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The race to mainstream electric vehicles by 2030 Katie Fehrenbacher Wed, 12/02/2020 - 00:30

The world's leading companies and policymakers are coalescing around setting targets for adopting zero-emission vehicles around a 2030 time frame.

The latest — and one of the most aggressive to come from a country leader — was issued a few weeks ago by U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who revealed a climate plan that includes banning the sales of new gas-powered vehicles starting in 2030 (some hybrids will be allowed until 2035). The U.K. accelerated its commitment to zero-emission vehicles from 2040 to 2035, and finally to just a decade away.

The U.K. isn't the only one. Denmark set the same goal — phase out new fossil fuel vehicle sales in 2030 — and world-leader Norway plans to make the switch in 2025. A couple months ago, in response to the California wildfires, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order that similarly called for a ban of new gas car sales, but starting in 2035. 

On the corporate front, 2030 is emerging as an appropriately aggressive but achievable goal. The Climate Group's EV100 program, which has 92 member companies that have pledged to buy EVs and install EV chargers, features the tagline: "Making electric transport the new normal by 2030."

Why is 2030 the year for EVs to become the "new normal"? Technology advances, for one.

Electric vehicles will begin to cost the same as their fossil fuel counterparts between 2025 and 2029, depending on the vehicle type.

The price of lithium-ion batteries, which power most mainstream EVs, has been dropping dramatically the past several years. Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) says that between 2010 and 2019, lithium-ion battery pack prices fell 87 percent. In 2019, they dropped 13 percent more. 

At that rate, electric vehicles will begin to cost the same as their fossil fuel counterparts between 2025 and 2029, depending on the vehicle type; just in time for these targets. Starting in 2030, BNEF predicts that 26 million EVs will be sold annually, representing 28 percent of the world's new cars sold. 

Because of these increasingly attractive battery economics, and increased competition from companies such as Tesla and Rivian, big automakers are accelerating their EV production plans. Pandemic-induced austerity has ed to the world's largest OEMs opting for EV investments over internal combustion ones. Last month, General Motors CEO Mary Barra announced an accelerated investment in its EV lineup, adding $7 billion from its initial plans announced earlier this year. 

Increasing concern over the climate crisis is also driving accelerated goals. Climate scientists urge that the planet only has until 2030 to stem the most catastrophic effects of climate change. The historic wildfires that struck California this year were the catalyst that led to Newsom's signing the executive order to ban new gas car sales. 

Meanwhile, as many policymakers and companies are unifying around a 2030 time frame, others are still looking at a much longer timescale of 2050. While far-out climate goals are better than no climate goals, 2050 is just too far off for zero-emission vehicles. EVs already will have tipped into the mainstream far, far sooner than three decades from now. 

If you're helping your organization set big zero-emission transportation goals, look no later than 2030. Goals to electrify fleets, install EV chargers and charging depots, and end gas car sales, are totally doable — and in fact necessary — over the next decade.

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Electric vehicles will begin to cost the same as their fossil fuel counterparts between 2025 and 2029, depending on the vehicle type.
Electric Vehicles
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EVs charging in New Delhi, India

Drivers charging their electric car at charging stations near government offices in New Delhi, India.

Pradeep Gaurs
Author: Katie Fehrenbacher
Posted: December 2, 2020, 8:30 am
Why investor Green Century has taken an active interest in fighting deforestation Julie Nash Wed, 12/02/2020 - 00:15

Jessye Waxman is a shareholder advocate at Green Century Capital Management, where she uses the environmentally responsible investment firm’s leverage as a shareholder to protect forests.

Ceres talked with Waxman about Green Century’s focus on deforestation and its growing importance as a driver of climate change. It comes as deforestation — and associated greenhouse gas emissions and climate impacts — are mounting in many regions of the world. What follows is a lightly edited interview.

The discussion is part of Investors Talk Deforestation, a series of interviews with influential investors and partner organizations who supported the development of the Ceres Investor Guide to Deforestation and Climate Change. The guide aims to engage investors on deforestation emissions and other related risks across their portfolios and drive more corporate action on the issue.

