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SUSTAINABILITY & CLIMATE CHANGE

Immediate Action Needed to Keep 1.5°C in Sight, says PRI

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By Thomas Cox

As governments prepare to start the COP26 negotiations at the end of the month, they have been warned that an immediate ramp-up in energy & land use policy is needed to keep the goal of restricting warming to 1.5°C in sight.

According to an analysis by the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), this accelerated action – under its Required Policy Scenario (RPS) – would mean:

  • An end to deforestation across the entire globe, ideally by 2025. If not, the energy system has to absorb greater reductions, potentially through bioenergy and carbon capture and storage (BECCs).
  • The elimination of unabated coal in most advanced economies including China by 2035.
  • The phase out of new fossil cars in almost all markets by 2040
  • The transition to 100% clean power globally by 2045.

However, the report finds that far more likely than the Required Policy Scenario is a set of actions it refers to as the Forecast Policy Scenario, which forecasts a “dramatic acceleration of climate policy is likely by the 2025 Paris Ratchet, which could result in warming being held to below 2°C”.

Under this scenario, rapid transformation of the energy industry will see usage of fossil fuels plummet by 60% by 2050, with demand for coal falling by 75% and oil demand dropping after the mid-2020s the PRI said.

The report serves as a stark reminder to policymakers ahead of the crunch COP26 talks in Glasgow.

Alex Bernhardt, global head of sustainability research at BNP Paribas AM, said: “Forward-looking scenarios are critical in a changing world. The discrepancy between the Forecast and Required Policy Scenarios reiterates the fact that we’re not going to get to 1.5°C without serious action: companies, investors and governments committed to achieving net zero by 2050 must accelerate their efforts now more than ever. That is the key message heading into COP26.”

The PRI’s Inevitable Policy Response (IPR) project conducted its ‘forecast policy scenario’ through reviewing 21 “major economies” and surveying more than 200 experts in national climate policy.

Despite carbon dioxide emission falling 80% by 2050 under the Forecast Policy Scenario, the planet has a one in two chance of restricting warming to 1.8°C, the PRI said.

Wind and solar power will make up over 30% of electricity generation by 2030, increasing to over 60% by 2050, the PRI said. “Seismic shifts” in transport will see production of vehicles powered by fossil fuels peak in 2025. The truck sector will transition more slowly but will still be almost fully decarbonised by 2050, the PRI said.

However, in industry the fall in emissions will be slower than in power and transport due to the higher costs involved – with emissions dropping by around 45% by 2050.

Land will become a net sink for carbon dioxide overall by 2050, absorbing one gigatonne of carbon dioxide annually, through the growth of nature-based solutions for environmental challenges and avoiding deforestation, the PRI said.

Some 400 million hectares of pasture and rangelands – an area about twice the size of Mexico – will be replaced with forests, cropland and nature-based solutions globally by 2050. Projects targeting “negative emissions” and avoiding deforestation will be worth $167 billion annually by 2050 with China having the highest deployment of nature-based solutions, the PRI suggested.

Between 2023 and 2025 the world will be at a “policy tipping point” following the ‘global stocktake’ in 2023, when the UN takes stock of the implementation of the Paris Agreement so far, and as countries prepare to submit their third round of climate pledges in 2025, the PRI said. Simultaneously, pressure on governments from investors and businesses will increase.

124 countries representing 70% of global GDP have made net-zero commitments so far, with 48% showing higher ambition than in 2019, the PRI said.

To have a chance of achieving a 1.5°C increase, “governments around the globe would need to pursue immediate policy action which directly intervenes in markets to set performance standards, including strict bans, to drive a step change in the energy system”, the PRI said.

“Failure to pursue such significant policy changes within the next two years would leave a significant ramping up of negative emissions technologies in the 2030s as a potential alternative to keep warming to 1.5°C.

“But given food and land use constraints, and the fact that many technologies are unproven at scale, pushing beyond the already forecasted acceleration in nature-based solutions would also require significant and urgent policy support.

“Policy acceleration in developing nations will be especially critical, reinforcing the importance of significantly increasing climate finance to developing countries and investing in the energy and land use transitions in these countries from both the public and private sector in the coming years,” the PRI said.

