Category Archives: Environment

Virginia shines as solar hot spot in Catholic Energies expansion

In July, a 421-kilowatt solar system was installed at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, in Falls Church, Virginia. The rooftop solar array is projected to offset almost 90% of the parish’s energy use and save it upwards of $1.3 million over 25 years. (Catholic Energies)

A quick scan of the parishes and groups partnering with Catholic Energies reveals a noticeable geographic pattern: Virginia is a growing hotbed of solar activity.

Last month, three parishes in the Arlington Diocese powered up new solar installations, each developed and financed through Catholic Energies, the burgeoning program of the Catholic Climate Covenant that helps church institutions find outside funding to take on energy initiatives without the initial burden of hefty upfront costs.

With the new installations, the parishes — St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Falls Church, St. Bernadette Catholic Church in Springfield and Nativity Catholic Church in Burke — will collectively offset the carbon dioxide emissions produced by powering 3,500 homes for a year or burning 15,000 tons of coal. Just as attractive to their finance councils, the solar projects came at no cost and forecast sizeable savings.

At St. Anthony of Padua, the 421-kilowatt rooftop solar system — the largest of the three parishes — is expected to cover almost 90% of the parish’s energy demand. The solar panels, along with LED lighting upgrades, are projected to save St. Anthony upwards of $1.3 million over the 25-year term of the power purchase agreement.

The rooftop panels at Nativity are part of several green initiatives under way at the parish. Its creation care ministry has also begun a community vegetable garden, and its school is developing an outdoor learning space with native plants and species. In bulletins this summer, the ministry team and pastor Fr. Robert Cilinski included reflections on “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home” to mark the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical. While the panels will save the parish money — more than $200,000 — they also reflect Christian values to safeguard creation.

“Our solar panels are on the rooftop shouting the wisdom of Laudato Si’, the social teaching of the church,” Cilinski recently told the Arlington Catholic Herald, the diocesan newspaper.

With each Richmond parish, none paid any upfront costs, an arrangement made possible by Catholic Energies.

The program first works with groups to determine if solar is a fit, then seeks funding, primarily through power purchase agreements. In those deals, an outside investor finances the project and sets a fixed rate for energy usage, often lower than local utility rates, which is paid directly to the investor.

Since launching in fall 2017, Catholic Energies has completed 11 solar projects in the past 13 months. Eleven more are under contract and expected to be completed by the end of 2020. By then, the program will have footprints in eight states, along with Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.

But the biggest business for Catholic Energies so far has been the region around Virginia. Of the 22 solar installations in all it expects to have completed by the end of the year, 10 are in the Old Dominion and two are in the Washington, D.C., area, where it is also working to finalize contracts with three more Catholic clients.

The completed projects include the 2-megawatt solar installation for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, the largest solar project in the city and to date the largest completed by Catholic Energies, which is based in the District of Columbia. The array’s 5,000 panels began producing power in April. Since then, the electricity it has generated from the sun has offset roughly 1 million pounds of carbon emissions, or the equivalent of planting 25,000 trees, according to Catholic Energies.

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/virginia-shines-solar-hot-spot-catholic-energies-expansion

Coronavirus Pandemic Delays 2020 Earth Overshoot Day by Three Weeks, But It’s Not Sustainable

Humanity now consumes around 60% more than Earth can yield in a year, meaning we need 1.6 planets to sustain us. elenabs / Getty Images

Back in 1970, the earth’s biocapacity was more than enough to meet annual human demand for resources. But in the half century since, we have steadily outgrown our single planet. Humanity now consumes around 60% more than Earth can yield in a year, meaning we need 1.6 planets to sustain us.

In 2019, we had already spent our resource budget for the year by July 31, the earliest Earth Overshoot Day ever recorded by the Global Footprint Network, which has been calculating global and national ecological impacts for near three decades. In that time, humanity has overshot its biocapacity — defined as an “ecosystems’ capacity to produce biological materials used by people and to absorb waste material generated by humans” — by a few more days each year.

But due to the global coronavirus lockdown, 2020 has bucked the trend. This year, Earth Overshoot Day has moved back by more than three weeks to August 22.

Projections point to almost 15% reductions in CO2 emissions (around 60% of the total footprint) in 2020 as a result of the pandemic-related slowdown in fossil fuel use across the transport, power, industry, aviation and residential sectors. The global Earth Overshoot calculation, which uses data from the likes of the International Energy Agency, also includes forest production, which dipped nearly 9%, and our food footprint, which was steady.

