May 27, 2016

IMG_9379 feat


All terrestrial life depends on soil, directly or indirectly. Although our understanding of topsoil has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decades, we are still losing this invaluable resource at a frightening pace.

Less than thirty per cent of the world’s topsoil remains in fair or acceptable condition. The fragility of this vital layer can be illustrated through a simple comparison: if one imagines the earth as an orange, the extremely thin topsoil layer is no thicker than the shine on the skin of that orange. An astonishing variety of creatures rely on this ‘shine’ for all of their basic necessities.

Our growing knowledge about soil has formed the basis of new soil services, soil analyses, and many well-intended soil conservation attempts, yet we are still losing soil at an ever-increasing rate. If this trend continues for much longer, our current form of society will eventually collapse – and mainly as a result of practices as simple as over tilling.

At the same time, soil is being damaged irreparably by salinisation, for example resulting from the clear-cutting of forests that are often far away. There are only a few places in natural systems in which soils are well conserved: uncut forests; under shallow lakes and ponds; native grasslands populated by perennials; and mulched and non-tillage agricultural production systems.

Image Courtesy of Nadia Lawton
Image Courtesy of Nadia Lawton


Although this situation may seem extremely gloomy, there is hope in the form of numerous sustainable approaches to soil reconditioning, maintenance and rehabilitation. Surprisingly, amateur gardeners and farmers – not scientists with big fancy labs and federal research grants – are doing most of the real research. Moreover, these people are achieving results: creating high quality soil through water control, modest aeration, and the assemblage of specific plants and animals. And this is done with careful consideration of the sequence of these treatments.

The crucial importance of soils is a direct consequence of the key role they play in supplying us with our most basic needs, especially food. Accordingly, special attention must be paid to soil cycles. In any assessment of sustainability, the only way to gauge on-ground success is by assessing the stability of soils: farming practices are only as sustainable as the soils they are on. For our long-term wellbeing, we must do better than simply maintain sustainable soil; we must mend the damage we have already done. Agricultural practices must improve both the quality and quantity of soil.

A truly sustainable system should not take a tremendous amount of labour. This is not just about efficiency: if sustainability in a system relies on extensive human inputs it is too fragile to be considered truly sustainable. A sustainable system must ultimately be self-regulating.


There are two approaches to improve soil quality and increase soil quantity.

Manage water

The first approach focuses on water and the compounds that dissolve in it. Water may vary in pH, and that may change while it dissolves and deposits compounds as it passes through the soil, subsoil and strata. Additionally, groundwater can carry elements both downwards and upwards when aquifer pressures overcome gravity. For example, under flood conditions, groundwater rises, increasing aquifer pressure, and the aquifer feed of a distant spring may increase, causing upward flow.

Water also flows down and across landscape profiles. By following the form of the landscape, water and the elements dissolved in it can travel great distances.

This laminar flow of nutrients is common within the topsoil, and the higher subsoils of the landscape, rather than the lower strata. Because this flow happens so close to the surface of the earth, it carries both inorganic elements (derived from deep within the earth) and organic compounds (derived from living or once-living organisms). A vast array of minerals and molecules are concentrated and redistributed across landscapes by the natural flow of water.

However, we can change these flows to accomplish soil sustainability goals by harmonising our activities with the patterns of landforms and focusing on the accumulating, slowing, spreading and soaking of water as a self-regulating water distribution system.

Swales – water-harvesting ditches on contour – are an excellent example of harmonisation. They slow water down to a standstill, eliminate erosion and let water infiltrate the surrounding area, while recharging groundwater and preventing waterlogging. Swales also fill dams, collect eroded soil, create new soil and grow vegetation. For more info on building swales see

Encourage living organisms

The second approach focuses on living organisms, their metabolic rates and the broader systems of life, such as food webs. All living organisms derive nutrition from their environments: plants pull nutrients from the soil and air; animals consume plants. Manures are comprised of various elements.

Water also flows through animals. For example, cows consume enormous amounts of water, which passes through and comes out as nitrogen-rich urine, with many other dissolved compounds. This urine is distributed throughout the landscape, which can be an enormous benefit to soil quality.

Image Courtesy of, Ingrid Pullen
Image Courtesy of, Ingrid Pullen

Animals also build their complex bodies – bone, flesh, muscle, brain and other tissues – from nutrients derived from food and water. When they die, natural forces – such as predators, scavengers, decomposers and even aquifers – distribute the compounds from which they are comprised across the ecosystem.

