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The United States Senate has this week voted on and rejected a bill to approve the development of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, that would deliver tar sands oil from Canada to refineries on the US Gulf Coast.

Unlike many of the Senate decisions in recent years, going into it the final result was not a certainty, and it was only rejected by one vote in the end. The bill sponsored by Senator Mary Landrieu needed 60 votes to pass, and the final result was 59 to 41.

Tar or oil sands is more carbon intensive than more conventional kinds of oil and oil extraction. For this reason, environmental groups and highly respected climate scientists, such as Dr James Hansen, have opposed the construction of the pipeline for years. Significantly, Dr Hansen has previously stated that if the Keystone XL pipeline is approved and Canada’s huge tar sands operation to extract oil from tar sands continues, it will be “game over” for climate.

Although the Senate has rejected the Keystone XL pipeline project this time, the likely Senate Majority Leader of the next Congress, Senator Mitch McConnell, has already flagged that the pipeline project will come up again as soon as early 2015.

NASA image: Alberta tar sands in Canada.
Via Think Progress

The United States and China, the two biggest greenhouse gas emitters in the world, have announced an historic new deal to each cut their greenhouse gas emissions.

Leaders President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping together announced the new agreement. The deal is the result of many months of low key discussions between the two powerful nations, culminating in Obama’s visit to China, and the big announcement.

So what exactly have these big emitters agreed to? The United States has pledged to cut emissions 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. As the current US target is only a 17% reduction by 2020, this new target could serve to nearly double the speed of US cuts, from 1.2% per year to as much as 2.8% a year.

China has pledged to source 20% of its energy from non-fossil-fuel-based sources by 2030, and also to reach a peak in its overall emissions by 2030. China must be confident it can achieve this because, as regular readers will know, it has been setting the pace in recent years as far as renewable energy and other sustainable development goes. As Think Progess has pointed out, this new agreement will require China to develop an additional 800 to 1,000 gigawatts of zero-carbon energy by 2030; that’s nearly as much as the United States currently generates in total, from all sources.

Of course, zero-carbon energy does not only mean renewable energy. To meet the goal, China will also be developing nuclear energy, promising to double the current combined 9.8% renewable and nuclear figure by 2030.

This new agreement comes ahead of the next important phase of international climate talks in Paris next year. It follows the very recent agreement by all European Union member countries to cut emissions by a much more ambitious 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. If we count the EU’s emissions as one block, this new agreement by China and Europe means that the world’s top 3 emitters have now put forward new and significantly higher levels of cuts ahead of the 2015 Paris climate meeting.
Image: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
Via Think Progess

The new Indian government is proposing a $100 billion investment in the domestic renewable energy sector. It’s well known that the Indian electricity sector is in need of some serious development, and the government is looking to focus on renewable energy.

India’s minister for coal, power, and renewable energy has announced that the government has raised the solar power capacity target to an ambitious 100 gigawatts by 2019, instead of the previous 22 gigawatts by 2022. That’s a huge rise, and it remains to be seen whether it will be achieved, but will certainly set the pace internationally if it goes to plan.

In addition, it was announced that the wind power capacity target will be doubled to 40 gigwatts by 2019. The government is planning to open up new offshore wind energy areas to wind power developers. It’s also aiming to attract billions in foreign investment for the Indian renewable energy sector, and for the energy industry in general.

Image CC licensed by Philip Tellis: Mumbai, India
Via Cleantechnica

Very recently, the European Union agreed to require all member nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. Now, Germany’s conservative government, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, has issued an important discussion paper proposing to implement strict controls on coal-fired electricity generation, and to redesign the heavily industrialzed nation’s energy system around renewable energy, Renew Economy has reported.

If implemented, the new controls on coal-fired power generation would be the strictest in Europe. Germany was one of the main nations pushing to implement the European target of at least 40% emissions cuts mentioned above.

Germany is planning for over 60% of its power supply to come from renewables within 20 years and, due to popular demand, is planning to phase out nuclear power by 2022. It’s looking to source almost 50% of electricity from renewables within 10 years.

Germany currently has an big overcapacity in its electricity generating system, so the government sees an opportunity to cut some fossil fuel-based power generation to help meet the increased new European emissions targets. The biggest power utilities have already committed to not developing any new coal plants, and to concentrate on the development of renewables and energy storage instead – so this would be an added measure.

