Thursday, November 19, 2020

To limit global warming, the global food system must be revised

The basic claim here depends mainly on continued population growth. More people will eat more which will require more farmed goods.

But that is an unlikely assumption. Population in the developed world is shrinking and the less developed world eats less and used simple food sources such as rice. It is not at all clear that the demand for food will increase overall

If we stopped burning all fossil fuels this minute, would that be enough to keep a lid on global warming?

Acording to UC Santa Barbara ecology professor David Tilman, petroleum energy sources are only part of the picture. In a paper published in the journal Science, Tilman and colleagues predict that even in the absence of fossil fuels, cumulative greenhouse gas emissions could still cause global temperatures to exceed climate change targets in just a few decades.

The source? Our food system.

"Global food demand and the greenhouse gases associated with it are on a trajectory to push the world past the one-and-a-half degree goal, and make it hard to stay under the two degree limit," said Tilman, who holds a dual appointment at UCSB's Bren School of Environmental Science & Management and at the University of Minnesota. The world's growing population as well as its diet are driving food production practices that generate and release massive and increasing amounts of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. According to the paper, left unchecked, agricultural emissions alone could exceed the 1.5°C limit by about 2050.

These findings are especially concerning given that we haven't stopped using fossil fuels, Tilman said. And with a 1°C average increase in global temperature since 1880, we've got only a slim margin before global warming results in widespread sea level rise, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss and other effects that will change life as we know it.

"All it would take for us to exceed the two degree warming limit is for food emissions to remain on their path and one additional year of current fossil fuel emissions," Tilman said. "And I guarantee you, we're not going to stop fossil fuel emissions in a year."

Reducing the emissions from food production, "will likely be essential" to keeping the planet livable in its current state, according to the scientists.

Seeds of Solutions

"It's well known that agriculture releases about 30% of all greenhouse gases," Tilman said. Major sources include deforestation and land clearing, fertilizer overuse and gassy livestock, all of which are increasing as the global population increases. In "high-yield" countries such as the U.S., which have the benefit of large scale modern agriculture, intensive animal farming and heavy-handed fertilizer use are major contributors of greenhouse gases. Meanwhile, in "low yield" countries such as those in sub-Saharan Africa, population growth and increasing affluence are driving demand for more food, and toward more "urban" diets that are richer in meat and meat products, Tilman explained.

"Their demand for food is going up, but the farmers don't have the resources to have high yields, so they just clear more and more land," he said.

And yet, it isn't as though we can just stop producing food, which is perhaps the main reason why agricultural emissions have received less attention than fossil fuels as a target for reduction, according to the researchers.

"You can't look at agriculture as if we can somehow get rid of it," said Tilman, whose research focuses on the environmental impacts of agriculture, as well as the links between diet, environment and health. "We need it; it's essential for society."

But, according to the paper's authors, global warming does not have to be an unavoidable impact of feeding the the world. Through early and widespread adoption of several feasible food system strategies, it is possible to limit emissions from agriculture in a way that keeps us from exceeding the 2°C limit by the end of the century while feeding a growing population.

The most effective, according to the paper, is a switch toward more plant-rich diets, which aren't just healthier overall, but also reduce the demand for beef and other ruminant meats. That, in turn, reduces the pressure to clear for grazing land or produce the grains and grasses (more farming, more fertilizer) required to feed them.

"We're not saying these diets have to be vegetarian or vegan," Tilman said. Widespread reduction of red meat consumption to once a week and having protein come from other sources such as chicken or fish, while increasing fruits and vegetables, in conjunction with decreasing fossil fuel use, could help keep the planet livably cool in the long run.

Another strategy: ease up on fertilizer.

"Many countries have high yields because from 1960 until now they have been using more and more fertilizer," he said. "But recent research has shown that almost all of these countries are actually using much more than they need to attain the yield they have." A drop of roughly 30% in fertilizer use would not only save the farmer money for the same yield, it prevents the release of nitrous oxide that occurs when excess fertilizer goes unused.

"About 40% of all future climate warming from agriculture may come from nitrous oxide from fertilizer," Tilman added. "So adding the right amount of fertilizer has a large benefit for climate change and would save farmers money."

