Climate Change

Climate Change – New Zealand

Mitigating climate change and adapting to a warmer world

 “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.”

– Native American Proverb

New Zealand is the 5th highest emitter, per capita among the OECD countries, due to our reliance on primary industry exports.  Not where we want to be with our clean, green reputation. Methane and Nitrous Oxide, which are farm-based, comprises 55% of our Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.

The long shadows of climate change are already here. Australian bushfires last year covered an area as large as Great Britain. The images of the blazes dominated our TV screens, vivid pictures of dying koalas and flaming bush. The fires burned for months, beyond human fire fighting capabilities, we just had to let them burn out. The fire season in 2019 started in the middle of the winter in the southern hemisphere. In California, bushfires are an annual occurrence. Still, the fires of 2020 are the largest ever, sparked by lightning strikes on a tinder-dry bush. Cities of Chennai in India and Johannesburg literally ran out of water.

The arctic ice shelf is melting faster than ever, many fear the decline is irreversible. Antarctic ice is melting. Not exactly good news for rest of us that Siberia is enjoying longer crop seasons and their ships can ply ice-free waters for longer.

In New Zealand last year was the hottest on record. The drought that hit Northland was one of the worst. Water restrictions for a city as wet as Auckland seem surreal.

Climate Risks

Our temperate climate means we will be less affected than countries like Australia or the Pacific islands.  The severity of impact depends very much on the strength of global efforts and ours. Modelling can only give us an indication or a range of outcomes for what the future holds.

We already have frequent droughts, especially in Northland, Hawkes Bay and Canterbury, these are likely to spread and become more severe. Lower rainfall will affect freshwater sources and impact on irrigation for our farms, threaten exports and food security. Forestry is another area where effects of higher temperature are uncertain, as it is with wines. While some vineyards can move to colder regions, wines are sensitive to the soil, humidity, etc., may not find ideal conditions elsewhere. We could benefit from the addition of crop varieties which thrive in warmer climates and higher production from the likes of wheat.

Our primarily hydro based electricity generation will reduce in the North Island. However, South Island is likely to benefit with more melting of snow and ice. Ski seasons will be shorter, impact our winter tourism, although we might see a displacement from Australian ski fields.

More frequent and extensive bushfires will threaten residential areas. Coastal erosion, flooding and sea level rises threaten coastal housing, roads, rail lines, the attractiveness of beaches.

Biosecurity risks will increase with uncertain effects due to the interlinked nature of the ecosystems. The cooling cost will be higher in summer, heating cost lower in winter.

There will be a disproportionate impact on Maori/ Pacific due to over-representation in primary industries and fewer resources to mitigate the effects of climate change. The elderly will experience more heat-related health issues.

Insurance costs will increase, and we might have to fund a govt scheme as we have for earthquake insurance. We will need financing for climate adaptation and mitigation costs.

Indirect effects of Climate Change have the potential to affect us on many fronts. Meat-less movement could lower beef and lamb consumption in key markets with some relief from growth in fast-developing economies like China and potentially higher prices. Tourism could be affected by the likes of  ‘No-fly’ movement and especially from long- haul destinations.

We could see climate refugees from the low-lying Pacific island nations and costs to lend a hand with their climate adaptation efforts.

Threats for New Zealand were detailed in the IPCC report of 2014 on regional risks and the National Climate Risk Assessment released by the Ministry for Environment in August 2020.

Climate Action – Reducing emissions

There are three broad pillars of climate action necessary to decrease carbon emissions and limit the temperature rise.

  1. decarbonising the electricity system and reducing farm based emissions
  2. fuel switching
  3. energy efficiency

Methane and Nitrous Oxide Emissions

The most important and the most challenging issue for New Zealand is reducing farm-based emissions. Methane, which is mainly emitted by our cows, lamb and nitrous oxide, is primarily emitted by nitrogen-based fertiliser. The methane is emitted by insects which reside in cattle and lamb, not by the animals themselves. (Release of Methane is by cows burping not farting!).

The answer lies in better farming practices and technology. The government is funding research into a scientific solution, primarily targeted at feed additives. The solutions can lie in oils and fats, natural supplements like seaweed and tannin or synthetic chemicals.


Electricity generation from wind and solar now costs less than fossil fuel energy. Costs are likely to decrease further as we scale up the use of renewables, and technology keeps improving. We already generate 80% of our electricity from renewables due to our traditional hydropower base.

