New York State has proposed strict new carbon dioxide standards which will lead to coal plants having to change the way they operate, or close down.

New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, made the announcement last week, calling coal “a relic of the past”.

The move forms part of Governor Cuomo’s target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the state by 40 percent by 2030. It also follows through on a pledge he made in 2016 to restrict coal use across the state.

The Department of Environmental Conservation published the new rulings last week, which limit all coal plants to producing no more than 1,800 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour of electricity generated.

"While Washington continues an open assault on our environment, New York is leading the charge with bold climate action to protect our future," the Governor said.

"…It's time to step up, take action, and put an end to our need for fossil fuels and focus on cleaner, more green energy solutions for the survival of our planet and future generations," he added.

The regulations remain open to consultation for the next two months and three public hearings will be held on the matter.

However, New York only has two remaining active coal plants in the state, accounting for a fraction of its electricity use.

"New York is a leader in the fight against climate change with significant investments to protect our environment," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. "We're enhancing our infrastructure across the state and pursuing projects that promote cleaner and greener energy options for our communities and residents."  

Governor Cuomo has made increasingly strong commitments on climate change and the low-carbon economy. Along with targets on carbon emissions, the state now aims to source 50 percent of its power from renewable energy by 2030. This will be partly achieved by a huge planned expansion in new offshore wind power.

Photo Credit: Seabamirum/Flickr

Read more: New York to end all coal-fired power by 2020

A former coal plant in the north of England will become the test site for a new way to remove carbon dioxide from electricity generation.

The Drax power company has released details of a new trial to develop bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS), billed as the first of its kind in Europe.

The £400,000 trial will begin work this month at Drax’s biomass power plants in Yorkshire.

After an initial feasibility study, a second phase of the pilot is planned for the autumn. At this point, it is hoped a demonstration unit will be installed to isolate the carbon dioxide produced after burning biomass.

Three Drax’s units were previously used for coal-fired generation, but have since been upgraded to use wood pellets instead, imported from the US and Canada.

If successful, the unique project would lead to carbon dioxide being removed from Earth’s atmosphere. This process of ‘negative emissions’ is a key pillar of the UN’s plans under the Paris Agreement to prevent dangerous climate change.

Will Gardiner, CEO of the Drax Group, said: “If the world is to achieve the targets agreed in Paris and pursue a cleaner future, negative emissions are a must – and BECCS is a leading technology to help achieve it.

“This pilot is the UK’s first step, but it won’t be the only one at Drax. We will soon have four operational biomass units, which provide us with a great opportunity to test different technologies that could allow Drax, the country and the world, to deliver negative emissions and start to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

Claire Perry, the minister for energy and clean growth, said the government aimed to make the UK a world leader in the technology.

“It’s hugely exciting that Drax has chosen to invest in this innovative project, demonstrating how government support for innovation can create an environment where companies can develop new technologies and scale up investment to build the sectors we will need to achieve long term decarbonisation.”

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Source: Drax Group

Read more: First European trial for innovative carbon...

Sixty investors have urged the oil and gas sector to do more on climate change and “take responsibility” for its carbon emissions.

In a letter to the Financial Times, the group of companies, including Aberdeen Standard Investments, BNP Paribas Asset Management and HSBC said the industry should be more transparent about how it intends to support a low-carbon future.

“The case for action on climate change is clear…we strongly encourage all companies in the sector to clarify how they see their future in a low-carbon world.”

The letter goes on to suggest oil and gas companies need to make “concrete commitments” to substantially reduce their carbon emissions and explain how their investments are compatible with combating climate change.

The intervention from the group, which collectively manage over $10.4 trillion of assets, comes ahead of a series of annual general meetings in the oil and gas sector.

Royal Dutch Shell will be asked by shareholders at their own meeting next week to adopt a resolution to set strong carbon targets in line with the Paris climate agreement.

While the letter does not expressly support this motion, their intervention should serve as a wake-up call to the industry to take climate seriously.

So far, the sector has taken some steps towards addressing the issue, but much stronger action is needed; oil and gas products contribute an estimated 50 percent of all global emissions.