Other strategies the researchers explored included adjusting global per capita calorie consumption to healthy levels; improving yields to help meet demand where it may reduce the pressure to clear more land; and reducing food waste by half.

"The nice thing is that we can do each of these things sort of halfway and still solve the problem," Tilman said. The sooner we employ these strategies, the closer we can get to keeping the Earth cool and avoiding the wholesale changes we would have to adopt if we wait too much longer, he added.

"I'm optimistic," he said. "We have a viable path for achieving global environmental sustainability and better lives for all of us."

Boris Johnson’s 10-point climate plan: key details remain unclear

A big financial boost for tackling emissions in Britain’s homes and electric cars, and a ban on the sale of new petrol vehicles by 2030. These are among the more exciting elements of Boris Johnson’s new 10-point climate plan, the first details of which were set out this evening.

However, environmental analysts and campaigners said that key “gaps remain” in Mr Johnson’s new plan, which is aimed at marking “the beginning of the UK’s path to net zero” ahead of its role as host of next year’s UN climate talks, according to the government.

“Although this year has taken a very different path to the one we expected, I haven’t lost sight of our ambitious plans to level up across the country,” the prime minister said this evening.

“My 10-point plan will create, support and protect hundreds of thousands of green jobs, whilst making strides towards net zero by 2050.”

Mr Johnson repeated a pledge made in October to produce enough offshore wind to power every home by 2030.

He also confirmed earlier reports that the UK will end the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030. This is 10 years earlier than previously planned. In addition, the government is to end the sale of hybrid cars by 2035.

The 2030 pledge puts the UK ahead of France and Spain and in line with Ireland and the Netherlands. The only country with a more ambitious target is Norway, which plans to end the sale of new petrol vehicles by 2025.

“As the second largest car market in Europe, an early UK phase-out date will cause ripples well beyond our national borders,” said Dr Jonathan Marshall, head of analysis at the non-profit Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU).

“With the majority of the two-million-plus cars sold in Britain being imported, a strong signal to the market will likely catalyse action elsewhere – an essential signal ahead of COP26.”

The government pledged £1.3bn towards improving the infrastructure for electric cars in the UK. Wider adoption of electric cars in the coming decades will be key to reducing emissions from transport, one of the UK’s most polluting sectors.

“Now we need to ensure the funding for charging infrastructure is used effectively to roll it out right across the UK, along with mandates for manufacturers to ramp up electric vehicle production, and support workers to retrain and reskill,” said Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK.

Mr Johnson also pledged £1bn towards improving the energy efficiency of Britain’s homes.

Homes currently account for around 15 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions largely come from the use of oil and gas for heating. Improving home insulation and pursuing new technologies for heating could go some step towards reducing emissions from homes.

“Strong support for cleaning up transport, industry and home heating – areas long ignored by the government – will help deliver on the urgent need to cut emissions shared by people in all corners of the UK,” said Dr Marshall.

He also pledged an additional £200m of new funding to help the UK create two “carbon capture clusters” by the mid-2020s. These developments are a new type of infrastructure aimed at helping the UK to develop carbon capture and storage, a still-emerging technology that could help to reduce emissions by removing CO2 directly from air.

“Carbon capture clusters will help us to decarbonise industries such as cement, chemicals, oil refining and iron and steel,” Dr Nem Vaughan, a senior lecturer in climate change at the University of East Anglia, told The Independent.

“This infrastructure is also an essential part of greenhouse gas removal technologies such as direct air capture. Greenhouse gas removal technologies, along with establishing more woodlands and changing how we manage our land, are likely to be needed to compensate for difficult to decarbonise sectors like agriculture and aviation.”

However, there are noticeable gaps in Mr Johnson’s plan. It does not mention any new measures to boost onshore wind or solar, renewable sources of electricity which could play a key role in reducing emissions from the power sector in the coming decades.

“Onshore wind and solar energy remain unsupported,” said Dr Marshall.

In addition, “nature” only gets a brief mention in Mr Johnson’s new plan. Mr Johnson said he would “protect and restore our natural environment” by planting 30,000 hectares of trees every year.

However, this is a repeat of a pledge he first made in his election campaign in 2019. It has since been repeated by the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, in his March budget.

