Five Reasons Why 2021 is the Year for Tackling Climate Change
14 January 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major influence in everything we do, and there is no doubt that its will bring a major changes in how we live, work and play.
In a recent article BBC Chief Environment Correspondent Justin Rowlett discusses an optimistic view that these changes could mean a real breakthrough in the global ambition on climate action.
1. The crucial climate conference
In November 2021, world leaders will be gathering in Glasgow for the successor to the landmark Paris meeting of 2015. Paris was important because it was the first time virtually all the nations of the world came together to agree they all needed to help tackle climate change. However the commitments made at that time were off track for what is needed – so the agreement for major nations to meet every 5 years after Paris provides an opportunity to review and increase carbon cuts.
2. Countries are already signing up to deep carbon cuts
Many countries have already made significant progress. However, the announced that China aimed to go carbon neutral by 2060 should have a major impact.
Cutting carbon has always been seen as an expensive chore yet here was the most polluting nation on earth - responsible for some 28% of world emissions - making an unconditional commitment to do just that regardless of whether other countries followed its lead
The UK was the first major economy in the world to make a legally binding net zero commitment in June 2019. The European Union followed suit in March 2020. Since then, Japan and South Korea have joined what the UN estimates is now a total of over 110 countries that have set net zero target for mid-century. With the recent United States election result this means the biggest economy in the world has now re-joined the carbon cutting chorus.
3. Renewables are now the cheapest energy ever
There is a good reason why so many countries are now saying they plan to go net zero: the collapsing cost of renewables is completely changing the calculus of decarbonisation. In October 2020, the International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organisation, concluded that the best solar power schemes now offer "the cheapest source of electricity in history".
Renewables are already often cheaper than fossil fuel power in much of the world when it comes to building new power stations. And, if the nations of the world ramp up their investments in wind, solar and batteries in the next few years, prices are likely to fall even further. to a point where they are so cheap it will begin to make commercial sense to shut down and replace existing coal and gas power stations.
That is because the cost of renewables follows the logic of all manufacturing - the more you produce, the cheaper it gets. Governments know that by scaling up renewables in their own economies, they help to accelerate the energy transition globally, by making renewables even cheaper and more competitive everywhere.
4. COVID-19 changes everything
The coronavirus pandemic has shaken our sense of invulnerability and reminded us that it is possible for our world to be upended in ways we cannot control. It has also delivered the most significant economic shock since the Great Depression.
In response, governments are stepping forward with stimulus packages designed to reboot their economies. And the good news is it has rarely - if ever - been cheaper for governments to make these kind of investments. Around the world, interest rates are hovering around zero, or even negative. This creates an unprecedented opportunity to - in the now familiar phrase - "build back better".
5. Business is going green too
The falling cost of renewable and the growing public pressure for action on climate is also transforming attitudes in business. There are sound financial reasons for this. Why invest in new oil wells or coal power stations that will become obsolete before they can repay themselves over their 20-30-year life?
At the same time there is growing momentum behind the movement to get businesses to embed climate risk into their financial decision making.
The aim is to make it mandatory for businesses and investors to show that their activities and investments are making the necessary steps to transition to a net zero world.
So, there is good reason for hope but it is far from a done deal. The truth is lots of countries have expressed lofty ambitions for cutting carbon but few have yet got strategies in place to meet those goals. The challenge for Glasgow will be getting the nations of the world to sign up to policies that will start reducing emissions now.
This story is adapted from a BBC News article, with editorial changes made by the METaL Project.