Four ways our cities can cut transport emissions in a hurry: avoid, shift, share and improve


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Urgent and radical change in urban transport policies and practices will benefit the planet and future generations.
blurAZ/Shutterstock

Hussein Dia, Swinburne University of Technology

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently warned that global warming could reach 1.5℃ as early as 2030. The landmark report by leading scientists urged nations to do more to avert an impending crisis.

We have 12 years, the report said, to contain greenhouse gas emissions. This includes serious efforts to reduce transport emissions.




Read more:
New UN report outlines ‘urgent, transformational’ change needed to hold global warming to 1.5°C


In Australia, transport is the third-largest source of greenhouse gases, accounting for around 17% of emissions.
Passenger cars account for around half of our transport emissions.

The transport sector is also one of the strongest factors in emissions growth in Australia. Emissions from transport have increased nearly 60% since 1990more than any other sector. Australia is ranked 20th out of 25 of the largest energy-using countries for transport energy efficiency.

Cities around the world have many opportunities to reduce emissions. But this requires renewed thinking and real commitment to change.

Our planet can’t survive our old transport habits

Past (and still current) practices in urban and transport planning are fundamental causes of the transport problems we face today.

Over the past half-century, cities worldwide have grown rapidly, leading to urban sprawl. The result was high demand for motorised transport and, in turn, increased emissions.

The traffic gridlock on roads and motorways was the catalyst for most transport policy responses during that period. The solution prescribed for most cities was to build out of congestion by providing more infrastructure for private vehicles. Limited attention was given to managing travel demand or improving other modes of transport.




Read more:
Stuck in traffic: we need a smarter approach to congestion than building more roads


Equating mobility with building more roads nurtured a tendency towards increased motorisation, reinforcing an ever-increasing inclination to expand the road network. The result was a range of unintended adverse environmental, social and economic consequences. Most of these are rooted in the high priority given to private vehicles.

What are the opportunities to change?

The various strategies to move our cities in the right direction can be grouped into four broad categories: avoid, shift, share, and improve. Major policy, behaviour and technology changes are required to make these strategies work.

Avoid strategies aim to slow the growth of travel. They include initiatives to reduce trip lengths, such as high-density and mixed land use developments. Other options decrease private vehicle travel – for example, through car/ride sharing and congestion pricing. And teleworking and e-commerce help people avoid private car trips altogether.




Read more:
City-wide trial shows how road use charges can reduce traffic jams


Shanghai’s Hongqiao transport hub is a unique example of an integrated air, rail and mixed land use development. It combines Hongqiao’s airport, metro subway lines, and regional high-speed rail. A low-carbon residential and commercial precinct surrounds the hub.

Layout of Shanghai Hongqiao integrated transport hub.
Peng & Shen (2016)/Researchgate, CC BY

Shift strategies encourage travellers to switch from private vehicles to public transport, walking and cycling. This includes improving bus routes and service frequency.

Pricing strategies that discourage private vehicles and encourage other modes of transport can also be effective. Policies that include incentives that make electric vehicles more affordable have been shown to encourage the shift.

Norway is an undisputed world leader in electric vehicle uptake. Nearly a third of all new cars sold in 2017 were a plug-in model. The electric vehicle market share was expected to be as much as 40% within a year.

An electric vehicle charging station in the Norwegian capital Oslo.
Softulka/Shutterstock



Read more:
The new electric vehicle highway is a welcome gear shift, but other countries are still streets ahead


Share strategies affect car ownership. New sharing economy businesses are already moving people, goods and services. Shared mobility, rather than car ownership, is providing city dwellers with a real alternative.

This trend is likely to continue and will pose significant challenges to car ownership models.

Uber claims that its carpooling service in Mumbai saved 936,000 litres of fuel and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 2,662 metric tonnes within one year. It also reports that UberPool in London achieved a reduction of more than 1.1 million driving kilometres in just six months.

UberPool is available in inner Melbourne suburbs. Trip must begin and end in this area.
Uber

Improve strategies promote the use of technologies to optimise performance of transport modes and intelligent infrastructure. These include intelligent transport systems, urban information technologies and emerging solutions such as autonomous mobility.

Our research shows that sharing 80% of autonomous vehicles will reduce net emissions by up to 20%. The benefits increase with wider adoption of autonomous shared electric vehicles.

