds and the European Space Agency, combined 24 satellite surveys between 1992 and 2017. They looked at the change in volume, flow and gravitational attraction across the entire Antarctic Ice Sheet. This huge 5.4 million square mile continent is roughly twice the size of Australia, and holds enough water to lift global sea levels by 58 metres.

Professor Andrew Shepherd at Leeds University said: “According to our analysis, there has been a step increase in ice losses from Antarctica during the past decade, and the continent is causing sea levels to rise faster today than at any time in the past 25 years. This has to be a concern for the governments we trust to protect our coastal cities and communities.”

“We have long suspected that changes in Earth’s climate will affect the polar ice sheets. Thanks to the satellites our space agencies have launched, we can now track their ice losses and global sea level contribution with confidence,” he added.

The new satellite measurements are now able to document glacier changes at higher levels of precision than ever before. This has allowed the scientists to provide one of the most complete pictures of how the continent is changing and contributing to the worldwide rises in sea level.

Dr Erik Ivins at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who co-led the study, commented: “The added duration of the observing period, the larger pool of participants, various refinements in our observing capability and an improved ability to assess both inherent and interpretive uncertainties, each contribute to making this the most robust study of ice mass balance of Antarctica to date.”

Read more: Antarctic ice loss increases to 200 billion...

One of the world’s largest offshore wind farms is officially being opened today off the east coast of England.

The Race Bank wind farm, developed by Danish energy company Ørsted, has a maximum capacity of 573 megawatts, enough to power around 500,000 homes in the UK.

The major clean energy project is located 17 miles off the Norfolk coast, with 91 huge turbines covering an area equivalent to over 10,000 football pitches.

The official opening of the wind farm means it is now the fifth largest in the world, although various others under construction in UK waters will soon surpass it.

Ørsted UK’s Managing Director, Matthew Wright, said: “Powering over half a million homes every year, Race Bank is another positive step towards delivering the UK’s decarbonised energy system of the future.”

Ørsted was an early investor in offshore wind and has a strong presence in the European market. It has a stake in 10 projects around the UK coastline, often in post-industrial areas which have benefitted from the inward investment and job creation.

A new £300m offshore wind factory was opened in Hull 18 months ago by Siemens, which employs 1,000 people in the local area. Race Bank is the first wind farm to use blades made at the site.

“Race Bank is a fantastic infrastructure project and underlines Ørsted’s contribution to the UK’s energy transition. It’s also another clear signal of our firm commitment to Grimsby and the Humber, and the UK supply chain for offshore wind,” Wright added.

In addition to Race Bank, Ørsted is also building out the much larger Hornsea One and Two wind farms in nearby Yorkshire, which will have a combined capacity of 3,000 megawatts. Once complete, either wind farm will become the largest in the world.

[embedded content]

Photo Credit: Ørsted

Read more: Massive offshore wind farm opens off the English...

A group of 37 major European banks are joining forces to launch a new energy efficiency scheme.

The trial aims to improve the energy performance of households and buildings by incentivising buyers with special rates on their mortgage.

Banks signed up to the scheme over the next 2 years include BNP Paribas, ING Bank, Nordea Bank and Société Générale.

The scheme, led by the World Green Banking Council, and funded by the European Union, hopes to establish a major new growth area within the financial and property sectors.

Improving the energy efficiency of buildings is seen as a key way of reducing carbon emissions and tackling climate change. The EU’s directive seeks to increase the efficiency of buildings within the bloc to 20 percent by 2020, rising to 30 percent by 2030.

Investors have already started to pay attention to the benefits of issuing favourable mortgage rates for energy efficient buildings; a €500 million green mortgage bond was issued by Barclays bank last year. These properties are seen as being more valuable and can help borrowers’ better service their loans.

