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Boris Johnson has pledged that the UK will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 68% below 1990 levels by 2030, an increase on the current target of about 57%. It is hoped that this will encourage other countries to raise their climate targets as well, as the UK prepares to co-host a virtual summit of world leaders on the climate later this month. 

Johnson said, “We have proven we can reduce our emissions and create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the process. We are taking the lead with an ambitious new target to reduce our emissions by 2030, faster than any major economy and the UK is urging world leaders to bring forward their own ambitious plans to cut emissions and set net zero [carbon] targets.”

What is Happening?

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It is understood that ministers are preparing more policies to supplement the 10-point plan and the NDC, including an energy white paper before the end of the year that will set out some new measures.

Other major world economies are also expected to come forward with updated NDCs. EU leaders will meet next week to decide on a potential 55% emissions cut by 2030, and the US president-elect, Joe Biden, is planning to rejoin the Paris agreement when he takes office. China has set a goal of reaching peak emissions by 2030 but has not yet submitted a formal plan to the UN, while both Japan and South Korea have pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. 

Featured image by: Flickr 

As part of the 2020 Chief Executive Policy Address, Carrie Lam has set a target for Hong Kong to become carbon neutral by 2050. In the address, Lam said that the government will aim to achieve carbon neutrality through a variety of means, including exploring new environmentally-friendly technology, enhancing the energy efficiency of buildings, promoting zero-carbon vehicles and building large-scale waste-to-energy facilities. 

Lam adds that to lower the cost of achieving carbon neutrality, “we need to reduce the demand for energy by setting more stringent energy efficient standards.” Green finance would be pursued and developed “to build a low-carbon economy which is more resilient to climate change.”

Lam says, “We also need to enlist the full support of various sectors in society to adopt low-carbon lifestyles and economic transformation,” as she appealed for all sectors to work together in achieving the ambitious goal. 

What is Happening?

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The Hong Kong government will update the “Hong Kong’s Climate Action Plan” in the middle of next year to set out more proactive strategies and measures to reduce carbon emissions and become carbon neutral.

Hong Kong-based charity Friends of the Earth welcomes the “Report on Public Engagement on Long-term Decarbonisation Strategy” published by the Council for Sustainable Development, but says that it “fails to see how the [carbon neutrality] goal is achievable given the lack of concrete, aggressive actions.” It offers six recommendations, namely:

A new report by Fitch Ratings says that the green finance market in China is set to expand, driven by supportive policies and government initiatives, as a way to achieve the country’s pledge of achieving carbon neutrality by 2060.

The report, titled “Green Finance Expands to Support China’s Transition to Low Carbon Emissions,” finds that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, policies and incentives to develop the green finance market in China have continued to emerge. Financial regulators have set policy goals to address climate change through investment and financing tools in China’s 14th Five-Year Plan. 

More initiatives will be announced as policymakers learn from regional green finance pilot schemes to create a national framework. 

The onshore green bond market operates based on local guidelines that are different from commonly accepted global standards, such as the eligibility of certain projects and the share of proceeds allowed to be allocated to general working capital. Guidelines from the People’s Bank of China in 2020 have reduced the gap on eligible projects and it is expected that the desire to open onshore markets to foreign investors will drive further standardisation. 

Banks play a larger role in China’s onshore green bond market than in other markets around the world, both as issuers and holders of green instruments. This is partly due to their role in extending credit early in the development of the green finance system, and this green credit was subsequently refinanced through green bonds. 

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green finance market china
Source: Fitch Ratings, 2020. 

Fitch says that it expects the inclusion of green banking benchmarks in macro-prudential assessments and the growing focus on climate risk to support demand for green assets. However, it expresses concern that broader policy priorities, such as deleveraging of the banking system, could act as a constraint.

In September, China pledged that it would aim to reach peak emissions by 2030, and carbon neutrality by 2060. Since its announcement, South Korea and Japan have made similar announcements, both pledging to become carbon neutral by 2050. 

Fitch predicts that a national emissions trading scheme (ETS) is likely to be a key part of the country’s strategy to transition to a low-carbon economy. The Chinese government announced plans for a national ETS in 2017, with the aim of a full launch by the end of 2020. It is expected to first cover coal- and gas- fired power plants, with emission allowances allocated depending on a plant’s output and technological mix.

It is hoped that a comprehensive national ETS will increase carbon prices in China and spur investment in low-carbon technologies. 

South Korea has announced that it will try to become carbon neutral by 2050, although he stopped short of promising to achieve the goal. In a policy speech during a national assembly on October 28, President Moon Jae-in said that the nation would “respond to the climate crisis with the international community.”

South Korea’s declaration follows Japan’s pledge earlier this week to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and it joins other major economies who have set the same goal, such as the EU and China, who recently announced that it would become carbon neutral by 2060.