IPR is working with partners including BlackRock and BNP Paribas Asset Management to define which data elements are key for asset owners and managers for application in company and sector valuation models.

Fiona Reynolds, CEO of the PRI, said: IPR scenarios for investors encompass both the large-scale market shifts to come in carbon, energy and land use as well as invaluable granular analysis to help guide investment directions.

“The 2021 IPR forecasts signal to investors that they must focus on the transition, 2030 and net zero pathways and the investment opportunities emerging as policy makers respond to growing climate challenges.”

Ashley Schulten, head of ESG Investment, global fixed income at BlackRock said: “The detailed policy forecasts in this work help the market conceptualise the key changes that could occur in energy and land systems across the world if the forecasted climate policy acceleration occurs.”

The IPR forecast coincides with analysis of the climate policies of G20 countries from three investor groups. The G20 is failing to attract the necessary investment in climate solutions for a climate-resilient transition to a low-carbon economy, the Asia Investor Group on Climate Change, the Investor Group on Climate Change and Ceres said.

Argentina, Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia and Saudi Arabia are among the least attractive countries for green investment in the G20, the investor groups said. “G20 countries have significant work to do to ensure climate risk is effectively managed.”

Courtesy: Environmental Finance


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AGRIBUSINESS & AGRICULTURE

Sweet Sorghum offers Solutions in Drought-hit Southern Africa

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By Hamond Motsi

The southern African region is battling with drought at present. This is the result of El Niño, a natural climate cycle characterised by changes in Pacific Ocean temperatures. It has effects on global weather patterns, particularly rainfall and temperature.

The drought has hit the region’s agricultural productivity hard. MalawiZambia and Zimbabwe have declared a state of disaster with respect to their current agricultural outputs. They are seeking humanitarian assistance in the form of food aid to feed their people. The downturn also has economic implications, since over 70% of people residing in the region’s rural areas rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.

The dire situation underscores how important it is for the agricultural sector to prevent, avoid or prepare for the impacts of climate change, which will also bring extremes of weather.

One measure the sector can take is to cultivate biofuel crops. These are crops rich in starch, sugar or oils that can be converted into bioethanol directly or through a fermentation process. Bioethanol, a type of ethanol produced from biological or plant based sources, emits fewer greenhouse gases compared to fossil fuels like petroleum, natural gas and coal. Commonly used biofuel crops include sugarcane, maize, grain sorghum, sugar beet, rapeseeds and sunflower.

These conventional biofuel crops do have drawbacks, however. They are highly susceptible to extreme weather events. They require high upfront investment for fertilisers, chemicals and irrigation. And they compete with food production – if they’re grown as biofuels they can’t also be used as food because of how they have to be processed.

So, researchers are always on the lookout for crops that might be good biofuels without those problems. Sweet sorghum, which is indigenous to the African continent, is one such crop. Unlike the better-known sorghum, it has sweet juice in its stems. In a recent study, I reviewed scientific literature to analyse the potential significance of sweet sorghum to African farmers because of its multipurpose nature and ability to adapt under harsh climatic conditions.

Multiple uses

Sweet sorghum has many uses. It can produce grains, animal feed and sugary juice, making it unique among crops. The grains from sweet sorghum are prepared as steamed bread or porridge malt for traditional beer, as well as in commercial beer production across the continent.

They’re nutritionally rich, with high energy values (342 calories/100 g), proteins (10g/100 grains), carbohydrates (72.7g/100 grains), and fibre (2.2g/100 grains) as well as essential minerals such as potassium (44mg/100 grains), calcium (22mg/100 grains), sodium (8mg/100 grains) and iron (3.8mg/100 grains).

The nutritional value of maize is fairly similar: proteins (8.84g/100 grains), carbohydrates (71.88g/100 grains), fibre (2.1g/100 grains), potassium (286mg/100 grains), calcium (10mg/100 grains), sodium (15.9mg/100 grains) and iron (2.3mg/100 grains).

What sets sweet sorghum apart from a crop like maize is that it’s also resilient in arid climates and has multiple other uses. For instance, it produces a lot of plant material (biomass) as it grows, which is left over after harvest. That’s why it’s useful as animal feed too.

