To get our economy re-started right away, investment in projects that deploy available skills and technology to achieve dependable future returns is required.
To future-proof urgent investment, Engineers for Social Responsibility (ESR) urge all government departments to remain focused on the target of net zero emissions by 2050 and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
As a group of around 100 engineering members, ESR considers that being knowledgeable in various fields of technology means we have an obligation to society at large to communicate the many opportunities and risks associated with technological development.
We endorse the crucial role of the Climate Change Commission in informing government policy, and the principles for investment outlined in their letter dated 7 April, 2020. To complement this advice, we would also like to draw your attention to the following risks and opportunities.
1. Believing emissions reduction technology will allow business-as- usual. Emissions reduction technology cannot achieve agreed emissions reduction targets on its own without wider behavioural changes in the way we meet our needs. For example, carbon capture and storage technology will not overcome its technical and economic challenges in time to singlehandedly solve the problem of industrial emissions. Even successful, road-tested technology must not fool us into complacency. For example, electric vehicles (EV’s) will form a valuable component of our transport future - with lifecycle studies indicating they can emit 70% less CO2 than combustion-fuelled vehicles in countries with clean electricity generation. However, it is not feasible to replace all of our vehicle fleet fast enough to meet our agreed emissions reduction targets, and doing this would create unsustainable waste streams. EV’s need to be supplemented by major investments in public transport, urban re-form, and low-powered vehicles such as e-bikes.
2. Banking on continued fossil fuel use. Any infrastructure project attracting current investment must be able to demonstrate clear benefits to a future economy that uses 80% less fossil fuels. If not, the investment is not future-proof for the next 10 years, let alone the longer term. For example, over-investment in roads is a particular risk.
3. Poor return on investment. In a post-fossil fuel economy, we will need a clear focus on energy return-on-energy invested (EROI), in the same way you are considering returns on financial investments. For example, hydrogen technology is unlikely to achieve an EROI that makes it cost-effective as a large-scale emissions reduction strategy.
1. Meeting needs with disruptive innovation. We need to be fearless in re-imagining a carbon neutral society, focusing on identifying basic human needs and how these can be met without reliance on fossil fuels. COVID-19 could be the disruptive trigger-event which shows that people are able to meet their needs in new ways; for example, using communications technology to reduce our carbon footprint for transportation.
2. Shift projects. We need projects that will get the economy moving, and also get us moving towards lower emissions. A “shift project” is one that results in downshift of fossil energy use. Investment in shift projects releases value by reducing the energy used in a system and lowering exposure to energy risks.
Towards Shift Projects
A “shift project” is one that results in downshift of fossil energy use. Shift projects usually involve innovations in technology, services, IT, or operations. They are often a redevelopment or regeneration of an old system. Although not yet developed to achieve system-wide regeneration, the following ideas represent first steps in that direction.
1. 100% Renewable Electricity
- Support the many wind generation projects that are already consented.
- Consider pumped water storage infrastructure to counter the intermittence of renewables.
- Support funding for community solar farms (plus storage if appropriate) connected to local networks
- Close Huntly power station
2. Urban transport revolution:
- Support investment in all major cities, including:
- Public transport infrastructure (new electric passenger rail systems)
- Further development of cycle ways, walkways, and related infrastructure (including fast-tracking of the Northern Pathway from Auckland City to Albany)
- Support deployment of on-demand EV car sharing services in major centres. E.g. through tenders to provide transport services (as used for e-scooters), and procurement/rental of parking facilities.
3. Inter-city rail transport:
- Fast-track proposed investments in electrification of rail freight systems. Electrify the Tauranga- Hamilton-Auckland route.
- Bring forward the repair and reinstatement of mothballed regional rail networks (e.g. Gisborne-Wairoa line).
- Invest in high-speed passenger rail services – with Auckland to Hamilton as the first stage.
4. Renovate existing buildings:
- Improve building energy standards for new residential and commercial buildings.
- Significantly increase support for energy efficiency and insulation improvements to the residential
- Incentivise carbon-free heating, and deployment of improved building science technology (e.g. healthy
buildings, hygrothermal & solar-thermal analysis).
- Launch a systematic renovation project for public buildings (e.g. 5% of building stock per year), targeting
energy consumption of close to zero for public-sector buildings.
5. Circular economy and waste recovery
- Invest in regional recycling and waste recovery schemes across the country.
- Ensure adequate incentives, finance opportunities and research support are in place to encourage
investment in recycled construction materials including steel and concrete aggregate.
- Fast-track product stewardship initiatives.
6. Forestry and timber
- Support an integrated domestic timber supply chain from logs to value added products like advanced building materials (e.g. cross laminated timber, CLT) and kit-set housing.
- Improve support for smaller farm-forestry and tree-crop initiatives.
7. Sustainable agriculture
- Support “regenerative agriculture” developments that significantly increase carbon retention in our soils, reduce application of fossil-fuel-based fertilizer, reduce fossil-fuel use for crop cultivation and improve animal (and human) health.