Final call to save the world from ‘climate catastrophe’

It’s the final call, say scientists, the most extensive warning yet on the risks of rising global temperatures.

Their dramatic report on keeping that rise under 1.5 degrees C says the world is now completely off track, heading instead towards 3C.

Keeping to the preferred target of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels will mean “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”.

It will be hugely expensive – but the window of opportunity remains open.

After three years of research and a week of haggling between scientists and government officials at a meeting in South Korea, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued a special report on the impact of global warming of 1.5C.

The critical 33-page Summary for Policymakers certainly bears the hallmarks of difficult negotiations between climate researchers determined to stick to what their studies have shown and political representatives more concerned with economies and living standards.

Despite the inevitable compromises, there are some key messages that come through loud and clear.

“The first is that limiting warming to 1.5C brings a lot of benefits compared with limiting it to two degrees. It really reduces the impacts of climate change in very important ways,” said Prof Jim Skea, who co-chairs the IPCC.

“The second is the unprecedented nature of the changes that are required if we are to limit warming to 1.5C – changes to energy systems, changes to the way we manage land, changes to the way we move around with transportation.”

What’s the one big takeaway?

Graphic showing what is likely to be affected by different rises in temperature
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“Scientists might want to write in capital letters, ‘ACT NOW, IDIOTS,’ but they need to say that with facts and numbers,” said Kaisa Kosonen, of Greenpeace, who was an observer at the negotiations. “And they have.”

The researchers have used these facts and numbers to paint a picture of the world with a dangerous fever, caused by humans. We used to think if we could keep warming below two degrees this century, then the changes we would experience would be manageable.

Not any more. This new study says that going past 1.5C is dicing with the planet’s liveability. And the 1.5C temperature “guard rail” could be exceeded in just 12 years, in 2030.

We can stay below it – but it will require urgent, large-scale changes from governments and individuals and we will have to invest a massive pile of cash every year, about 2.5% of global gross domestic product (GDP), the value of all goods and services produced, for two decades.

Even then, we will still need machines, trees and plants to capture carbon from the air that we can then store deep underground – forever.

What can I do?

The report says there must be rapid and significant changes in four big global systems:

  • energy • land use • cities • industry

But it adds that the world cannot meet its target without changes by individuals, urging people to:

  • buy less meat, milk, cheese and butter and more locally sourced seasonal food – and throw less of it away • drive electric cars but walk or cycle short distances • take trains and buses instead of planes • use videoconferencinginstead of business travel • use a washing line instead of a tumble dryer • insulate homes • demand low carbon in every consumer product

Lifestyle changes can make a big difference, said Dr Debra Roberts, the IPCC’s other co-chair.

“That’s a very empowering message for the individual,” she said. “This is not about remote science; it is about where we live and work, and it gives us a cue on how we might be able to contribute to that massive change, because everyone is going to have to be involved.”

“You might say you don’t have control over land use, but you do have control over what you eat and that determines land use.

“We can choose the way we move in cities and if we don’t have access to public transport – make sure you are electing politicians who provide options around public transport.”

The hottest that this location has ever been…

map showing where temperature records were broken across the world this summer

Tap or click to explore the data

Source: Robert A. Rohde/Berkeley Earth. Map built using Carto

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Five steps to 1.5

  1. Global emissions of CO2 need to decline by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030
  2. Renewables are estimated to provide up to 85% of global electricity by 2050
  3. Coal is expected to reduce to close to zero
  4. Up to seven million sq km of land will be needed for energy crops (a bit less than the size of Australia)
  5. Global net zero emissions by 2050
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How much will all this cost?

It won’t come cheap. The report says to limit warming to 1.5C, will involve “annual average investment needs in the energy system of around $2.4 trillion” between 2016 and 2035.

Experts believe this number needs to be put in context.

“There are costs and benefits you have to weigh up,” said Dr Stephen Cornelius, a former UK IPCC negotiator now with WWF. He says making big emissions cuts in the short term will cost money but be cheaper than paying for carbon dioxide removal later this century.

“The report also talks about the benefits as there is higher economic growth at 1.5 degrees than there is at 2C and you don’t have the higher risk of catastrophic impacts at 1.5 that you do at two.”

What happens if we don’t act?

The researchers say that if we fail to keep temperature rises below 1.5C, we are in for some significant and dangerous changes to our world.

You can kiss coral reefs goodbye, as the report says they would be essentially 100% wiped out at two degrees of warming.

Global sea-level will rise about 10cm (4in) more if we let warming go to 2C. That may not sound like much but keeping to 1.5C means that 10 million fewer people would be exposed to the risks of flooding.

There are also significant impacts on ocean temperatures and acidity, and the ability to grow crops such as rice, maize and wheat.

“We are already in the danger zone at one degree of warming,” said Kaisa Kosonen, from Greenpeace. “Both poles are melting at an accelerated rate; ancient trees that have been there for hundreds of years are suddenly dying; and the summer we’ve just experienced – basically, the whole world was on fire.”

In 1980, the minimum sea ice extent was 7.7 million square kilometres. This year it was at 4.7 million square kilometres.2012 was the lowest year on record, when it was down to 3.6 million square kilometres - less than half what it was in 1980.

Sea ice extent is much lower than in 1980. It reached its lowest level in 2012
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Is this plan at all feasible?

Analysis by David Shukman, BBC science editor

The countdown to the worst of global warming seems to have accelerated. Seriously damaging impacts are no longer on a distant horizon later this century but within a timeframe that appears uncomfortably close.

By the same token, the report’s “pathways” for keeping a lid on temperatures all mean that hard decisions cannot be delayed:

  • a shift away from fossil fuels by mid-century
  • coal phased out far sooner than previously suggested
  • vast tracts of land given over to forests

It’s mind-bending stuff and some will say it’s hopelessly unrealistic, a climate scientists’ fantasy. So is any of it plausible? On the one hand, the global economy relies on carbon and key activities depend on it. On the other, wind turbines and solar panels have tumbled in price and more and more countries and states such as California are setting ambitious green targets.

Ultimately, politicians will face a difficult choice: persuade their voters that the revolutionary change outlined in the report is urgently needed or ignore it and say the scientists have got it wrong.

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Is all this about saving small island states?

The idea of keeping the global temperature rise to 1.5 is something very close to the hearts and minds of small island and low-lying states, which fear being inundated with flooding if temperatures go to two degrees.