Animal feed is made from what remains once the sweet sorghum crop has been harvested and its grains and stem juice stripped off. The residue is high in nutritional content, which can improve the quality of diets of animals, including cattle. The grains can also be used for animal feed.

The sweet juice in the crop’s stalks is what’s used to create bioethanol. Sweet sorghum contains sucrose, glucose and fructose, which are essential for bioethanol production. Of the conventional biofuel crops I’ve mentioned, only sugarcane yields more ethanol. Studies in the United States have shown that sweet sorghum far outstrips maize when it comes to bioethanol production: it yields 8,102 litres per hectare planted, while maize yields just 4,209 litres per hectare.

Resilient

Perhaps most importantly given the southern African region’s current drought struggles, sweet sorghum is well-suited for cultivation in the sorts of adverse conditions that are typically challenging for conventional biofuel crops.

One of the key characteristics of sweet sorghum varieties is their drought resistance. It allows them to enter a dormant state during extended periods of dryness and resume growth afterwards. Research has shown that, under intense water scarcity conditions, sweet sorghum makes use of its stalk juice to supplement its plant needs.

Sweet sorghum’s ability to withstand low water and nitrogen inputs, as well as its tolerance for salinity and drought stress, makes it an ideal crop for farmers in arid regions. This is why it’s widely used in other parts of the world, including the USBrazil and China.

Investing in sweet sorghum

The continent’s current agriculture value chain is dominated by major crops like maize, wheat and rice, which all originate from outside Africa. Not enough attention is given to crops of African origin, like sweet sorghum, even though it is a multipurpose, hardy crop with great potential for farmers. People are more familiar with sorghum, not the sweet variety, and it is also under-researched.

Governments should be using their agriculture extension services to raise awareness among farmers and consumers about the benefits and practical applications of sweet sorghum in people’s diets.

Developing recipes and secondary or industrial products can enhance the feasibility and awareness of sweet sorghum farming. By investing in research and development, the full potential of sweet sorghum cultivation can be unlocked through governments and the private sector.

Hamond Motsi is a PhD Student in Agriscience, Stellenbosch University

Courtesy: The Conversation


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SUSTAINABILITY & CLIMATE CHANGE

Lithium Boom: Zimbabwe Looks to China to Secure a Place in the EV Battery Supply Chain

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Chinese investors have flocked to Zimbabwe to secure lithium supplies, promising local development. But analysts warn Zimbabwe needs more robust governance for communities to reap the benefits. Reports Andrew Mambondiyani

Wonder Mushove stared blankly at plumes of red dust billowing into the sky as more than 30 trucks carrying loads of lithium ore rumbled past his newly-built house in Buhera, in eastern Zimbabwe.

The trucks drive by Mukwasi village on the dirt road linking the Chinese-owned Sabi Star lithium mine to the tarred highway. They travel through the border town of Mutare to the port of Beira in neighbouring Mozambique. From there, the lithium-containing minerals are loaded onto ships and exported to China – the world’s largest manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries.

The dust hung in the air after the trucks’ passage. Mushove and his family were among dozens of households displaced by the $130million-mining project, which began operating in May. They were relocated to new houses built by the mining company about a kilometre from their old homes.

And yet, Mushove is hopeful the mine could “uplift the area and put it on the world map,” he told Climate Home News. For decades, the vast, hard-rock lithium deposits buried under his home were of little interest to foreign investors. Now, Chinese companies are paying a high price to access Zimbabwe’s reserves – the largest in Africa and among the largest in the world.

A lightweight metal with the ability to store lots of energy, lithium is critical for the manufacture of batteries for electric cars. Global efforts to move away from combustion-engine vehicles have pushed demand for the silvery metal, also known as “white gold”, to soar.

Chinese companies have flocked to Zimbabwe’s untapped reserves of high-grade lithium to shore up the country’s supplies, benefiting from the Southern African nation’s cheap labour and deregulated mining sector. In the past two years, Chinese companies invested over $1.4 billion acquiring lithium projects in Zimbabwe.