One Planet Misery or Prosperity?

According to Mathis Wackernagel, founder and president of the Global Footprint Network, this year’s contraction is welcomed. But he says the fact that it is accidental means it is not sustainable.

“The tragedy of this year is that the reduction of carbon emissions is not based on a better infrastructure such as better electricity grids or more compact cities,” he told DW. “We need to move the date by design, not by disaster.”

To meet the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) targets to limit warming to 1.5-2 degrees Celcius, the current decline in the emissions curve would have to continue at the same rate for the next decade, Wackernagel points out. At present, however, this is being achieved through economic and social suffering.

“Not doing anything, being stuck at home. That’s not the kind of transformation we need. It’s not lasting,” Wackernagel said.

The goal must be to “systemically adjust to the physical budget we have available,” added the Swiss-born Global Footprint Network founder and 2018 World Sustainability Award winner. “Do you want one planet misery or one planet prosperity?”

Wackernagel argues that the coronavirus is itself a reflection of ecological stress. “These pressures that we see like pandemics, like famine, like climate change, like biodiversity loss, they’re all manifestations of an ecological imbalance,” he said.

Lowering Emissions for the Benefit of All  

A key side effect of disaster-driven emission reductions is the fact that “the pain is going to be unevenly distributed,” according Wackernagel. Marginalised groups, especially people of color, have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic’s “huge economic impacts,” said Sarah George, a senior reporter with Edie, a UK media company that promotes sustainable business practices.

Edie conducted its first Earth Overshoot webinar in 2019, with the aim of educating organizations to reduce their resource footprint through business models that are sustainable for everyone in the long-term.

George says this year’s webinar on August 22 will also address the misnomer spread by some climate skeptics that a green, low-consumption future is only possible under the deprivations of a lockdown.

“They have used the situation to say that lockdown is ‘what green campaigners want,’ and that we cannot enjoy things like international travel, economic growth, etc. in a green future,” George told DW.

But post-lockdown, George says the goal is to create a one planet model through which businesses can couple “better economic and social outcomes” with “lower emissions and air pollution.”

https://www.ecowatch.com/earth-overshoot-day-2020-2647050359.html?rebelltitem=3#rebelltitem3

Introducing EarthBeat’s ‘Lens on Creation’ series for the Season of Creation 2020

Celestina Fernandes da Silva, a Catholic activist, waters flowers in front of her home in the Wapishana indigenous village of Tabalascada, Brazil, April 3, 2019. (CNS/Paul Jeffrey)

When you think of God’s creation, what image comes to your mind?

Is it the sun at dawn peeking over a peaceful meadow filled with wildflowers? Or maybe a woman drawing water from a well in a parched landscape during a drought? Might you think of a vast forest charred to shades of gray and black by devastating wildfires?

Creation can mean many things to many people. Often, it depends upon the environment around you, as well as where you’ve been.

In his 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” Pope Francis said that “contemplation of creation allows us to discover in each thing a teaching which God wishes to hand on to us.” He went on to say, “An integral ecology includes taking time to recover a serene harmony with creation, reflecting on our lifestyle and our ideals.”

“If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs,” Francis wrote.

Throughout his career, photographer and journalist Paul Jeffrey certainly has experienced the awe and wonder of our world. He’s also witnessed the destruction that human activity can bring to ecosystems and those who call them home. With camera in hand, he has documented all these dimensions of creation, first as a missionary in Central America and then during years of globetrotting on assignment.

The contemplation of creation the pope describes is the jumping-off point for EarthBeat’s new spiritual reflection series, Lens on Creation. The series is timed to mark the ecumenical Season of Creation, which begins Sept. 1 and runs until Oct. 4.

In Lens on Creation, Jeffrey will lead readers on a visual expedition into some of the images of creation from his many travels. He tells the stories behind the images, introducing you to the people and environments they feature, along with the threats they face and their work to safeguard the natural worlds they call home.

“There is no way to separate caring for the planet from caring for the health and dignity of individual persons and families,” he writes in today’s opening reflection.

In Lens on Creation, Jeffrey will take readers to a post-typhoon Philippines, a city dump in India, the top of Washington’s Mt. Tahoma, and even his own backyard in Oregon.