Stability of renewable power is still an issue. Solar generation stops at dusk and wind could stop blowing anytime (although this is less likely with offshore wind turbines). The government is investigating pumped hydro to stabilise the supply of electricity. We may require fossil fuel power as a backup.

 The target date for 100% renewable electricity is now 2030.

Fuel Switching


Fuel switching is still at an early stage worldwide; a majority of cars manufactured are still petrol-powered, and we have a vast inventory of these cars. NZ government announced a rebate scheme to encourage changeover to Electric Vehicles (on hold at present), in Norway 31% of vehicles are already EVs. Most of our industries also are powered by fossil fuels and will take some time to replace, due to the long lifespans of plant and machinery.

Energy Efficiency

We have been working on this for a while now, direct cost savings being a great incentive. Energy-efficient cars, buildings, equipment, all have boosted energy efficiency and will continue to improve. Our Energy Conservation Authority (EECA) provides funding to industry for energy efficiency improvements.

Adapting to Climate Change

Research on how our agro-industries can cope better will need to be ramped up. Reducing methane output will be critical. Adapt wines/grapes to a warmer climate. Change crop seasons. Trialling new varieties which might thrive in a more temperate climate. Some farms and forestry can relocate to colder southern areas. Research likely changes in fisheries and quotas.

Water conservation efforts will be needed as well as recycling greywater and rainwater harvesting. Strengthening vulnerable coastal areas with shrubs and rock walls etc. to reduce flood damage.

Relocating seaside homes and infrastructure which we can’t protect, also residences at high risk from bushfires. Bush fire protection measures like back burning during winter will need more attention and fire protection efforts strengthened with more helicopters, workforce etc. Bolstering early warning systems and evacuation plans to cope with increasing and more severe extreme weather events.

We will need heat pumps etc. to cool residences in warmer areas and better insulation, especially for the elderly. Assist those on low incomes, from effects like higher food prices. Review protection for those working outdoor in warmer areas- agriculture, forestry, construction in the summertime. Review government and other institutional structures required for Climate Adaptation. Review finance/insurance to support Climate Change Adaptation

Our pacific island neighbours will need support and funding to implement effective Climate Adaptation strategies. We will need to counter the ‘No-fly’ movement and promote tourism from growth markets, short-haul, and local markets.

The National Climate Adaptation report by the Ministry of Environment is due by 2022.

Climate Action– Slow and steady or just slow?

We have set the base for action. The Zero Carbon Act was passed in November 2019 with bipartisan support. Key targets are to achieve Net Zero emissions except for methane by 2050. Reduce methane emissions by between 24 to 47% by 2050. Setting interim 5 yearly emissions budgets. An Interim Climate Commission set up in 2018 has been formalised upon finalisation of the Zero Carbon Act. The commission has issued reports on agriculture and changeover of electricity generation to renewables.

However, action has so far been slow and baby steps, it’s always harder where the rubber meets the road. The current government banned offshore oil exploration, but not onshore. ACC is planning to reduce high carbon investments –but only to 50% of the current value and only by 2030. Government has abandoned the target to make just the public service fleet electric or hybrid by 2025 been. Action has been much slower and softer than the rhetoric, the urgency required by the words ‘climate emergency’ would suggest.

However, action has been slow and baby steps. The current government banned offshore oil exploration, but not onshore. ACC is planning to reduce high carbon investments –but only to 50% of the current value and only by 2030. Government has abandoned the target to make just the public service fleet electric or hybrid by 2025 been. Action has been much slower and softer than the rhetoric, the urgency required by the words ‘climate emergency’ would suggest.

We need to accelerate the pace of change, move faster if we are to avoid emergencies, disasters and the need for rushed, expensive ambulances at the bottom of cliff solutions.

Climate Change – Possible benefits for New Zealand

Renewables – Almost all the electricity required by New Zealand, including for electric-powered vehicles, will be generated in New Zealand. Saving most of the $10Bn we currently spend every year on importing fossil fuels.
New crops – We might be able to grow food crops that currently grow in warmer climates, increase the production of food crops like wheat.
Extended growing seasons – In colder areas
Ski resorts and tourism – We could see more visitors from Australia, as their ski resorts become less attractive.
Tourism – Tourists who usually go to Australia at hotter times of the year, changing over to New Zealand or increasing time spent here.

How can you help?

