COP26, as the global climate conference scheduled to be held in 2020 is known in United Nations (UN) jargon, when countries are expected to ratchet up ambition on climate action, is coming closer. The effort to encourage countries to be ambitious is gathering pace.
In 2018, more than 500 companies committed to Science Based Targets, cities committed to making zones where only zero emission vehicles will ply, and sub-national entities as well as many corporations committed to becoming carbon neutral. All this is an effort to give nations comfort that we can all be more ambitious in taking climate action. The Global Climate Action Summit in California catalysed a spree of commitments and the 5th IPCC report has made it clear that action must increase five-fold to avert a severe environmental catastrophe. COP24 occurred in this milieu and delivered a rulebook of sorts to implement the Paris accord.
While climate action saw many forward steps in 2018, there were some deterrents too. The US Federal position on climate change is an unnecessary distraction while taking on the biggest challenge we are facing on earth. Some countries are showing intransigence to move away from fossil fuels and politics — domestic and international —is keeping some nations from stepping up and doing their bit.
Meeting To Resolve Problems
Through the 24 conferences that have happened among the countries of the world, many problems have been solved. The most notable success has been the effort to eliminate the hole in the ozone layer. Yet many barriers remain.
Even as economic realities enable effective climate action in areas such as adoption of renewable energy, the rate of acceleration in adoption of solutions continues to be low. There seem to be barriers in nations coming together to solve a common problem as can be seen by the inability of countries to set up a market mechanism to combat climate change. The perception that climate action is a “good to do”, costs money and that a trade-off exists between climate action and business growth continues to persist amongst some businesses despite the rapid increase of corporations that have found that climate action and business resilience are two sides of the same coin.
Today, implementing corporate environmental sustainability strategies is increasingly becoming standard practice. Globally, more than 5,800 companies, representing close to 60 percent of global market capitalisation, disclose environmental information such as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and approach to managing climate risks and opportunities on Carbon Disclosure Project’s platform. Fortune 100 and S&P Global 100 companies are investing billions of dollars to reach renewable energy procurement targets. Many companies are going further and taking steps to reduce the environmental impact of their supply chains.
Innovations Have Helped
In recent years, numerous methods of climate action have emerged that are effective and economically beneficial. Energy efficient LED lights are more than norm than the exception. The Indian state-run corporation, Energy Efficiency Services Ltd (EESL), has enabled adoption of more than 300 million LED lights by May 2018 and has helped bring down the prices of LED lights worldwide. Renewable energy costs have fallen below the costs of conventional energy and the adoption of renewable energy has accelerated leading to India increasing its ambition to install renewable energy from 175GW to 225GW by 2022. The creation of renewable energy capacity now outpaces the creation of energy capacity from non-renewable sources. Electric vehicles are now viable for mass or shared transit operations as asset utilisation is higher than for private vehicles.
Yet the international conversation on climate change is largely confined to barriers and challenges. The best minds of the world are still grappling with topics that are difficult to resolve and this means we are losing out on a huge opportunity. It is time to talk about how to make the proven solutions commonplace and how to ensure that climate-harming technologies which have a viable alternative are not used any more.
There is no earthly reason why lighting should not move to 100 percent LED wherever possible and why non-LED lights should even be available. There is no reason why public buses should not quickly become powered by electricity and why non-electric buses should not be taken off the road.
Micro-irrigation is known to save energy and water in agriculture and there is no reason why we should not ensure total adoption of the technology. Green buildings save more than 30 percent energy and are no longer more expensive that non-green buildings. There is no reason why new construction should be anything but green.
Despite the fact that many effective and affordable ways of taking climate action are known, the dominant conversation has not moved to enabling their proliferation. While we know that some barriers to effective climate action continue to exist and must be sorted out, there must also be a robust conversation on the rapid proliferation of known solutions without any further delay. This is the paradigm split that is the order of the day.
Only if this paradigm split happens, we will be able to realise the benefit of creating more than 24 million jobs quickly. Only then will we have a chance of putting brakes on the accelerating pace of economic losses ($306 billion in 2017 alone as estimated by Swiss Re) around the world. Only then will we be able to prevent the dystopian reality of almost 600 million children (1 in 4 children worldwide) living in areas with extremely limited water resources in 2040 as envisioned by UNICEF. Rapid adoption of proven climate solutions can reduce the occurrence of climate migration.
There can’t be better reasons for the evolution of the current narrative by splitting the paradigm and simultaneously enabling proliferation of known solutions even as we sort out the barriers and challenges that remain.
Anirban Ghosh leads Sustainability at the $20.7-billion Mahindra Group.