Presently, Germany generates about 45% of its electricity from coal, 11% from gas, 15% from nuclear, and 24% from renewables. This country of 80 million people is currently at the international forefront of the movement to transition to renewable energy. If planning continues the way it has been going, notably, even with a conservative government, it could well stay at the forefront.

Image CC licensed by jim Winstead: Solar panels on houses in Germany
Via Renew Economy


In its starkest warning yet, a comprehensive new synthesis report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) this week has concluded that climate change will inflict “severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts,” unless greenhouse gas emissions are cut sharply and rapidly.

The new climate change report is actually a synthesis of 3 large working group reports released over the past year, and is the most comprehensive report on climate change ever. For the first time, this report brings together many aspects of the need to tackle climate change, including that carbon emissions will eventually have to fall to zero this century, and that global poverty will not be able to be adequately addressed without also addressing climate change.

The report states that climate change has already increased the risks of severe heatwaves and other extreme weather events. Droughts, dangerous coastal storm surges from the rising sea levels, and wildlife extinctions will all worsen unless emissions are cut dramatically, the report says. The IPCC also warns that the effects of escalating climate change will indirectly cause violent conflicts and food shortages, if humanity does not move quickly to implement achievable solutions. However, the report concludes that adequate solutions are both available and affordable for the world.

One major issue is that two-thirds of all the fossil fuel emissions permissible by the science, if we are to avoid dangerous climate change, have already been released into the atmosphere. The IPPC has found that the lowest cost solution would be for emissions to peak by 2020, and then to eventually drop to zero later in the century. The goal of having emissions peak by 2020, just 6 years away now, is becoming very challenging indeed. It would not have been so challenging if the world had agreed to start much earlier.

The IPCC has indicated that investments in low-carbon electricity generation and increased energy efficiency need to rise by hundreds of billions of dollars a year before 2030, even though over two hundred billion dollars a year is currently being invested. Despite this, the IPCC says that addressing climate change need only trim world economic growth rates by a tiny fraction, and may actually improve economies by providing new benefits – such as improving public health by cutting air pollution. Tackling climate change will also be necessary to help raise billions of people out of poverty this century.

Image CC licensed by Monica McGivern

By now, many of us have seen the news that apparently sitting is the new smoking, so quite a few people and workplaces are turning to standing desks to help alleviate an increasingly sedentary lifestyle.

However, good standing desks can get expensive, especially if you don’t want to stand ALL the time (which may not be all that healthy either), and want a standing desk as an alternative to what you’ve already got. These days, many people also “hot desk” it between various locations, and may find standing desks aren’t even an option.

Given all that, this new portable cardboard standing desk from Refold could be a good solution, especially for creative types. Because the desk is made of sturdy (7mm thick, twin cushion) cardboard, it claims to be lightweight (6.5kg/14lbs) yet strong, and can fold up to be its own carry case. Although still quite big to carry – say if you intend to take it on a crowded commuter train multiple times – it’s still likely to be much more convenient than not having the portability option at all.

As if we need any encouragement, because it’s make of cardboard it makes a good surface for applying artwork, so can be customised using many different art materials. The artwork on the desk below, completed by New Zealand illustrator and designer Anna Johnstone, is part of a series established by Refold with artists and illustrators.


Folded standing desk

Refold is actually a New Zealand (where I live) company, but folks in the US needn’t feel disappointed by the distance because, in addition to New Zealand, Refold is planning to manufacture the desk locally in the United States. It’s far more sustainable to do so, not to mention the faster speed of delivery for US buyers.

No surprises for guessing that Refold currently has a Kickstarter campaign on the go, and with 11 days to go at the time of writing, it has already reached over twice the pledge goal of of NZ$25,000.

On the campaign page, they state that “reaching our minimum funding goal of $25,000 will enable us to complete our first consumer production run, making the desk available to individuals for the first time. If we reach our minimum goal, our stretch goal will be to reach $40,000 which will put us in a position to consider setting up our own production machinery.” The total currently stands are NZ$55,696, so it looks like that should be achievable.

I think the portable standing desk does seem like a really good idea; I want one, and I’ll be all over painting mine.