Building on this year’s Season of Creation theme, “Jubilee for the Earth,” Jeffrey offers reflections on the consequences of human decisions on many of the corners of our world featured in the photos. He explores through people’s stories how climate change has made weather-related disasters more destructive, limited access to clean water, ruined coffee crops in Guatemala and led to conflict in Africa. At the same time, he poses examples of how strategic decisions can also renew life and flourishing for all.

He also brings those places close to home with suggestions for further study, reflection and action. Pope Francis also reminds us that we are all connected, with one another and with the world’s ecosystems. Our decision about purchases can affect people in distant places. And their struggles for environmental justice sometimes mirror those of people in our own neighborhoods — perhaps in places where we’ve never noticed them.

“We have a terrifying ability to mess up God’s creation,” Jeffrey writes. “But we also have the ability to confess our environmental sin and work to restore the integrity of the planet which we share with an amazing variety of animals and plants.”

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/introducing-earthbeats-lens-creation-series-season-creation-2020

River Thames ‘severely polluted with plastic’

Getty Images Image caption Plastic on the banks of the River Thames

The River Thames has some of the highest recorded levels of microplastics for any river in the world.

Scientists have estimated that 94,000 microplastics per second flow down the river in places.

The quantity exceeds that measured in other European rivers, such as the Danube and Rhine.

Tiny bits of plastic have been found inside the bodies of crabs living in the Thames.

And wet wipes flushed down the toilet are accumulating in large numbers on the shoreline.

Researchers at Royal Holloway, University of London, are calling for stricter regulations on the labelling and disposal of plastic products.

They warn that careless disposal of plastic gloves and masks during the coronavirus pandemic might make the problem of plastic pollution worse.

“Taken together these studies show how many different types of plastic, from microplastics in the water through to larger items of debris physically altering the foreshore, can potentially affect a wide range of organisms in the River Thames,” said Prof Dave Morritt from Royal Holloway.

“The increased use of single-use plastic items, and the inappropriate disposal of such items, including masks and gloves, along with plastic-containing cleaning products, during the current Covid-19 pandemic, may well exacerbate this problem.”

The scientists point out that the Thames is cleaner than it used to be with respect to some pollutants, such as trace metals.

What plastics were found in the River?

Many forms of microplastics were found in the Thames, including glitter, microbeads from cosmetics and plastic fragments from larger items.

The bulk of the microplastics came from the break-down of large plastics, with food packaging thought to be a significant source.

“Flushable” wet wipes were found in high abundance on the shoreline forming “wet wipe reefs”.

Study researcher, Katherine McCoy, said, “Our study shows that stricter regulations are needed for the labelling and disposal of these products. There is great scope to further research the impacts of microplastics and indeed microfibres on Thames organisms.”

Where does the plastic come from?

Fibres from washing machine outflows and potentially from sewage outfalls, plus fragments from the breakup of larger plastics, such as packaging items and bottles, which are washed into the river.

Katharine Rowley of Royal Holloway said it’s unclear why there’s such a high density of plastic in the River Thames, but called for people to think about the plastic they use and throw away.

“People can make much more of a difference than they might think,” she said.

What is the plastic doing to wildlife in the river?

Some animals living in the river are ingesting microplastics, including two species of crab.

Crabs contained tangled plastic in their stomachs, including fibres and microplastics from sanitary pads, balloons, elastic bands and carrier bags.

“Tangles of plastic were particularly prevalent in the invasive Chinese mitten crab and we still don’t fully understand the reason for this.”

Clams near the wet wipe “reefs” contained synthetic polymers, some of which may have originated from the wet wipes and other pollutants found on the site such as sanitary items.

How do the findings compare with other rivers?

Much of the work on microplastics has been carried out in seas and oceans rather than rivers.

By comparison, the Thames has higher quantities of microplastics than levels recorded in the Rhine in Germany, the Danube in Romania, the River Po in Italy and the Chicago River in the US.

However, levels appear lower than those reported for China’s Yangzte river.

Other scientists previously tested river sediments at 40 sites throughout Greater Manchester and found “microplastics everywhere”.

The latest research was carried out in collaboration with the Natural History Museum and Zoological Society, London.

Dr Paul Clark of the Natural History Museum said, “What our students have shown in this collaboration is that although the Thames is certainly cleaner with regards some chemical pollutants, eg. heavy metals, the River is severely polluted with plastic. And once again our wildlife is threatened.”