Julie Nash: Green Century has been engaging companies on deforestation risks for many years. When did this work begin and how has the firm’s strategy evolved over the years?

Jessye Waxman: We started working on deforestation in 2012. Initially, we focused on palm oil supply chains and urged companies to adopt no-deforestation policies. Eventually, we adopted a No Deforestation, No Peatland, No Exploitation (NDPE) framework. As we took a more comprehensive perspective of deforestation-related risks, we moved beyond palm oil to work on multiple forest risk commodities. In 2015, we really started focusing on a cross-commodity approach (that year we worked with [Archer Daniels Midland] to adopt a cross-commodity deforestation commitment, which was a first for the grain traders). In addition to continuing to work with new companies to adopt policies, we do a lot of work now to ensure companies update, improve and implement the policies they already adopted.

Nash: Why is deforestation an important issue on multiple fronts?

Waxman: Green Century is very focused on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues; so our investment strategy and shareholder engagement is driven by the evidence-backed conviction that companies that address ESG risks in their operations and supply chains may perform better in the long run. 

Deforestation touches on a lot of the environmental and social issues investors are concerned about. Among other impacts, deforestation drives systemic risks like climate change and biodiversity loss that affect not just companies in agricultural supply chains, but companies throughout portfolios. These two risks, in particular, have long-term impacts, but can best be solved in the near term, making it important for investors to talk to companies about now. 

Among other impacts, deforestation drives systemic risks like climate change and biodiversity loss that affect not just companies in agricultural supply chains, but companies throughout portfolios.

For example, the Amazon is hugely important for precipitation patterns and food systems, both locally and globally. There’s research showing how deforestation losses in the Amazon can affect agricultural productivity as far away as the American Midwest. 

Beyond these issues, deforestation has also been associated with problematic labor practices, ranging from withholding passports of migrant laborers to slave labor and child labor and land conflicts. 

Nash: Can you talk about specific successes Green Century has helped achieve?

Waxman: In the past year, we’ve seen encouraging progress from the world’s second-largest meat processor, Tyson Foods, and food service giant Aramark. 

After several years of pressure from shareholders, Tyson agreed last fall to undertake a comprehensive deforestation risk assessment focusing on its global supply chain for palm oil, soybeans, beef and timber and paper products. The results of the assessment will drive the company’s development of a Forest Protection Policy. The company still has a long way to go, but this is an important first step.

We were also encouraged by Aramark’s commitment to develop and fully implement a no-deforestation policy across its global supply chain, including legal deforestation, by 2025.

Nash: You briefly mentioned the greenhouse emissions associated with deforestation. A big ask to companies in recent years has been the setting of science-based targets (SBTs) for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and having those targets approved by the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi). Can you speak to the importance of engaging companies to set a SBT, and why this can be challenging with regards to emissions from deforestation?

Waxman: Science-based targets are a really helpful tool for companies to understand the climate-related impact of their operations and supply chains. But we also need to realize that when you’re talking to a company about how they’re addressing their environmental- and climate-related impacts, setting a science-based target, at this point, certainly doesn’t cover everything.

For many companies that use forest risk commodities, an outsized portion of their emissions come from their supply chain and from the emissions released when those commodities are produced. This means that any associated emissions would fall under Scope 3.

[Scope 1 emissions are from sources owned or controlled by the company. Scope 2 are emissions released in generating electricity, heating or cooling used by a company. Scope 3 are other indirect emissions from a company’s supply chain. For most companies, emissions from agricultural production, deforestation and conversion fall under Scope 3.] 

A lot of companies that should be looking much more closely at their supply chains and upstream impacts may not be required to have a target to reduce those emissions.

Currently, SBTi only requires approved targets to include Scope 3 emissions if those emissions are in excess of 40 percent of the company’s total emissions. Beyond that, as of now, SBTi doesn’t have a methodology for measuring emissions associated with deforestation and land-use change in its supply chains, so the vast majority of companies that have set science-based targets are failing to include a significant part of their emissions in their goal setting. In other words, a lot of companies that should be looking much more closely at their supply chains and upstream impacts may not be required to have a target to reduce those emissions, and may therefore be less motivated to address their suppliers’ exposure to deforestation and other agricultural practices.