By focusing on the aspects of this massive matrix of factors that are within our control, we can direct the management of animals through our systems so that beneficial organic compounds are reincorporated naturally.

Alternatively, we can take advantage of these concentrations of organic compounds as the basis for organic farming: organisms, and their waste products, make terrific fertilisers. Practical applications include: worm farms, chicken tractors, chicken composting systems, compost, cover crops, small and large animal manures, animal deep litter yards/straw yards, compost teas, bio-fertiliser and biochar.

Mulching is another great organic soil additive, and suitable materials include hay, straw, leaves, grass, stone, sawdust, bark or wood. It is best with fifteen centimetres of material covering the soil. Mulching adds plant nutrients, buffers soil temperatures, prevents erosion, promotes soil life, retains moisture and restores soil structure.


Farmers around the world employ a diverse assortment of organic farming practices. Diversity is a theme of organic farming at many levels. Even monoculture organic farming is giving way to more diverse approaches, and for a good reason: diversity must become a central part of any attempt at achieving sustainability. Intrepid farmers are farming cows with chickens, and chickens with sheep; some are growing crops and raising animals together, allowing the natural by-products of livestock to enrich the soils in which crops are grown.

When people assemble these combinations, through the process of trial and error, they are determining progressively more sustainable approaches. Diversity-based techniques are both better for building soils and are able to more efficiently use resources within a system. Land is being improved in the long-term, while product yield is increased in the short-term.

Natural ecosystems are complex, but by manipulating this small set of elements – the context in which plants and animals are cultivated – sustainability is possible. There are many other elements: soil organisms regulate countless processes invisibly; macroscopic wildlife leaves its own marks while passing through.


To optimise our sustainable use of the landscape, we need to use all land responsibly. By some estimates, we could meet our needs from a total amount comprising thirty per cent agricultural land and seventy per cent forest.

Image Courtesy of, Nadia Lawton
Image Courtesy of, Nadia Lawton

Agricultural fields could grow crops and graze livestock. Production forests, could grow trees and support foraging. Ecosystem processes supported by natural forests make sustainable clearings for the purpose of permaculture crops and pastures much more productive.

The permaculture model of agriculture uses perennial tree systems to support crops and pasture systems. This large-scale blend of land uses promotes healthy soil profiles by increasing both its quality and quantity. However, we can also adopt such a strategy on smaller scales if we focus on the natural processes that occur in forests and other ecosystems.


Soil can be augmented completely in a garden or on a small parcel of land. Gardeners can apply treatments to each square meter to easily and rapidly build soil: by applying compost, mulch, and beneficial biologically rich liquids such as worm farm juice, compost teas and bio-fertiliser. This can build a rich soil biota, while adding organic matter to create up to twenty-five millimetres of soil each year. Doubling the application of organic matter doubles the amount of new soil, sustainably. Unfortunately the intensity of compost applications at a larger scale requires a prohibitive amount of material.


Responsible farmers must take full advantage of the ecosystem processes that have been building soils for millennia. By permitting the majority of a landscape to be governed by those larger ecosystem processes it becomes far easier to achieve soil sustainability on an agricultural scale.

We must now collectively submit to the natural creative forces that have given us the soil we take for granted today. It is our social, humanitarian and moral obligation to implement systems that create soil at rates comparable to those produced by the natural ecosystems of the earth.


This article originally appeared in PIP Magazine, Issue Four – Spring 2015.

Replacing Petro-chemicals With Bio-Based Alternatives. Can We Do It?

April 27, 2016

Entrance to the trade show portion of the meeting in San Diego this week

Getting away from dependence on fossil fuels is an attractive idea, but can it be done? I got some very interesting perspective on that question while attending the 2016 BIO World Congress On Industrial Biotechnology this week here in San Diego. I came away quite encouraged and highly impressed with the pace of innovation. This is particularly true for products we get from oil today, such as plastics, paints and coatings, textiles, as well as some antibiotics, flavors and fragrances. This shift will certainly not happen overnight, but it is something that is progressing, driven by rational economics and rapidly evolving science.

Although its hard to imagine in a time of record low crude oil and natural gas prices, someday fossil fuels will be depleted. Long before that, a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is desirable. One logical strategy is to find ways to supply our chemical and fuel needs from renewable sources like trees, algae, crops and currently under-utilized waste-streams. This is what this Bio meeting was all about. There were over 1000 attendees from 50 countries representing large and small companies, universities, associations and government entities. There were often as many as 8 sessions going on at once, so I can only report some of the high level themes from this gathering. I hope to do some additional posts about some specific and inspiring innovation stories I heard from individuals I interviewed.