Activism!  – Slow Climate Action is mainly due to politics and the fossil fuel lobby groups. Help to keep up pressure on politicians and unfriendly climate businesses. What you can do personally helps, but what the government or companies can do, matters a lot more. Protesting or supporting protests is one of the best things we can do.
Clothing and shopping – Shop smart, buy less and use longer. Consider buying pre-loved clothing. Buy environment-friendly and durable where possible.
Food – Eat less beef and lamb, more fish, vegetables/fruit, and chicken. Meatless Mondays or Vegan Wednesdays, it’s good for your health as well. Buy local produce. Waste less by planning your food purchases.
Trees – Plant trees, get involved in community reforestation, coastal protection programs.
Holidays -Take more local or short-haul holidays.
Home – Use power-saving ideas at home. LED bulbs, air-drying clothes, using energy-efficient equipment, shorter showers, running full laundry loads etc. every little bit helps.
Prepare for likely local impacts like flooding and coastal erosion.
The 3 Rs – Reuse, Recycle, Repair.
Transport -Make your next car an EV. Use more public transportation.
Waste – Waste less and use composting. Composting can reduce your food waste by as much as 75% and save on your fertiliser cost.
Work – Encourage and support your employer’s efforts on climate action.

Climate Change

Climate Change Crash Course

An Excellent introduction to Climate Change basics by Climate Pledge Collective, a group based out of Toronto.

Climate Change

Climate Change – Understanding to Action (Part 2)

The science, the risks, limiting the damage and adapting to a hotter planet earth

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children”

Native American Proverb

Adapting to Climate Change

Climate adaptation is actions we can take to reduce harm and lower risks from climate change on communities and nature. We have been adapting to local weather conditions for centuries. The Dutch built an elaborate system of dykes to safeguard low lying areas. The Japanese adapted their skyscrapers and homes to minimise damage from earthquakes. We have improved insulation and heating for our homes and offices to cope with cold winters.

However, Climate Change elevates many risks and brings new risks we have not experienced before.

Bangladesh, a country crisscrossed by 144 rivers, is one of the countries most vulnerable to tropical storms and flooding. Two-thirds of its land lies less than 5m above sea level.  With three of the world’s mightiest river systems and its situation in the world’s largest delta, riverbank erosion is taking away precious land every year from this small nation with a growing population.

Seventy per cent of Bangladeshis, live in rural areas and account for 75 per cent of the poor. Most rely on agriculture for their livelihood. Each year they are disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change.

People strive to avoid the effects of flooding by building elevated houses and roads. Virtually villages raised above flood level with “Floating schools”. Many use tube wells, wells with a top that is raised high enough that contaminated floodwater cannot enter them. Many cities have flood shelters, large raised platforms where people can find refuge from on-rushing floods.

Nearly all 147 million Bangladeshis are forced to adapt to intense rainfall and water-borne disease exposed conditions. Increases of salinity, a lack of food distributors, and the effects of seeing slum dwellers survive on floodwater.

The need to rebuild better led Bangladesh to enact a Climate Fiscal Framework in 2014, the first country in the world to develop a multi-year, multi-sector approach to funding climate resilience. The plan includes estimates for the long-term costs of combating the effects and tracks climate-related expenditures across 20 government ministries, including agriculture, housing and energy. This plan was followed in 2018 by an eight-decade climate adaptation plan for the delta region, home to 30 million people. The first decade of Delta Plan 2100 focuses on strengthening infrastructure, such as building higher embankments to resist storm surges.

CNN reported on Cyclone Amphan which began forming over the Indian Ocean in May this year. This year’s hurricane season was forecast to be one for the record books due to unusually warm water temperatures; a consequence of the climate emergency. The country faced the mammoth task of relocating 2.4 Million in its path. COVID 19 posed the additional challenge which required physical distancing. In a matter of days, 10,000 more shelters were prepared, on top of the 4,000 already in place. It’s 55,000 first responders were mobilised. Well rehearsed evacuation drills sprung into action.

Cyclones are becoming fiercer and more frequent. Cyclone Amphan was the costliest on record in the north Indian Ocean, leaving destruction estimated at $13bn (£10.4m). In Bangladesh, it washed out 415km of roads, 200 bridges, tens of thousands of homes and vast tracts of farmland and fisheries. More than 150km of embankments meant to contain storm surges were damaged. More than 200 people died. This cyclone has been catastrophic, but planning makes countries better prepared when calamity strikes. It is not enough to deal with the immediate effects of a natural disaster; communities need to better prepare for the next storm.

After Cyclone Amphan, we will need to rebuild schools, hospitals and houses stronger. With increased resilience, so they can resist cyclones, and storm surges in coastal areas. Double up as shelters when the next disaster hits.