Nash: Do you think the way investors are thinking about issues like deforestation and climate change is evolving?

Waxman: There’s certainly a growing awareness among investors about deforestation as a climate risk. In the past, agriculture’s role in driving climate change has often been overlooked, with a lot of the focus being on the energy and transportation sectors. But, as the new Ceres Guide clearly illustrates, a firm can’t say that it is comprehensively addressing climate risk if it’s not also addressing agriculture and deforestation.

A recent shareholder vote at Procter & Gamble (P&G) suggests that not only is awareness growing among investors, but investors might finally engage on the issue. The shareholder resolution on deforestation and forest degradation that Green Century filed with P&G received the support of 67 percent of the votes cast at its annual meeting. This is almost three times what other deforestation resolutions have averaged over the last few years, so I’m hopeful this might signal a turning point for how the financial community approaches forest-related risks. 

Nash: Related to Scope 3 emissions and supply chains, are smallholder producers something you’re focusing more attention on?

Waxman: Yes. The smallholder conversation is especially relevant in palm oil supply chains where considerable supplies — as much as 40 percent — are coming from farmers who own small amounts of land. As market expectations regarding sustainability have shifted, many larger producers have started to improve some of their practices to meet these heightened expectations. Subsequently, smallholders are becoming bigger drivers, proportionately, of deforestation in the palm oil supply chain. Both from an ecological perspective and sustainable development perspective, working to incorporate smallholders into sustainable supply chains is really important.

In part due to increasing pressure from investors and other stakeholders, we’ve seen more companies working directly with smallholders, including efforts to get groups of smallholders certified by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Kellogg’s is one such company that is helping thousands of smallholder farmers, many of them women and many of them palm oil growers in Malaysia and Indonesia, on these kinds of issues. 

Nash: Are there other ways that investors should be thinking about deforestation risks that we have missed?

Waxman: It’s important for investors to recognize that deforestation, like climate change, poses risks at both the company-specific and portfolio level. 

Climate change and its associated physical and transition risks may affect every industry and every company. Similarly, deforestation also creates portfolio-level risks, in part because of its large contribution to climate change, but also because of its impacts on global agriculture and biodiversity. 

When we talk to companies about risks in their supply chains, the solutions need to not only address the risks to the companies but also help advance systemic change. Removing deforestation out of one company’s supply chain only to have it appear in a different company’s supply chain doesn’t help the problem. As long as deforestation is still occurring, the risks to companies, industries, investors and the environment persist.

The good news is that because many people have been working on deforestation for a long time, there are best practices out there, such as those outlined in Part 5 of the Ceres Guide, that are recognized as helping to comprehensively mitigate risks from deforestation. As investors engage with companies, they should look not just at how a company is managing these risks at a high level, but whether it is implementing recognized best practices that help advance systemic changes in their industry.

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Among other impacts, deforestation drives systemic risks like climate change and biodiversity loss that affect not just companies in agricultural supply chains, but companies throughout portfolios.
A lot of companies that should be looking much more closely at their supply chains and upstream impacts may not be required to have a target to reduce those emissions.
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Palm oil plantation showing deforestation in Southeast Asia.
A palm oil plantation in Southeast Asia.
Rich Carey
Author: Julie Nash
Posted: December 2, 2020, 8:15 am
Can big data, AI and chemical footprinting help the renewable energy sector avoid a toxic waste legacy? Krishna Rajan Tue, 12/01/2020 - 01:00

The launch of the digital economy has brought with it an expansion of disruptive technologies such as predictive analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics that are readily being used to transform the marketplace. But can we also use these breakthrough technologies to accelerate the development of safer, more sustainable materials for the renewable energy sector? 

Starting with one of the fastest-growing clean energy sectors, solar technology, this is the fundamental question that a unique collaboratory is asking itself.