Overall, what I witnessed this week was an encouraging nexus of world-class science, appropriate attention to safety, and ethical/practical capitalism – all combined with sincere idealism and can-do optimism.

Some of the highlights and take-away perspectives:


  1. This effort is truly international with centers of excellence all around the globe
  1. Recently there have been enormous advances in genetic engineering and DNA synthesis and sequencing. As a result, the research phase isn’t limiting for many ideas
  1. This isn’t just about biotechnology, there are pure chemistry approaches which are good fits for some of the goals
  1. There is more near-term promise is in areas other than transportation fuels as those have been most impacted by low oil prices and are sometimes complicated by food/fuel trade-offs
  1. Companies that use these chemicals won’t necessarily pay more for a bio-based material, but if there are functional advantages even a slightly more expensive bio-material can replace a petro-chemical. In some cases, the bio-based material can even end up being cheaper
  1. The starting materials or “feed-stocks” range from corn to wood to algae to municipal solid waste, to used cooking oil, to by-products from food and biofuel processing. Methane (natural gas) can also be a useful starting material.
  1. It usually makes the most sense to “piggyback” on existing systems for the production and collection of feed-stocks rather than try to develop whole new systems
  1. Some government policies (tax laws, quotas, blending requirements…) have encouraged this industry, but often they have caused disruptions, distortions, or trade anomalies which have not been truly helpful
  1. After years of effort, algae-based systems of various types are becoming more practical, not maybe so much for biofuels, but for higher value chemicals and animal feeds
  1. The global regulatory regime for bio-industrial technology is not without uncertainty or lack of international harmonization, but on the whole it is more rational, timely and predictable than that for “GMO crops.”

Forbes Food & Agriculture

APR 23, 2016

Steven Savage , CONTRIBUTOR

Strong First Nations support for pipeline projects for LNG

April 27, 2016

Support for the liquefied natural gas industry is growing among First Nations in northern B.C. To date, the Province has signed a total of 62 pipeline benefits agreements with 29 of 32 eligible First Nations (more than 90%) that are located along four proposed natural gas pipeline projects: Pacific Trail Pipeline, Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project, Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project, and the Westcoast Connector Gas Transmission Project.

Natural gas pipeline benefits agreements with First Nations are part of the B.C. government’s comprehensive plan to partner with First Nations on LNG opportunities, which also includes increasing access to skills training and environmental stewardship projects.

Pacific Trail Pipeline:

The Pacific Trail Pipeline is a proposed 480-kilometre natural-gas pipeline to deliver gas from Summit Lake, B.C. to the Kitimat LNG facility site at Bish Cove on the northwest coast. All 16 First Nations located along the proposed route have come together to form the First Nations Limited Partnership (FNLP). The Province has an agreement with the FNLP that will provide an estimated $32 million in direct benefits during the construction phases of the project, as well as a further $10 million in annual payments to the partnership during the operational life of the project. The 16 First Nations of FNLP are:

  • Haisla Nation
  • Kitselas First Nation
  • Lax Kw’alaams Band
  • Lheidli T’enneh First Nation
  • McLeod Lake Indian Band
  • Metlakatla First Nation
  • Nadleh Whut’en First Nation
  • Nak’azdli Band
  • Nee Tahi Buhn First Nation
  • Saik’uz First Nation
  • Skin Tyee First Nation
  • Stellat’en First Nation
  • Ts’il Kaz Koh (Burns Lake) First Nation
  • West Moberly First Nations
  • Wet’suwet’en First Nation
  • Moricetown Band

Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project:

The Coastal GasLink Pipeline is a 670-kilometre natural-gas pipeline from the Dawson Creek area to the proposed LNG Canada facility near Kitimat. The Province has reached natural gas pipeline benefits agreements with 17 of the 20 First Nations along the proposed pipeline route. Eleven First Nations have announced their agreements, and other agreements will be made public as they take effect. The 11 announced agreements are with the following First Nations:

  • Doig River First Nation
  • Halfway River First Nation
  • McLeod Lake Indian Band
  • West Moberly First Nation
  • Lheidli T’enneh First Nation
  • Yekooche First Nation
  • Nee Tahi Buhn First Nation
  • Moricetown Band
  • Skin Tyee First Nation
  • Wet’suwet’en First Nation
  • Kitselas First Nation

Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project:

The Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project is a proposed 900-kilometre natural-gas pipeline to deliver natural gas from the Hudson’s Hope area to the proposed Pacific NorthWest LNG facility near Prince Rupert. To date, 16 of the 19 First Nations along the proposed pipeline route have benefits agreements in place with the Province. Eleven First Nations have announced their agreements and other agreements will be made public as they take effect. The 11 announced agreements are with the following First Nations:

  • Doig River First Nation
  • Halfway River First Nation
  • McLeod Lake Indian Band
  • Gitanyow First Nation
  • Lake Babine First Nation
  • Nisga’a Nation
  • Yekooche First Nation
  • Tl’azt’en First Nation
  • Gitxaala First Nation
  • Kitselas First Nation
  • Metlakatla First Nation

Westcoast Connector Gas Transmission Project:

The Westcoast Connector Gas Transmission Project is a proposed natural-gas pipeline approximately 850 kilometres in length to carry natural gas from production areas in northeast B.C. to BG Canada’s proposed LNG export facility on Ridley Island, near Prince Rupert. The Province has reached natural gas pipeline benefits agreements with 14 of 19 First Nations along the proposed route. Three First Nations have brought their agreements into effect:

  • Gitxaala First Nation
  • Gitanyow First Nation
  • Kitselas First Nation

by pmnationtalk on April 27, 2016

 April 27, 2016


The Living Grid: A new frontier in energy demand response

April 27, 2016

Shutterstock carlos castilla

A trio of British businesses — giant retailer Sainsbury’s, water management organization United Utilities and manufacturer Aggregate Industries — are teaming up to demonstrate the power of intelligent demand response technology, a potential foundation for a more flexible electric grid.

They’re the founding members of a new program called the Living Grid that was catalyzed by the U.K. non-profit Forum for the Future. The goal is to help the country’s National Grid balance peaks and troughs in electricity demand through software that automatically adjusts how much power its equipment uses based on overall demand.

Over time, the group hopes to sign up 20 members, representing more than 200 megawatts of “flexible capacity” that can be used to balance the grid by 2020, according to the Forum.

The founding members represent about 39 megawatts of that amount, estimated Giles Bristow, director of programs for the organization. That’s roughly the amount of power used by 100,000 of those electric kettles that many Britons use to boil water for their evening tea.

What’s the benefit for the companies involved? In the short term, they could save on their electricity bills — by shifting demand to period when rates are lower.

“Demand-side management just makes sense,” said Donna Hunt, head of sustainability at Aggregate Industries, in a statement. “We reduce our energy consumption and costs, we generate additional revenue and we will save at least 50,000 tonnes of carbon emissions over the next five years.”

Over the long term, corporate cooperation in making the grid smarter could make it simpler to integrate and manage new, clean sources of power in a distributed fashion, the forum believes.

“As we add more renewable generation to the system with an increased level of intermittency, the peaks and troughs must be balanced better,” Bristow said. “This brings us closer to that.”

The Forum’s initial members have completed pilot tests of energy management technology from British tech company Open Energi, a Living Grid founding tech partner, and are in the process of rolling out the system across their operations. Collectively, Sainsbury, United Utilities and Aggregate Industries estimate that this investment could cut their carbon emissions by a combined 88,764 tonnes.

Open Energi works with about 40 companies already, managing equipment at more than 330 sites. It won’t be the only technology partner that the Forum engages; over the first year, the focus will be on sharing corporate best practices from various intelligent demand programs so that other businesses can embrace them more quickly, Bristow said.

New demand for demand response

Demand response technology has been around for years, with one of the primary applications being to help mitigate the potential impact of system overloads, often associated with extreme heat or cold. But interest is growing rapidly as companies seek to manage their end-to-end power consumption more thoughtfully.

Worldwide revenue for services that fine-tune electricity consumption using sensors and smart management software should reach $1.2 billion by 2025, compared with just $39.8 million in 2016, according toforecasts from Navigant Research.

“Traditionally, energy efficiency and demand response have been siloed within utilities, with misaligned goals and barriers to transferring funds between programs,” said Navigant Research analyst Brett Feldman in a statement. “Yet the integration of [demand-side management] programs has becoming increasingly popular, especially in places like California, where the combination of these programs has been used as a fundamental part of the state’s energy planning and strategy.”

While the initial focus of the Living Grid program is the U.K., the forum hopes to expand the concept to other regions, Bristow said.

TNC’s plan to teach companies how copying nature cuts risk

April 27, 2016
Sea level rise in the San Francisco Bay Area could wipe out many corporate headquarters unless some mitigation efforts are taken. Preserving coastal tidelands and wetlands in their natural state is one buffer.