But over the three years that the report was in preparation, more and more scientific evidence has been published showing the benefits of staying close to 1.5C are not just for island nations in the Pacific.

“If you save a small island country, then you save the world,” said Dr Amjad Abdulla, an IPCC author, from the Maldives. “Because the report clearly states that no-one is going to be immune. It’s about morality – it’s about humanity.”

How long have we got?

Not long at all. But that issue is now in the hands of political leaders. The report says hard decisions can no longer be kicked down the road. If the nations of the world don’t act soon, they will have to rely even more on unproven technologies to take carbon out of the air – an expensive and uncertain road.

“They really need to start work immediately. The report is clear that if governments just fulfil the pledges they made in the Paris agreement for 2030, it is not good enough. It will make it very difficult to consider global warming of 1.5C,” said Prof Jim Skea.

“If they read the report and decide to increase their ambitions and act more immediately, then 1.5C stays within reach – that’s the nature of the choice they face.”

Campaigners and environmentalists, who have welcomed the report, say there is simply no time left for debate.

“This is the moment where we need to decide” said Kaisa Kosonen. “We want to move to clean energy, sustainable lifestyles. We want to protect our forests and species. This is the moment that we will remember; this is the year when the turning point happened.”

Washout jeopardises Wairoa-Napier railway reopening

Plans to get logging trains moving between Wairoa and Napier by the end of the year could have been derailed by a washout during the storm in northern Hawke’s Bay.

A fortnight after the washout, ruining 45 metres of the track just north of Raupunga, KiwiRail is non-committal to a date for the reopening of the line, and is still assessing the problem.

The washout has left the railway track suspended. Photo / Duncan BrownThe washout has left the railway track suspended. Photo / Duncan Brown

“Our teams are continuing to assess the damage and any impact it may have on the planned reopening date for the line,” KiwiRail said in a short statement today.

The line has been closed for more than six years since KiwiRail decided it was uneconomical after a major washout which left about 100 metres of track suspended in the air near Mahia on the Wairoa-Gisborne sector in March 2012.

KiwiRail had put the cost of repairing that sector at over $3.5 million, and mothballed the line, which had been used only for freight trains since Cyclone Bola put an end to regular passenger services in 1988.

Haami Hilton, kaumatua, blessing a work train in anticipation of the railway line reopening. Third from left is Shane Jones, regional economic development minister. Haami Hilton, kaumatua, blessing a work train in anticipation of the railway line reopening. Third from left is Shane Jones, regional economic development minister.

Help was rejected by the government of National Party leaders John Key and Bill English, but the new Labour coalition in February announced a $5 million contribution from the Provincial Growth Fund to reopen the line for logging trains to relieve pressure on the highways amid the growth of the Wall of Timber from forestry harvesting in Northern Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne-East Coast.

The washout is north of Raupunga, on the way north towards Wairoa. Photo / Duncan BrownPhoto / Duncan Brown

During a ceremonial launch of the project in June, including the dispatch of a train from Napier with track ballast as part of the railway restoration, regional economic development minister Shane Jones sand KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy weren’t putting a precise date on the reopening, but Mr Jones said it was hoped there’d be 2-3 trains from Wairoa to the Napier Port each week within 12 months.

This picture shows the extent of the washout. Photo / Duncan BrownPhoto / Duncan Brown

It’s estimated there will be close to 6000 less logging-truck trips on the 116km stretch of State Highway 2, which has had several passing bays installed and the major work of the Mata horua Gorge realignment and bridge, but still includes winding stretches, and the notorious bend of the Devil’s Elbow between Napier and Tutira.

A Plug-Free Way to Fill the World With Electric Vehicles

Electric VehiclesEngineers work in front of a computer at the Hevo Inc. power facility. (Christopher Lee/Bloomberg News)

Umer Anwer stops on the street near Tesla Inc.’s Brooklyn showroom and grabs his smartphone. He’s looking for a spot to charge his electric car, and the Tesla charging plugs won’t work with the Nissan Leaf he’s driving. In fact, he would prefer not to bother with a plug at all.

Hevo Inc., the wireless-charging startup where Anwer is chief technology officer, aims to overturn the burgeoning industry that’s busy building out a global infrastructure to provide power to electric cars through public plugs. There were about 582,000 public charging outlets worldwide at the end of 2017, according to a recent report by Bloomberg, and that number is forecast to grow by nearly 30% this year. Virtually every one of these charging locations uses plugs.

Anwer eventually maneuvers his electric car over a device that looks like a white plastic panel, then presses a button on a smartphone app. After pulling into the parking space, blue dots flash under the windshield to indicate that power is flowing into his battery. There are about 6 inches of empty space between the charger and the car, which has been modified to receive power through an electromagnetic field.

This could represent the future of car charging. Suburban driveways, public spaces, parking lots and interstate rest stops could be tricked out with wireless ports to serve the tens of millions of electric cars expected to be on the roads over the next two decades. Wireless charging, if it catches on, may provide a solution for one of the main questions hanging over electric cars: How can cities accommodate the infrastructure needed without cluttering up streets with posts and wires. In cities such as New York, London and Hong Kong, where parking is scarce, it’s difficult to imagine where extra space can be made to accommodate idle cars while they recharge.

Anwer

Anwer

Hevo has raised $4.5 million to date in a bid to solve that problem, with funding evenly split between venture capital and government grants. After wrapping up 10 pilot projects across four countries and four U.S. states, the seven-year-old startup is moving into manufacturing. The company has set up shop in a factory in New York, where it plans to soon crank out its first 25 wireless chargers.

Hevo founder Jeremy McCool, a former U.S. Army captain, spent 14 months in Iraq witnessing the consequences of energy geopolitics before enrolling in Columbia University to study sustainable development. Hevo grew out of a school project. “I started the company with no team, no technology and $800,” McCool said in an interview. “Probably the worst and more naive way to start a company, by all means.”

The company plans to make thousands of devices in the next 18 months, the volume necessary to make good on the supply agreements he has signed with carmakers and utilities. McCool declined to identify his clients, citing nondisclosure agreements.

Electric vehicles are projected to undergo explosive growth in the coming years. The International Energy Agency projects that the number of plug-in and hybrid cars on the roads will triple to 13 million by the end of the decade. More than a quarter of all new cars sold annually will be electric by 2030, according to forecasts by Bloomberg, with the global ranks of electric cars reaching 30 million by then.