The letter was signed by big players in asset management, such as Amundi, Fidelity International and Legal & General Investment Management. Large pension funds and civil society were also represented, including Rabobank and the Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church.

“Investors are embracing their responsibility for supporting the Paris agreement. It is time for the entire oil and gas industry to do the same.”

Read more: Major investors call for oil and gas groups to...

New analysis has shown mixed results for the performance of European cities in their efforts to tackle the looming challenge of climate change.

A large research team, including universities in the UK, Netherlands, Italy, and France, collated data on climate plans from 885 cities within the European Union.

The study, which the academics called “the most comprehensive survey to date”, reflects the extent to which Europe has taken climate action seriously.

Across the 28 member states of the EU, 66 percent of large cities have plans to either adapt or mitigate to climate change. This rose to 80 percent for urban areas with a population of over 500,000.

However, the data were skewed towards northern and central Europe with high levels of diversity in ambition. 33 percent of cities have no plans at all to address the issue, including Athens, Salzburg and Palma de Mallorca. In addition, not one city in Bulgaria or Hungary has a standalone plan.

“Our study shows that cities are taking climate change threats seriously, but there is clearly more work to be done. It is a near certainty that if cities do not plan and act now to address climate change, they could find themselves in a far more precarious position in the future,” said lead authors Oliver Heidrich and Diana Reckien.

The best performing countries, in terms of having joined-up plans on the local level, were ones which have initiated climate legislation on the national level. For example, 144 cities showed evidence of having both adaption and mitigation plans, and these were mostly in the UK and France.

“While there is plenty that cities can do, national governments must still take the lead – providing legal and regulatory frameworks and guidance. Our study has demonstrated that this is one of the most effective ways to make sure that cities – and their citizens – are well prepared for the threats and opportunities that climate change will bring,” they added.

Photo Credit: NASA

Read more: 66% of EU cities have plans in place to combat...

One of the largest onshore wind farms in the UK now has battery storage co-located at the site.

The Pen y Cymoedd wind farm, located in South Wales, has a capacity of 228 megawatts (MW), enough to power 188,000 households.

Before the project was completed last year, Swedish developers Vattenfall won a contract from the National Grid to also build an innovative battery device.

The 22MW facility will help the grid manage split-second changes in the supply and demand of electricity, making a small contribution to its overall reliability.

The new site contains five BMW-manufactured battery packs with a capacity of 33 kilowatts adapted for stationary use.

Gunnar Groebler, Vattenfall’s senior vice president for wind energy said: “Vattenfall is on the road to a smart, digitalised future, free from fossil fuels. I can think of few other energy installations that better demonstrate what that future looks like than this battery installation.”

Battery storage is becoming an increasingly familiar site at renewable energy sites, with a succession of new projects coming online within the UK this year. The technology is seen as key to the UK’s transition to a low-carbon economy, and has received enthusiastic backing from the government.

Claus Wattendrup, head of solar and batteries, said: “This is Vattenfall’s largest battery installation to date, where we make use of synergies at our existing wind farms sites – such as at Pen y Cymoedd. Hybrid renewable parks will play a larger role in the future and we are leading this development.”

Rival energy company Ørsted announced last month its own large-scale venture into battery storage with the development of a 20MW site near Liverpool. The project is the Danish developer’s first commercial investment in the technology.

Photo Credit: Mike Davies

Read more: Huge Welsh wind farm now comes with batteries...

At a meeting in Nigeria this week, nine African cities pledged to cut carbon emissions to zero within the next three decades.

The cities include major Africa capitals and urban centres, such as Accra, Cape Town, Lagos, and Johannesburg.

Adjei Sowah, Mayor of Accra, said his city’s citizens are “becoming more aware” of the impacts of climate change.

Despite all countries in Africa having signed the Paris climate agreement, progress has been slow in making the transition to a low-carbon economy. Much of the world’s future population growth is estimated to take place on the continent, making climate action an even greater priority.

“We cannot ignore the implications of what will befall us if we do not act now… Part of the actions we need, is the creation of a vision that embodies our passion to plan and implement initiatives that mitigate the negative effects or aids us to be able to adapt to the impacts,” he added.