Bangladesh is unlikely to be the only country struggling with health, economic and climate emergencies this year. So international collaboration is vital: we can learn from successes around the world and support each other. It’s by pulling together that we will emerge more robust and resilient.

Bangladesh experience provides a snapshot of adaptation measures required by the most vulnerable nations and challenges posed by extreme weather events, the sheer scale of problems and investment required.

Climate adaptation requires work on many fronts.

Sea level rises require strengthening coastal flood defences. These can range from mangroves and shrubs to seawalls to more sophisticated installations such as those developed by the Dutch. Restrict developments in flood-prone areas. Electrical grid planning such as underground cabling rather than overhead. Strengthened building codes and zoning changes to minimise harm from bushfires and floods. Relocate buildings and infrastructure at risk.

Disaster risk management. Early warning systems and shelters. Bush fire protection measures like back burning during winter. Strengthen fire protection with helicopters, workforce etc. Enhance awareness of risks and protection systems.

Water Management. Reforestation, reducing discharge and pollution of rivers, developing crops and livestock that need less water, desalination plants, water-saving technologies, enhanced irrigation techniques

Land-use changes – Increase forested areas, use better crop management techniques, reduce water usage and harmful chemicals, preserve wetlands. Food Security and Agriculture – changeover to or develop resilient crop varieties, more efficient farming practices etc. Reduce wastage from farms to our tables. Adapt wines/grapes to a warmer climate. Change crop seasons, adapting our crops, trialling new plant varieties which might thrive in warmer weather. Research likely changes in fisheries and quotas. Possibly, relocating some farms and forestry more towards colder southern areas.

Tourism – Promote local, drive time and short-haul tourism.

Assist low income, and vulnerable populations like the elderly adapt to a changing climate. Heat pumps etc. to cool residences in warmer areas, better insulation. Review protection for those working outdoor in hotter areas- agriculture, forestry and construction in the summertime. Assist those on low incomes, from effects like higher food prices. Climate Refugees – Assist vulnerable countries to adapt.

Finance and Insurance – Provide finance (green bonds, etc.) and incentives (encouraging EVs, solar panels, energy-saving equipment) for climate mitigation and adaptation. Consider public reinsurance for climate-related disasters. Taxation to promote climate adaptation such as higher levies for fossil fuel-powered vehicles, carbon taxes, emission levies. Better social support for those displaced by industrial changes.

Review government and other institutional structures required for Climate Adaptation.

Maximise potential benefits from climate change – More temperate climates will benefit from longer summers and shorter winters. Higher temperatures help in many locations from more crop and fish varieties.

We human beings are fond of saying we have adapted to changes life has thrown at us, but sometimes we have just muddled through.

Climate Change – The road ahead and the roadblocks

New Zealand is one country that appears to be taking Climate Change seriously. It has a centre-left government and Greens are a coalition partner. It passed legislation to go Zero Carbon by 2050 with bipartisan support.

The government dropped a commitment to move to electric on its vehicle fleet by 2025. A coalition party blocked legislation to provide a rebate of $3,000 for purchase of electric vehicles. Its policy on fossil fuels only bans offshore drilling.

Fighting Climate Change and the Pandemic will require innovation, science and the world working together

Bill Gates

The COVID 19 began in Wuhan, China December 2019. A deadly, highly contagious disease had spread to Hongkong, the United Kingdom, Canada, Spain, Sweden, Singapore by the end of January 2020. On 31st January, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared an International Health Epidemic and issued guidance to countries. By August there are 22Mn cases and nearly 800,000 casualties. Public health systems in many countries were overwhelmed. We saw body bags piling up in the streets of New York. Health professionals forced to work without protective equipment, dying.

The global response to a deadly, highly visible crisis was disjointed and uneven. Many political leaders ignored health experts, scientists and WHO guidance.

While almost all countries signed up to the Paris Climate Accord to limit Global warming to 2 degrees by 2050, the USA has now signalled that it will leave pull out from the accord. Many of the populist leaders recently elected, do not place much emphasis on climate action or work actively to undermine these efforts. IPCC meeting of 2019 to agree on the detail required to meet the Paris Accord target failed to reach a consensus. The international community have been meeting and talking about Climate Change since 1988, with little coordinated action to show for it.

The pace of climate change has not slowed as yet; in fact, CO2 emissions increased a massive 60% since 1980. Mainly due to middle-income countries like China, India emitting more GHGs, as they industrialise and grow their economies.

The main hurdles to Climate Action appear to be political and vested interests like fossil fuel industries. Economically it makes sense now to change over to renewables; their costs have now reduced below fossil fuel-generated energy. It is ignorance and sceptics. It is inertia and priorities.

