A TALE OF (MORE THAN) TWO CITIES: Local Initiatives and Global Collaboration in the Fight Against...

[continued] Climate Change


Juliana Gross • 2020 Issue


 

From The Editors:

Our climate change trajectory worsens every day that we fail to take action, yet we have argued for decades about what we can and should do to avoid the worst outcomes. In A TALE OF (MORE THAN) TWO CITIEES, Gross takes us to the two cities of Feldheim and Ma’an to show how individual communities can take great strides in decreasing their own carbon footprints. While these cities are examples of communities mitigating their local contributions to climate change, they also illustrate the interconnectedness of our global community. Gross reflects on how cooperation between all countries—not only industrialized ones—will be necessary as we move towards the next phases of climate change mitigation.

 

Driving down a rural road in Germany, you may not be surprised to see some windmills. You may be surprised to see so many of them. Feldheim is a village in Germany that runs entirely on renewable energy, generating enough energy to sell 99% of it back to the local power grid. Its technologies stretch beyond their 47-turbine wind park, with members of the community leading efforts to build a biogas plant and a solar park. By 2010, the village was energy self-sufficient and carbon neutral [1].

The case of Feldheim seems too good to be true. After all, if every urban area were to follow the same steps as Feldheim, replacing all fossil fuel-derived energy with locally generated renewable sources, emissions of greenhouse gases could be easily reduced [2]. Once we put less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than is taken out by absorption into oceans, plants, and more, the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could begin to decrease. Though global warming is unlikely to reverse [3], it can be slowed [4]. Unfortunately, the financial context behind Feldheim becoming carbon-neutral suggests that it is unlikely that all cities would be able to follow the same path to mitigation. The efforts in Feldheim were led by its local council alongside residents who personally funded the installation of four wind turbines in 1997 [1]. With support from the EU, residents established an energy company that allowed for the expansion of renewable energy resources and the installation of the village’s own energy grid [1]. Few cities have the funds to replace energy sources like Feldheim did, and few citizens are willing to invest time into creating these technologies from scratch. Germany itself ranks fourth in the world in GDP [5] and has an ambitious energy policy, called Energiewende. Though Germany’s energy consumption is among the highest in the world [6], the country has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80–95% by 2050 relative to 1990 [7]. Few nations have taken such an assertive approach to combating global warming.

Though Feldheim has seen significant success in reducing its carbon footprint, it is only one city. A global effort to address climate change would likely be more efficient than individual approaches, as one community’s increase in carbon emissions can easily cancel out other communities’ efforts to reduce their emissions. A number of models exist to predict the most efficient ways of achieving global climate change mitigation. One of these, the Stabilization Wedge model developed by Princeton University’s Carbon Mitigation Initiative, is widely used to quantify how much change is needed to make the world carbon-neutral. According to the researchers, carbon emissions would have to be reduced by around 8 billion tons per year by 2060 to stabilize global temperatures, and multiple strategies have been proposed to accomplish this goal [8]. The model provides a visual: In a triangle divided into eight wedges, each wedge represents one billion tons of carbon emissions. A wedge could represent replacing 1400 coal electric plants with natural gas or increasing global ethanol production twelve-fold by creating biomass plantations with area equal to one-sixteenth of the world’s cropland. Stabilization in global temperatures would be achieved once eight of these measures have been implemented [8]. Because of the scale of these projects, no single country can adopt one strategy on its own; the effectiveness of these solutions must be derived from global cooperation.


This implication raises the question of what could push countries with differing economic priorities and environmental policies to cooperate on a global mitigation plan. One strategy might be through legal obligation, such as the 2005 Kyoto Protocol, which bound participating industrialized countries to emission reduction targets under international law [9]. This binding would ideally motivate participating countries to keep climate change on their immediate agendas. The Kyoto Protocol notably did not bind developing countries to emission reduction targets as they were not considered the principal offenders and their economic growth could be hindered.

A global effort to address climate change would likely be more efficient than individual approaches…

Ironically, however, the places in which economic development typically takes priority over environmental protection are often the ones most impacted by the climate crisis. Developing countries are often located in tropical regions and are therefore especially at risk for climate change-related natural disasters. In these regions, rising temperatures increase rates of evaporation and lead to stronger storms and drier deserts. These countries also tend to have high rates of urbanization which consumes resources that might otherwise have been available for the replacement of outdated energy sources [10].


Fortunately, some of these at-risk communities have started to take matters into their own hands. Ma’an is a city in Jordan currently undergoing a major wave of industrialization. This is evident in the Ma’an Development Area, an economic zone in which taxes are reduced to promote investment in the local economy. In this zone, an industrial park supported financially by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is set to be completed in 2030 [11], despite water shortages and lethal flash floods. Although it is disproportionately impacted by the negative effects of climate change, Jordan’s location and geography gives the country great potential to effectively utilize renewable energy technology. For instance, Ma’an is at 30oN in latitude, much closer to the equator than Feldheim at 52oN. As a result, Ma’an receives sunlight at a more direct angle for a greater percentage of the year than Feldheim, giving it a greater capacity for solar energy than Feldheim has.


Ma’an has already started to take advantage of this potential. In September of 2016, a photovoltaic power plant named the Shams Ma’an Power Generation PSC opened and began producing electricity for Jordan. As one of the largest solar power plants in the region, it supplies one percent of Jordan’s energy generation, one year of which could power the takeoff of 40,000 commercial airplanes [12].



