Energy & Mining

5 Green Initiatives for 2018

Dealing with climate change

Will 2018 be the year that proves that it’s easy, and even economically favorable, to be green?

A vehicle passes along the border of the Sahara desert in Forgho, northern Mali August 7, 2003. REUTERS/Yves Herman

The Paris Agreement made several headlines in 2017 as parties to the United Nations Framework Convention were reshuffled. The agreement is touted by the UN as the first example of nations coming together to strengthen the global response to climate change. Headlines first appeared when US President Donald Trump announced the country’s withdrawal from the accords.

This sparked a contradictory response from other elements within the US government as well as the country’s private sector.

Similarly, other countries took the opportunity to reaffirm their support for environmental efforts at a global level. Months later, Nicaragua and then Syria signed or announced plans to join the agreement.

Heading into 2018, the alliance to work toward a more sustainable world has never been stronger, with every country except the US on board. And stronger, bolder initiatives are still needed.

With the most recent measurements showing that CO2 emission levels reached a record high in 2017, and countries looking to the Paris Agreement for hope, TBY takes a look at five game-altering initiatives to address climate change and its many effects, from the direct to the tangential.

Not new but improved

The power vacuum left by the US’s departure from this Convention has opened opportunities for the EU and China most notably. Both the EU and China are taking decade-old ideas but scaling them to never-before-seen proportions.

With a rapidly urbanizing global population, decreasing proportion of arable land, and rising food insecurity, many are looking to urban farming methods to address issues of sustainable food production and find solutions to worldwide hunger.

Urbanization means there is limited space for new buildings, and developers are pushing skylines higher instead of wider. This is true too of urban farming, and “agritechture” is following general building trends by going vertical, combining agriculture, technology, and architecture. Forests, greenhouses, and gardens are all reaching new heights.

Swedish company Plantagon is at the forefront of agritechture, developing “plantscrapers” and other large-scale solutions to push forward urban farming efforts and address food insecurity. Plantagon’s plantscraper concept tackles the issues of high energy and carbon footprints associated with industrial agriculture.

The World Food Building, as the greenhouse skyscraper has been dubbed, will house a 60m tall farm and 16-story office building in Linköping, Sweden. In addition to producing 500 tons of organic food annually, the innovative building will recapture and reuse energy from food production, saving 1,000 tons of CO2 and 50 million liters of water annually compared to traditional farming. The availability of food within urban centers would also drastically reduce transportation costs needed to get food to consumers.

In another revolutionary measure the World Food Building will be crowdfunded, representing the power of the people to address climate change—quite an interesting notion considering the US government’s plans to withdraw from the agreement. It is one of many Plantagon comprehensive agritechture solutions.

China, once the poster child for pollution, is looking to rebrand itself as a champion of sustainability and is also developing solutions to maximize land use. In fact, China’s solar farm requires no land, only vast expanses of water, or as Trump would say, “big water.”

Big water

In the middle of 2017, China powered up the world’s largest floating solar power farm, generating up to 40MW. The plant, which is in Huainan and—quite ironically—floats over a former coalmine, produces more than six times the energy of the previous record-holder for the largest floating solar plant, which is in the UK. Japan’s above-water solar array, once completed, will generate just under 14MW of power, paling in comparison to China’s Huainan facility.

According to Statista, China, and the EU’s expenditures on renewable energy far outpace US investment, measuring USD1.9 billion, USD1.5 billion, and USD1 billion, respectively. Still more, China has two-thirds of the world’s solar panels.

In 2016, China installed double the solar capacity of the US, as reported by the International Energy Agency. Floating solar farms are appealing because they leave land free for other uses, and the water keeps the photovoltaic panels from overheating.

China’s only competitor is its neighbor on the other side of the Yellow Sea: South Korea. Hanwha Group announced in November plans to build a 100-MW facility on Seokmun Lake. Hanwha General Chemical and partner Korea Midland Power Co. Ltd. will build 80% of the water-top structure, and Korea Rural Community Corporation will construct the remaining fifth of the project.

By the numbers, the solar farm will cover 1.2 million sqm, equal to 168 soccer fields, and supply power to 140,000 people. But those in South Korea’s Chungcheongnam-do province will have to wait until 2020.

For 2018, China still gets to hold the record for the world’s largest floating solar plant.

Great Walls

In addition to the greatest floating solar plant, China boasts the Great Wall. Trump’s dream wall on the US-Mexico border continues to pop up in the news from time to time. But another type of wall is taking shape on another continent.

Africa’s Great Green Wall was first envisioned as a natural wonder, a 15-km wide wall of trees that would stretch 8,000km from Senegal to Somalia.