Three years ago, the Department of Materials Design and Innovation at the University at Buffalo, Clean Production Action (CPA) and Niagara Share created the Collaboratory for a Regenerative Economy (CoRE). CoRE recognizes the critical societal importance of scaling clean energy technologies such as solar to address the climate crisis. But to do this sustainably, we need to collectively scale solutions to reduce the use of toxic chemicals and scarce, unrecyclable materials that impede circular economies. 

Issues such as toxicity and environmental impact are often an afterthought in the design phase, which is predominantly focused on improving the technical functions and efficiencies of materials. With more than 78 million tons of contaminated waste related to solar panels expected to hit landfills by 2050, this trend needs to be reversed.

To improve the life-cycle footprint of solar panels, big data tools can help manufacturers embed human health and environmental criteria into the front end of the design phase of materials and products.

We need to collectively scale solutions to reduce the use of toxic chemicals and scarce, unrecyclable materials that impede circular economies.

In a recently released report, "Elements of Change: Moving forward together towards a cleaner safer future," CoRE outlines strategies for renewable energy companies to:

  • Reduce chemical footprints of products, supply chains and manufacturing;
  • Apply machine learning to design techniques for lead-free panels; and 
  • Use big data tools to rapidly characterize chemicals and identify safer solvents.

Safely meet demand for renewable energy technologies

Solar energy, along with other clean energy technologies, depends on hazardous chemicals and novel materials to reduce costs and optimize efficiencies. Some of these chemistries are unsafe for the environment and human health.

For example, solar energy technologies rely on toxic materials such as lead in solar cells and hydrofluoric acid used in manufacturing processes. This is especially harmful for workers exposed to hazardous chemicals throughout the life cycle of renewable energy technologies from production to disposal.

The solar energy sector is not alone with this major challenge. More than 2,780,000 workers die globally annually from unsafe and unhealthy work conditions, according to the International Labor Organization. The United Nations Human Rights Commission estimated that a worker dies at least every 30 seconds from exposure to toxic industrial chemicals, pesticides, dust, radiation and other hazardous substances. 

CPA's work with the electronics sector to driver safer chemical is applicable to the solar sector and all clean energy technologies. For example, HP, Inc is a leader in its work to reduce its chemical footprint, documented by its participation in the annual Chemical Footprint Survey. This survey measures a company’s chemical footprint against best practices. It is modeled on the Carbon Disclosure Project, and is open and transparent, providing solar companies with a roadmap to safer chemical use.

Apple uses CPA’s GreenScreen to provide guidance to its suppliers on safer substitution of hazardous chemicals used as cleaners and degreasers in its supply chain. GreenScreen is a leading hazard assessment tool that benchmarks chemicals based on performance across 18 human health and environmental end points. Solar companies can use this tool to identify safer solutions to problematic materials such as hydrofluoric acid. 

These leading electronic companies even have teamed up with nonprofits such as CPA and academics to form the Clean Electronic Production Network (CEPN), which aims to eliminate exposure to toxic substances in the workplace.

This is a massive undertaking related to the manufacturing of computers, electronics and other information technologies. Solar manufacturers work off a similar manufacturing platform that stands to benefit from the tools and resources that CEPN is creating to do full chemical inventories and safer substitution with suppliers.

Solar companies today can adapt CEPN tools and strategies, proven effective by electronic companies, and make meaningful progress towards safer chemical use. But there remains a major challenge for all these companies, notably solar — the time it takes to discover new materials relative to their growth projections. This is where CoRE believes AI, machine learning and predictive analytics can play a role in accelerating the process of material discovery to the benefit of human health and the environment as well as optimized technical performance. 

Using big data and AI to accelerate material discovery 

The development of high-performance materials typically takes decades, sometimes up to 30 years to commercialize a new material. Big data tools can organize the large volumes of disaggregated information companies need to improve the technical, environmental and social performance of materials. Solar companies that participate annually in the CPA Chemical Footprint Survey to measure their chemical footprint and track their performance against best practices, can leverage these tools to map patterns and impacts necessary for decisionmaking and prioritization.