South Korea is one of the largest fossil fuel-reliant economies, with 40% of its electricity generated from imported coal and less than 6% from renewables. It still has seven coal power units under construction and it is one of the top three public financers of overseas coal power projects

To become carbon neutral by 2050, Moon says that South Korea will commit itself to ending its dependence on coal by investing USD$ 2.1 billion next year in renewables as part of its Green New Deal as well as investing $3.7 billion to increase charging stations for electric vehicles. The Green New Deal was set up in July 2020, which plans to end the financing of overseas coal plants and create urban forests, establish a carbon tax, plan for recycling and establish a foundation for renewable energy. It was also set up to help the country achieve a green economic recovery post-COVID-19.

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According to the International Energy Agency, the country was the world’s 7th largest emitter of carbon dioxide in 2017 and the current trajectory will result in only 24% reduction in emissions below 2017 levels by 2030. Campaigners have warned that South Korea will need to change their energy policy to have even the slightest possibility of reaching their zero-emissions target. 

The government announced earlier this year that its 60 coal-fired power stations would be halved by 2034, with new liquefied natural gas plants making up the deficit. 

The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was “very encouraged” by President Moon’s commitment to get South Korea to net zero emissions.

Through closing coal-fired power plants and plans to cut 24 nuclear power plants to 17 by 2034, Moon’s government hopes to rely on renewable energy, like wind, water and solar power. However, shutting down nuclear plants will make the 2050 goal much more difficult to achieve, as its plan to cut its nuclear plants will reduce the sector’s energy output by nearly half.  

Although there is still a lot to do, “South Korea is finally one step closer to aligning itself with the reduction pathway compatible with the Paris climate agreement goal,” managing director of NGO Solutions for Our Climate, Joojin Kim, says.


Featured image by: Flickr

Japan has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050 according to prime minister Yoshihide Suga, who says that responding to the climate crisis is “no longer a constraint on economic growth,” a bold and welcome move by the world’s third-biggest economy and fifth largest greenhouse gas emitter.

The country has revised its earlier commitment of achieving an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050 followed by becoming carbon neutral “as soon as possible” in the second half of the century. Japan is now in line with the EU, which set itself a similar target last year, as well as China, who recently announced that it would become carbon neutral by 2060

Suga says,”We need to change our thinking to the view that taking assertive measures against climate change will lead to changes in industrial structure and the economy that will bring about growth.”

Japan’s current energy plan, set in 2018, calls for 22-24% of its energy to come from renewable energy, 20-22% from nuclear power and 56% from fossil fuels. It currently plans to reduce its dependence on coal, decreasing its contribution to the country’s electricity generation from 32% in 2018 to 26% by 2030. 

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Suga did not provide details on how the country will reduce its emissions to zero, but said that it would promote renewable energy and prioritise safety as it seeks a bigger role for nuclear energy. He added that he would speed up research and development on next-generation solar batteries and carbon recycling and promised to “fundamentally change Japan’s long-term reliance on coal-fired energy.”

However, for Japan to achieve carbon neutrality will require a massive overhaul of the infrastructure in the country, which remains heavily dependent on fossil fuels; in fact, the country plans to build or is in the process of building 17 new coal-burning power plants. Therefore, there are doubts that Japan will be able to achieve this goal, not only given its reliance on fossil fuels, but also the public opposition to increasing nuclear energy’s share of the energy mix after the 2011 meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. 

By the early 2000s, the country had made progress in reducing its emissions through the use of nuclear power, which constituted roughly a third of Japan’s total power supply. Japan has struggled to cut emissions since the Daiichi incident, which forced the closure of dozens of nuclear reactors, only a small number of which have restarted. 

The use of nuclear energy has been widely opposed in the country since 2011, and Suga’s announcement that Japan would continue to develop nuclear power- with “maximum priority on safety”- nevertheless drew boos from members of Parliament. The country may then have to explore other cleaner technologies to generate power.

Japan is already considering a substantial increase in wind and solar power, and it is also looking at newer, less-established technologies, such as plants that burn ammonia or hydrogen. 

The country has also pledged to end government subsidies for the export of coal-fired power technology to developing countries; it is currently supporting three such projects and says that it will consider financing more only in “exceptional” cases.

According to Takeshi Kuramochi, a climate policy researcher at the NewClimate Institution in Germany, says that Japan’s decision was most likely driven by a “combination of domestic and external political pressures.” He added that Suga may have felt that it was important not to allow China to assume leadership on the issue. As a developed nation, “it would be somewhat embarrassing for Japan to have a net zero emissions timeline later than China,” he adds. 

150 municipal governments in Japan have already pledged to be carbon neutral by 2050. 

Japan is already feeling the consequences of the climate crisis. Rising temperatures have contributed to deadly heatwaves in the last few years and scientists say that the crisis also contributed to the size and intensity of the devastating typhoons that struck the country last year. 