Autonomous vehicles can offer first- and last-kilometre solutions, especially in outer suburbs with limited public transport services.
Monopoly919/Shutterstock



Read more:
Utopia or nightmare? The answer lies in how we embrace self-driving, electric and shared vehicles


The urgency and benefits of steering our cities towards a path of low-carbon mobility are unmistakable. This was recognised in the past but progress has been slow. Today, the changing context for how we build future cities – smart, healthy and low-carbon – presents new opportunities.

If well planned and implemented, these four interventions will collectively achieve transport emission reduction targets. They will also improve access to the jobs and opportunities that are preconditions for sound economic development in cities around the world.The Conversation

Hussein Dia, Chair, Department of Civil and Construction Engineering, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Six ways to improve water quality in New Zealand’s lakes and rivers


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Lake Tarawera, seen from its outlet, has excellent but declining water quality.
Troy Baisden, CC BY-SA

Troy Baisden, University of Waikato

Two years ago, New Zealanders were shocked when contaminated drinking water sickened more than 5,000 people in the small town of Havelock North, with a population of 14,000. A government inquiry found that sheep faeces were the likely source of bacterial pathogens, which entered an aquifer when heavy rain flooded surrounding farmland.

A second phase of the inquiry identified six principles of international drinking water security that had been bypassed. Had they been followed, the drinking water contamination would have been prevented or greatly reduced.

Here, I ask if the approach recommended by the Havelock North inquiry to prevent drinking water contamination can be extended to reduce the impacts of nutrient contamination of freshwater ecosystems.




Read more:
We all live downstream – it’s time to restore our freshwater ecosystems


Freshwater degraded and in decline

Most measures of the ecological health and recreational value of New Zealand’s lowland rivers and lakes have been rated as degraded and still declining. Intensive agriculture often cops much of the blame, but primary industry exports remain the heart of New Zealand’s economy.

The challenge posed by this trade-off between the economy and the environment has been described as both enormous, and complex. Yet it is a challenge that New Zealand’s government aims to tackle, and continues to rate as a top public concern.

An important lesson from the Havelock North inquiry is that sometimes there is no recipe – no easy list of steps or rules we can take to work through a problem. Following existing rules resulted in a public health disaster. Instead, practitioners need to follow principles, and be mindful that rules can have exceptions.

For freshwater, New Zealand has a similar problem with a lack of clear actionable rules, and I’ve mapped a direct link between the six principles of drinking water security and corresponding principles for managing nutrient impacts in freshwater.

Six principles for freshwater

Of the six principles of drinking water safety, the first is perhaps the most obvious: drinking water safety deserves a “high standard of care”. Similarly, freshwater nutrient impact management should reflect a duty of care that mirrors the scale of impacts. Our most pristine freshwater, like Lake Taupo, and water on the verge of tipping into nearly irreversible degradation, deserve the greatest effort and care.

Second, drinking water safety follows a clear logic from the starting point: “protecting the integrity of source water is paramount”. For nutrient impact management in freshwater, we must reverse this and focus on a more forensic analysis along flowpaths to the source of excess nutrients entering water. Our current approach of using estimates of sources is not convincing when tracers could point to sources in the same way DNA can help identify who was at a crime scene. We must link impacts to sources.

Third, drinking water safety demands “multiple barriers to contamination”. For freshwater, we’re better off taking a similar but different approach – maximising sequential reductions of contamination. There are at least three main opportunities, including farm management, improving drains and riparian vegetation, and enhancing and restoring wetlands. If each is 50% effective at reducing contaminants reaching waterways, the three are as good as a single barrier that reduces contamination by 90%. The 50% reductions are likely to be much more achievable and cost effective.

Managing hot spots and hot moments

The fourth principle of drinking water safety was perhaps the most dramatic failure in the Havelock North drinking water crisis: “change precedes contamination”. Despite a storm and flood reaching areas of known risk for contaminating the water supply, there were no steps in place to detect changing conditions that breached the water supply’s classification as “secure” and therefore safe.

A similar, but inverted principle can keep nutrients on farm, where we want them, and keep them out of our water. Almost all processes that lead to nutrient excess and mobilisation, as well as its subsequent removal, occur in hot spots and hot moments.