“Investing in locking up carbon by restoring habitats such as peatlands must be a top priority and receive substantially more investment than that already committed,” said Beccy Speight, chief executive of the RSPB.

Mr Johnson also committed £525m to “help develop large and smaller-scale nuclear plants”. Speaking to The Independent last week, researchers said any new large nuclear projects approved in the UK could come at a high cost and may take years to deliver low-carbon electricity.

“At the moment, the timescales of developing new nuclear power are still very long for the large reactors,” Professor Jim Watson, an energy systems and policy researcher at University College London, told The Independent.

“So any new stations Boris Johnson might announce from now on are not going to generate electricity until the end of this decade at the earliest.”

Mr Johnson’s new climate plan also makes mentions of technologies that are yet to be proven at a commercial level. Mr Johnson said he would invest in “supporting difficult-to-decarbonise industries to become greener through research projects for zero-emission planes”.

He has previously faced criticism for making “unrealistic” claims about electric air travel, which is still in its infancy and yet to be commercially proven.

In addition, Mr Johnson pledged £20m “for a competition to develop clean maritime technology”.

However, earlier today, the UK was among countries to vote to allow carbon emissions from the shipping sector to keep rising for another decade. On Tuesday afternoon, the UK voted to approve an amendment to weaken short-term emissions rules for ships at virtual talks held by the UN’s International Maritime Organisation.

John Maggs, president of the clean shipping coalition, told The Independent: “Why on the same day as it announces a 10-point climate plan that includes the maritime industry, did the UK vote in favour of a proposal at IMO that allows CO2 emissions from the shipping industry to keep rising for the next decade?”

The secret club for billionaires who care about climate change

A few years ago, the hundreds of members of France’s Mulliez family, with a global retail empire worth more than $38 billion, decided they should take climate change more seriously — or rather, their investment portfolio should.

But where to start? Climate change and the fight against it could transform almost every sector of the economy as companies clamor for ways to cut emissions and even pull carbon dioxide from the air. “This space is very broad, and it’s complicated,” says Delphine Descamps, managing director at Creadev, the Mulliez family office, which has about €200 million ($236 million) to invest each year.

Then she met Regine Clement, the head of a small, secretive nonprofit called Creo Syndicate. An exclusive club of climate-focused investors, Creo’s mission is to speed up the flow of capital into investments that can slow global warming. The group focuses on the richest of the rich, working with about 200 families and investment outfits with a total of more than $800 billion under management. Prominent members include legendary investor Jeremy Grantham and Nat Simons, the son of Renaissance Technologies’ billionaire founder James Simons. Members must pay dues — a “very reasonable” flat fee, Clement says, that makes up about half the nonprofit’s revenue — and they must prove they’re serious by planning to make their first investment in climate and sustainability within six months. Members must also have assets of at least $100 million and get approved by the nonprofit’s board.

When the Mulliez family joined, its staff met with experts, experienced climate-focused investors, and other family offices, who were surprisingly candid about what they’d learned. At online seminars and in-person meetings with carefully selected groups, often with fewer than 20 people, they discussed innovations in agriculture and other areas that may cut emissions while feeding a growing population. “People openly talk about their investments and what worked and what didn’t work,” she says.

Although it’s a nonprofit and doesn’t have any money of its own to deploy, Creo acts a little like an investment bank, vetting about 300 deals per year, connecting investors with possible partners, and conducting research on technologies. Members have invested in everything from batteries and hydrogen fuel to regenerative farmland and greener product packaging. Portfolios include still unproven technologies such as methods for carbon capture and true long shots like fusion reactors.

Creo members make a wide variety of bets that might make a difference — and make money. “This is not philanthropy, this is investment,” Clement says. Superwealthy families, she says, have an advantage over other players: Managing money for future generations, they can afford to wait a decade or more for investments to bear fruit. Some members in Europe have been rich for hundreds of years. Families “are naturally inclined to think long term,” she says.

Many of the investments aren’t mainstream, but “it’s fine, because these families are comfortable being pioneers,” says Spring Lane Capital managing director Christian Zabbal, who co-chairs Creo’s board. “What Creo is doing today is essentially a preview of what institutional capital will do very shortly.”