Electric Vehicles

McCool

Of course, as things stand today, virtually all of these cars would need to be plugged into a socket before they could be charged. Before the world can adopt wireless charging, cars already on the road would need a retrofit and carmakers ultimately would need to tweak their existing designs.

“The equipment on the vehicle is cheaper and more lightweight than existing plug-in charging equipment by a factor of five to 10 times,” McCool said. “We’re also future-proofing for autonomous electric vehicles. If you don’t need a human to park the car, you shouldn’t need a human to charge the car.”

This technology also could provide a solution to the issue of how to charge electric cars in densely populated cities. Today, most drivers of the plug-in cars on the road almost always will charge up at home. That requires a garage or a driveway. Installing Hevo’s devices in apartment building parking lots and along residential streets could help open up new markets, from New York to Tokyo, where access to plugs can prove difficult.

“Wireless charging technology has improved steadily and can definitely make charging at home more convenient,” said Colin McKerracher, head of advanced transportation analysis at Bloomberg. “The most promising near-term applications are en route charging for buses. For widespread adoption, several major automakers would need to fully back the technology.”

The engineering team at Hevo works out of a garage in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood, where much of the prototyping and small-batch manufacturing takes place.

Brooklyn-based Hevo is working with three carmakers, two top auto parts suppliers and three energy companies. BMW AG already is selling a car with wireless-charging capability: The 530e hybrid has been available in Germany since May. Daimler AG, the maker of Mercedes-Benz cars, presented the technology as a future charging solution when it launched its S-Class plug-in hybrid, and Daimler spokesman Christoph Sedlmayr said the company will introduce it as soon as it’s “technically fully developed.”

If wireless charging takes off, it may threaten the conventional electric-vehicle charging industry that already has attracted millions of dollars. Investment into companies building out charging networks rose 165% last year to $345 million, according to Cleantech Group, and there have been 18 deals this year totaling $223 million. Other companies, including WiTricity and Plugless Power, also are developing wireless chargers.

Oil companies have made recent moves into charging to allay concerns about losing customers at gas stations. BP agreed to buy Chargemaster for 130 million pounds ($169 million), and Royal Dutch Shell snapped up NewMotion. Both companies have built out networks of charging infrastructure in Europe. Several European utilities, from Fortum Oyj of Finland to Innogy SE in Germany, are installing thousands of chargers in garages, parking lots and next to highways across the continent.

If it can be commercialized, technology such as Hevo’s someday may shake up these plans.

“Do I think everything will go wireless? Yes, I think so — 10 to 15 years,” said Michael Farkas, executive chairman of Blink Charging Co. in Florida, which has deployed more than 14,000 charging stations across the United States. “You just pull over to a spot. That will be the simplest way to charge a car.”

The Port of Tauranga has become a megachurch: too big to touch

Pipi beds die and algae blooms, but iwi are repeatedly told ‘there’s nothing to see here’, writes Graham Cameron. 

When the Tainui canoe entered Tauranga harbour a millennium ago, it had the misfortune to run aground on a then prominent sandbar called Ruahine that sat below the waterline between Matakana Island and Mauao.

The Tainui was refloated and continued on its journey; the incident in which the Ruahine sandbar was central is remembered in a well known Tauranga Moana tauparapara:

Pāpaki tū ana ngā tai ki Mauao, i whānekenekehia, i whānukunukuhia, ka whiua reretia Wahinerua ki te wai, ki tai wiwi, ki tai wawa, ki te whai ao, ki te ao mārama.

You may well hear that tauparapara at our marae, but you won’t see the Ruahine sandbar if you walk Mauao. By 1970 the sandbar no longer existed. It’d been destroyed in the process of widening and deepening the harbour and entrance for the establishment of the Port of Tauranga.

Our church is progress, and in the Bay of Plenty, the megachurch is the Port of Tauranga. Megachurches tend to not so much follow the law as create the law; the news that the Port of Tauranga has operated without a consent for stormwater for the past 27 years came as no surprise to tāngata whenua in Tauranga Moana.

The Port of Tauranga is a shining city on the hill. It’s the engine that drives almost everything here. Logs, kiwifruit, steel, palm kernel, coal and containers all flow in and out, like the lungs of our economy. Cruise ships visit in increasing numbers – loved by local retailers, despised by locals who remember a time when it was all for them.

The port is jobs, but not great jobs: casual, no longer zero hours but definitely not certain hours, de-unionised, long shifts and efficiency first. The port is jobs and the Port of Tauranga has kept bread on the table for many of our old people and our whanaunga since its inception.

For all intents and purposes, the Port is a religious idol in our privatised, profit, growth and market driven New Zealand. And like all true and holy idols, it’ll brook no opposition – it’s central to the power of the political and economic elite.

The Port of Tauranga is 54% owned by the Bay of Plenty Regional Council. The designation ‘regional council’ means that the 54% owner of the Port of Tauranga is also responsible under the Resource Management Act 1991 for managing the effects of using freshwater, land, air and coastal waters by issuing resource consents. For example, resource consents for stormwater discharge from ports.

Where parties fail to get a consent or follow the conditions of a consent, they can be fined or prosecuted. In 27 years of stormwater discharging into Tauranga harbour from the Port of Tauranga, the Bay of Plenty Regional Council has never fined or prosecuted the port.

The past 27 years are a series of false starts. The first consent lodged in 1998 never went anywhere because the port was slow in providing information requested by the council. The Regional Council then tried to couple the port’s consent with another for the Tauranga City Council. That failed because they couldn’t agree on who was liable for what discharge. Then it was revealed that Beca, contracted to do the consenting by the port, had lost the paperwork. The third application was lodged in 2013, but apparently nothing happened because of five years of consultation. We are now onto the fourth application. It is unlikely the port will be compliant this year.

When Radio New Zealand’s Checkpoint investigated this, everyone seemed disappointed with themselves, but not exactly up in arms. Stormwater doesn’t sound all that worrying. And the stormwater runoff from the Port of Tauranga is not notably toxic.

David Culliford looked into the stormwater runoff at the Port of Tauranga in his 2015 thesis ‘Characterisation, potential toxicity and fate of storm water run-off from log storage areas of the Port of Tauranga’. As best as anyone can tell, it’s all within acceptable limits, but Culliford’s work is clear that requires more research. The runoff from the log storage includes bits of wood, resins, chemicals and at times raw effluent. The runoff can slightly lower the pH of the water which is shown to affect the development and behaviour of marine life. There are periods of acute toxicity, particularly from raw effluent during storms. The runoff is detectable to over 60 metres, indicating there’s likely a wide spread of whatever impacts exist. At the moment there isn’t a good base of research as to the impact of dredging on sedimentation and toxicity. Which led to the conclusion that all is essentially well.

