Energy & Environment
Climate in-action: do or do not, there is no try
Petar Georgiev / Dec 2017
Almost two years after the Paris Agreement, the One Planet Summit in Paris on December 12th, was yet another forum where ambitious commitments and targets were reaffirmed. The three aims of this climate finance summit were taking action, innovation and greater support to vulnerable regions. However, we have been hearing those messages in the official European discourse for way too long and there is a feeling of summit fatigue in the air. In light of the upcoming EU Multiannual Financial Framework and its attempt for climate mainstreaming as well as some serious World Bank pledges, the future does not appear that grim. Still, would those efforts be enough?
While significant progress is made in areas such as power generation, improving buildings’ energy efficiency, agriculture and waste - it is the transport sector which has taken a wrong turn when it comes to GHG emissions. Without going into very technical details, most of us have walked along a busy boulevard in rush hours and have smelled the soot. On a larger scale, most recent data from the European Environmental Agency shows an 18.7 Mt CO2-equivalent EU-wide increase in emissions in the transport sector in 2016 alone. In fact, transport is estimated to be Europe’s greatest climate problem at 27% of total emissions. Something that cannot be measured by absolute numbers, however, is the impact of the dirty air we breathe on a regular basis in big urban areas. As a result, more and more cities implement urban vehicle access regulations to reduce the amount of pollution. Yet, on a national scale, governments remain silent.
When confronted with options to tackle climate change – mitigation, adaptation and resilience are the jargon. The word inertia could also be used: inertia that is seen from one summit to another, even after the meaningful Paris Agreement and its requirements “well below” what is needed to be done. The implications for Europe stemming from that inactivity are quite strong. On the one hand, a plethora of impact assessments assert that the social costs of pollution are greater than the investment needed to mitigate climate change. On the other, numerous studies point that climate change could not only be reduced but turned into a beneficial opportunity for investment, especially in the transport sector.
Regulatory stagnation prevents automotive manufacturers from introducing innovative technologies alongside vehicle-related standards, which ultimately ends up creating market complacency with expensive energy efficiency options available. This is a two-fold problem, as it both slows down the EU from meeting its 2030 climate targets and also undermines the competitiveness of the European automotive industry compared to strongly-emerging Chinese counterparts.
And indeed, while Europe talks investment and financing - China is already doing it. Impressively overshooting its projections for new solar capacity, China has achieved its yearly estimate of 34.5GW in only 9 months and is at 54.5GW. In other words, China will have a total solar capacity of over 120GW with no single country even close to that. For comparison, this is also the exact amount China plans to invest into battery capacity by 2021. It would be enough to supply batteries to 1.5 million Tesla Model S per year.
The One Planet Summit indeed managed to send a message to the world. Particularly in terms of transport, the Transport Decarbonisation Alliance, created at COP23, set to scale up ambition. More generally, the World Bank made a significant pledge to cut financing upstream oil and gas after 2019. The EU mobilised €44 billion as part of its External Investment Plan in order to support sustainability. Also, prominent world leaders took the stage and grand announcements echoed in the media afterwards on how to urgently tackle climate change by divesting from fossil fuels. Throughout the summit, France charismatically preached urgency and American states declared that they were still in. These declaratory actions would become the hottest thread in the Twittersphere that day. Contrarily, China quietly announced the launch of a national carbon emissions trading scheme in the few days to come. This would become the biggest carbon market in the world.
While proactive measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change were predominant, the summit was largely disappointing. The “effect of announcement” and well-crafted communication techniques might have satisfied some leaders and high-level guests, but action on climate occurs when you put your money where your mouth is.
In the meantime, on that day alone China installed new solar capacity equal to the total solar capacity of Finland.[i]
[i] Author’s own calculations: Chinese total capacity in 2017 – expected at around 54.5GW (54.5/365=0.15GW), Finland total capacity as of 2016 = 0.15 GW