In a landmark deal, the European Union has agreed to require all 28 member nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.

The EU also agreed that renewable energy market share and energy efficiency improvements will both increase to 27%. However, the renewable energy target is binding, but the energy efficiency target will be optional at this stage. It may be reviewed at a later date.

The deal comes ahead of the United Nations climate summit in Paris next year. European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso has said that “No player in the world is as ambitious as the EU.” The European Union Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard added that “we have sent a strong signal to other big economies and all other countries: we have done our homework, now we urge you to follow Europe’s example.”

This is the first substantial climate deal from any region in the world. However, there is a clause in the agreement that could initiate a review of the deal if other countries do not match the target at the 2015 Paris summit.

The pressure will now be on for both China and the United States – the two largest emitters in the world – to match the EU targets. The EU accounts for around one tenth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and is already doing the most to curb emissions. If a global deal is to be agreed in Paris, the rest of the world will need to follow Europe’s lead, and even push to increase targets further.

Could 2015 be the year the world’s governments finally step up to address climate change in a unified way?
Image CC licensed by Vattenfall: Horns rev offshore wind farm in Denmark

The wind industry in the United States is booming in 2014; it installed more in the first 9 months than it did during the whole of 2013, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

The AWEA expects that 2014 will also finish strongly for the wind industry, and 2015 will be even more positive, Cleantechnica has reported. This year, 19 wind projects have already been completed. There is a record number of new wind farms under construction, and costs have dropped to the lowest ever, the AWEA has stated. According to the US Department of Energy, the cost of US wind power has dropped by over half in just 5 years.

Part of the reason for the significant growth has been the Production Tax Credit (PTC), which allows a lower tax rate to wind power developers over the initial 10 years of a project. Of course, these tax incentives have their critics, but as Cleantechnica points out, critics often ignore the fact that fossil fuels, including coal, have a long history of subsidies and incentives, which continue to this day.

Image CC licensed by Jim Hammer
Via Cleantechnica

The United States can almost quadruple its renewable energy during the next 15 years, to reach 23% by 2030, a Union of Concerned Scientists (USC) study has found. In contrast, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed that the United Sates sets a goal of just 12% renewable energy by 2030.

Further, the USC concluded that the cost to the average household of achieving the 23% target by 2030 would only be about 18 cents per month, so it’s a very achievable goal. Costs are also dropping dramatically for renewable energy development, so “there is a real opportunity to go farther,” UCS Senior Climate Economist Rachel Cleetus has said.

Already the laws in 17 states require more electricity from renewable sources than the EPA proposes, and 7 states are presently going beyond the EPA’s proposed goals for 2030. At the top end, both Iowa and South Dakota have already reached 24%, and Oregon is on 10%. The national average growth rate in renewables for states has been 1% from 2009 to 2013. The USC plan assumes that very modest growth rate will continue, which seems entirely reasonable.

The UCS target would reduce electricity sector carbon dioxide emissions by an extra 10% over the EPA proposal, reaching 40% below 2005 levels. Cleetus maintained that, “There needs to be a greater level of ambition, not just from the US but worldwide, if we are to sharply limit our emissions and slow the pace of climate change.”

The technologies are already commercially available today, ready to go. There is no reason to wait, and no time to lose.

Via Cleantechnica

New 3D printing technology for building construction, by Contour Crafting, has won the Create the Future Design Contest. The contest was launched over a decade ago by the publishers of NASA Tech Briefs, to encourage and honor innovation from engineers, students, and entrepreneurs.

The new large-scale 3D printing technology, or “robotic building construction”, is able to print whole buildings, including houses, efficiently and much more quickly than conventional construction methods.

To begin with, it is envisaged that the technology could be useful in areas where there has been a recent natural disaster, for emergency shelter and housing. However, the potential of this technology to go well beyond that is obvious. In future years, this has the potential to revolutionise how buildings are constructed worldwide.

The walls of each building structure are created by the robot from a paste-like material that is similar to concrete. Many different forms can be created, including complex curved designs – something that tends to increase costs dramatically in conventional building construction.

It’s going to be very interesting to see where this technology leads over the next decade or so.

Image Contour Crafting
Via Inhabitat, Bustler