The best thing we can do is make our voices heard in the corridors of power. March on the streets, use social media and mass communication. Vote for parties calling and working for change, support activist groups like XR and Fridays for schools.

Make our voices heard in the seats of commerce, as consumers and shareholders. Make our personal choices climate-friendly.

It is a time for coordinated global action. We have been here before with smoking and lung cancer, with the ozone layer and CFCs. We have got through slowly. Will we act in time to prevent significant disruption and destruction? Or will we muddle through?
It is up to us to make the best efforts, for the planet, for our children and ourselves.

How can you help?

  • Activism!  – Help to keep up pressure on politicians and climate-unfriendly businesses. What you can do personally helps, but what the government or companies can do, matters a lot more. Protesting or supporting protests is one of the best things we can do.
  • Clothing and shopping – Shop smart, buy less and use longer. Consider buying pre-loved clothing. Buy environment-friendly and durable clothing where possible.
  • Food – Eat less beef and lamb, more fish, vegetables/fruit and chicken. Start Meatless Mondays or Vegan Wednesdays. Buy local produce.
  • Holidays -Take more local or short-haul holidays.
  • Home – Use power-saving ideas at home – LED bulbs, air-drying clothes, using energy-efficient equipment.
  • The 3 Rs – Reuse, Recycle, Repair.
  • Transport -Make your next car an EV. Use more public transportation, cycles, e-bikes.
  • Waste – Waste less and use composting. Composting can reduce your food waste by as much as 75% and save on your fertiliser cost.
  • Work – Encourage and support your employer’s efforts on climate action.

How can your business help?

  • Include Climate Change as a key criterion in your business decisions and practices, especially in areas like procurement
  • Implement a Climate team to generate ideas the business can implement, encourage staff participation and engagement
  • Work with suppliers and other stakeholders to minimise climate impact
  • Work with industry bodies and green organisations to implement best practices

Indirect benefits from Climate mitigation and adaptation

  • Lower air pollution-related deaths – WHO estimates air pollution causes 4.2 million premature deaths annually. A changeover to renewables and EVs will save lives and healthcare costs related to treating these diseases.
  • Jobs generation – There will be jobs generated by construction activity as well as operation of renewables, forestry. Most of these jobs will be in consuming countries and provinces, giving a boost to provincial regeneration.
  • Reduction of road deaths and congestion – As more people use public transport
  • Reduction of fuel importation expense – Most countries will see a cost reduction. In contrast, fossil fuel exporting countries will face a reduction in their income.
  • Green New Deal – Proposes to tackle also current economic and social problems such as provincial regeneration, unemployment, inequality, with Climate Action, along the lines of FDR’s New Deal in the 1930s. Employment and economic impacts can be significant.
  • Circular Economy – Reduce waste by recycling, using more durable goods, efficient use of resources.

Climate Change in figures

  • Paris Climate Accord – Hold temperature increase from 1880 to well below 2 degrees by 2050. The target from COP 2018 is 1.5 degrees by 2030.
  • Temperature increase by 2050 at the current pace of emissions 3.5 degrees.
  • Global emissions – CO2 76%, Methane- 16%   Nitres Oxide- 6%, Other- 2%
  • Increase in annual CO2 emissions since 1980 – 60%, mainly due to growing industrialisation of countries like China and India.
Climate Change

Climate Change – from Understanding to Action (Part 1)

The science, the risks, limiting the damage and adapting to a hotter planet earth

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children” –

Native American Proverb

Over 100 fires were burning in Australia, covering an area as large as Great Britain. The Australian bushfire season in 2019 started in July; middle of winter in the southern hemisphere. Blazes tore through bushland, wooded areas, and national parks. Fires destroyed homes in the outer suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney. Thick plumes of smoke blanketed the urban centres for weeks. Many blazes burned for months, beyond limits of human endeavours to put them out.

Australian firefighters with assistance from the USA, Canada, New Zealand and the Australian defence forces struggled nine months to contain the blazes. Over 34 people died, more than 3,000 homes were destroyed or damaged. An estimated billion animals burnt to death. Horrific images dominated our television screens.

The gigantic scale of the fires caught Australian leaders by surprise. Prime Minister Scott Morrison apologised for holidaying in Hawaii in the midst of it. Budget requests for fire fighting equipment ignored in the previous year. Most experts opined that Climate Change was a significant factor in the massive scale of the fires. The political leaders were still reluctant to admit this.