The Mulliez family owns a giant supermarket chain, Auchan — basically France’s answer to Walmart. Their conversations with other Creo members led to a decision to concentrate on food in their climate-focused portfolio. Agriculture accounts for about 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and better farming practices could fight climate change by both reducing pollution and sequestering more carbon in soils. Sustainable forms of aquaculture, meanwhile, could satisfy demand for protein with far less pollution than other kinds of meat. The family invested in Gotham Greens, an indoor urban farming company, and two companies involved in aquaculture: Kingfish Zeeland, which runs high-tech fish farms, and InnovaFeed, which raises insects as feed for farm-raised seafood.

This year the Mulliez family office led a fundraising round for Hungry Harvest, a startup that sends consumers weekly boxes of produce. When Descamps asked Creo if it knew of any other mission-driven investors looking for deals focused on reducing food waste, she was introduced to Quadia, a Geneva-based impact investor that helped close the $13.7 million investment round in September.

Creo’s families want to “be at the front of the parade,” says Jason Scott, a board co-chair. He bristles when people suggest climate-focused investing is becoming a bubble. “You’re talking about changing the way food is grown and transported and what people eat, how energy is delivered to people’s homes, what people drive, the way people build cities,” he says. “You’re talking about a complete reconfiguration of the global economy.”

When Creo was formed five years ago from the merger of two climate-focused investor networks, it was just an informal gathering for like-minded families. “People would throw down their credit cards for dinner. It was pretty low-rent,” Scott says. Clement became Creo’s founding chief executive officer in 2016. “She’s turned it into a powerful platform,” Scott says. “There’s almost an insatiable demand for the kind of support Creo is providing.”

In four years, the nonprofit’s membership has quadrupled, and its members and affiliates’ assets have risen eightfold, from less than $100 billion in 2016. To keep up with the demand, Creo’s staff has doubled in the past year, to 10 in the U.S. and two in the U.K. The group doesn’t go out and recruit members. “We grow entirely through introductions. We never seek out a family,” Clement says. Although Creo doesn’t require applicants to divest from fossil fuels or other emitters, she wants to make sure all members are fully committed to the mission. Part of building trust with wealthy families is keeping their secrets. In addition to Grantham and Simons, the group’s ranks include other well-known billionaires whose names Creo won’t disclose. A mantra is “no tourists allowed.”

The key to Creo’s success, members say, is how it gets very wealthy investors in the same room — or on the same Zoom call. “You have people with a decade of experience and people with a month of experience,” says longtime member Reuben Munger, a hedge fund manager who founded Vision Ridge Partners as his family office and later turned it into an investment firm. With more than $1 billion under management, it specializes in sustainable assets.

It helps that families generally aren’t trying to pitch to each other and that Creo makes no fees on any deals. “There’s not a lot of hidden agendas,” Zabbal says. Creo has tried to unlock even more capital by venturing beyond families to large institutional investors that also want a head start on climate investing. The nonprofit is working with CDPQ, a Quebec pension fund with $333 billion in assets, which launched a $500 million investment strategy around climate and sustainability. The pension’s goal is to invest alongside families or firms in late-stage venture companies. The first deal, announced in September, is with S2G Ventures, a Chicago firm focused on food and agriculture that’s backed by Lukas Walton. An heir to the Walmart fortune, he has a net worth estimated to be more than $22 billion by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Creo members have seen their investments pay off. QuantumScape Corp., a battery tech company recently valued at $3.3 billion, received early funding from Prelude Ventures, co-founded by Simons and Capricorn Investment Group, both Creo members. Participants in the nonprofit also invested in early rounds of Tesla Inc. and Beyond Meat, two of 2020’s best-performing stocks. This kind of success helps convince skeptical family members and advisers of what Creo can do.

“The opportunities are tremendous, but it’s also overwhelming for someone who starts out,” Zabbal says. “By investing in collaboration with others who bring expertise, it allows more investors to take the leap.”

Deloitte climate report more a fearmongering manifesto

Just when you thought you’d had enough scary and ridiculous predictions for one year, along comes Deloitte Access Economics with claims Australia will lose $3.4 trillion in income and 880,000 jobs by 2070 unless it takes drastic action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The meaningless numbers appear in A New Choice: Australia’s Climate for Growth, which urges the government to “get on with stopping climate change”.