But sit at a table during a hākari at any of our marae, and we all know something is wrong. Pipi beds disappear. That’s not abnormal, but the increasing regularity and the size of the beds that have disappeared is a change. There are places where you don’t collect pipi anymore because they’re unsafe. There’s so much more sea lettuce than we ever had before. Algal blooms are normal; we are often told we can’t eat our kaimoana. Most people just ignore the warnings. And we’re told by our Port and our councils that it’s normal, that it’s seasonal, that it’s always been like this. It hasn’t always been like this.

The uncomfortable reality today is that the Port of Tauranga is too big to be allowed to fail and we can’t afford to stop its growth and development. You will hear few voices calling to limit the Port of Tauranga. Neither their majority shareholder the regional council, nor the local community given how many Mums and Dads have shares in the port, nor iwi.

Our iwi have not held the Port of Tauranga to account. Our lines of defence are quite literally in the sand; we have never halted anything the port wanted to do. If we are to be honest, we have always come around to an agreement with the port. The last instance was dredging that was consented in 2012 where the shipping channel was deepened by three metres to allow cargo ships with nearly double the capacity into our port.

This was only two years after the Rena had run aground on the Astrolabe Reef. As the consent was being considered, a cargo ship carrying logs lost power in the channel and threatened running onto the rocks of Mauao. The dredging at that time included the removal of a section of Panepane, a large pipi bed off Matakana Island.

Even in this instance, as iwi we followed our normal pattern: bold statements and threats of protests; submissions against the consents; the consent granted and challenged at the Environment Court; our agreement to a new oversight committee, some scholarships, the opportunity for shares, and research that will confirm there is nothing to see here.

All of us in the Tauranga Moana community bow our heads to our local religious idol. However passionately we love our harbour and our environment, in the end we are willing to accept the assurances of the Port of Tauranga that they have this under control. We hold these things to be true: the Port of Tauranga will protect the marine environment for us and provide excellent returns every year.

No stormwater consent can pretend to stand as a barrier to such an expression of collective faith. No fine can be allowed to tarnish the reputation of our regional economic saviour, washed clean by the millions of trays of kiwifruit. As we splash at the water’s edge this summer, we will look across to the white steeples of the cranes, and smile at our tamariki, warning them not to eat the pipi because of the algal bloom. And we’ll tell them, don’t worry, everything is going to be alright.

 

Wellington highways snubbed as Government announces transport spend

Fixing roading blackspots, passing lanes and dangerous corners are priorities in the Government’s newly announced $16.9b land transport investment.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford said Labour would deliver a “safer and better connected system” that would reduce the number of “friends and family” killed on New Zealand roads.

“This record investment in our transport system will help grow our regions, make it easier to get around our cities, and save lives on our roads,” he said.

“It will deliver the best results for our transport dollar.”

A total of $4.3b will be spent on programmes and projects “that will save lives by preventing accidents or reducing their severity”.

Blackspots, high risk intersections, safe level crossings, passing lanes and anti-skid surfaces would be a focus.

“This will include revamping intersections to stop collisions, installing median barriers in high-risk areas, and increasing road policing,” he said.

Roads receiving safety upgrades will include Dome Valley, Drury to Paerata, Waihi to Tauranga, and the Hawke’s Bay Expressway.

The planned investments are detailed in the 2018-21 National Land Transport Programme (NLTP), published today by the NZ Transport Agency.

How the money will be spent.
How the money will be spent.

Twyford said the regions would also receive a much needed boost.

“Most roading investment will go to the regions, rather than the big cities. This reverses the situation in the last three years.”

Regional roads would receive $5.8b of funding – a $600m increase.

Nearly $4b would be spent on public transport, rapid transit, and rail services to ease congestion and make the cities healthier places to live.

There would be renewal work to Wellington’s rail tracks and more options such as Auckland’s SkyPath and Seapath walk/cycleways, and a new commuter ferry service in Queenstown.

State highways receive the largest share of funding, with a total of $5.7b.

Work would include $3.5b in new state highway projects such as Puhoi to Warkworth, the Waikato Expressway, the Mt Messenger bypass, the Manawatu Gorge replacement, Wellington’s Transmission Gully, and the Christchurch Southern Motorway.

The Panama Canal is a wonder of the modern world – here’s how it plans to reduce shipping emissions

Roughly 80 kilometers long, the Panama Canal connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. A wonder of modern engineering and design, 13,000 to 14,000 vessels pass through the canal each year.

By reducing the distance ships need to travel to reach their destination, the canal helps to reduce fuel consumption and, in turn, greenhouse gas emissions. During its lifetime, it has helped prevent the emission of around more than 700 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2).

The shipping industry has an impact on the environment. In 2012, international shipping was responsible for an estimated 796 million tons of CO2 emissions — around 2.2 percent of total global CO2 emissions that year, according to the International Maritime Organization.

“The original Panama Canal was built between 1904 and 1914, a 10-year effort,” Jorge L. Quijano, CEO of the Panama Canal Authority, told CNBC’s “Sustainable Energy.”

“We are basically a short cut between the Atlantic and Pacific and to do this we use locks — so you go up 85 to 87 feet in elevation. Then you cross the continental divide on the lake (Gatun Lake) and you come down to zero-level elevation, which is… the Atlantic Ocean.”

The impact of the canal on the shipping industry has been significant — so much so that a specific type of cargo ship, the Panamax, has been designed to fit its dimensions. “It’s basically a vessel that’s 106 foot wide and… 965 foot long,” Quijano said.

Between 2009 and 2016, an extensive construction project saw the canal undergo a significant expansion when a third lane was built. This allows a larger type of vessel, the Neopanamax, to pass through. At the end of July, the 4,000th Neopanamax vessel transited through the expanded canal.

“We’re now looking at a vessel size that can carry as much as three times the numbers of containers that you could carry on the old Panamax locks,” Quijano said.
Source: CNBC

KiwiRail: We can’t be complacent on climate change

OPINION: KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy was one of 14 New Zealand chief executives who came together last year to look at what they could do about climate change. Along with 59 others, he has signed the CEO Climate Change Statement, aimed at reducing carbon emissions in New Zealand. Here, he explains why:

One of the KiwiRail values that you’ll hear our people talk about around our yards, track and in lunchrooms up and down the country, is “care and protect”.