For example, the use of lead in solar panels is problematic in the production and disposal of these products. Electronics companies have shown it is possible to design lead-free electronic products, but solar companies are still very dependent on lead-based technologies. This is true even with the next generation of solar panels — for example, perovskite-based solar panels show the potential to increase the efficiency of panels, but their chemistry is dependent on lead.

Rational design is a process that bypasses trial-and-error approaches and creates new materials based on a predictive understanding of the fundamental science governing materials performance.

CoRE has demonstrated that "data fingerprints" can provide a powerful representation of the characteristics of perovskite crystal chemistry. This is key to overcoming the barriers to safer substitution for toxic elements such as lead. 

Data-driven screening tools and machine learning methods can help navigate the complexity of information associated with new and emerging chemicals used in the manufacture of solar devices. This includes harnessing advanced materials modeling and informatics techniques to identify pathways for the rational design of new materials chemistries for renewable technologies (solar energy) that minimize adverse environmental and human health impacts without compromising functionality.

Rational design is a process that bypasses trial-and-error approaches and creates new materials based on a predictive understanding of the fundamental science governing materials performance. Searching for the proper chemistry of materials that meet multiple functionality metrics of minimal hazard and enhanced engineering performance requires us to explore a chemical search space that is prohibitively too large to explore and make critical discoveries within a reasonable time frame using traditional methods.

CoRE seeks to address this challenge by applying materials informatics and physics-based modeling to fill the gaps in scientific knowledge, which then guides accelerated materials discovery and design for solar technologies. At CoRE, our goal is to gain a greater understanding of how atomic-scale changes in chemistry have a multiscale influence on materials manufacturing, performance and sustainability of solar cells. 

The European Commission recently announced a new chemical strategy for its Green New Deal that promises a non-toxic future for its citizens and a plan for zero pollution. The plan includes new investments for green and safer material innovation. This policy will stimulate demand for greener, safer products; putting pressure on renewable energy companies to think more holistically about their lifecycle impacts.

By building on best practices established widely in the electronics sector and leveraging the untapped benefits of AI and big data, solar companies can lead the way for the renewable energy sector in transforming their chemical footprints and accelerating the adoption of safer materials.  

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We need to collectively scale solutions to reduce the use of toxic chemicals and scarce, unrecyclable materials that impede circular economies.
Rational design is a process that bypasses trial-and-error approaches and creates new materials based on a predictive understanding of the fundamental science governing materials performance.
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solar panel manufacturing in a factory
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A new policy platform is thinking big on forests and climate Kylie Clay Tue, 12/01/2020 - 00:30

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has sent a clear message: to keep catastrophic climate change impacts at bay, we need to keep our warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, and the land sector must play a central role in achieving that. We need to stop emissions from deforestation and forest degradation while simultaneously bolstering the carbon sequestration capacity of healthy, growing forests.

Following the recent U.S. presidential election, the Forest-Climate Working Group (FCWG) released an ambitious federal policy platform, endorsed by 43 CEOs and organizations representing all dimensions of U.S. forests, intended to help Congress leverage forests for climate change action. The platform includes five detailed proposals that guide policymakers on how to help private forest owners and public land managers overcome existing financial and technical obstacles, enabling them to grow powerful climate solutions in America’s forests and forest product sectors while delivering myriad environmental and economic benefits.

Together, the proposals advance the four FCWG goals for climate change mitigation:

  • Maintain and expand forest cover.
  • Improve forest practices for carbon, adaptation and resilience.
  • Advance markets for forest carbon, forest products and skilled labor.
  • Enhance climate data and applied science.

Changing priorities

Our newly elected leadership is on board with climate action. A crucial component of any carbon-neutral or net-zero plan is offsetting any continued emissions with additional sequestration from natural and working lands, including forests.

The threat climate change presents to our well-being is becoming increasingly undeniable, and the need and desire to take impactful action is within reach.

In her vice-presidential debate, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris recognized climate change as an "existential threat" and stated that, under a Biden administration, the U.S. would be "carbon-neutral by 2035." President-elect Joe Biden’s official campaign climate plan highlights the next step: achieving "net-zero emissions no later than 2050."