A slow-burning but an existential global crisis, Climate Change is struggling to attract attention, support and funding required to tackle the problem. Many countries ignore scientists and science. Most countries are responding far slower than necessary to prevent serious damage to lives and livelihood, farms and forests, the seven seas and five continents. Three decades since the announcement of the likely scale of climate change, progress is painfully slow and uneven.

Like the old fable about the crab in the boiling pot, enjoying the feeling of warmth realises it’s plight far too late.

My first brush with climate change was when the coral reefs died. The beach resort fifty km from Colombo was one of my favourite places on the planet. The water was shallow and teeming with fish. Calm as a pond; the coral reef acted as a water break. You snorkelled, taking in the beauty of the fish in a rainbow of colours and the stunning corals.

Then a heatwave. The corals died (corals are a living organism), what nature had grown for decades or centuries, the corals that coastguards fought hard to save from vandals and tourists, dead in a few days. It happened around the world, even the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the largest reef in the world was damaged. I didn’t realise this was due to climate change, putting this down to a freak act of nature until years later. It’s only grown worse since then. Coral bleaching has damaged the Great Barrier Reef three times in the last five years.

I didn’t quite know how an increase of 2 degrees could cause havoc, most of us would hardly notice the change? I could understand that many people would be sceptical. On the other hand, could 97% of climate scientists get this wrong? We watched the movie by Al Gore,’ An Inconvenient Truth’, which made quite an impact, bringing home the reality of Climate Change to an enthralled audience of children and non-scientists.

I watched as Climate Change moved from a fringe movement to a mainstream issue. The hotel chain I was working for set targets for energy efficiency, saving electricity and water, reducing waste, recycling plastics and cans. We made good progress and saved money. Hotels on the luxury end had to be cautious about how we went about it; not seen as penny-pinching, when we were charging $200 per night. However, we could give our customers the option to make a choice themselves. Would they mind if their towels were not changed every day?  Not change their bedsheets every day?

I was curious, to know more, what causes climate change. The science behind it. How has it impacted the planet earth so far? What are the likely future impacts on the world? How can we minimise changes to the climate and how can we best adapt to a warmer planet. Try to create some awareness, convince a few more people to do their bit. Convey in a few words, the urgency of the situation, in marketing jargon – awareness, conviction, action.

The History

Our agrarian societies started to change in the late 18th century. The invention of the steam engine in the 1760s by James Watt sparked the Industrial Revolution, beginning in Great Britain. Machines now mass-produced goods previously crafted painstakingly by hand. We migrated from rural farmland to cities to work in factories. Ironworks, flour mills, cotton and paper mills, distilleries, waterworks and ships used coal-powered steam engines.  The demand for coal, one of the dirtiest fuels skyrocketed. Petroleum use began in the 1850s. Natural gas started large scale production post World War2.

The road and canal networks expanded in the early 1800s, steam-powered boats and ships became commonplace. Trains started plying by 1830. The early 1900s saw the transportation industry upended again with the advent of the motorcar and flying. The industrial revolution continued with more industries starting up and spreading across the world. Industrialisation is associated with prosperity, a pathway to economic growth.

Population Growth

Worldwide population growth is closely associated with the industrial revolution. The Industrial Revolution changed the way humans work. The standard of living increased in ways never before seen. Improvements in diets, advances in public health, medicine etc. led to population growth. The global population estimated at 1Billion at the start of the 19th century reached 2 billion in 1927. It grew exponentially during the 20th century, reaching 7.4Bn today.

The Climate Science

How does Global warming happen? Solar radiation hits the earth and gets reflected skywards. These rays get trapped when they hit the layer of greenhouse gases (GHGs), consisting mainly of Carbon Dioxide (CO2, 76%), Methane (16%) and Nitrous Oxide (6%). The GHG layer acts like a thermal blanket enveloping the planet, trapping the radiation and warming the earth. Industries burn fossil fuels emitting CO2. Farm animals belch out Methane and fertilisers emit Nitrous Oxide. Forests and trees suck some CO2 out of the atmosphere.

More CO2 is emitted as countries around the world industrialise and grow their economies. Farm animal population grows to feed a growing, more prosperous society and modern farming practices use fertiliser to boost crop yields. More area is converting to farmland, diminishing forest cover. The GHG layer gets denser, emissions grow, and we take out less, warming the planet.

It’s like leaving your car out in the sun. Sun’s rays beam into the car, heating the interior. The glass windows trap and block the heat from escaping. It gets uncomfortably hot inside.

Global Warming – Are we all in this together?