Unless you pay attention to ecological science, you might not know that restoring a wetland is a better financial bet for protecting your coastal corporate property against storm surges than building a wall.

Or maybe you wouldn’t know that reducing ozone and nitrogen dioxide emissions from heavy manufacturing areas can be achieved by planting a peri-urban forest in the vicinity.

These are some nature-based solutions to climate change risks and pollution that nonprofit envrionmental advocacy group the Nature Conservancy (TNC) hopes businesses will explore following the launches of a new Center for Sustainability Science that aims to open the door to deeper collaboration with companies.

The effort is based on the premise that borrowing from biology could both reduce businesses’ ecological impacts while also potentially saving money on mitigation, disaster recovery and insurance premiums.

“Businesses are looking beyond investing in nature solely for reducing environmental impact for regulatory and reputational reasons,” saidJennifer Molnar, lead scientist for TNC and managing director of the new Center for Sustainability Science. “Companies and agencies are realizing that nature is critical to bottom lines. There is an economic rationale behind investing in nature.”

As the related concept of “natural capital” — or assigning explicit financial value to environmental impacts — shows up on morecorporate balance sheets and site selection reports, TNC wants to push such considerations to the next level.

The NGO points to previous work with Dow Chemical to show that there can be benefits to income and revenue. Dow was among the first companies to take natural capital valuation beyond cost accounting and integrate what it calls the “economics of ecosystem services” into decision making on everything from R&D to real estate to capital expansion.

The five-year collaboration between TNC and Dow helped inform the pitch TNC is making to other companies with the new center, Molnar said.

Jennifer Molnar, lead scientist and managing director of the TNC Center for Sustainability Science

“Businesses are not immune to feeling the effects of over-stretched natural resources,” she said. “They are increasingly looking to innovative natural solutions in support of their business, whether it is investing in forests to secure their water supply, or restoring marshes to protect factories from storm surges.”
One such example is the case of Seadrift, Texas, where Dow invested in reconstructing wetlands for waste water treatment, which the company says has yielded about $200 million in net present value. Dow said it hopes to realize $1 billion in value through similar projects by 2025.

Mark Weick, Dow’s director of sustainability programs, said that as part of its collaboration, TNC and Dow put together a screening tool to assess prospective R&D, real estate and capital projects based not only on net present value of the project but also what it calls “nature future value,” or the change in value to nature or to the company that project will bring in 10 years. It helps Dow identify investments  that will grow in value as the currently undervalued natural asset grows in value, such as a product that would save water.

“We find that we are making better business decisions, both long and short-term, by considering the values of nature,” Weick said.

But can TNC convince other companies of this?

“Understanding the value of nature and natural solutions is a pioneering business strategy,” Molnar said. “But moving from strategy to action requires understanding conservation research and having the tools to implement more sustainable business practices.”

The center will provide tools, such as a database software tools, and the expertise of its scientists such as Molnar.

One specific examples is an Ecosystem Services Identification & Inventory, or ESII, app developed with Dow and the EcoMetrix Solutions Group. The ESII allows users, such as companies and agencies, to help quantify natural benefits in a given spacial area.


The ESII app helps assess natural capital possibilities in a location.

Insurance is next

While Dow provides an example of an individual company rethinking its approach to natural capital, the insurance industry as a whole is increasingly looking to natural capital solutions for risk mitigation and to inform investment decisions. Molnar said the Center is talking with major insurance companies which are likely to be its next client group.

With climate-related natural disasters pummeling the earth in the form of floods, droughts and hurricanes in recent years, the insurance industry is seeing a spike in claims from such events.

According to Swiss Re, the global insurance industry counted 198 natural disasters in 2015, the highest on record. They also accounted for the majority of disaster claims, or 198 of 353 disaster events last year.

Another big reinsurance company, Munich Re, estimated weather-related losses increased nearly fourfold in the U.S. since 1980. According to a study by Munich Re, extreme weather events (such as prolonged droughts, hurricanes, floods and severe storms) led to $510 billion in insured losses from 1980 to 2011, which the National Association of Insurance Commissioners deemed reason enough to come up with new standards.

“Experts predict climate change will continue to intensify the frequency and severity of these types of weather-related events,” the NAIC said in a report on revisions to its financial analysis handbook.

NAIC said the revisions were designed to help examiners identify unmitigated risks and to provide a framework when examining such risks and their impact on how an insurer invests its assets and prices its products — and maintain solvency.