The most immediate expected effect of the Green Wall is the halting and reversal of desertification in the Sahel region south of the Sahara Desert.

As the desert spreads and, inversely, arable land decreases, famines have plagued several African countries across the planned area for the green wall. Drought, lack of food, and conflict abound in this dry, dusty expanse.

Expanding land suitable for farming would have several indirect economic effects, both in Africa and in countries receiving African immigrants. Under the leadership of the African Union Commission in partnership with several international organizations and individual African nations, forestation provides employment, food, and peace. Many are hoping these incentives will dissuade potential migrants from emigrating, most notably to Europe.

As the USD8-billion project has evolved since 2007, the second decade of the initiative will see a new focus centered on local economic development projects that include more than just trees.

Farming cooperatives are sprouting up across the Sahel, bringing hope for revived economic empowerment, for women and youth especially.

However, the economic viability and sustainability of these small-scale farming projects is often called into question. Also, the belief in the endeavor’s ability to stem the outflow of migrants, expressly young men, is not universally held.

While the Great Green Wall has transformed in shape and faces many challenges and critiques, the scope of the cross-continental effort is still breathtaking. And the motivations for the project remain intact: climate change is inextricably linked with other economic, social, and security issues such as food scarcity, poverty, mass migration, conflict, and trafficking.

Bringing back trees

Across the pond, Brazil is also pursuing reforestation efforts in line with their commitments to the Paris Agreement. With the goal of adding some 73 million trees by 2030 to the Brazilian Amazon, it is the grandest reforestation project in history.

Such a grand gesture toward Mother Earth requires grand partners, which include the World Bank, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and Brazil’s Ministry of the Environment, among others.

And Brazil is not alone in its work to protect the Amazon, promote biodiversity, and prevent land degradation; the Amazon Sustainable Landscapes Project is the broader regional initiative active in Colombia and Peru in addition to Brazil. The potential to scale up the regional project to include other countries in the Amazonian Basin, such as Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, Suriname, and Venezuela, is also up for discussion.

Brazil’s record-breaking portion of the program includes targets that span a range of environmental concerns: from improving the management of 60 million hectares of landscapes and seascapes to improving water and food security and enhancing the efficacy of multilateral environmental agreements at the international, national, and sub-national levels of policymaking and policy implementation.

GEF is contributing USD60.33 million and partners are contributing another USD373 million in Brazil. GEF approved the project for implementation in August 2017.

Conservation International (CI), one of the project’s partners, announced in a press release the importance of the Amazon as Brazil and the region’s greatest asset, one that must be maintained sustainably and protected. The Vice President of CI, Rodrigo Medeiros, emphasized that time is of the essence, noting, “Protecting the Amazon is not something we should think of in the future—we have to do it now.”

Expect the unexpected

With similar urgency, green initiatives are increasingly coming from another, unexpected corner of the globe. The Middle East, more well known for its harsh climates rather than its green initiatives, is possibly more compelled to address environmental issues thanks to its inhospitable climate.

At first glance, it may seem odd that Gulf nations, as generally rich, oil-exporting countries, would be looking to renewable energy and sustainable development with serious intentions. But the oil price crash has provided the impetus to push such countries toward energy and broader economic diversification.

The UAE, and more specifically the most oil-rich Emirate of Abu Dhabi, is leading this charge with Masdar City, the region’s first low-carbon city, and hopes to become the regional—and global—leader in clean technology and renewable energy.

The second phase of the Masdar City project commenced in 2017 and is set for completion in 2021. The planned urban space features residential, retail, and office space, as well as green spaces and integrated transport links within the city itself and in connections with the Emirate’s broader transport network.

Masdar City’s economic free zone is home to over 500 organizations, and second phase developments will only add to the campus’ appeal. In regards to its environmental impact, it boasts similarly impressive numbers: 10MW of on-site generated solar power, 7,200 tons of CO2 diverted annually, and the International Renewable Energy Agency’s global headquarters building, which consumes 64% less energy than the average office building in Abu Dhabi.

technology and energy sphere throughout the UAE and MENA. The company joined Bee’ah to form the Emirates Waste-to-Energy Company (EWEC), set to generate an annual 30MW of power, displace 420,000 tons of CO2, and save 45 million cbm of natural gas.

Masdar City and EWEC are mere pieces of UAE’s goals surrounding clean energy and sustainable development. By 2050, the UAE is targeting 75% of power generated from renewable sources.

2017 may not have been a stellar year for the Paris Agreement, but 2018 and beyond may yet tell a different story thanks to these green initiatives.