When you’re a 155-year-old business protecting not only our people in some of the most difficult workplaces in the country, but also the public who travel with us, living up to that value is critical.

But we also see ourselves as caring for and protecting one of New Zealand’s most valuable assets – our land and environment.

It is for this reason that this week I joined with 59 other New Zealand’s major business leaders to sign up to the Climate Leaders Coalition.

We are in a race to protect New Zealand from the harshest effects of climate change and committing to a low-emissions economy is a big step that business can take to help us win this race.

While transport accounts for 17 per cent of New Zealand’s carbon emissions, rail generates just 1 per cent of that total.

Peter Reidy

While transport accounts for 17 per cent of New Zealand’s carbon emissions, rail generates just 1 per cent of that total.

For KiwiRail that means doing all we can to move as much freight and as many people possible on to rail. Every tonne of freight carried by KiwiRail means a 66 per cent carbon emissions saving over heavy road freight.

When New Zealanders use rail they help reduce emissions by taking trucks and cars off the road, easing congestion and saving taxpayers money on road maintenance while making our roads safer.

While transport accounts for 17 per cent of New Zealand’s carbon emissions, rail generates just 1 per cent of that total.

Even so, when you move 25 per cent of the country’s exports, you are still using a lot of fuel.

KiwiRail takes that responsibility seriously – we have already cut our fuel consumption, and we are committed to cutting it further. We are serious about solutions and we are already dedicating very real resources, expertise and money to planning and projects that will allow us to further reduce our energy consumption and emissions.

The Locomotive Fuel Savings project has already shown significant success, delivering fuel savings of 16 million litres, or $11 million, since 2015 through the ground-breaking Driver Advisory System (DAS) and other energy initiatives on our rail freight services. DAS is our new in-cab technology system that advises drivers when to brake, coast and accelerate depending on terrain and freight loads, achieving significant fuel savings.

Now, with the help of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA), we are looking to make savings on our ferry operations through a similar approach, monitoring fuel usage and sailing performance.

There will be  those who say KiwiRail has no right to lead a  discussion on climate change given we are replacing nine ageing electric locomotives on a  section of the central North Island Main Trunk line. This tiny, orphan fleet is not helping us to get more freight onto rail through simplifying our operations and standardising our assets.

But there is a bigger, longer-term picture that we are working on for our busiest routes between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga. The energy for that may come from electricity, if we invest in the infrastructure required, or it may come from a whole new fuel source for rail – hydrogen.

 Signing today’s statement cements KiwiRail’s commitment to a low emissions economy and to exploring all ways to get there. It is urgent that New Zealand increases the pace of its transition and today shows that our business leaders believe that.

This is our time to make the best difference we can for the New Zealand of the future.

Peter Reidy is KiwiRail’s chief executive.

Shipping is delivering on climate change

The international shipping sector is doing its part to contribute to global climate change efforts, writes Violeta Bulc.

Violeta Bulc

Photo credit: The Parliament Magazine/Bea Uhart


In April, more than 100 countries agreed on an initial strategy to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from shipping at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

This was a significant achievement for the EU and its member states, which played an instrumental role in brokering and securing the agreement with international partners.

The agreement is another example of the EU becoming a stronger global actor to spur substantive and credible climate action. By defining an objective of at least 50 per cent GHG reductions by 2050, compared with 2008 levels, international shipping has become the first industry sector to agree globally on an absolute emission reduction aim.

The agreement also comes with a comprehensive list of potential reduction measures, including short-term measures. Undoubtedly, the IMO and the shipping sector were indispensable in setting this precedent. Yet reaching this agreement was no easy feat.

I had the opportunity to be part of the discussions and to interact with some of the key parties during the first day of the negotiations that led to this remarkable outcome. I met with EU member states representatives, who, despite some initial divergence on negotiating tactics back in Brussels, entered the discussions on solid and ambitious grounds.

I am proud to say that, following EU coordination and throughout the negotiations, the member states remained united and played a pivotal role in gathering the required political support during the negotiations.

Four MEPs – José Ignacio Faria , Dubravka Šuica, Jytte Guteland and Bas Eickhout – who engaged in many side meetings at the IMO, also supported the EU delegation.

“The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) agreement is another example of the EU becoming a stronger global actor to spur substantive and credible climate action”

The outcome was also aided by good cooperation of many EU member states with other like-minded partners including several Pacific Islands States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Mexico. The Marshall Islands for instance – one of the world’s biggest flag states and a remote small island state – are heavily impacted by climate change.

Their population is facing increasing difficulties in growing crops and drilling for drinking water, as increased floods increase salinity. Bridging the gap between positions on key issues such as emission reduction objectives and guiding principles of the strategy required a negotiation effort.

Several major flag states questioned whether it was appropriate to set a number for the emission reduction objective before data on fuel consumption and emissions become available. Their reticence was dispelled by the industry representatives, who publicly voiced the sector’s readiness to accept numbers as indicative targets for reductions in the future.

Many developing countries expressed concerns over the possible impacts of new emission reduction measures, for example, on their trade. To address such concerns, the Commission, the EU member states and MEPs present reaffirmed, in their outreach meetings that the EU is willing to consider further capacity building and technical cooperation to assist implementing future measures.

“I am proud to say that, following EU coordination and throughout the negotiations, the member states remained united and played a pivotal role in gathering the required political support during the negotiations”

Therefore I am pleased to see that the EU-funded, IMO-managed project which led to the establishment of the maritime technologies cooperation centres network was expressly acknowledged in the strategy as a capacity building project.

This is an example to others, including international financial institutions. Crucial factors in brokering the deal were the tireless efforts of IMO Secretary General, Kitack Lim, in encouraging inclusiveness and consensus in the discussions.

With this support in the background, the resolute chairmanships of Sveinung Oftedal of Norway, the Chair of the working group on reduction of GHG emissions from ships, along with Hideaki Saito, the Chair of the marine environment protection committee, made it possible to draw a line and build upon the support of the overwhelming majority of the IMO States present.

Not everyone was fully on board with the text of the adopted IMO strategy. The US, following on their recently announced plans to withdraw from the Paris agreement, and Saudi Arabia, given what the prospect of decarbonisation may mean for their main export product. Both expressed formal reservations to the adoption of the IMO strategy.