With countries from all economic backgrounds venturing into renewable energy, a global attempt to mitigate climate change seems within reach. However, the best way to coordinate countries’ individual efforts remains unclear. By only allocating mitigation responsibility to developed countries, the international committee behind the Kyoto Protocol disregarded the potential for carbon emissions to increase in developing countries, especially when left unrestricted. For instance, China was considered a developing country by the makers of the treaty and was exempted, although it quickly went on to lead global carbon dioxide emissions significantly ahead of the next top contributor, the United States [13]. In 2014, China released over 13.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere [14], around 37.8% of emissions globally that year [15].


A new international policy signed in 2016, the Paris Agreement, shows promise in its more global approach to mitigation. The new agreement particularly supports developing countries in reaching emission reduction targets like those implemented by developed countries. This way, all countries can work together to reach the overarching goal of limiting the global temperature increase below 2o Celsius above pre-industrial levels during this century [16]. The effectiveness of this new treaty is yet to be seen, as multiple countries, notably the United States, have either abstained from signing or pulled out of the agreement [17] so that they can direct their resources to other economic investments. Without the financial support of countries like the United States, mitigation efforts in developing countries could prove less aggressive, and therefore less beneficial, than they would be with such backing.


After all, the world is irrefutably interconnected—no one community, or person, can make it out of the climate crisis alone.

The Shams Ma’an Power Plant in Ma’an, Jordan was made possible by European financial backing [18]. Although incentives for this support may be tied to economic interests in Jordan and not solely based on climate change, progress in mitigation still occurs, much like how a carbon tax leverages the economic interests of a company by minimizing the taxes it pays to incentivize it to reduce its emissions. Research into additional economic incentives that can be applied in the international market is a logical next step in addressing the climate crisis effectively.


Thinking of all the spinning windmills in Feldheim, I am inspired by the way an entire village came together to help solve a problem that impacts not only their community, but every community. In both Feldheim and Ma’an, the rest of the world can find prime examples of the collaboration necessary for long-lasting, global sustainability and the creative means through which countries can achieve this. After all, the world is irrefutably interconnected—no one community, or person, can make it out of the climate crisis alone.


 

References

  1. The Energy Self-Sufficient Village. (n.d.). Retrieved December 8, 2019, from https://nef-feldheim.info/the-energy-self-sufficient-village/?lang=en.

  2. U.S. Energy Information Administration. (2019, June 27). Renewable Energy Explained. Retrieved from https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/renewable-sources/.

  3. Hansen, J., Nazarenko, L., Ruedy, R., Sato, M., Willis, J., Del Genio, A., … Tausnev, N. (2005). Earth’s Energy Imbalance: Confirmation and Implications. Science, 308(5727), 1431–1435. doi: 10.1126/science.1110252

  4. Rogelj, J., D. Shindell, K. Jiang, S. Fifita, P. Forster, V. Ginzburg, C. Handa, H. Kheshgi, S. Kobayashi, E. Kriegler, L. Mundaca, R. Séférian, and M.V.Vilariño, 2018: Mitigation Pathways Compatible with 1.5°C in the Context of Sustainable Development. In: Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty [Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, H.-O. Pörtner, D. Roberts, J. Skea, P.R. Shukla, A. Pirani, W. Moufouma-Okia, C. Péan, R. Pidcock, S. Connors, J.B.R. Matthews, Y. Chen, X. Zhou, M.I. Gomis, E. Lonnoy, T. Maycock, M. Tignor, and T. Waterfield (eds.)]. In Press.

  5. International Monetary Fund. (2019, October). Report for Selected Countries and Subjects. Retrieved from shorturl.at/hFJ69.

  6. U.S. Energy Information Administration. (n.d.). International Energy Statistics. Retrieved from http://webarchive.loc.gov/all/20100108233218/http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/cf…

  7. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. The Energy of the Future - Fourth “Energy Transition” Monitoring Report - Summary (2015). Retrieved from https://www.bmwi.de/Redaktion/EN/Publikationen/vierter-monitoring-berich…

  8. Princeton Environmental Institute. (2019). Stabilization Wedges Introduction | Carbon Mitigation Initiative. Retrieved from https://cmi.princeton.edu/wedges/intro.

  9. United Nations Climate Change. (2019). What is the Kyoto Protocol? Retrieved from https://unfccc.int/kyoto_protocol.

  10. Verisk Analytics. (2018, November 21). 84% of world’s fastest growing cities face ‘extreme’ climate change risks. Retrieved from https://www.maplecroft.com/insights/analysis/84-of-worlds-fastest-growin….

  11. Farraj, E. (n.d.). Where to Invest? Jordan’s Enabling Platforms. Retrieved from https://www.oecd.org/mena/competitiveness/41613509.pdf.

  12. Shamsmaan PSC. (2016, December 17). About Us. Retrieved from http://shamsmaan.com/page/about-us.

  13. Muntean, M., Guizzardi, D., Schaaf, E., Crippa, M., Solazzo, E., Olivier, J., & Vignatti, E. (2018). Fossil CO2 emissions of all world countries - 2018 Report. JRC Science For Policy Report, 1–236. doi: 10.2760/30158

  14. China Greenhouse Gas Emissions Soar 50% During 2005-2014 - Government Data. (2019, July 15). Retrieved February 6, 2020, from https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-china-climatechange-idUKKCN1UA08B

  15. PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. (2015). Trends in Global CO2 Emissions 2015 Report. The Hague.

  16. United Nations Climate Change. (2019). The Paris Agreement. Retrieved from https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-ag….

  17. Friedman, L. (2019, November 4). Trump Serves Notice to Quit Paris Climate Agreement. The New York Times. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/04/climate/trump-paris-agreement-climate…

  18. European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. (n.d.). Ma’an Solar Power Project. Retrieved from https://www.ebrd.com/work-with-us/projects/psd/maan-solar-power-project….


 

AUTHOR


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EDITORS


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