Featured image by: Flickr 

In September, China made the surprise announcement that it would aim to become carbon neutral by 2060, and that its emissions would peak by 2030. The news came as a surprise to many who weren’t expecting such a bold target. Theories abound as to how the country, currently the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, will achieve such a target, but researchers have suggested that China will first need to generate most of its electricity from zero-emission sources and then expand this clean energy wherever possible. It will also need to explore carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. 

Renewable Energy

To achieve its target, electricity production would need to more than double, to 15 034 terawatt hours by 2060, largely from clean sources. This is according to Zhang Xiliang, a climate modeller at Tsinghua University in Beijing, whose model is the primary one to support government policymaking.  

This growth would need to be driven by a massive increase in renewable electricity generation to replace fossil fuels, including a 16-fold increase in solar power and a 9-fold increase in wind power. Nuclear power would need to increase sixfold and hydroelectricity would need to double. 

Because fossil fuels would still account for 16% of energy consumed, CCS technologies would need to be used as well, or emissions could be offset by planting forests. 

However, this shift away from fossil fuels in such a short amount of time would be extremely expensive; coal-fired power currently accounts for almost 65% of China’s electricity generation, with more than 200 new coal-fired power plants planned or under construction. Those industries that rely on fossil fuels will be extremely unhappy with this proposal.

Another significant cost would be the energy storage required to integrate wind and solar, however battery storage has become cheaper over the past decade, a trend which will hopefully continue. If current trends of renewable costs continue, China could generate more than 60% of its electricity from non-fossil fuels by 2030. Additionally, ensuring stable operation of the electricity grid with renewable energy will be another challenge.

Nuclear Energy

The Energy Research Institute, National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) in Beijing has also created a model which would see emissions in China peak in 2022, followed by a steep drop to net zero emissions by 2050. 

To achieve this target, electricity production would double up to 14 800 terawatt hours by 2050. This would be generated mostly by nuclear power (28%), followed by wind (21%), solar (17%), hydropower (14%) and biomass (8%). The other 12% would be made up by coal and gas. 

Following this plan, China’s nuclear capacity would need to increase fivefold to 554 gigawatts by 2050. While nuclear energy is able to provide a more consistent base load than solar and power, and latest nuclear plant designs produce minimal radioactive waste, cost and time requirements have increased significantly over the years and perhaps more importantly, previous notable nuclear plant meltdowns have made building nuclear plants unacceptable to much of the public. 

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Carbon Capture and Storage Technologies

Other models include the use of CCS technologies to reach the carbon neutrality target. However, this would require significant investment, because China currently has only one large CCS facility in operation, while seven more are being planned or built. 

While CCS would allow for the use of coal in the long-term, it is very expensive to deploy. 

Coal

Many existing coal plants will reach the end of their life before the neutrality deadline, according to Kaare Sandholt, an energy systems modeller at the NDRC’s China National Renewable Energy Centre, who is based in Copenhagen. For this reason, China should stop building new coal-fired power plants, or risk having stranded assets. 

However, China must also be mindful of the 3.5 million workers in the coal mining and power industry, as well as the people who rely on cheap electricity and heating. Will the government provide training for the workers and re-deploy them in renewable power plants? As of yet, this is unclear, but it is certainly a salient concern.

While much of China’s path to carbon neutrality remains unclear, officials are in the process of drafting the country’s latest five-year plan for social and economic development, which will be released in March and is likely to include policies to achieve neutrality. Further, like all nations that have signed the 2015 Paris Agreement, China is obliged to submit increased emissions-reduction targets before the end of the year. 

Meanwhile, according to energy consultancy firm Wood Mackenzie, China ’s goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2060 will require investments of more than USD$5 trillion.

Nevertheless, this news could encourage other countries to act faster to decarbonise than they otherwise would have. 

Featured image by: Flickr 

Google and Facebook have both pledged to become carbon neutral, following in the footsteps of Apple and Microsoft. 

Google is going one step further than Microsoft (who pledged to go carbon negative by 2030, meaning that it will account for all the carbon that it has ever produced and add enough mitigation to counteract its effect). In 2007, Google pledged to be carbon neutral and has made an investment to match all of the electricity it uses with renewable energy. The company says that it has purchased enough carbon offsets to bring its carbon footprint dating back to the company’s founding

In a blog post, the CEO of Google and Alphabet, Sundar Pichai, says, “The science is clear: the world must act now if we’re going to avert the worst consequences of climate change. We are committed to doing our part. Sustainability has been a core value for us since Larry and Sergey founded Google two decades ago.”

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Additionally, the company will become the first to commit to run entirely on carbon-free energy in all of its data centres globally. 

To achieve this, Google will pair wind and solar energy and will use its artificial intelligence to predict its future electricity demands. 