The other cities making the commitment at the meeting were Durban, Tshwane, Dar es Salaam, Dakar, and Addis Ababa.

According to the non-profit C40, which organised the event, Nairobi and Abidjan have also signed up and will submit their action plans soon.

The organisation has agreed to support the cities on their low-carbon journey through the development of evidence-based climate plans which are in line with the goals of the Paris deal.

“Cities in Africa are of the fastest growing anywhere in the world,” said Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris & Chair of C40. “The commitment of these nine mayors to bold climate leadership will deliver a sustainable future for these dynamic, and outward looking cities. It once again proves that cities are getting the job done and concretely delivering on the Paris Agreement to secure a bright future for all our citizens.”

Read more: African cities commit to reaching zero carbon by...

The National Geographic has launched a major new initiative to accelerate action on plastic waste.

The campaign will be launched across several years and cover both the organisation’s huge media presence and its original non-profit scientific institution.

In what the National Geographic is calling a “comprehensive approach”, it will promote plastic reduction and recycling in its own operations, among its global audience, and with corporate partners.

The new Planet or Plastic? pledge aims to raise awareness and action to “stem the tide of single-use plastic polluting the ocean.”

This means National Geographic will ask its readership and viewers to take up a commitment to reducing single-use plastics, documenting the immense damage it causes to the environment and marine life along the way.

Gary E. Knell, CEO of National Geographic Partners commented: “Each and every day, our explorers, researchers and photographers in the field witness first-hand the devastating impact of single-use plastic on our oceans, and the situation is becoming increasingly dire.”

Drawing on the expertise of the National Geographic Society, it will launch a scientific expedition, starting in 2019, to study how plastics act and flow in river systems. This could help inform action by local and national governments, as well as other non-profit organisations.

It will also take vital steps within its own business to lead by example, starting with the transition to using paper wrapping on subscriber magazines around the world, an initiative that could save an estimated 2.5 million plastic bags every month. Further steps and an action plan will be forthcoming once a full assessment of its total plastic consumption is undertaken.

On the corporate side, it also plans to seek out new partnerships to help advance conservation work, in addition to its existing collaboration with Sky Media.

“Through the Planet or Plastic? initiative, we will share the stories of this growing crisis, work to address it through the latest science and research, and educate audiences around the world about how to eliminate single-use plastics and prevent them from making their way into our oceans,” Knell added.

Jonathan Baillie, the National Geographic Society’s chief scientist said: “A crisis of this enormity requires solutions at scale, and National Geographic is uniquely qualified to amass the best in research, technology, education and storytelling to effect meaningful change.”

Photo Credit: Noel Guevara/National Geographic

Read more: National Geographic launches major campaign to...

The European Commission has put forth a proposal to regulate carbon emissions from heavy-duty vehicles for the first time.

The plan, released last week, confirms a target of reducing emissions in the sector by 30 percent by 2030.

Despite contributing 6 percent of all the European Union’s carbon emissions, lorries, coaches and buses are currently unregulated across the bloc.

This is damaging to the EU’s stated aim of reducing all emissions by 40 percent by 2030 (on 1990 levels) covering all sectors; a target created so it remains in line with the goals of the Paris climate agreement.

What’s more, the Commission estimates emissions from the heavy duty sector to grow by about 9 percent over the next decade if left unchecked.

Increasing fuel efficiency is also seen as an important emerging market where Europe needs to maintain its competitiveness. The initial proposal will include incentives for new zero and low-emission vehicles in the form of a “super credits system”.

Reducing emissions from the sector will also help to improve air quality across Europe as heavy-duty vehicles produce large quantities of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, along with carbon dioxide.

Europe’s trade body for the automobile sector, ACEA, acknowledged the need to decarbonise road transport, but said the new targets were “far too aggressive”.

“It would seem as though the Commission has simply taken the exact CO2 reduction levels it already proposed for cars and vans, and applied them directly to heavy-duty vehicles, without fully recognising the fundamental differences between these vehicle segments,” said ACEA Secretary General, Erik Jonnaert

The move comes at a time in which the US Government has put forward opposite plans to downgrade fuel efficiency standards. The Environmental Protection Agency made the announcement last month, stating the previous Obama administration was wrong to set standards that were “too high”.