While the strenuous negotiations at MEPC 72 delivered a result that kept the IMO in the driving seat for defining an emissions agenda for international shipping, the real work, developing and adopting reduction measures, starts only now.

The full cooperation of both the EU and also all IMO member states is needed to agree on short-term measures with immediate emission reduction effects before 2023. Preparations on longer term actions should also begin.

I am optimistic that shipping is delivering its share to the global climate change efforts under the Paris agreement and the EU institutions are determined to strive for ambitious objectives, and continue the effective cooperation with our partners.

About the author

Violeta Bulc is European mobility and transport Commissioner

Towards Zero Emissions: Environmental Outlook

While the world is struggling to live up to its commitment to limit climate emissions, new data indicate that climate change may be more severe and occur more rapidly than anticipated earlier. The IMO is looking for ways to make shipping climate-neutral over the next decades. DNV GL gives an overview of the status of the discussion and potential future measures.

When the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015 in response to the increasing signs of global climate change, shipping and aviation were not included. Instead, the IMO and ICAO were asked to come up with greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction schemes of their own. At MEPC 72 the IMO has now adopted a strategy to reduce emissions from shipping. This aims to reduce total emissions from shipping by at least 50 per cent by 2050, and to reduce the average carbon intensity by at least 40 per cent by 2030 while aiming for 70 per cent in 2050, all figures compared to 2008. The ultimate vision of the IMO is to phase out greenhouse gas emissions entirely at the earliest time possible within this century. This initial strategy will be reviewed in 2023 based on information gathered from the IMO Data Collection System (DCS) as well as a fourth IMO GHG study to be undertaken in 2019.

As it must be assumed that the global shipping activity will continue to grow towards 2050, the 50 per cent emission reduction target is quite ambitious and will most likely require widespread uptake of zero-carbon fuels in addition to other energy efficiency measures. However, there are no zero-carbon fuels available today. A concerted research and development effort is needed not only to develop such fuels but also to make them available in the required volumes..

To implement its ambitious strategy the IMO must develop new policy measures and regulations. The strategy contains a long list of options, such as strengthening the EEDI, applying operational indicators, reducing speeds, rolling out market-based measures, or developing zerocarbon fuels. Work on an action plan to kick-start the development of appropriate measures will start this fall.

While limited immediate impact on ships is to be expected, the efforts required to reach the long-term goals will have to build over the coming years, with a real impact starting to materialize in the 2020s. In a long-term perspective, DNV GL expects this strategy to fundamentally change the way ships are designed and operated.

CO2 data collection in the EU and at the IMO

In the EU, regulations for monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) of CO2 emissions have entered into force, requiring all ships above 5,000 GT sailing to or from European ports to report CO2 emissions, cargo data and average energy efficiency. 2018 is the first year of reporting, with data being published annually by the EU as of mid-2019.

One purpose behind the EU MRV regulations was to encourage the IMO to work on a similar mechanism with global coverage. The EU regulation itself contains a provision for a review aimed at alignment with a future international system, if in place. It is therefore significant that the IMO has adopted a global mechanism for mandatory monitoring, reporting and verification of fuel consumption data for all ships 5,000 GT and above. The scheme, known as the IMO Data Collection System (DCS) on fuel consumption, will have 2019 as its first year of operation.

The IMO DCS differs from the EU MRV in several important aspects, including the confidentiality of data, the calculation of efficiency metrics, and the requirements for data verification. While these are all issues where the EU has a strong preference for the requirements of its own system, the European Commission has nevertheless initiated a formal review process aimed at aligning the EU MRV with the IMO DCS. There are encouraging signs of a legislative proposal to be published in May 2018, though it is expected to be challenging and likely time-consuming for the commission, the parliament and the council to come to an agreement. DNV GL believes that full alignment is unlikely, and that the industry may have to cater to both reporting regimes for the foreseeable future.

SOX regulations

IMO has agreed that the 0.5% global sulphur cap will be implemented from 1 January 2020. The decision is final and will not be subject to renegotiation, which gives certainty to the maritime and bunker industries. There were intense discussions on both the practicalities of implementation and on how to ensure robust enforcement and a level playing field. IMO is continuing to discuss implementation and supporting measures on a priority basis and is holding an intersessional meeting dedicated to the topic in July. The meeting is expected to provide robust guidelines for industry and authorities; these will be finalized at MEPC 73 in October and then circulated.

Ship operators will have to choose their preferred compliance strategy, a decision with far-reaching operational and financial implications. There is no one-size-fits-all solution on the table; scrubbers, LNG, and “hybrid” fuels are all realistic options, but most vessels are expected to default to using 0.5% marine gas oil (MGO) and blends, at least initially. Local availability issues and price volatility are expected to result from the dramatic change of the fuel demand situation as of 1 January 2020, and the number of non-compliance cases, especially because of insufficient tank cleaning at bunker facilities and on board ships, is likely to be rather high during a transitional period.

Enforcement remains a critical concern, especially on the high seas. Contrary to emission control areas (ECAs), where enforcement is up to the respective port state, monitoring of operations on the high seas is the responsibility of the flag state. Legitimate questions are being asked about the readiness of all flag states to provide uniform and robust enforcement to ensure a level playing field around the globe. To alleviate the enforcement issue to some extent, the IMO at MEPC 72 agreed to establish a ban on carriage of non-compliant fuels for all ships without scrubbers. This ban is likely to be adopted at MEPC 73 and will then take effect in March 2020. Ships without scrubbers will still be allowed to carry noncompliant fuel as cargo.

Moving to regional and domestic matters, it should be noted that in the EU the Water Framework Directive is imposing restrictions on the discharge of scrubber water. Belgium and Germany have prohibited the discharge of scrubber water in most areas, thereby limiting the operability of open-loop scrubbers. Similar restrictions apply in some US coastal waters, e.g. off Connecticut.

In Asia China’s regulations for domestic SECA-like requirements are being rolled out in the sea areas outside Hong Kong/ Guangzhou and Shanghai as well as in the Bohai Sea. China is taking a staged approach, initially requiring a 0.5% maximum sulphur content in fuel burned in key ports in these areas, gradually expanding the coverage to finally apply fully to all fuels used in these sea areas from 2019 onwards. Conceivably the allowable sulphur content will be tightened to 0.1% by 2020, and China may eventually submit a formal ECA application to the IMO. In our view there is a real possibility of these zones being extended to include further Chinese sea areas.