Why do we need a global effort?  The Greenhouse Gas Layer is the same density all around the planet. It grows evenly, whether its China, USA or New Zealand spouting the fumes, making this a global issue, unlike pollution which mostly stays local. When Australian bushfires burn, the smoke and haze mainly stay over their skies, but the CO2 emitted floats all around the world.

The warming, however, will not be distributed evenly everywhere, 2 degrees in California, may mean 4 degrees in Antarctica. The warming effect is more, closer to the poles and at higher altitudes. Impacts will differ according to the risks for the geographic areas. Rising sea levels will affect small island nations and warming will affect Australia and countries in sub-Saharan Africa more than colder climates. Bushfires will impact Australia, California and the Amazon forests far more heavily. Some regions will even benefit from Climate Change; Siberia already has longer crop seasons and sea lanes open more days in a year than before.

We won’t know precisely how Climate Change will affect us. Models can only predict a range of outcomes, and much depends on – our efforts to minimise the impact – perhaps the most crucial variable of them all. What is certain is that the change will be significant, and we will have our work cut out.

Climate Mitigation – Reducing emissions

CO2 Emissions – 76% of Greenhouse Gases

There are three broad pillars of climate action necessary to reduce CO2.

  • Decarbonising the electricity system
  • “Fuel switching:”
  • Energy efficiency

The most important of these is decarbonising the electricity system, stop burning fossil fuels to power our energy needs and changeover to renewables.

BP is one of the few oil majors which has publicly committed itself to changeover to renewables. Below are some excerpts from an article on the website ‘Follow the Money’ by Havan Vatanen headlined ‘BP knew the truth about Climate Crisis 30 years ago’.

 A documentary made by BP in 1990 called ‘What makes the weather’ articulates the potentially disastrous consequences of human-made climate change. (Excerpt – . The narrator explains: ‘Our whole energy-intensive way of life and its dependence on carbon-based fuels is now a cause for concern. When coal, oil, or gas burn, they release carbon dioxide and other reactive gases. Since the industrial revolution, their use has increased hundredfold. In the last forty years, the mass burning of the tropical forests has freed even more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It has taken time to realise what damage this extra carbon dioxide can do’.

In May 1997, then BP CEO John Brown in a speech to the Stanford University became the first head of an oil major to accept the emerging consensus on Climate Change publicly. Browne called it‘unwise and potentially dangerous’ to ignore the possibility of catastrophic climate change. He also said that if we are all to take responsibility for the future of our planet, then it falls to us to begin to take precautionary action now’. In 2000, BP launched a $200 million campaign to rebrand its name to‘Beyond Petroleum’.

However, BPs actions didn’t quite follow the script.

BP was a member of a lobby group which influenced George W Bush to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol in 2001. It was a member of a lobby group who blocked legislation to reduce GHGs in 16 states and promoted numerous anti-environment laws. In 2017, BP lobbied Trump administration to open up the Alaskan Arctic for oil and gas drilling.

Between 2011 and 2013, they sold all their wind and solar assets.

Since 2010 BP has spent only 2.3% of its budget on non-carbon energy. In 2020, BP put out a statement that they will increase investment in low carbon energy from $500 million per year in 2019, just 4% of it’s Capital Budget, to $5 Billion per year by 2030. It will reach net zero by 2050. It is targeting to increase its renewable capacity from 2.5 GWh per year to 50 GWh, a 20 fold increase.

Will they? Move from 4% of their capital spending to 40%, on renewables by 2030. Even if they keep to their plan, they will be spending 60% of their annual capital spend developing fossil fuels.

Norway is a country that prides itself as a leader in renewables. It is generating 98% of its electricity from renewables, mainly hydropower. 30% of its cars are electric.

Norway is also one of the largest oil-exporting countries.

Norway’s first major oilfield came online in 1969. In 1972 the state-owned oil company Statoil was formed, and the government introduced the principle that at least 50% of oil licenses should be state-owned. Norwegian government benefits directly from oil, unlike countries like the UK. Norwegian state still holds 67% of it’s renamed oil and gas giant Equinor.

Norway has an economic surplus every year since it started oil production. Norway’s oil wealth is held by its sovereign wealth fund, the largest in the world with a value of trillion dollars. In 2019 the fund decided to divest its investments from oil exploration companies.

Norway derives 25% of its tax revenue from oil and gas. The giant new oilfield Johan Sverdrup oilfield started production in 2019 and is forecasting to produce oil until 2060 at least.