“There is great opportunity for Australia to act on climate change today,” it enthuses, suggesting we incur $67bn in costs now to slash emissions and secure a gross domestic product and jobs boost of $680bn and 250,000, respectively.

The report is flawed, misleading, reading more like a manifesto than a sober economic analysis.

At a basic level, Australia can’t affect the trajectory of climate change whatever it does, having only 1.3 per cent of global emissions, or about 4 per cent including our coal exports.

Foreign policy is the only way we can meaningfully affect climate change.

Second, Deloitte’s “do nothing” path of supposed disaster assumes nations “do not meet their Nationally Determined Contributions” (emission reduction targets) agreed at the Paris climate conference in 2015. Therefore, it’s not really a base case to the extent government promises mean anything.

If they don’t, why the clamour for governments to say they will be “net zero by 2050”?

Third, the “do nothing” path assumes an obsolete, extreme trajectory for emissions, known as RCP8.5, that pushes up average global temperatures by 4C by 2100.

Professor Detlef van Vuuren, an academic involved in designing RCP8.5, has said it was “never meant to be a business-as-usual scenario”. Developed in 2014, RCP8.5 doesn’t even include more recent emissions data.

“The consequences of an RCP8.5 pathway demonstrate the orders of magnitude of impact well for analytical purposes,” the Deloitte reports says. Political purposes, more like it.

The bigger problem with these integrated climate and economic models is the false sense of precision and knowledge they create.

“They have crucial flaws that make them close to useless as tools for policy analysis,” top MIT economist Robert Pindyck recently wrote.

The pandemic, which has produced a library of wildly wrong expert predictions, should be a reminder of the weakness of mathematical models, especially when related to events decades into the future. Climate modelling is even harder because of a fraught two-part chain of estimation.

Determining “climate sensitivity” — the speed and size of the response of global temperatures to a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere — is hard enough.

“Over the past decade our uncertainty over climate sensitivity has actually increased,” notes Pindyck. And the “damage function”, how temperature changes affect the economy, is “made up out of thin air … (not) based on any economic (or other) theory or any data”.

Humans will adapt to changed climate, develop new technology, for instance; there will be positives and negatives for different countries from climate change.

“Increasing temperatures can increase both heat and cold-related health problems,” the Del­oitte report states, illogically, given cold-related problems would obviously decline. There’s also the question of the additional 250,000 “jobs for the future” that will emerge by 2070 — “by being a country that reaches net-zero emissions, sooner rather than later”.

A world powered by renewable energy might be a scientific and ecological triumph, but also an economic disaster for Australia, which — absent some dramatic innovation — depends on fossil fuel exports to pay its way.

Australia’s coal and gas exports generated more than $100bn last financial year. Like it or not, we have a comparative advantage in fossil fuels in a way we do not in the production of solar and wind energy, or hydrogen.

Economist Warwick McKibbin says if the world moved away from fossil fuels as per the 2015 Paris Agreement our currency would depreciate 6 per cent, and wages fall 2 per cent, by 2030.

“Australia being part of — if not leading the way — in the global shift to net zero in a new growth recovery is in the national interest,” the Deloitte report asserts nonsensically.

Pindyck is well known to economics students for his concept of “the option value of waiting”. It’s far better to wait and see how events turn out tomorrow rather than lock yourself into a particular strategy today you might regret.

Leading the way would be a disaster for a fossil fuel exporter responsible for a sliver of global emissions.

The Deloitte report says solar and wind energy makes “complete or near decarbonisation of the grid a possibility”. But it doesn’t, curiously, mention nuclear power.

We’ve heard so much about the need to follow “the science” this year. The science says it’s the only emissions-free and reliable energy source, and batteries aren’t remotely up to the task of compensating for the intermittency of solar and wind.

Replacing ageing coal-fired power stations with the next generation of nuclear facilities would be a better option than an expensive and implausible “green new deal” that only makes sense if the rest of the world does it too.




1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"To limit global warming, the global food system must be revised"

They've already so badly screwed up people's diets, that many of us are overweight and sick. I guess this would be the next phase in selling us even cheaper junk at premium prices? addition to forcing those not yet caught in their net to comply.