This concept means that when we look, we find that roughly 90% of excess nutrients come from less than 10% of the land area, or events that represent less than 10% of time. We can identify these hot spots and hot moments, and classify them into a system of control points that are managed to limit nutrient contamination of freshwater.

Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake, has a nitrogen cap and trade programme in place, which allocates farmers individual nitrogen discharge allowances.
from Shutterstock, CC BY-SA

Establishing clear ownership

A fifth principle for drinking water seems obvious: “suppliers must own the safety of drinking water”. Clear ownership results in clear responsibility.

Two world-leading cap-and-trade schemes created clear ownership of nutrient contaminants reaching iconic water bodies. One is fully in place in the Lake Taupo catchment, and another is still under appeal in the Lake Rotorua catchment.

These schemes involved government investment of between NZ$70 million and NZ$80 million to “buy out” a proportion of nutrients reaching the lakes. This cost seems unworkable across the entire nation. Will farmers or taxpayers own this cost, or is there any way to pass it on to investors in new, higher-value land use that reduces nutrient loss to freshwater? A successful example of shifting to higher value has been conversions from sheep and beef farming to vineyards.

As yet, the ownership of water has made headlines, but remains largely unclear outside Taupo and Rotorua when it comes to nutrient contaminants. Consideration of taxing the use of our best water could be much more sensible with a clearer framework of ownership for both water and the impacts of contaminants.

The final principle of drinking water safety is to “apply preventative risk management”. This is a scaled approach that involves thinking ahead of problems to assess risks that can be mitigated at each barrier to contamination.

For nutrient management in water, a principled approach has to start with the basic fact that water flows and must be managed within catchments. From this standpoint, New Zealand has a good case for leading internationally, because regional councils govern the environment based on catchment boundaries.

Within catchments we still have a great deal of work to do. This involves understanding how lag effects can lead to a legacy of excess nutrients. We need to manage whole catchments by understanding, monitoring and managing current and future impacts in the entire interconnected system.

The ConversationIf we can focus on these principles, government, industry, researchers, NGOs and the concerned public can build understanding and consensus together, enabling progress towards halting and reversing the declining health and quality of our rivers and lakes.

Troy Baisden, Professor and Chair in Lake and Freshwater Sciences, University of Waikato

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australian recycling plants have no incentive to improve


Trevor Thornton, Deakin University

In the wake of a devastating fire at the Melbourne Coolaroo recycling facility earlier this month, Victorian environment minister Lily D’Ambrosio has announced a statewide audit of recycling facilities.

The audit is designed to identify other facilities with dangerous stockpiles of paper and plastic, but will also have the benefit of simply telling us how many plants are in Victoria.

It’s currently almost impossible to say how many recycling facilities are in Australia, where they are, and what they’re capable of sorting. And market forces can incentivise stockpiling material, creating the potential for yet more severe fires.

Where does our recycling go?

Australia generates roughly 50 million tonnes of waste a year, around 50-60% of which is recycled.

Some is defined as “construction and demolition” waste and recycled at specialist facilities, while a portion of food and garden waste is composted.

Most of the rest is collected from businesses and households, sorted at a recycling facility and then sent on to another facility to be turned into new products or packaging.

Overall, the volume of waste we generate generating is increasing at an estimated 7-10% per annum – more waste and recyclables that require sorting.

According to a 2013 report from the Department of Environment and Energy there are an estimated 114 facilities in Australia that sort recyclables from the commercial/industrial and household sectors.

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However, this tells us very little. We don’t know the true number, as each council licenses the facilities in their area but there’s no central database. Some will manage household recyclables, while some will specialise in materials like paper and cardboard, or glass.

These facilities vary in how much volume they can process, as well as the variety of materials. Some rely totally on human labour to sort the materials, and others are a mix of mechanical and labour.

In light of our growing need for recycling facilities (and events like the Coolaroo fire), it’s clear that we need a national registry, updated with an annual survey.

Private companies recycle for Australia

Across Australia, most recycling is done by private companies. Councils are responsible for collecting household recyclables, but with very few exceptions they pay businesses to do it. Regardless, we are charged for the service through our rates.

Many different materials can be recycled – even plastic shopping bags and polystyrene. But it requires dedicated equipment at the recycling facilities to do so, and well as a market for the sorted product. Installing plastic-bag-recycling equipment is expensive and the markets are volatile, meaning that the expense for collection and sorting may not be repaid.