68% of Saudi Arabia’s revenue in 2019 was from oil and gas. 52% of Russia’s revenue came from oil and gas. Global fossil revenue in 2018 was $3.7 trillion. Renewable energy currently supplies only 25% of worldwide energy production.

Large industries do die or transform substantially when lower-cost alternatives come on stream. Telecommunications is one such trillion dollar industry which was upended by the advent of the internet. Coal revenue has declined by over 95% since peaking in the early 20th century.

Still, the scale of the challenge to transform the energy industry is daunting.


Electricity generation from wind and solar now costs less than fossil fuel energy. Costs are likely to decrease further as we scale up renewables, and the technology keeps improving. What keeps us from moving faster is the 3 I’s – ideology, inertia and ignorance. The short term and adversarial politics. The parties and voting blocks of climate deniers. The lobbying power of the fossil fuel industry. It’s also the trillions of dollars needed to fund renewable infrastructure.

Storage of renewable power is still an issue currently (except for hydropower). Solar generation stops at dusk. The wind could stop blowing anytime (although less likely with the offshore wind). Hydropower can dwindle in a drought. We may require fossil fuel power as a backup in the short term until economical storage options come online. Pumped hydro is a currently available renewable option for short term storage and grid balancing.

We should meet growing energy needs with renewables; however, we continue to expand fossil fuel generation. Adani coalfield in Australia, Keystone pipeline in the USA and Canada, giant new Johan Sverdrup oilfield in Norway are all examples.

The other major area which will make an impact is sucking the carbon out of the atmosphere, by planting trees and growing our forested areas. We face an uphill battle to increase or even maintain forestation in many parts of the world, as we have seen recently with the Amazon forests.

Fuel Switching

Fuel switching is still at an early stage; we are still manufacturing mainly petrol-powered vehicles and have a massive inventory of them. The market share of electric and hybrid cars is still tiny, 2% of the light vehicle market, and heavy vehicles near zero. Another trillion dollar market to transform. Electrification of rail shows more progress.

Most of our industries use fossil fuels and will take some time to replace, due to the long lifespans of plant and machinery.

Energy Efficiency

We see good progress on energy efficiency as this provides a direct cost-saving and high return on investment in many cases. Energy-efficient cars, buildings, equipment, all have boosted energy efficiency and will continue to improve.

Reducing Methane and Nitrous Oxide – 24% of Greenhouse Gases

These two gases are mainly farm-based. Beef and Lamb, Dairy farming is high in Methane emissions. Chicken is less Methane intensive. With ocean-based fisheries, we only have CO2 emissions from fishing vessels powered by fossil fuels. With farmed seafood, the emissions are low and primarily depend on the feed used. Fruits and Vegetables are the most climate-friendly food.

There are many options currently available to reduce Methane and Nitrous Oxide emissions from improving farm and production efficiencies to using low emission feed for animals and reducing Nitrogen-based fertiliser. There also several options currently being explored and in the pipeline. The website – is an excellent source on farm-based emissions. Changing our food choices; less red meat, more fish, fruit and vegetables can reduce emissions significantly.

Have we been doing enough to slow down Climate Change? No, the vast majority of countries have done little so far.

Climate Risks

Whatever we do, climate effects are likely to hit us in the short and medium-term. Some problems are already visible or highly probable to affect many parts of the world.

Glaciers are already shrinking in the Arctic and some parts of Antarctica. The resulting sea levels will rise and cause coastal flooding in low lying areas. Small island nations will be profoundly affected, and some islands could disappear or made uninhabitable.

Extreme weather events like heatwaves, droughts, floods, hurricanes will increase and be more severe. Bushfires will be more frequent and affect larger areas.

Lower rainfall and impact on freshwater sources like some of our rivers will impact crop yields and animal husbandry. The hydroelectric generation will reduce as rivers dry up in the summer. Warmer, drier weather will impact forestry. Conflicts over water rights, sometimes violent especially in subtropical countries. Ski seasons will shorten.

Fisheries will thrive in colder regions and suffer in tropical seas. The cooling cost will rise in summer, offset by lower heating cost in winter.

Increase in biosecurity risks. Coral reefs will die, some species of animals will struggle to adapt, some will go extinct.

Heat-related health impacts. Especially on the elderly, outdoor workers and low-income people.

Developing countries and vulnerable people who have fewer resources to adapt will be more severely affected. We will see climate refugees from island nations and some drought-stricken countries.

Sources – Climate Pledge Collective, Climate Action – Solutions for a Changing Planet -SDG, Follow the Money, IPCC Reports 2014, The Guardian,