And more money is on its way. Last year, Chinese companies were awarded licenses that could see $2.79 billion in investment flow into the country, mostly in the mining and energy sectors. These investments could turn Zimbabwe into a key player in the global lithium-ion battery supply chain. Chinese battery manufacturing giant BYD could source some of its lithium from Zimbabwe, after buying a stake in the Chinese owners of the Sabi Star mine.

But Zimbabwe’s poor progress on establishing robust resource governance threatens to keep communities like Mushove’s from seeing any of the benefits, analysts told Climate Home.

While endowed with vast mineral wealth, Zimbabwe has so far failed to turn its underground riches, including diamonds and gold, into revenues for development. Regulatory gapshuman rights abusesillegal trade, and alleged corruption have all been barriers.

recent investigation by NGO Global Witness in Zimbabwe, Namibia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo found that there is a danger of history repeating itself with lithium mining without rigorous screening for corruption and social and environmental harms.

But Zimbabwe’s president Emmerson Mnangagwa is betting on the lithium rush to catapult the country into an upper-middle-income economy by 2030. To achieve this, Mnangagwa aspires to turn Zimbabwe into a battery manufacturing hub.

China’s lithium rush

China towers over the lithium-ion battery supply chain. But its own lithium resources are limited and it has sought to secure access to deposits overseas.

Isolated by the West and slapped with 20 years of sanctions because of human rights violations, Zimbabwe has turned towards China, now the country’s largest foreign investor.

Since the 1950s, China’s foreign policy has been guided by “five principles of peaceful co-existence“, including a commitment not to interfere in another country’s internal affairs. This principle, which encapsulates China’s approach, has set it apart from western investors.

Zimbabwe’s “opacity and disregard for human rights has made it cheap for the Chinese to exploit minerals” in the country, said James Mupfumi, director of the Centre for Research and Development, a local NGO advocating for accountability in the natural resource sector.

Zimbabwean law vests all mineral rights to the president. With no requirements to disclose the beneficial owners of mining projects, “there is no due diligence and parliamentary oversight on Chinese investments,” Mupfumi explained.

“Above all, Zimbabwe requires a government that prioritises public accountability of mineral wealth, not the self-enrichment of a few political elites,” he added.

The ministry of mines did not respond to a request for comment.


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SUSTAINABILITY & CLIMATE CHANGE

EARTH DAY 2024: Packaging Is the Biggest Driver of Global Plastics Use

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Earth Day, celebrated annually on April 22, marks a global commitment to environmental protection and sustainability. The first Earth Day took place in 1970, ignited by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, who aimed to raise awareness about environmental issues and mobilize action to address them. Since then, Earth Day has evolved into a worldwide movement, engaging millions of people across the globe in activities such as tree planting, clean-up campaigns and advocacy for environmental policies. Its organizer is EARTHDAY.ORG, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting environmental conservation and mobilizing communities to take action for a healthier planet.

The theme of this year’s Earth Day is “Planet vs. Plastics” – a theme chosen to raise awareness of the damage done by plastic to humans, animals and the planet and to promote policies aiming to reduce global plastic production by 60 percent by 2040.

As our chart shows, global plastics use has increased rapidly over the past few decades, growing 250 percent since 1990 to reach 460 million tonnes in 2019, according to the OECD’s Global Plastics Outlook, which projects another 67-percent increase in global plastics use by 2040 and for the world’s annual plastic use to exceed one billion tonnes by 2052. As our chart shows, packaging is the largest driver of global plastics use, which is why a rapid phasing out of all single use plastics by 2030 is one of the policy measures proposed under EARTHDAY.ORG’s 60X40 framework.

Other major applications of plastics include building and construction, transportation as well as textiles, with the fast fashion industry particularly guilty of adding to the world’s plastic footprint. “The fast fashion industry annually produces over 100 billion garments,” the Earth Day organizers write. “Overproduction and overconsumption have transformed the industry, leading to the disposability of fashion. People now buy 60 percent more clothing than 15 years ago, but each item is kept for only half as long.” Most importantly, the organization points out that 85 percent of disposed garments end up in landfills or incinerators, while just 1 percent are being recycled.

  1. Infographic: Packaging Is the Biggest Driver of Global Plastics Use | Statista

Felix Richter is a Data Journalist


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