Climate activists praised the announcement. Elizabeth Jardim, Senior Corporate Campaigner at Greenpeace USA, says, “Today’s announcement, combined with Google’s promise in May to no longer create artificial intelligence solutions for upstream oil and gas exploration, shows that Google takes its role in combating climate change seriously.”

Meanwhile, in a separate announcement from Google, Facebook has announced that it will achieve net-zero carbon emissions and become carbon neutral by 2030. Director of Sustainability, Edward Palmieri, says, ““Facebook’s global operations will achieve net-zero carbon emissions and be 100 percent supported by renewable energy. We are also setting an ambitious goal to reach net-zero emissions for our value chain in 2030.” 

Both companies’ announcements follow similar announcements from Apple and Microsoft. In January, Microsoft pledged to become carbon neutral by 2030, and to remove all of its historical emissions by 2050. In July, Apple announced its own plans to become carbon neutral by 2030. This encompasses not only its entire supply chain, but also the lifecycle of all its products, including the electricity consumed in their use.

Featured image by: Wikimedia Commons

How are the biggest companies in the world working to reduce their carbon footprint? Apple has announced a target of becoming carbon neutral across its entire business and manufacturing supply chain by 2030. The new commitment means that by 2030, every Apple device sold will have net zero climate impact.

Apple has also said that any company hoping to become a supplier has to commit to be ‘100% renewable for their Apple production’ within 10 years. 

Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, says, “Climate action can be the foundation for a new era of innovative potential, job creation and durable economic growth. With our commitment to carbon neutrality, we hope to be a ripple in the pond that creates a much larger change.”

While the move has been generally applauded, Greenpeace says technology giants like Apple have a responsibility to act quickly in mitigating the climate crisis as they produce vast quantities of waste. Elizabeth Jardim, Greenpeace USA’s senior corporate campaigner, says, “I am happy to see that Apple has worked with suppliers to source actual renewable energy and that it has not relied on low-impact solutions like offsetting or renewable energy credits. But I will want to see how the company is further phasing out reliance on fossil fuels throughout its operations on a near-term timeline.” 

Apple has said that its plan to become carbon neutral involves investment in new eco-friendly projects as well as the purchase of green energy offsets to compensate for some continued use of carbon-emitting fuels. 

Apple says that more than 70 of the company’s existing suppliers have already committed to use 100% renewable energy for work on its products by 2030, the equivalent of taking 3 million cars off the road every year. 

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Roadmap

Apple’s Environmental Policies

The company has released a 10-year roadmap detailing some of the actions it plans to take. These include the use of a new robot to recover materials from the engines of devices returned for recycling so that they can be reprocessed and put back into supply chains. 

Other efforts include increased use of recycled raw materials in its own products, new solar panel projects to power its own data centres, investment in environmental projects, including work to restore mangrove trees and shrubs in Colombia and woodland-grassland savannahs in Kenya and work on eco-friendly projects to benefit local communities, including the installation of rooftop solar panels at a facility for disadvantaged children in the Philippines and the electrification of an off-grid fishing community in Thailand.

The second part of Apple’s plan is to increase production of renewable energy. New and completed projects in Arizona, Oregon and Illinois bring Apple’s renewable capacity for its corporate operations to over 1 GW- equivalent to powering over 150 000 homes a year. The company is also opening renewable power plants in Scandinavia, the Philippines and Thailand. 

By developing its own renewable energy projects, the company controls 80% of the renewable energy it uses today. 

Carbon Neutral Vs Carbon Negative

When a business is carbon neutral, it adds no carbon to the atmosphere. It can do this by balancing its emissions, for example by removing a ton of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for every ton it produces, offsetting its emissions or not releasing greenhouse gases in the first place. This slows down emissions as opposed to reversing them.

To be carbon negative, a company must remove more carbon from the atmosphere than it emits.

Apple’s Climate Progress

In 2019, Apple decreased its carbon footprint by 4.3 million metric tons through design and recycled content innovations in its products. Since 2009, the company has reduced the average energy needed for product use by 73%. Further, all iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple Watch devices released in the past year are made with recycled content. 

Finally, the number of facilities participating in Apple’s Supplier Energy Efficiency Program grew to 92 in 2019; these facilities avoided over 779 000 annualised metric tons of supply chain carbon emissions. 

What Are Other Tech Giants Doing?

Apple ’s aim of becoming carbon neutral follows climate-focused pledges by other technology giants.

Microsoft has pledged to become carbon negative by 2030 and by 2050, to have removed the same amount of carbon from the environment as it has ever emitted. It has also announced the creation of a consortium involving Nike, Starbucks and Mercedes-Benz, among others, to share information on carbon-reducing technologies.

Amazon has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2040 and Google has pledged to extend the carbon-neutral status it claims for its own operations to encompass its supply chain but has yet to set a deadline. 

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