Some exciting good news came our way these past few weeks – Perseverance, NASA’s most ambitious interplanetary rover yet, was slowly lowered to the surface of an ancient lakebed on Mars on Thursday, Feb. 18 and The United States officially rejoined the landmark international accord to limit global warming known as the Paris Agreement on Friday. Shortly after taking office, President Joe Biden had taken several executive actions aimed at the climate crisis , rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, the landmark 2015 agreement the US abandoned under former President Donald Trump. During the campaign, Biden announced a goal of the US achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.
On the other side of the Atlantic, The Prime Minister of the UK disclosed his ambitious ten-point plan for a green industrial revolution which will create and support up to 250,000 British jobs. The announcement came as a prelude to what we will hopefully see at the COP26 climate summit, which is taking place in Glasgow in November 2021. The plan covers clean energy, transport, nature, innovative technologies, and depicts the footprint and the way the transformation of these sectors will help the UK reach its ambitious climate targets for 2050. It is estimated that a 12 billion government investment coupled with as much as a threefold private investment is required for the plan to materialize and succeed.
The plan and the commitments announced by the UK Government came at a very strategic time … just a few days before Brexit sending a clear message to industries to invest in the UK. Irrespective of the motive it is for sure a move towards the right direction. It is high time for Governments and the private sector alike to ask themselves: where are we on the journey to environment resilience and decarbonization? Understanding and planning ahead is imperative. The implications of not doing so are dire!
Taking the example of the UK: although solar generation fell in 2020, mainly due to poor summer, renewables in total produced a record 41% of the overall electricity generation. And despite the disruption in the supply chain and construction, due to the pandemic, 2020 has seen a 4% year on year increase in renewable energy capacity globally. This goes to show that renewables are resilient, and that by one source complementing the other making for a smoother production and therefore the world running on renewables alone becoming more of a reality.
There are several countries that are generating a large proportion of their electricity from renewables already. Iceland’s renewable production for instance is the highest per person in the world. Nearly 100% of their energy comes from renewable sources. Norway produces almost 98% of its energy from renewable sources. Kenya, Uruguay, Sweden, Germany, USA, and China are close behind.
Energy transition cannot and will not be a one-year journey. Planning well and starting early creates value in the long term rather than destruction. What is required? In my opinion four main stages:
- Risk and opportunity identification
- Strategic response
- Reporting of progress
Once these stages are defined and agreed, we need investment, reliability, demand, and continuous research and development to speed up the energy transition. For the outcome to be successful we need to highlight the need for renewable technology that will have to be deployed at scale, grid infrastructure to be upgraded to be able to absorb, transmit and deliver energy from decentralized sources, as well as energy efficiency in its general perspective, ranging from upgrading of buildings to upgrading of manufacturing processes. Carbon capture, marine transport, electric vehicles, and green hydrogen have a very important role to play towards speeding the transition process. Reducing energy consumption and using alternative materials, heat -pump technologies and transitioning to a smart grid – smart home management are also pivotal in accelerating the transition.
A country’s success in achieving its targets can be bolstered through the proper integration, or mainstreaming, of climate change considerations into national and local development plans. Politically there is no better timing for this – USA, China and the European Union all prioritizing the Green deal, and the UK committing to the 10-point plan. At corporate level major organizations are committing to ESG. At a financing level, funds, oil majors, utilities and others are all raising huge amounts of money for this purpose.
In my point of view the 3 major calls to action going forward will have to be:
Support new technologies.
Renewables and new technologies will inevitably continue to play a major role in the transition forward. We therefore need to support the development and ultimately the deployment of new technologies. It is proven and widely accepted that the LCOE is the lowest when electricity is produced from renewables. It is also well known that renewables need a higher investment upfront in both R&D and CAPEX. Governments need to have the vision and the courage to support renewables through long term policies, and also by facilitating access to capital through innovative financing.
Climate commitments with actions.
Commitments do not always translate to actions. Governments need to partner up with the private sector to implement commitments, strategies, and programs in an efficient, effective, and speedy way to bolster the energy transition.
Governments the private sector and academia alike need to invest in programs to educate and train their workforce. Advancements in technology cannot bring the desired energy transition alone. The workforce of tomorrow needs to be well trained, agile, diverse, technologically advanced, and digitally adept.
On a personal level there are ample ways we can all help speed up transition – planting of trees to absorb toxic gases, dust, and smoke, greening our homes that helps absorb harmful chemicals from household products, eating less meat and dairy that helps reduce ammonia emissions, embracing circular economy by recycling and reusing whenever we can, walk cycle or use public transport to reduce CO2 emissions are just a few.
Let us not forget though that the energy transition has to ultimately be for people. We need to do our utmost to limit global warming so that we can bring about a better future for everyone on the planet. And we need to ensure that efforts to tackle the climate crisis by shifting rapidly to clean energy can enable citizens to benefit from the opportunities, avoiding increases in unemployment and negative social impacts. Governments will need to find ways to address the social impact on individuals, business, and communities. Many countries are focusing on these issues and are beginning to exchange information and ideas. For this purpose, a new global commission has been created – Our Inclusive Energy Future led by Denmark. The commission will deliver its recommendations in November, in time for the Cop26 climate change conference.
The last landing on Mars has proven something that we all knew – there is no life on Mars! This goes to say that we need to save our planet as there is nowhere else to go … With a sense of purpose and urgency, I therefore call upon Governments, the public sector and academia to work together to develop their individual 10-point plans, based on their competences and priorities, therefore setting a new course that is sustainable and provides a better living for the generations to come. I also call upon all of us on an individual level to contribute in whatever way we can by changing our habits and our everyday living for a better future.