The research is reported in two papers in Environmental Pollution and in one paper in Science of the Total Environment.

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-53479635

Climate woes growing for women, hit worst by displacement and migration

Flood-affected women are seen in a temporary shelter on a nearby dry land in Jamalpur, Bangladesh, July 21, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

BARCELONA, – From sexual violence in displacement camps to extra farm work and greater risk of illness, women shoulder a bigger burden from worsening extreme weather and other climate pressures pushing people to move for survival, a global aid group said on Tuesday.

Scientists expect forced displacement to be one of the most common and damaging effects on vulnerable people if global warming is not limited to an internationally agreed aim of 1.5 degrees Celsius, CARE International noted in a new report.

“This report shows us that climate change exacerbates existing gender inequalities, with women displaced on the frontlines of its impacts bearing the heaviest consequences,” said CARE Secretary General Sofia Sprechmann Sineiro.

For example, women and girls uprooted by Cyclone Idai, which hit Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in 2019, are still facing serious health threats due to poor access to basic services and sanitary products, the report said.

And in Ethiopia, where about 200,000 people were forced from their homes last year by drought and floods, women living in overcrowded shelters face higher levels of sexual violence there and on longer, more frequent trips to fetch water and firewood.

Sven Harmeling, CARE’s global policy lead on climate change and resilience, said displacement linked to climate stresses was already “a harsh reality for millions of people today”.

If global warming continues at its current pace towards 3C or more above pre-industrial times, “the situation may irrevocably escalate and evict hundreds of millions more from their homes”, he added.

Climate change impacts are likely to strengthen and “unfold over the next couple of years, and not only in the distant future”, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Failure to prepare for them will lead to more suffering and people having to abandon their land, he said. Many places already are affected by multiple climate shocks and rising seas, making it harder for those displaced to return, he added.

“(Climate extremes) may mean more men are leaving to try to find income elsewhere, and that puts additional burden on the women who stay back and have to try to earn (money) while taking care of the family,” he said.

MEANS TO ACT

The report said governments and aid agencies needed to gather more data on how women and girls are affected by climate-linked displacement and migration so they can better understand and try to alleviate their situation.

It also called for more women to lead efforts to respond to climate threats, including in their own communities.

And it said more funding should be allocated to help women adapt to changing conditions on a hotter planet, such as by choosing resilient crops or being able to access micro-credit, so that fewer will be uprooted from their homes.

In most countries, climate measures supported by public finance do not adequately prioritise women, CARE noted, calling for at least 85% of funding for adaptation projects to target gender equality as an explicit objective by 2023 at the latest.

But some projects are making women a priority, it said.

In two rural districts of India, CARE worked with 4,500 tribal women in 50 villages whose rice harvests were falling as rains became erratic, water scarcer and soils less fertile.

Over the past seven years, it helped them set up and run self-support groups that gave them greater confidence and financial skills to start addressing the problem.

They also received seasonal and weekly weather forecasts so they could plan farming activities.

The aid agency said agriculture production rose by a third, food insecurity declined and the number of days women had to work away from home to make ends meet more than halved.

In Somali villages, women were given business training and organised into groups that pooled and gradually built up savings that were then used to offer loans to their members.

The groups helped their communities ward off economic shocks and hunger during Somalia’s 2016 drought, the report said.

“CARE’s experience tells us that when women lead in crises, entire communities benefit, and more effective and sustainable solutions are found,” said Sprechmann Sineiro.

https://news.trust.org/item/20200707051425-a5d5v/

Revisiting integral ecology amid the heat wave and surging coronavirus

Map provided by National Weather Service/New Orleans

Months ago, before we were imagining months to come in lockdown, some experts predicted that summertime heat and humidity would ease the pandemic. Instead, rising temperatures have intensified the crisis, especially for the poor and for anyone in one of those long queues awaiting a COVID-19 test. 

As the Washington Post reported, the south and southwestern U.S. were especially hard hit by the heat this week at the same time those regions were struggling with a surge of coronavirus cases. Heat warnings and advisories were in effect for 11 states from Southern California to the Florida Panhandle, and the National Weather Service was predicting the excessive heat would continue for another two weeks. 

Citing this 2019 study, the Post reported: “In general, heat waves are one of the clearest manifestations of long-term human-caused climate change, with numerous studies showing that such events are becoming more likely to occur and more severe.”

