Innovation brings hope amid the climate crisis
The climate crisis is the most complex problem we face today – it is experienced on a global scale and will be for decades and centuries to come. Scientific evidence, economics, social life, justice and politics are constantly weighed and evaluated as solutions are planned. Yet innovation in clean technologies in sectors such as sustainable transportation, energy transitions, building efficiency, agricultural analysis and more has become ubiquitous in the 2020s. Hope now prevails that the climate crisis can be mitigated through innovation.
Innovation has spurred what two authors from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Kelly Levin and Andrew Steer, call it an “inflection point”. They argue that hope now trumps desperation around the climate crisis, as innovation has lowered costs and introduced new technologies.
- By 2021, more than 60 countries – accounting for more than half of global emissions – have committed to net zero emissions by mid-century.
- 4,500 businesses, cities, regions and other institutions have adopted a net zero target.
- Divestment is now in the news almost daily, with fund managers and investors triggering $ 40 trillion in committed assets into net zero portfolios by 2050.
Innovation has happened in probable and unlikely places: institutions, understanding, technology and leadership. Systemic change can happen, as history has shown, when the right combinations of factors come together.
- The Paris Agreement, voluntary in nature and non-binding objectives, was based on an unfavorable start to commitments. Yet growing scientific evidence supported by falling technology costs due to clean technology innovation has led to an increase in citizens’ demands for action. Targets have increased accordingly, with the need for stronger commitments in the years to come.
- Economic understanding of climate change started with a perspective that it was prudent to weigh the benefits of the costs avoided in the distant future with some sort of discount rate. Today, more and more economists recognize that smart action on climate change in the here and now leads to increased efficiency, spurs new technologies and reduces risk. These benefits, in turn, stimulate investment, create jobs, create healthier economies and improve the livelihoods and well-being of citizens.
- Direction, pushed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) with their conclusion that the risks of an average warming of 2 ° C were simply too great, made the scale of the crisis apparent and made part of contemporary discourse. Investors, staff and clients rose up saying they wanted visionary leaders on the right side of history. Enlightened authority figures have recognized that they need to be fully engaged to manage risks and seize opportunities.
Levin and Steer remind us that we must act in ways that can be destabilizing to meet ambitious but imperative climate goals.
“Even if the commitments are fully implemented, there remains a large gap between our current emissions trajectory and that which meets the Paris Agreement targets. Communities around the world are seeing the impact of a warming of just 1 ° C, from extreme heat and uncontrollable fires, to the drying up of food crops and the disappearance of ice. The future world will be more and more unrecognizable unless we transform our actions. “
The IEA estimates that $ 90 billion in public funding is needed to support energy transition demonstration projects by 2030. However, only $ 25 billion is budgeted for the next decade. New ways to leverage private investment, stimulate and better align public spending, tailor policy and regulatory frameworks to an innovation agenda, and isolate further risk reductions are needed to attract more private investment. Developing economies, in particular, need significant support, according to Levin and Steer, in the form of finance, technology transfer and capacity building in order to reap the benefits of innovation and move to a future. low carbon emission.
The scope of innovation to come is intimidating, but possible
Innovation in finance, institutional design, new partnerships, philanthropy and international cooperation can contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies. Some trends are already very promising. Battery prices have fallen almost 90% over the past decade. The exponential growth of renewables makes them technologies of choice in many places. Electric vehicle (EV) adoption has accelerated, with a growing number of government eliminations of internal combustion engines, subsidies to increase demand for electric vehicles, and automakers’ buy-in to vehicle fleet targets. electric.
What needs to be done to continue to step up the transformation towards a zero-emission global society and limit global warming? Levin and Steer come up with a series of necessary innovations.
- The share of renewable energies in electricity production should rise from around 25% today to almost 100% by 2050.
- The relentless coal will need to be removed 6 times faster than it is today.
- Our buildings need to be renovated so that zero-carbon heating and air conditioning and improved energy efficiency reach a rate of 2.5 to 3.5% by 2030.
- Crop yields must double from recent rates over the next few decades in order to meet the food needs of a growing population – and this must be done without encroaching on forests, avoiding agricultural expansion and maintaining healthy soils. as well as the quantity and quality of water.
Innovation will be key to achieving these goals by 2030 and is largely achievable with readily available technologies. Efforts to stimulate innovation must focus on research and development of these technologies and the technologies and infrastructure on which these solutions depend.
RMI (formerly Rocky Mountain Institute) adds that we also need to withdraw carbon-intensive assets quickly, well before the end of their economic and technical life. They stress that coal-fired power plants must be closed, that fossil fuel subsidies must end, and that no new fossil fuel infrastructure can be built, including demand-side infrastructure such as the expansion of highways and gas distribution systems.
The use of technologies still under development is even higher for the sectors most difficult to reduce, such as long-distance transport and heavy industry. Researchers from the National Laboratory of Renewable Energies (NREL), in collaboration with two electric utilities, recently investigated a promising short-term electrification opportunity in this segment through depot charging. NREL researchers have simulated several charging strategies, including “smart” charging, where BEVs take full advantage of the time spent parked at the depot to recharge at slower rates and reduce peak energy demand. This study shows that charging needs could be met at power levels consistent with current light vehicle charging technology (≤100 kW / vehicle) for the fleets studied.
Levin and Steer use the example of direct air capture and storage as an opportunity for innovation. The IPCC and the National Academies of Sciences suggest that by mid-century, 8 to 10 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (GtCO2) may need to be phased out each year. Natural approaches, such as landscape restoration, can remove 5-6 GtCO2, with greatly renewed efforts, but technical approaches could remove and store carbon as much as the latest science suggests. Large-scale capture and storage will not only rely on technological innovation to reduce energy inputs and costs, it will also depend on political support such as tax credits, increased market demand and public investment and private.
Final thoughts on the power of hope
Of course, pushy and pushy business and politicians, as well as critical segments of the population, have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and resisting the change of a fossil fuel driven world. The speech around the climate crisis is messy. Levin and Steer insist that government action must ensure that transitions are fair and equitable, especially for workers and industries currently bound by a carbon-intensive future. Once again this week, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm has forbidden the Biden administration’s proposal to provide tax credits for electric vehicles made by unionized automakers. The Build Back Better bill hangs in limbo as of this writing.
Yes, we are a long way from an emissions trajectory that avoids even worse effects of climate change, so innovation must accelerate throughout the current decade. By mid-century, almost half of the required emission reductions will require technologies that are not yet on the market. As the Union of Concerned Scientists makes it very clear, “As best we can, we will not make our way to the Great Decarbonized Place. We need concrete actions. We need real policy, real progress, real change commensurate with the level of action required by these climate goals. “
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