Read more: EU sets out plan to cut truck emissions by 30%

One of the largest studies of its kind has found significant benefits to keeping global temperatures to 1.5C over 2C.

A team of researchers from The University of East Anglia (UEA) and James Cook University analysed 115,000 species, including 71,000 plants and 31,000 insects.

They measured the risks to biodiversity by mapping out the number of species which are projected to lose more than half their geographic range as a result of climate change. Higher temperatures lead to greater habitat loss and the prospect of entire species being lost.

The Paris Agreement bound all 197 countries to limiting global temperatures to well below 2C with an ambition to reach 1.5C.

However, current commitments to reduce emissions from member states which signed the accord will push the world to 3C. At this point the researchers found that up to 50 percent of insects could loss half their range.

Keeping temperatures to 2C still meant insects would lose 18 percent of the insects studies would lose their range.

This could have serious consequences for all life on Earth as insects are vital to all ecosystems. They pollinate crops, provide food, break down waste and help recycle nutrients.   

All species were found to benefit from lower temperatures, but especially those in Southern Africa, the Amazon, Europe, and Australia.

“We wanted to see how different projected climate futures caused areas to become climatically unsuitable for the species living there,” said lead researcher Professor Rachel Warren at UEA.  

“We found that the three major groups of insects responsible for pollination are particularly sensitive to warming…Other research has already shown that insects are already in decline for other reasons, and this research shows that climate change would really compound the problem.”

A separate study published last month found that limiting temperatures to 1.5C would also prevent mass food shortages around the world.

Read more: Large-scale study finds global species will be...

Supermarket chain Co-op is launching a new scheme in the UK to reduce food waste by putting an end to last-minute sales.

Instead, food that is within its sell-by date will be offered to local community groups and charities to help people in need.

The scheme will be unrolled throughout the country in 1,500 locations where the food retailer operates. This follows a successful trial scheme in 50 branches which showed the idea was workable.

The new programme, called Co-op Food Share, will be launched by the group’s Chief Executive Steve Murrells at the annual general meeting this week.

Mr Murrells said the supermarket was “calling time on food waste” and will take products off sale earlier so that fresh food could be used by charities.

“We work hard to reduce waste but believe any food that we don’t sell should end up feeding people, wherever possible. We’ve been listening to our charity partners and community groups and they tell us that in order to create healthy and nutritious meals they need access to fresh food. Now we are making that possible.”

Laura Winningham, CEO of food charity City Harvest said: “Creating a flexible system to allow charities access to surplus meat, salads and fruit and vegetables means more good food can help to meet the growing demand out in the community. It’s great to think that organisations like ours, all over the country, will be able to build strong working relationships with their local Co-op stores which will deliver immeasurable amounts of benefit to those most in need.”

The move forms part of Co-op’s work as a signatory to the Courtauld Commitment 2025, which aims to halve food waste by 2030, in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Rival supermarket Aldi also made the pledge earlier this year.

Photo Credit: Co-op

Read more: Co-op to fight waste by diverting food to...

British food retailer Iceland continues to take the lead on sustainability issues.

It announced this week that it will become the first UK supermarket to support government plans to introduce a plastic bottle deposit scheme.

At the same time, it has become one of the first companies to use new plastic-free labelling on its own brand packaging.

The label was officially launched by the charity A Plastic Planet, and is designed to raise awareness on plastic waste. Iceland has already made the commitment to replacing plastic on all its own packaging by 2023. Dutch supermarket Ekoplaza is also using the ‘trust mark’ following its move to introduce plastic-free aisles in its stores earlier this year.

“With the grocery retail sector accounting for more than 40 per cent of plastic packaging in the UK, it’s high time that Britain’s supermarkets came together to take a lead on this issue,” said Richard Walker, Iceland’s Managing Director.

The deposit return scheme will be trialled after Iceland undertook extensive consultations with suppliers as to its implications.