Extreme heat is one of those things you need to experience to fully grasp. I got mine in Baghdad, where I spent a month reporting during the summer of 1991 in the aftermath of the First Gulf War. I can tell you that walking around in temperatures of 120 degrees Fahrenheit is a lot more than 20 percent worse than doing so in 100 degree weather. Most nights, though, I was able to return to an air-conditioned hotel and never experienced what it’s like to face unrelenting heat with no relief in sight.

It’s difficult to imagine current conditions in Iraq, where the summer heat is accompanied by spiking coronavirus cases and dwindling medical supplies. 

All of which brings me to the topic of integral ecology, the interconnectedness of so many of the circumstances fueling “the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.”

This sent me to chapter four of Laudato Si’ and to a couple of excellent explorations of integral ecology, one by columnist Thomas Reese and the other by contributor Samantha Panchèvre.

Written five years ago, shortly after Pope Francis issued his encyclical, Reese’s column takes on renewed relevance in our current circumstances. 

He describes this section of the pope’s document  as “flowing from his understanding that ‘everything is closely related’ and that ‘today’s problems call for a vision capable of taking into account every aspect of the global crisis.'”

Reese also points to Francis’ account of “indigenous communities being pressured to ‘abandon their homeleands to make room for agricultural or mining projects which are undertaken without regard for the degration of nature and culture.”

By way of underlining the lasting wisdom of the pope’s message, the Trump administration this week dramatically weakened the role of local communities in determining whether environmentally dangerous projects can be built in their midst.

Integral ecology is at the heart of any discussion of environmental justice, and EarthBeat contributor Samantha Panchèvre examined Laudato Si”s fourth chapter in the course of exploring intergenerational solidarity. She points to Francis’ assertion that “the notion of the common good also extends to future generations,” quoting him further:

The global economic crises have made painfully obvious the detrimental effects of disregarding our common destiny, which cannot exclude those who come after us. We can no longer speak of sustainable development apart from intergenerational solidarity. Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at this differntly…Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice…”

And in the meantime, the people most in need are also the hardest hit by the extremes of climate, as Maddie Kornfeld reports in this InsideClimate News article we published today as part of our collaboration with Covering Climate Now.

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/earthbeat-weekly-revisiting-integral-ecology-amid-heat-wave-and-surging-coronavirus

Net gains: Thai project turns fishing nets into virus protection gear

A worker prepares old fishing nets for recycling to create products such as protective gear against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Saint Louis Plas Mold factory in Ayutthaya province, Thailand, June 30, 2020. REUTERS/Juarawee Kittisilpa

RAYONG/AYUTTHAYA, Thailand, – Thai fisherman Anan Jaitang used to pile tattered nylon fishing nets on the beach after hauls of wriggling crabs tore them beyond repair, but most of the nets wound up in the sea, threatening to entangle turtles and choke coral reefs.

Now, Anan and others have an alternative that’s not only lucrative and environmentally friendly but will help Thailand battle the coronavirus pandemic.

A new community-based project is paying small-scale fishermen 10 baht (32 cents) per kilogram of discarded nets, or about every one or two, to recycle them into items from push sticks to face shields and disinfectant bottles.

“If no one bought my fishing nets, they would just pile up like a mountain,” says Anan, who goes through about 36 nets every quarter, fishing in the east coast province of Rayong.

He is among more than 100 artisanal fishermen from four coastal villages in Thailand’s east and south to have joined the project, run by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF).

With 50,000 small fishing vessels and 10,000 commercial ships, Thailand has one of the world’s largest fishing industries, and is also one of its top marine plastic polluters.

Hundreds of endangered sea animals wash up on Thailand’s shores every year. About 74% of sea turtles and 89% of dugongs stranded on the beaches between 2015 and 2017 had been injured by nets left or lost in oceans, official Thai figures show.

About 640,000 tonnes of fishing nets end up in the ocean globally every year, becoming “ghost gear,” the United Nations says.

NET GAINS

In addition to tackling Thailand’s stubborn pollution problem, the project offers a rare all-domestic solution to a global challenge.

Thai design company Qualy is buying most of the fishing nets being collected by EJF.

Its recycling and manufacturing operations are based in Thailand, unlike similar projects in other countries that ship nets abroad for recycling.