Molnar said the Center for Sustainability Science has begun to work with Swiss Re to look at nature-based risk mitigation and to use nature as a lens for risk assessment. She said natural science and the ESII tool could help not only in risk assessments but also to help insurers make decisions about where to invest.

“It’s getting the science translated into financial terms,” she said.

Swiss Re, in discussing climate change on its website, said the insurance industry is expecting disasters to climb sharply in second half of the century, based on United Nations predictions. For Europe, Swiss Re sees:

  • An increase in peak surge height of between 36 percent and 55 percent compared to today’s levels
  • A disproportionate increase in annual expected losses of between 100 percent and 900 percent, depending on the country (at today’s values)
  • A water level seen once in 1,000 years occurring — on average — more often than every 30 years

“We believe that companies have an appetite to drive sector-level change by considering nature-based strategies in their decisions,” Molnar said, adding that the Center for Sustainability Science should help them with science-based methods and tools to consider solutions and scale them to have conservation impact.

Barbara Grady

Low-carbon tech: opportunity in the trillions

December 21, 2015

It’s not going to be easy, forging a binding international agreement capable of cutting emissions to levels scientists say will prevent the worst impacts of climate change — much less following through with it — but a joint public and private initiative from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development claims it can get us 65 percent of the way there while sparking economic growth.

Launched last year at COP20 in Peru, the Low Carbon Technology Partnerships initiative provides a platform for businesses to play a more decisive role in helping achieve the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

If its ambitions are realized, LCTPi said it could help overcome market barriers and failures to create new investment opportunities and channel finance towards the low carbon economy, providing $5 trillion to 10 trillion of business opportunities and millions of jobs between today and 2030.

Through the initiative’s nine focus areas, businesses have been developing plans to catalyze the research, development, demonstration and deployment of low carbon technologies across the important areas of the economy.

Today at COP21 in Paris, LCTPi unveiled updates on each focus area. Here are the highlights from some key focus areas:

Renewable energy capacity can more than double by 2025

Solar, wind and hydropower are reliable renewable energy technologies that are increasingly competitive, LCTPi said, and 1.5 terawatts of additional capacity can be deployed before 2025. This deployment could reduce cumulative global carbon emissions by 13 gigatons by 2025 and by 35 gigatons by 2030.

To help overcome the key barriers to renewable energy growth, LCTPi recommends businesses proactively engage with policymakers and regulators to promote efficient, reliable, effective and commercially viable integration of renewable energy into grids and electricity markets. Green bonds also should be scaled up by limiting risk through more robust verification and improved transparency.

Working with corporate renewable energy buyers can help scale renewable energy procurement to substitute demand away from fossil fuels, LCTPi said. Accelerated deployment of low carbon microgrids also can promote sustainable electrification of remote areas.

Incentivize carbon capture and storage

At least 1 gigaton of carbon dioxide will need to be stored annually by 2030, according to the IEA, which would add up to between 500 and 1,000 carbon, capture and storage projects. But this is a far cry from today’s meager 27 megatons of carbon stored each year — and at the current rate of deployment we would achieve only about 100 megatons by 2030.

A lack of economic incentives is stunting the growth of this technology, LCTPi said, which is why it is proposing the trial implementation a Zero Emissions Credit, or ZEC. One ZEC would be granted to a carbon, capture and storage project for each ton of carbon captured and stored, which would provide a revenue stream for the project by having value in the global marketplace. This value would come from compliance-based systems at a national level where capture and storage of some amount of carbon becomes a requirement.

Until the ZEC is widely recognized, LCTPi is calling for the creation of a provisional Zero Emissions Credit Development Fund to drive early demand.

Chemicals cuts carbon in multiple industries

As an “industry of industries,” the chemical sector plays an important role in the transition to a low-carbon world, LCTPi said. Granted, the manufacturing of chemical products is associated with greenhouse gas emissions. The use of many of these products can contribute significantly to global emissions abatement in other sectors.

In the building sector, the chemical industry can provide the advanced materials for improved, cost-effective insulation; renewable energy harvesting and storage; the phasing out of critical materials; sustainable urban living and mobility concepts; zero waste building materials; and the efficient use and reuse of water, to name a few.

In the automobile sector, chemicals can help reduce emissions through lightweight composite materials, low rolling resistance tires and solar reflection windows film.

To reduce the chemical industry’s direct carbon footprint, hydrogen can be generated via renewable energy and carbon dioxide use, which enables the production of various chemicals including methanol, methane and ammonia. Producing chemicals from waste and biomass also offers lower-carbon opportunities.