When prices for material like metal, glass or paper drop, companies may hold on to material waiting for an increase, or simply send them to landfill to reduce costs.

Another issue not often considered is the location of these facilities. As forward planning has been limited, new facilities will need to be placed in rural or regional areas, increasing transport costs and further shrinking the profit margins of the industry.

It also means more emissions as waste is transported from collection, to the sorting facility and then back to industry and shipping locations. At the same time, recyclables from many regional councils are transported to specialist sorting facilities located closer to metropolitan Melbourne, as there are no such facilities close to them.

What we can do to fix it

Fundamentally, Australians want more recycling, less landfill and less overall waste. Fortunately there are a number of process that can help deliver these outcomes.

States and territories can upgrade recycling facilities. New South Wales has been extremely proactive in spending money from its landfill levy to improve waste management, but the Victorian government has a A$500 million sustainability fund that should be used for the same purpose.

Particular attention should be paid to increasing our capacity to sort more materials, diverting them from landfill.

Tax breaks and other financial incentives should be offered to plant operators who upgrade their equipment, and manufacturers who use recyclable material in their products.

At the same time, we should consider penalising businesses who use non-recyclable packaging when alternatives exist, and retailers who sell goods in multi-material packaging (like polystyrene and plastic) without providing an alternative.

It should be possible to buy fruit or vegetables not wrapped in multiple kinds of packaging.
ricardo/Flickr, CC BY

Recycling is very different to landfills, which are also generally privately owned. There’s significant government investment in landfill, as well as strict environmental and social restrictions. Importantly, landfills are not subject to the same market forces that cause large price fluctuations.

While the Victorian audit is a positive step, it does not address the basic lack of sorting facilities in the right locations, without policies to encourage development.

Recycling reduces overall greenhouse gas emissions, and energy, water and raw material consumption. Yet, apart from continual policy statements, little is being done.

Of course, it’s a complex issue. Forcing recyclers to sell their product at low rates can cause businesses to collapse; at the same time, less valuable material can end up in clearly dangerous stockpiles or yet more landfill.

The ConversationKneejerk reactions are not the answer. First and foremost, we need to find out how many facilities exist across Australia, where they are and what their capacity is. Only then can we usefully plan.

Trevor Thornton, Lecturer, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Low-energy homes don’t just save money, they improve lives


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Eco-houses at Scotland’s Housing Expo, Inverness. What is it like to live in a house like this?
via Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

Stephen Berry, University of South Australia; David Michael Whaley, University of South Australia, and Trivess Moore, RMIT University

Household energy use is a significant contributor to global carbon emissions. International policy is firmly moving towards technology-rich, low- and near-zero-energy homes. That is, buildings designed to reduce the need for additional heating, cooling and lighting. They use efficient or renewable energy technology to reduce the remaining energy use.

But what about the experiences of people who live in homes of this standard? Are these homes comfortable, easy to operate, and affordable? Do people feel confident using so-called smart energy technology designed for low energy use? What support systems do we need to help people live in low-energy, low-carbon houses?

We worked with other Australian and UK researchers to understand what it’s like to live in purpose-built low-energy housing. As part of this project, researchers from Sheffield Hallam University and the University of Salford in the UK visited South Australia to collect data from Lochiel Park Green Village, one of the world’s most valuable living laboratories of near-zero energy homes.

Lochiel Park’s 103 homes were built in the mid-2000s to achieve a minimum of 7.5 energy efficiency stars. They’re purpose-built to be a comfortable temperature year-round, and are packed with a solar photovoltaic system, solar hot water, a live feedback display to show households their energy use, plus a range of water- and energy-efficient appliances and equipment. Combined, these systems reduce both annual and peak energy demand, and supply much of that energy at a net zero-carbon impact.

To reciprocate, we spent several weeks investigating similar examples of niche low-energy housing developments in the Midlands and the North of England. We listened to the stories of people living in low energy homes, who experience the difference on a daily basis, and from season to season. They help us look beyond the dollars saved or percentage of emissions reduced; for them the impact of low-energy homes is personal.

This research provides new insights into the relationship between people, energy technologies and low-carbon buildings. For example, one elderly householder told us that moving into a dry and warm low-energy home allowed their grandchildren to come and stay, completely changing their life, and the life of their family.