Workers at Qualy’s recycling factory in the central city of Ayutthaya wash the nets before feeding them into a shredder that yields blue nylon granules to be mixed with colourants and melted down in product moulds.

During the pandemic, Qualy has shredded 700 kg (1,500 lbs) of nets to make face shields, alcohol spray bottles and push sticks for elevator buttons and ATM machines to avoid contact.

“We’ve sold over 100,000 push sticks already during the coronavirus pandemic,” said marketing director Thosaphol Suppametheekulwat.

He declined to give financial details but confirmed the net recycling operation was profitable, with sales in Europe, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

“Buying the nets supports the fishers’ livelihoods, and we can make new products out of them,” Thosaphol said. “It’s even better when it also helps save our environment.”

HELPING HANDS

The Thai government has welcomed the initiative.

“Any efforts to remove the nets from the ecosystem is welcome,” said Ukkrit Satapoomin, the director of Thailand’s Office of Marine and Coastal Resources Conservation.

EJF said the project had collected more than 1.3 tonnes of used nets since a pilot phase two months ago, and plans to expand it to all seaside provinces by year-end.

“It’s really important and urgent that we tackle this problem,” said campaigner Ingpat Pakchairatchakul.

“Local communities are very environmentally-conscious already, but they just need helping hands from other sectors.”

For Anan, the fisherman, the project has not only brought extra income, but put a smile on his face at the thought that his trash contributes to a worthy cause.

“I’ve seen the products, and I’m proud of my materials,” he said, after seeing a push stick made from recycled nets.

“At least it helps the society and saves the environment.”

https://news.trust.org/item/20200702095811-rnap8/

Good for planet and people? Renewable energy firms urged to clean up act on human rights

Workers walk at a solar power station in Tongchuan, Shaanxi province, China December 11, 2019. Picture taken December 11, 2019. REUTERS/Muyu Xu

BARCELONA, – Companies that produce clean energy are crucial for curbing climate change – but they’re not always the “good guys”, according to a report that tracks their human rights record for the first time.

The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) says 16 of the world’s largest publicly-traded wind and solar producers are not doing enough to protect their workers and the local communities affected by their operations.

Here are the key takeaways:

What’s the bigger picture?

A push to use less fossil fuel and curb climate change has seen nearly $2.7 trillion invested in renewables – mainly in solar and wind power – in the past decade, and the sector employed 11 million people in 2018.

Many of the companies are seen as saviours when it comes to tackling global warming – but the same can’t be said of how they treat human rights, according to Phil Bloomer, BHRRC executive director

That is a particular concern for indigenous people whose land has in some cases been used for clean energy projects without their agreement or fair compensation.

Which companies have been assessed and what are the key results?

Spanish energy corporations Iberdrola and Acciona, followed by Denmark’s Orsted and Italy’s Enel, had the best human rights record overall, with French and German firms dominating the middle tier – but no company scores above 53% on the benchmark.

The worst performers are Chinese and North American companies, as well investors Brookfield and BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, which own many renewable projects.

Companies, on average, scored better on indicators covering the basic human rights responsibilities, including having policies and grievance mechanisms in place, similar to other high-risk industries like apparel, agricultural products and tech manufacturing.

But they scored zero across the board when it came to commitments such as respecting local land rights and relocating or compensating communities affected by renewables projects.

The companies scored well in some areas, including anti-corruption due diligence and health and safety disclosures.

So big renewable energy firms are doing the right thing for the planet but the wrong thing for people?

The centre has tracked allegations of abuse against renewables companies over the past decade, and says complaints increased 10 times between 2010 and 2018.

Since 2010, the centre has identified 197 allegations of human rights abuses related to renewable energy projects, and asked 127 companies to respond to those allegations.

They include: killings, threats, and intimidation; land grabs; dangerous working conditions and poverty wages; and harm to indigenous peoples’ lives and livelihoods.

Allegations have been made in every region and across the wind, solar, bioenergy, geothermal and hydropower sectors, with the highest number in Latin America.

https://news.trust.org/item/20200701164637-rk6o4/

Families sleep in water lines as drought grips Zimbabwe’s Bulawayo

More than 200 residents wait in line for a water delivery truck in the Pumula South area of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city, May 22, 2020. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Lungelo Ndhlovu

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, – Twice a week, Nothi Mlalazi joins a long line with dozens of other people – some of whom have slept there overnight – and stands for hours waiting for water in Zimbabwe’s second-largest city.