NOX regulations

The NOX tier III requirements have entered into force in the North American ECAs for ships constructed on or after 1 January 2016. Anyone constructing a ship today needs to consider whether operation in the North American ECAs will be part of the operational pattern, whether upon delivery or at any time in the future. If so, NOX control technology will be required on board. When choosing an NOX control technology operators should consider how they intend to ensure compliance with the 2020 sulphur cap to avoid system integration issues.

With respect to upcoming regulations, IMO has agreed to apply NOX Tier III requirements to ships constructed on or after 1 January 2021 when operating in the North Sea and Baltic Sea ECAs. There are presently no indications of plans for additional NOX Tier III areas.

Ballast water management

The Ballast Water Management (BWM) Convention entered into force on 8 September 2017, more than 27 years after the start of negotiations, and 13 years after its adoption in 2004. The implementation schedules was revised at MEPC 71 in July 2017. Briefly put, every ship in international trade will be obliged to comply at some point between 8 September 2017 and 8 September 2024. For ships from 400 GT upwards, the compliance date is linked to the renewal of the International Oil Pollution Prevention certificate, while ships below 400 GT must comply by 8 September 2024. By that date the entire world fleet must be in compliance.

In the US, the domestic ballast water management regulations entered into force in 2013. New ships must comply upon delivery, while existing ships must comply by the first scheduled dry-docking after 1 January 2014 or 2016, depending on ballast water capacity. USCG type approval is required for ballast water treatment systems; six such approvals have been granted so far, with eleven more in the approval pipeline. The USCG’s previously liberal extension policy granting deferred installation dates to more than 12,500 ships due to the unavailability of approved systems has changed since the first type approvals were issued. Presently the USCG is very restrictive on granting extensions and this policy is likely to tighten further. In practical terms, operators should now plan their installation dates based on the compliance dates in the regulation and not gamble on receiving an extension.

Emerging issues

There are a number of new environmental regulations under consideration at the IMO as well as in various countries. They cover a broad range of topics, such as plastic pollution from ships, the impact of noise on cetaceans, particle emissions, hull biofouling, and a ban on heavy fuel oil in the Arctic. The discussions are at various stages; New Zealand, for example, has introduced biofouling regulations in May this year. The noise issue is primarily a concern of a few isolated stakeholders, while plastics and an Arctic HFO ban are under consideration at the IMO. Nevertheless, most if not all of these topics are likely to be the subject of further domestic or international regulations sooner or later during the next decade.
Source: DNV GL, Bulk Carrier Update

Petrol cars headed the way of the horse and cart – what’s next?

The New Zealand Transport Agency has begun thinking about how it may need to prepare for the arrival of autonomous ...

LEON NEAL/GETTY IMAGES
The New Zealand Transport Agency has begun thinking about how it may need to prepare for the arrival of autonomous vehicles such as this Volkswagen driverless concept car.

The transport revolutions of the past – railways, petrol cars and air travel – have shaped our cities and driven some of the most sudden and dramatic changes in society.

So it’s probably no wonder that transport is one of the first things we consider when we think about future technology.

In a few short years, people have gone from debating about whether electric cars will take off at all, to arguing about whether and when they will be self-driving.

Meanwhile, the leading edge of transport research and development has skipped ahead a mile.

Last month, Uber began laying the groundwork for a fleet of autonomous electronic helicopters or drones that would ferry commuters between the rooftops of skyscrapers, so they could bypass congested city streets.

The company aims to have a commercial service operating in Dallas and Dubai by 2023.

One vehicle that could perhaps do the job is being trialled in – who would have guessed it – New Zealand.

United States company Kitty Hawk, funded by Google co-founder Larry Page, has been testing a self-driving “flying car” called Cora, which can take off and land vertically, in Canterbury since October.

Spokeswoman Anna Kominik said it had settled on New Zealand for the trials after a global search for a jurisdiction that was “safe, had aviation experience and was a good place to do business”.

Kitty Hawk is headed by former Google X scientist Sebastian Thrun, who led the development of Google’s self-driving car and its Google Glass augmented-reality spectacles.

Its website explains Cora “rises like a helicopter and flies like a plane, eliminating the need for a runway and creating the possibility of taking off from places like rooftops”.

Kitty Hawk assumes Cora will be used for an Uber-like “ride-sharing” flying-electric-car service, rather than being a modern take on the exclusive corporate helicopter.

The Cora won’t be available for sale to individuals, it says, and is instead “about giving everyone a fast and easy way to get around that doesn’t come at the expense of the planet”.

However, Kitty Hawk is also trialling a one-person vertical take-off “personal aircraft” called the Flyer that is designed to fly up to 10 kilometres on a single electric charge.

The Flyer is designed to travel for up to 20 minutes at 20 miles per hour, though it's currently limited to flying over ...

The Flyer is designed to travel for up to 20 minutes at 20 miles per hour, though it’s currently limited to flying over water at an altitude of only 10 feet.
Coming back down to earth – but not with a bump – Telsa founder Elon Musk envisages a network of “hyperloops” that would smoothly whisk people between cities at up to 1200kmh, which is just under the speed of sound.

The incredibly high speeds touted by hyperloop researchers are conceivable because people would travel in pressurised “pods” that would glide on magnets, pushed by magnetic pulses through tubes that were kept at a near-vacuum to reduce air resistance.

One of the huge (some think insurmountable) engineering challenges is creating and maintaining something close to a vacuum in tubes that could stretch hundreds of miles.

Without the near vacuum, hyperloops just become a bit like a Maglev train in a tube.

Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson has signed a “preliminary agreement” to build a hyperloop that would transport people 160 kilometres between the Indian cities of Pune and Mumbai in 25 minutes, implying a less whizzy average speed of about 350kmh.

Its tubes would be depressurised to about 100Pa (pascals), equivalent to the very thin air pressure that exists 60km above the ground.

Branson, who has come off the bench to personally chair his Virgin Hyperloop 1 venture, told the BBC he believed it could transport people in Britain “far quicker, in far greater numbers, with far greater convenience than any other train network in the UK”.

If ever built in New Zealand, a hyperloop could cut the land-travel time between Auckland and Wellington to under an hour, and the commute time between Hamilton and Auckland to less than 10 minutes.

KiwiRail general manager of planning David Gordon says KiwiRail “has not formally looked at hyperloop technology for New Zealand and has not formed any view on it”.

Compared with drone taxis and hyperloops, self-driving cars might sound positively pedestrian.

