The world powers are placing their bids on the green future, but is it enough?


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There is growing global competition for leadership in the growing field of sustainable climate technologies, with different approaches in different regions. The names are different, but they all aim to merge the global competition for green economy leadership with the achievement of sustainability goals.

Joe Biden’s “American Jobs” infrastructure spending plan, the EU’s Horizon Europe research program, and China’s focus on green finance are all important cornerstones for what’s to come. At the time of writing, 51 countries have pledged climate neutrality by mid-century.

There has never been so much public support for taking dramatic action to avert a climate catastrophe, as the cost of renewable energy solutions continues to fall. There is undeniable momentum in the green transition, but there is also a growing gap between global climate ambitions and concrete actions.

Bill Gates said we need to double global research and innovation efforts to meet climate goals. But in his latest book How to avoid a climate catastrophe, he is now talking about quintupling the effort.

This is an opinion supported by a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA). In Net zero by 2050, the IEA states that “the commitments made by governments to date, even if fully met, are well below what is needed to bring global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions to zero. net by 2050 and give the world an equal chance to limit temperature rises to 1.5 ° C. “He also advocates an immediate fourfold increase in innovation and demonstration efforts.

Biden bets big on infrastructure

Although initially billed as a major investment in infrastructure, President Biden’s project American employment plan also has big green ambitions. In addition to upgrading thousands of bridges, repairing highways and improving the public transportation system, the funds will also be used to improve building insulation, air quality, limit gas emissions to greenhouse effect, reduce congestion and renew the electricity grid.

Bloomberg said infrastructure packages are the “most sustainable climate policies” as improvements made today will have an impact for decades to come. Unlike fiscal policies, infrastructure cannot be easily reversed.

EU focuses on research

In the last weeks of 2020, a political agreement was reached between the European Parliament and the Council on Horizon Europe, the largest transnational research and innovation program ever. About 30% of the budget of 95.5 billion euros ($ 117 billion) will be available for research and development of green technologies.

Could China take the lead with green finance?

Chinese President Xi Jinping surprised after international pressure carbon neutrality commitment Last year. But achieving this commitment by 2060 will cost $ 21 trillion, according to a study by Tsinghua University. Cost is a questionable term in these questions, however, because the cost of failure is extreme.

China seems determined to use so-called green finance, defined as “The institutional arrangement that uses financial instruments such as green credit, green bonds, green stock indices and related products, green development funds, green insurance and carbon finance, as well as the relevant policy incentives to support the green transformation of the economy. “

So far, so good. China has become the world’s second largest green bond market after the United States in just five years.

Christoph Nedopil Wang, senior researcher at the International Institute of Green Finance at Beijing Central University of Finance and Economics, told South China Morning Post that green finance can play two important roles: “First, green finance mobilizes and channels money towards the low-carbon economic transition, in particular in green technologies and improving the energy intensity and emissions of all sectors. Green finance also brings more transparency to the risks of non-green finance that financial institutions and investors face due to climate change. “

Short-term politics must be put aside

The IEA report caused a stir in the media when it was first published, with a Time big title claiming that it “rocked the energy world”. However, there has been little coverage of the massive increase in clean energy investment and energy efficiency improvements that would be needed to meet the 2050 goals.

European Commission Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans said the IEA’s roadmap shows the world can still change course. “It requires urgent action by all, but it can be done,” he said on Twitter.

But while the Paris Agreement sets a clear global goal, the means to achieve it remain at the nation-state level. In every country there are examples of inaction or delay in action due mainly to political disputes.

A Study 2019 of the British Parliament published in the interdisciplinary journal Environment and town planning E: Nature and space found two reasons for the lack of a meaningful response. He said politicians felt “little pressure from their constituents to act on climate change.”

This may have changed since the publication of the study, but the study also stated that the ability of politicians to act “is limited by the practicalities and procedures of day-to-day politics, as well as by norms and standards. the cultures of their professional life “. The study argued that politicians and other stakeholders must be given adequate support to express the scale and importance of climate change, and to build democratic support for further action.

In times of war, rainbow coalitions and emergency governments often set party lines aside to get things done. We are now in a period of crisis with a clear target and timetable.

Since Severe examination in 2006, we’ve been told time and again that taking proactive climate action will result in a better and more resilient world. The IEA report echoes this, forecasting GDP growth of 4% against a business-as-usual benchmark.

So the signs are there that early action pays off, but if the carrot doesn’t work, maybe the stick will work.

A A Dutch court recently ruled that by 2030, the oil giant Shell must reduce its CO emissions2 emissions by 45% from 2019 levels. Friends of the Earth said this was the first time a company was legally obliged to align its policies with the Paris climate accords. NGOs have even found a way to Big Oil meeting rooms, unthinkable just a few years ago. Other global companies will surely now consider the cost of deferred action.

Can we move fast enough?

With the US, EU, and China all committing significant funds to the issue, we hope those funds will be available for use soon. But even with the money in place, how quickly can we evolve carbon removal technologies fast enough to make a difference?

While these technologies do not replace the need for drastic primary measures to reduce emissions, they do act as a form of insurance against climate neutrality. As such, we don’t have until 2050 to implement the technologies. They must be implemented early enough to make a difference in the global carbon footprint well before 2050.

Such rapid development cycles have been seen with consumer technologies such as smartphones. Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone in 2007, a barely recognizable product just 14 years later. It’s the kind of rapid development we need, but climate technology and smartphones are not the same thing. Mobile phone technology has grown 40-fold over the past 30 years. We must evolve wind and solar energy technologies at a similar rate over the next 30 years.

The development of energy infrastructure takes a long time, but improvements can be made. Solar and wind power are the most cost-effective methods of generating electricity in much of the world today, but this was not the case just 10 years ago. In Europe, we are witnessing a surge in carbon prices with the Emissions Trading System (ETS) which recently peaked at 56 € / tonne of CO2.

This shifts momentum towards the necessary direction in which clean tech becomes the cheapest option. This is where the world’s politicians must step in once again. In November, the COP26 must focus on how to leverage global efforts to achieve an optimal solution for the whole planet.

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