Increase sourcing from sustainably managed forests

The world’s forests store 638 gigatons of carbon, more than the amount of carbon that is stored in the entire atmosphere. And deforestation contributes 17 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, about as much as the transportation sector.

To better protect forests, LCTPi recommends promoting certification for sustainable fiber sourcing. Half of all materials in the global economy also should be made from forest-based renewable resources by 2050.

Looking at the pulp sector specifically, LCTPi said there currently are technologies in the pre-commercialization phase that reduce the emissions intensity of pulp processing by up to 70 percent, which could displace processes that use fossil fuels and free up surplus energy from biomass to be exported to the electricity grid.

Three pillars for climate smart agriculture

At COP21, LCTPi introduced a “Statement of Ambition to 2030,” which establishes three pillars to promote “climate smart” agriculture. The first pillar, productivity ambition, strives to increase global food security by making 50 percent more nutritional food available through increased production on existing land, protecting ecosystem services and biodiversity, bringing degraded land back into productive use and reducing food loss from field to shelf.

The second pillar is climate change resilience, incomes and livelihoods ambition, which focuses on strengthening the climate resilience of agricultural landscapes and farming communities to successfully adapt to climate change through agroecological approaches appropriate for all scales of farming.

Climate change mitigation ambition, the third and final pillar, calls for reducing emissions by at least 30 percent by 2030. Not all these reductions will be at the farm level, LCTPi said. A major portion also will be achieved through reducing food waste up to the point of sale to the end consumer, in line with WBCSD’s Action 2020 to halve food waste.

What cheap solar and battery storage mean for energy’s future

November 10, 2015

BP on Tuesday published its first Technology Outlook (PDF), an 82-page report outlining how technology has the potential to unlock the world’s energy resources over the next 35 years.

Bringing together previously internal analysis from BP’s energy experts, the document predicts the world will have a plentiful supply of affordable energy through the next few decades thanks to advances in all forms of energy technologies — from battery storage innovations to better extraction techniques for oil.

BP predicts the global energy system will remain heavily reliant on fossil fuels for decades to come. However, it also envisages strong growth potential for clean energy systems and supporting technology such as battery storage and electric vehicles.

BusinessGreen outlines five key predictions for the clean energy sector from the report:

1. Fossil fuels resources are abundant, but climate action could curb supply

Advances in extraction techniques will help companies maximize the remaining reserves of oil and gas, leaving supply secure for decades, according to BP. Using the best extraction technology available today, BP estimates 4.8 trillion barrels of recoverable oil or oil-equivalent resources in the world. However, it acknowledges that climate action may well impact how much of this can be used.

“Governments, supported by many businesses and citizens, are increasingly seeking to limit carbon emissions by using less energy and shifting towards lower-carbon fuels,” the report stated. “This is likely to have an impact on the proportion of these resources produced, relative to other forms of energy.”

2. Solar and onshore wind costs will continue their swift descents

The cost of onshore wind power will fall by 14 percent with every doubling of cumulative installed capacity, while the cost of solar will drop by 24 percent with every doubling, according to BP predictions. This is thanks to the litany of small components that make up renewable energy systems declining in cost much faster than larger, more capital-intensive modules such as nuclear reactors.

Between 2030 and 2040 BP predicts solar will break through the 30 percent efficiency rate. Advances in offshore wind farms will include design technologies to support taller towers, the development of new materials for larger blades and better sensors to allow for aerodynamic control throughout the blade length.

3. Carbon pricing will have a massive impact on competitiveness of renewables

Without a carbon price, gas and coal will remain the lowest-cost options for generating electricity in North America through 2050, according to the BP analysis. However, with the introduction of a relatively modest carbon price of $40 per tonne of CO2, new-build gas and renewables will start to displace coal.

With a higher carbon price — $80 per tonne of CO2 — onshore wind will be cost-competitive with natural gas by 2050, according to BP. This is based on analysis that applies a grid integration cost to renewables because of their intermittent energy supply.

4. Major advances in energy storage are on the horizon

The large-scale deployment of renewables will play havoc with electricity networks, according to BP. Curtailment will become a common issue as grids struggle to manage the intermittency of supply from renewable sources.

In the short term, BP proposes that flexible generation systems — such as gas-fired power stations for back-up generation — are the most immediate solution to intermittency issues. However, over the medium and long term, smart grids and demand response will help to alleviate problems caused by intermittent supply, BP predicted.