But Christchurch consultant Roger Dennis is one of a growing number of professional future-watchers who argue they are an advance we can definitely count on.

Dennis forecasts self-driving trucks and cars will first prove their safety in the confines of mines, university campuses, ports and hospitals before being gradually allowed onto public roads by regulators.

Tragedies such as the death in March of a pedestrian in Arizona, who was hit by an Uber vehicle travelling in autonomous mode, will prove only an unfortunate “blip”, he believes.

“Driverless trucks have been used in mines for a number of years and, when they remove the human driver, accidents go down and productivity goes up. Human-driven cars kill more people every year than autonomous cars ever will.”

Self-driving cars may not be given licence to roam all of New Zealand’s eclectic mix of public roads in one swoop. Regulators may instead open up the road network in phases, he says.

“A logical approach would be to say, ‘We think these roads are suitable for autonomous vehicles and there’s another set of roads where it won’t work’. Then, as artificial intelligence improves, you will see more and more roads become certified.”

The New Zealand Transport Agency is starting to prepare for the arrival of autonomous vehicles (AVs), says one of its managers, Martin McMullan.

Virgin is one of the companies pioneering hyperloop systems, which could let people travel on land at up to 1200 ...

Virgin is one of the companies pioneering hyperloop systems, which could let people travel on land at up to 1200 kilometres an hour.

Trans-Tasman body Austroads, on which the agency has a board seat, produced a report last year on changes that might be required to the road network.

It stressed the benefits of making intersection designs and machine-readable signs “consistent”, so they could be reliably interpreted by software.

“Feedback suggests that many AVs will be designed to operate on our road networks as they currently are”, but existing infrastructure was “problematic” for some manufacturers, the report concluded.

“Roadworks are a key aspect noted to be of particular concern to AV manufacturers and system suppliers. It is necessary to ensure that roadworks become well planned events.”

Colin Gavaghan, director of the New Zealand Law Foundation Centre for Law and Policy in Emerging Technologies at Otago University, says it’s only “human” for AV accidents to weigh heavily on our minds.

“I’d wager that one pedestrian death from a driverless car would stand out in people’s minds more than all of the 300-odd road deaths in New Zealand last year combined.”

People imagine they are safer when they are in control of a vehicle, and “no amount of actuarial data can budge that belief”, he says.

“That said, I’m not sure that we should be settling for ‘a bit better than the status quo’ if it’s reasonable to expect driverless cars to be much safer.

“I have a vision of a future where car deaths are as rare as air traffic deaths today, and we should be demanding that level of safety.”

Research firm Bloomberg argues the world is unlikely to run out of lithium before the electric vehicle (EV) revolution is complete, even if it remains an essential ingredient in batteries.

Although not super-abundant, lithium is not a “rare earth” metal, with discovered global recoverable reserves estimated at somewhere between 10 million and 40m tonnes and rising – potentially enough to power more than 10 billion electric cars, according to Bloomberg.

Neither would New Zealand be likely to run out of electricity, according to Electricity Authority chief executive Carl Hansen.

“Electrifying all light vehicles would increase electricity demand by approximately 15 per cent, but this will likely occur over several decades,” Hansen says.

“We’re confident that the industry can cope with building generation in a timely way to meet the demand increases.”

Electricity prices might not even need to go up. “Over this time period there’s a high chance that electricity prices will decline in real terms due to the declining costs of technology such as small-scale solar generation.”

The same is true for transmission costs, he says. “It is possible the average cost of delivering electricity to consumers could decline due to higher use of existing network assets, especially during off-peak hours.

“Electric vehicles offer a fantastic opportunity for New Zealand to reduce its transport-related carbon emissions.”

Tony Seba believes petrol cars will go the way of the "horse and cart" far faster than most planners expect.

MARK TANTRUM/STUFF
Tony Seba believes petrol cars will go the way of the “horse and cart” far faster than most planners expect.

There is less agreement on when EVs and AVs may take over.

Right now, the switch to conventional self-driven electric vehicles has only just begun.

At the end of May, there were 5984 EVs registered in New Zealand, not including plug-in hybrids, according to the Transport Ministry.

That’s up from just 735 two years before and 2444 a year ago, but still a drop in the ocean among the total fleet of 3.6 million light vehicles.

Stanford University economist Tony Seba turned heads at an Apec conference in Wellington in November when he forecast no petrol vehicles would be built after 2025.

He believes that, by 2030, most journeys in the US will be taken “Uber-style” in fleets of self-driving cars that will pick people up and drop them off.

In the US “200m cars are going to be stranded – useless”, said Seba, who is known for his bold forecasts.

At the conservative end of the spectrum, the Transport Ministry forecasts EVs will still only make up 40 per cent of the fleet by 2040, even though it believes the typical lifetime cost of owning an EV will fall below that of a petrol car equivalent by about 2025.

The ministry is not making any forecasts about self-driving cars. But  McMullan says if AVs follow the pattern of other vehicle technologies they will take between 10 and 30 years to dominate vehicle sales, and then at least a further 20 years to squeeze out the existing fleet.

Dennis – noticing a Tesla electric car pass by his window as he speaks – says the “safe money” is on it being eight to 15 years before AVs become noticeable on the roads.

“The two big barriers will be that the last 20 per cent of the technology challenge will be difficult, and regulation and public policy.”

The obvious roadblock for drone transport and electrically powered flight in general comes in inventing the battery technology that could provide the necessary power-to-weight ratios.

British vacuum cleaning inventor James Dyson announced Dyson’s move into the electric-vehicle business last year and is among those betting big on new solid-state batteries that would have a solid electrolyte instead of the conventional liquid one.

Last month, carmakers Toyota, Nissan and Honda and battery manufacturers Panasonic and GS Yuasa received a US$14m grant from the Japanese government to team up on solid-state battery research.

These could at least double power-to-weight ratios at the same time as slashing recharge times by a factor of six, according to some researchers.

Dennis says there is “always interesting stuff in the labs”, but cautions battery technology has not been  a fast-moving field, at least up to now.

A “10-year timeframe” would be realistic for any breakthroughs, he believes.

“I think everybody finds it really difficult to think long term, and the classic example of this is the rebuilding of Christchurch, New Zealand’s largest infrastructure project costing more than $40b.

“There are at least four new car parking buildings in the CBD, yet if you look at Oslo in Norway, their CBD is going to be car-free by 2020. These are multi-storey buildings whose usage will probably start to tail off in 10 to 15 years – maybe sooner.”