As the parched southern African country endures its worst drought in years – a problem scientists link to climate change – ongoing water shortages in Bulawayo have left residents in some suburbs without running water for more than three months.

The tankers that the city council sends to deliver water every few days are often the residents’ only hope for clean water.

Many will spend the night at the delivery point to make sure they can fill their buckets before the tankers – or bowsers – run dry.

“Receiving water from bowsers is a huge challenge for many residents. We spend most of our time in long, winding queues, impatiently waiting to fill up our containers,” said Mlalazi, 45, who lives in the poor, crowded suburb of Pumula South.

“You will find (people) as early as 1 a.m. already there,” she added, as she stood in line with two of her daughters, who watched to make sure nobody stole their water buckets.

LOW RESERVES

After several years of drought and patchy rains, reservoir levels have fallen dangerously low, pushing the Bulawayo City Council (BCC) to limit water supplies in an attempt to conserve the resource until the rainy season starts in October.

Last month, city authorities began shutting off piped water six days a week, reporting that the three dams acting as the city’s primary water sources were at less than 30% of capacity.

The city had already decommissioned three other dams due to the water dropping below pumping levels.

Some residents have resorted to drawing the water they need for washing from unprotected sources such as ponds and leaking water pipes, or tapping into sewage gutters for water to flush their toilets, said Pumula South resident Charles Siziba.

Siziba said the situation is made even more dire by the coronavirus pandemic, as the lack of running water increases the risk that people will catch the illness and infect others.

It is almost impossible to practice the regular handwashing that health experts say is one of the best weapons against the virus, he noted.

“And there is also no social distancing to speak of, because when the bowser comes through, residents push and shove in the water queue to fill up their buckets,” Siziba said.

https://news.trust.org/item/20200617011613-mlzha/

Britain goes coal free as renewables edge out fossil fuels

Getty Images

Britain is about to pass a significant landmark – at midnight on Wednesday it will have gone two full months without burning coal to generate power.

A decade ago about 40% of the country’s electricity came from coal; coronavirus is part of the story, but far from all.

When Britain went into lockdown, electricity demand plummeted; the National Grid responded by taking power plants off the network.

The four remaining coal-fired plants were among the first to be shut down.

The last coal generator came off the system at midnight on 9 April. No coal has been burnt for electricity since.

The current coal-free period smashes the previous record of 18 days, 6 hours and 10 minutes which was set in June last year.

The figures apply to Britain only, as Northern Ireland is not on the National Grid.

But it reveals just how dramatic the transformation of our energy system has been in the last decade.

That the country does not need to use the fuel that used to be the backbone of the grid is thanks to a massive investment in renewable energy over the last decade.

Two examples illustrate just how much the UK’s energy networks have changed.

A decade ago just 3% of the country’s electricity came from wind and solar, which many people saw as a costly distraction.

Now the UK has the biggest offshore wind industry in the world, as well as the largest single wind farm, completed off the coast of Yorkshire last year.

At the same time Drax, the country’s biggest power plant, has been taking a different path to renewable energy.

The plant, which is also in Yorkshire, generates 5% of the country’s electricity.

A decade ago, it was the biggest consumer of coal in the UK but has been switching to compressed wood pellets. Drax plans to phase out coal entirely by March next year.

“We here at Drax decided that coal was no longer the future,” explains Will Gardiner, the chief executive of the power group.

“It has been a massive undertaking and then the result of all that is we’ve reduced our CO2 emissions from more than 20 million tonnes a year to almost zero.”

That is a controversial claim. Environmental activists point out that wood actually produces more carbon dioxide per unit of power generated than coal when it is burnt to generate electricity.

They also say it will take many years for the trees in US forests where Drax sources the seven million tonnes of wood pellets it now burns each year to absorb the CO2 the power plant and its wood processing operations produce each year.

And it is not just coal that is being eclipsed by renewables.

So far this year, renewables have generated more power than all fossil fuels put together.

Breaking it down, renewables were responsible for 37% of electricity supplied to the network versus 35% for fossil fuels.

Nuclear accounted for about 18% and imports for the remaining 10% or so, according to figures from the online environmental journal, Carbon Brief.

“So far this year renewables have generated more electricity than fossil fuels and that’s never happened before”, says Dr Simon Evans of Carbon Brief.

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-52973089