In particular, the price of energy storage systems is set to plummet over the next three decades. The report quotes Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which predicts the average cost of residential stationary energy storage systems will fall from $1,600 per KWh in 2015 to below $1,000 per KWh in 2020, and $260 per KWh in 2040.

“Stationary energy storage for electricity-grid services is disruptive in its capacity to support the integration of renewable energy sources with the electricity grid,” the report stated.

5. Electric vehicles are the future of city driving

Advances in battery technology mean electric vehicles increasingly will become a “viable option” for many consumers — particularly for urban drivers battling stop-start traffic and increasingly stringent limits on vehicle emissions, according to BP.

Economies of scale, coupled with tech breakthroughs, will push down the cost of electricity storage for vehicles in the coming decades. BP predicts the cost per km for a medium-sized electric car in the U.S. will fall from 26.2 cents in 2012 to 14.3 cents by 2050. In comparison, the cost of driving a gasoline-powered car will rise from 11.2 cents per km to 12 cents per km. “In the medium to long term, we can expect progressive decarbonisation in the transport sector with a greater move toward hybrid and electric passenger cars,” the report stated.

Meanwhile, next-generation batteries — such as rechargeable lithium sulphur batteries — are expected to increase energy capacity threefold by 2025, from 150Wh per kg to 450Wh per kg. These next-generation batteries could be established in the electric vehicle market by 2030, according to BP.

Blood Tribe Agriculture Project

April 29, 2015

Economic Development Bolstered by Agriculture Project Success

A recent article in the Lethbridge Herald highlights the initial successes of the Blood Tribe Agriculture Project. The project, a partnership with Lethbridge College, trains young Band members in the skills needed to enter into the agricultural sector, such as irrigation techniques, soil management, agricultural safety and beef production.

The hope is that over time Band members will be the main beneficiaries of the employment and economic gains associated with agriculture and beef production on Reserve lands.

Blood Tribe is located on the largest Reserve in Canada, with a large membership exceeding 12,000. Historically, much of the cultivated land has been leased out to non-Aboriginal farmers with marginal economic or employment gains for the community.

The resiliency of any community in Canada, be it First Nation or not, relies strongly on the ability to create meaningful, stable employment. Doing so also helps retain and attract youth back to the community. At least initially, Blood Tribe seems to be on pace to increasingly reap the benefits of on-Reserve agriculture both through employment and production.

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

Ecolibrio is a sustainable development consultancy, working with communities to understand and address complex environmental, economic and social issues. If you would like to learn more about leveraging your community’s assets to create lasting positive outcomes, contact us today.

Urban Planning Innovation

February 1, 2015

Lessons from the Global South on How to Build Sustainable Cities

Community planners are increasingly looking to the Global South for lessons on how to design more sustainable cities. Cities like Quito, Bogota and Medellin have for years been heralded by some planners as interesting case studies in urban social innovation.

With the increasing attention paid to the impact of community design on population health, these cities are taking their place alongside North American cities in the new urbanism movement.

Medellin for its part was recently featured on CBC for its creative adaptation of escalators and ski lifts to incorporate poorer areas of the City–located for the most part on mountains surrounding the city-core–into the larger transportation system. This has resulted in greater opportunities for economic development, social cohesion and urban pride amongst the most marginalized.

Cities in the North are increasingly drawn to alternative responses to economic and social development questions. Looking beyond the same paradigms is perhaps a glimpse into the future.

To read the CBC article, click here.

Ecolibrio is a sustainable development consultancy offering communities and organizations unique perspectives on social and economic issues. Contact us today to learn more.

Slave Lake Friendship Accord

July 25, 2014

Municipalities and First Nation Sign Agreement

Earlier this Spring, the Sawridge First Nation, the Town of Slave Lake and the M.D. of Lesser Slave River signed an agreement to encourage cooperation when addressing regional opportunities and challenges. The Councils of all parties hope that the agreement will pave the way for future dialogue and joint initiatives. The communities have are also pursuing a consensus-based decision-making framework when it comes to inter-jurisdictional issues.

Justly so, this agreement has been heralded as example for others to follow, demonstrating openness and respect.

More information on this agreement can be found here and here.

Inter-jurisdictional planning will become increasingly important as municipalities and First Nations struggle to find the funding to provide services to their residents, particularly in remote and economically depressed regions.

Ecolibrio can work with your community to review opportunities for inter-jurisdictional partnerships and planning.

For more information on Ecolibrio refer to our services page.