To ensure these targets are within reach, FCWG proposals address the following challenges:  

Ideas into action

With the following specific proposals, the FCWG aims to address the aforementioned challenges and, in so doing, increase the climate change mitigation potential from forests and forest products:

  • Create a new forest conservation easement program. Conservation easements are an important voluntary option for forest landowners to keep their forests as forests. This proposal would meet growing demand for easements by creating a new funding source.
  • Create a landowner tax credit for private forest carbon actions. This policy would create opportunities for private landowners to gain financial incentive for activities that increase carbon sequestration via a transferrable tax credit.
  • Remove the cap on the Reforestation Trust Fund. The outdated cap has left a reforestation backlog of millions of acres, particularly in areas affected by large-scale disturbance from pests or fire. Removing the outdated cap will provide the U.S. Forest Service with increased annual funding to improve national forest health and assure these lands can quickly restart carbon sequestration.
  • Create a low carbon footprint building tax credit. Wood products store carbon and require less energy to manufacture than other materials, reducing the carbon footprint of the built environment. Providing a tax incentive to build with low carbon footprint materials will create incentives to reduce the carbon footprint of the built environment while creating market demand that helps landowners keep forests as forests.
  • Expand Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) Program funding. More frequent and consistent forest measurement data coupled with better analysis capabilities will deepen our understanding of forest carbon. Expanding the U.S. Forest Service’s FIA Program, already a globally recognized source of forest carbon data, will provide more comprehensive and granular data.

These proposals are necessary steps toward meaningfully combatting climate change. Richard Kobe, Michigan State University Forestry Department chair, says of the platform:  

"The FCWG policy platform is right on target by supporting investments in our forests, landowners and research capacity. These elements are critical to ensure our forests are effective carbon sinks and are resilient to climate change, which in turn supports economic vitality of rural communities, clean water, wildlife and the many other benefits that forests provide."

Uptake and implementation

The FCWG policy platform lays out a roadmap of tangible steps to ensure that our forests are part of the climate solution. As the 117th U.S. Congress prepares to undertake a range of legislation, climate inevitably will play a dominant role.

The threat climate change presents to our well-being is becoming increasingly undeniable, and the need and desire to take impactful action is within reach. A host of recent bipartisan bills (such as the Growing Climate Solutions Act and Rural Forests Market Act proposals) highlight that being proactive about the environmental and economic potential of our natural and working lands, including forestry and agriculture, is of great interest on both sides of the aisle.

The MSU Forest Carbon and Climate Program (FCCP) aims to increase understanding and implementation of climate-smart forest management, which inextricably links climate change mitigation and adaptation. The program focuses on activities that advance best practice implementation, promote robust and inter-disciplinary understanding of forest benefits and co-benefits, and develop and nurture balanced perspectives that include working forests and forest products as a part of the climate change solution. These objectives are achieved through working with strategic partners to better communicate and bring attention to key topics, create educational content and programming, and bridge dialogue gaps on carbon and climate topics related to forests and forested lands.

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The threat climate change presents to our well-being is becoming increasingly undeniable, and the need and desire to take impactful action is within reach.
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Author: Kylie Clay
Posted: December 1, 2020, 8:30 am
Collaborating with the ocean is essential to addressing climate change and environmental justice

"The potential for the “blue economy” — one that combines more thoughtful stewardship of the ocean’s resources and economic opportunity with a more pragmatic, respectful approach to protecting coastal ecosystems — is vast. But with more than $1.5 trillion in annual economic value linked to ocean-based activities, the time is right to place the world’s seas at the center of a climate-centric post-pandemic recovery. This discussion will center on the role ocean solutions can play in addressing both climate change and systemic environmental justice issues.

This session was held at GreenBiz Group’s VERGE 20, October 26-30, 2020. Learn more about the event here:


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YanniGuo Mon, 11/09/2020 - 17:01
Author: YanniGuo
Posted: November 10, 2020, 1:01 am