Safeguarding Economy And Earth, 3 Major Sectors Lead To A Fall

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  • The war in Ukraine has triggered an energy and resource crisis.
  • Without such steps, governments seeking to increase or subsidize domestic supplies of gas and oil, or to burn coal or ship in liquid natural gas (LNG), might slow the fuel-price spiral in the near term.
  • Allocating floor space more efficiently can also save on materials and gas.

With the correct policy assistance, global dependency on Russian gas, oil, and coal may be reduced by 20–60% and greenhouse gas emissions reduced by 2.9% in a year as reported by Nature.

War in Ukraine 

The war in Ukraine has triggered an energy and resource crisis.

Russian exports account for 3.6% of coal, 7.0% of natural gas and 5.8% of oil consumption globally.

Prices are soaring and gas and oil are running short.

And, crucially, how can they do so while addressing climate change?

Designed and implemented with care, and backed by policy, such measures can lower future greenhouse-gas emissions and climate risks, as well as reduce reliance on Russian exports today.

Some measures can be implemented straight away, such as banning cars from city centres.

Transport

The following 5 measures might, within one year, replace 60% of global oil imports from Russia (4.7 million barrels per day in 2021) and cut the transport sector’s greenhouse-gas emissions by 4%. 

One, encourage telecommuting. During COVID-19 lockdowns, when those who could work from home did so, greenhouse-gas emissions from land-based transport fell by 40% globally. Other benefits include time saved through not being stuck in traffic, a better work-life balance, fewer sick days and more freedom.

Two, reduce speed limits. Energy consumption increases with the square of speed. Globally, lowering speed limits for cars and heavy trucks by 10 km h-1 would save 430 thousand barrels of oil products per day, equivalent to Pakistan’s oil consumption. It would also improve traffic safety. 

Three, ban cars from inner cities. Pontevedra in Spain and Ghent in Belgium have done so; Paris plans to; Berlin is considering it. Such a ban also lowers air pollution and noise and revives the social nature of streets as meeting places. Restrictions, such as car-free Sundays, encourage residents to try living without cars. Implementing such measures across advanced economies could save another 82 MtCO2e per year.

Four, adapt streets for safe cycling. Safe bicycle lanes, separated from traffic, should be expanded. Some cities tried this during the pandemic. For example, Bogotá created 84 km of temporary bicycle lanes using traffic cones. This increased the city’s share of trips made by bicycle from 9% in 2020 to 13% in early 2021. One analysis of pop-up bicycle infrastructure in 2020 in 106 European cities found that extending bike lanes by 12 km per city, on average, increased the number of cycling trips by 11–48%. Emissions from urban transport fell by between 0.34% and 1.87% as a result.

Five, replace short-haul flights with teleconferencing or train travel. During COVID-19 lockdowns, daily flight numbers fell by up to three-quarters. France has banned domestic flights on routes that can be travelled by train in less than 2.5 hours, amounting to 12% of services. In advanced economies, avoiding business air travel or replacing it with trains would save about 41 MtCO2e per year, or about 300,000 barrels of oil per day. In academia, relocating conferences, increasing virtual participation and holding meetings every two years rather than annually could slash travel emissions by more than 90%.

Social equity is an essential consideration — transport is the sector with the highest inequality in greenhouse-gas emissions. Low-income households, most of which neither have a car nor fly regularly, would hardly be impacted by bans. However, a small proportion (5–9%) of citizens in high-income countries rely on cars yet have low incomes. Policies to support them include targeted subsidies, zero-carbon shared-car and e-bike schemes, and paying climate dividends to all (see below).

Buildings

Heating accounts for one-quarter of total energy demand in buildings (see SI).

Turning thermostats down by 2 °C in countries that are major importers of Russian gas, such as Germany, could save 32 billion cubic metres of gas annually (20 b.c.m.

Behavioural interventions, such as visual prompts from ‘smart’ electricity meters, can encourage households to use less energy.

Saving electricity has an immediate impact on fossil-fuel emissions and imports.

More efficient use of industrial products can also reduce dependency on gas.

Refurbishing old buildings or reusing parts of them is better than demolishing them to construct new ones.

Food

Russia and Ukraine are responsible for more than one-third of the world’s cereal exports, mostly barley, wheat and maize.

And Belarus and Russia are major exporters of fertilizer.

Yet only 12% of the calories in feed end up as human-food calories.

Rearing fewer animals would also lower emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Some analysts project that taxing food at US$52 per tonne of CO2 emitted would reduce emissions from the agricultural sector by 9% by incentivizing farmers to use less nitrogen fertilizer, for example.

Prices for emissions-intensive food, mostly meat, could increase by 15–40%.

Those for fruits and vegetables would rise less, by less than 3%.

Yet, even small price rises risk lowering access to nutrition in some parts of the world.

The impacts of carbon taxes could be reduced by lowering value-added taxes on plant-based foods.

In the long run, dietary shifts from animal protein to vegan food, and cutting food waste would, by 2050, reduce fertilizer input and emissions from agriculture by 40% compared with current national policies.

Overcoming obstacles

All the above actions would save up to 1,700 MtCO2e, or 2.9% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

In my view, climate dividends — a lump-sum transfer of several hundred dollars per year for each citizen to alleviate the burden of higher energy costs — would align climate action with social equity better than a patchwork of subsidies.

Inertia and economic and political interests are the greatest barriers to change.

Governments and others must send firm signals that the fossil-fuel industry is in decline.

Revenue can be redirected to finance energy and mobility transitions, for example by taxing windfall profits of fossil-fuel companies.

But surveys show considerable public support for demand-led measures.

 

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Source: Nature

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