The vending machines repay customers a 10p voucher for any Iceland plastic bottle returned. It is hoped the trial will lead to a better understanding of consumer behaviour and appetite for the scheme ahead of a wider government roll-out.

“The vocal support Iceland has received since announcing our intention to eradicate plastic packaging has shown us that there is a huge public will to tackle the scourge of plastics,” Walker added.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove MP, applauded Iceland for “leading the way” with the trial scheme.

“It is absolutely vital we act now to curb the millions of plastic bottles a day that go unrecycled. Support from businesses will be a vital part of ensuring we leave our environment in a better state than we found it,” he added.

Iceland has separately made the decision to remove palm oil from its own products citing the “environmental devastation” caused by the industry.

Read more: Iceland supermarket launches deposit scheme and...

The need to decarbonise all parts of the economy means leaving no blind spots.

Strides are being made to clean up transport, for example, and the growth in electric vehicles has already surpassed expectations. At least 10 percent of cars are now predicted to be electric within the next eight years.

While this is good news, other carbon-intensive parts of the sector, such as the manufacturing of the cars themselves, seem to have made slow progress.

Mercedes-Benz has decided to make a move to address the issue this week, committing all its German factories to become carbon neutral by 2022. The company currently operates eight car plants in the country, producing hundreds of thousands of vehicles each year. In the future, these plants will have to purchase 100 percent of their electricity needs from renewables.

Markus Schäfer, a Mercedes-Benz board member, told a conference in Stuttgart the news means the company will “completely forego coal-based electricity and obtain our energy from only renewable sources.”

All of its new plants in the rest of Europe are also mandated to be carbon-free with achievements already made in France, Poland and Hungary.

Swedish competitor Volvo also achieved the feat of going carbon neutral at one of its manufacturing plants earlier this year. The milestone was Volvo’s first step towards making its entire global operations carbon neutral by 2025.

“Today, new plants in Europe are already planned with a CO2-neutral energy supply from the start. The decision also fits with our overall strategy. As part of our electric offensive, Mercedes-Benz Cars counts on local emission-free vehicles. With a CO2-neutral energy supply of plants, we are consistently pursuing this approach and are actively driving sustainability in production,” Schäfer added.

In 2017, the company, best known for producing luxury cars, sold a record-breaking 2.4 million vehicles worldwide, with China accounting for 25 percent of new growth.  

Read more: Mercedes-Benz car factories to become carbon...

New markets in sustainability and clean energy could lead to a worldwide jobs boom, according to the UN’s labour agency.

The urgent need to reduce our dependence on carbon and resource intensive industries will also create more winners than losers: 24 million new green jobs will offset an estimated 6 million job losses.

The International Labour Organization (ILO), which represents workers, governments and employers across 189 member states, produced the analysis into the global transition to sustainable and low-carbon economies.

The agency analysed 163 economic sectors and surveyed multiple states to obtain accurate data into how sustainability could impact working people. They found that most industries are set to benefit and only 14 would suffer more than 10,000 jobs worldwide.

Economies which are heavily dependent on petroleum and other fossil fuels could suffer a more substantial downturn with losses of over 1 million worldwide. However, the growth in renewable energy is more than ready to step in with an estimated 2.5 million new jobs created in the industry, mainly from solar, wind and biomass power.

Combined with new construction jobs in energy efficiency and electric vehicles will create a total of 18 million jobs. In addition, the uptake of circular practices which embrace an economic model based on reuse and recycling could create an extra 6 million positions.

“The findings of our report underline that jobs rely heavily on a healthy environment and the services that it provides. The green economy can enable millions more people to overcome poverty, and deliver improved livelihoods for this and future generations. This is a very positive message of opportunity in a world of complex choices,” ILO Deputy Director-General Deborah Greenfield said at the launch.

One of the other key findings of the report is that 23 countries have already succeeded in growing their economies while reducing carbon emissions at the same time. This decoupling in both production and consumption was prevalent among the world’s largest economies, such as the United States, Great Britain, and Germany.

Source: ILO

Read more: Global green economy could create 24 million...

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