Terri Wills, CEO at WorldGBC, said the scheme had been developed with the help of a network of industry experts to ensure consistency: “The commitment by Europe’s leading banks to this pilot shows green building is hitting the mainstream…We look forward to developing the standards over time to support the investor community in addressing climate risks.”

The criteria for issuing the green mortgage comes under two thresholds. New buildings will have to meet national standards for zero-energy buildings, or separately show that they are 20 percent more efficient than national standards. Renovated buildings will only be issued the mortgage if a 30 percent reduction in energy demand can be achieved.

Stephanie Sfakianos, BNP Paribas’ head of sustainable capital markets, said the initiative is a “key building block in tackling the carbon emission challenge, while supporting consumers to live more comfortable and healthy lives.”

Other banks in the scheme include ABN AMRO, Triodos Bank, and Caisse des Dépôts Group.

Read more: European banks launch green mortgage pilot scheme

India’s Power Minister has told reporters that he expects the country to hit its 175 gigawatt renewable energy target “well before 2022”.

Speaking at a press conference in New Delhi this week, R. K Singh said the rate of progress on energy over the past four years had been “path-breaking”.

“In the 48 years before 2014, the pace of capacity addition in generation was about 4,800 megawatts (MW) a year. In the 48 months of this government, the pace of capacity addition was 24,000 MW a year.”

Mr Singh also spoke of a new target to ensure all of India’s estimated 249 million households had access to electricity by the end of 2018.

India has pushed through various measures to promote renewable energy across the country’s 29 states. Its current capacity sits at 69,000 MW, excluding large-scale hydropower. With a high-level of pledged investment and 40,000 MW of projects out to tender, some officials think the real figure could be as high as 227 gigawatts by 2022.

Coal India, the state-controlled mining company, admitted earlier this year that it was “only a matter of time” until renewable technologies replaced coal.

Solar power has grown by an estimated 200 percent in the past two years alone and the government recently approved a 5,000 megawatt solar farm in Gujarat, set to become one of the largest in the world. India also has one of the highest levels of wind power in the world, surpassed only by Germany, US and China.

However, some commentators have warned that this astonishing rate growth may not be keeping pace with demand.

“With falling solar and wind tariffs, India stands high chances of making it to the third position among renewable energy countries. But there are concerns of excess capacity, energy demand and implementation of the plan,” Amit Kumar, at PwC India, told The Economic Times. 

Photo Credit: Vinaykumar8687/CC

Read more: India on course to hit renewable energy target...

Fresh data has highlighted Scotland’s strong progress in making the transition to a low-carbon economy.

New statistics from the Scottish Government show that as of 2016 the country has managed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 49 percent compared to 1990.

The news comes shortly after the devolved administration set a bold new target to reduce carbon emissions by 90 percent by 2050.

Climate Change Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said the data showed Scotland’s role “as an international leader in the fight against climate change.”

The energy sector has been most successful with emissions falling by 15.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, a drop of 68.5 percent since 1990.

This was followed by business and industry, which saw emissions decline by 5.8 million tonnes. Improvements in waste management also led to reductions of 4.4 million tonnes, the highest percentage change at an astonishing 72.8 percent.

“We all have a role to play in that fight and I want to thank the households, communities and businesses who are working hard every day to reduce their own emissions…But we must go further and faster if we are to meet our responsibilities to our children, grandchildren, and future generations,” Cunningham added.

The good news was tempered somewhat by increases in shipping and aviation emissions of 0.5 million tonnes.

Scotland has been a pioneer in developing renewable technologies, especially onshore wind. All renewables are now the country’s largest source of electricity generation, supplying 42.9 percent of all power. Fossil fuels only account for 13 percent of generation.

Across the whole of the UK, greenhouse emissions have fallen by 41 percent since 1990. This means it is on course to meet an interim target of a 37 percent reduction by 2022. However, Scotland’s own targets are more stringent, requiring an overall drop of 57 percent within the next two years.

Source: Scottish Government

Read more: Scotland making strong headway in cutting carbon...

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