Low-energy homes create a wide range of physical and mental changes. Several households spoke about health improvements from higher indoor air quality. Even the idea of living in a healthier and more environmentally sustainable home can prompt lifestyle changes – one woman in her mid-50s told us she gave up smoking after moving into her low-energy house because she felt her behaviour should match the building’s environmental design. She also shortened the length of her showers, reduced her food wastage, and lowered her transport use by visiting the supermarket less often.

Purpose-built low-energy homes also give economic empowerment to low-income households. One household told us that savings on energy bills let them afford annual family holidays, even overseas. This economic benefit matches our findings in other Australian examples.

As researchers, we might dismiss this as a macro-economic rebound effect, voiding many of the energy and environmental benefits. But to that household the result was a closer and stronger family unit, able to make the types of choices available to others in their community. The benefits in mental and physical wellbeing are real, and more important to that family than net carbon emission reductions.

Although international policy is firmly moving towards technology-rich, low-energy homes, our research shows that not all technology is user-friendly or easy to understand. For example, some households were frustrated by not knowing if their solar hot water system was efficiently using free solar energy, or just relying on gas or electric boosting. Design improvements with better user feedback will be critically important if we are to meet people’s real needs.

The ConversationThis research highlights the importance, in the transition to low-energy and low-carbon homes, of not forgetting the people themselves. Improving real quality of life should be the central focus of carbon-reducing housing policies.

Stephen Berry, Research fellow, University of South Australia; David Michael Whaley, Research Fellow in Sustainable Energy and Electrical Engineering, University of South Australia, and Trivess Moore, Research Fellow, RMIT University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Blackbutt Reserve


Kevin's Daily Photo, Video, Quote or Link

Since I was unable to visit Gap Creek Falls the other day, I decided I might pop in to have a look at the new animal enclosures at Blackbutt Reserve near Newcastle. I will say straight off the bat that I do have something of a prejudice against Blackbutt Reserve, as I see the place as nothing like a natural bush setting, it being far too ‘corrupted’ by human activity, weeds and the like. Having said that it is a good place for a family or group outing/event. It certainly has its place, but it is not a true nature reserve (in my opinion).

Visitor Centre

ABOVE: Visitor Centre

I do think that some well designed animal and bird enclosures at Blackbutt could lift the value of the reserve dramatically and make it a really great place for families, especially young families. There are opportunities for educational visits for kids, possible environmental…

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Our New Look


The New Year has begun and what a great way for the Blog to celebrate the New Year – with a brand new look!

Some of the changes you may have noticed on the Blog include the following:

– The overall theme and appearance of the Blog has been given a major overhaul, with a fresh, new header image. It has taken a little bit of work to get the image right and hopefully you like it. The banner image also includes a bit of self promotion, with the website address appearing on it.

– The sharing options on for each post now include buttons for Tumbler, LinkedIn and Google+

– There is also an option for rating each Blog article.

I am always looking at ways to improve the Blog and 2012 will be no different. Hopefully there will be more regular and better quality articles on the way, with other improvements to the Blog pages and features as well. All this to come in 2012 and beyond.

Australian Wilderness Adventures: Episode 001 – Cathedral Rock National Park


Today I have uploaded the first episode in what will be a growing series of documentary-like videos for my YouTube channel (Kevin’s Wilderness Journeys). This series of videos will focus on national parks and reserves in Australia (especially New South Wales), with a view to providing useful information for people who may be interested in visiting the national park being considered in any particular episode. I am hoping to provide a preview of the main attractions in each national park and the facilities available for visitors. Hopefully these will whet the appetite for those who view the videos and provoke a desire to actually visit the national parks under consideration.

This first episode focuses on the Cathedral Rock National Park, with a look at the Cathedral Rock Track and the Woolpack Rocks Track. There will be more episodes to come, including episodes on Dorrigo National Park, Bongil Bongil National Park and Myall Lakes National Park – among others. Hopefully in time better equipment will improve the quality of videos available – but none-the-less, I do think the videos are useful to some degree as they are.

The actual size of the video I have in my archives for the first video is 2.85 GB, so there is a fair reduction in file size (and therefore quality) to get the videos online and within the limits of YouTube file sizes and length.