Intuitively this makes sense. But this is where Holmes a Court’s chart comes in. Take a look at it again.
That bar on the right, the tallest of all, is the total emissions of all countries whose national emissions are under 2% of the global total (like Australia). If every one of the ‘under 2%’ countries followed the logic that their contribution to fighting climate change was too insignificant to bother we’d all be screwed.
Global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change are complex and heavily negotiated. Countries look to similar countries to see that they too are taking action. So for one ‘under 2%’ country to do nothing sends a signal to others that they needn’t bother either. We’re all in this together and every country, no matter the size of its emissions compared to others, has a responsibility to take action. Suggesting that an ‘under 2%’ country do nothing to reduce its emissions is irresponsible and undermines the global fight against climate change.
Countries from around the world gather in Bonn, Germany this week for the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP) to thrash out how they, and the world collectively, will reduce emissions enough to avoid 2 degrees of global warming. As they do it’s worthwhile taking inspiration from a similar environmental problem that found a global solution.
As this story in the Washington Post explains, the hole in the ozone layer is shrinking after years of global efforts. After the hole’s discovery in the 1970s, the 1987 Montreal Protocol was signed by 24 nations – eventually increasing to 197 – who agreed to stop the use of the common artificial chemicals that were causing the ozone depletion. Scientific discovery of the hole and its causes generated awareness and public concern spurring global action.
While climate change is a different, larger and more complex beast, the success of the Montreal Protocol should be a beacon for global efforts at COP23 to make the Paris agreement a success.
PS. You can find out more about the ozone hole and see daily images (like the cover image) from NASA here.
A few years ago Citibank released a report which showed that global action to fight climate change would be more cheaper than simply continuing on a business as usual path. The savings on investment costs alone were only $2 trillion BUUUUT when you factor in the avoided costs of inaction (ie. the cost of damages from climate change that are avoided) the savings were closer to $34 trillion (based on avoiding 2.5 degrees of warming)!
With those kinds of savings you’ll be asking yourself why we’re not jumping at the chance to invest in climate action and renewable energy. Indeed the Citibank report did exactly that wondering “Why would you not?”. As this Guardian article by Dana Nuccitelli explains, coal companies stands to lose a lot of money, a lot of it already invested in assets, with the switch to gas and renewables. That’s why they’ve been using their sizable resources and influence over governments to sew doubt about climate change and hold back support for policies that price carbon and support renewable energy.
As IFC chief executive Philippe Le Houérou said in the Guardian: “We can help unlock more private sector investment, but this also requires government reforms as well as innovative business models, which together will create new markets and attract the necessary investment.” These reforms involve, you guessed it, unpicking support for incumbent fossil fuel companies.
The scale of investment needed in low-emissions technology for the world to stay under 2 degrees of warming though is considerable according to recent analysis from the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford – triple what is currently being invested, or $2.3 trillion a year to 2040. That’s a lot of money that needs to be unlocked. But if coal companies get out of the way and government works with business to do what’s needed we all stand to benefit and more than just economically.
Steelworks in Whyalla, South Australia are set to be powered by a solar, battery and pumped hydro project. This announcement signals a future where heavy, energy-intensive industry is powered by clean energy providing jobs and greenhouse gas reduction.
As Zen Energy (the company constructing the project) chairman Sanjeev Gupta said in the Guardian article: “I believe there is a great future for energy intensive industries in Australia.”
It’s also another sign that business and people with vision are getting on with the inevitable and smart shift to renewable energy and storage because it makes business sense.
It’s refreshing after years of (still ongoing) political intransigence from conservative politicians in Australia and wildly inaccurate scare tactics like the below quote from former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. It would be funny if it hadn’t cost (and wasn’t still costing) Australia investment and holding us back from the transition to a clean energy economy.
Abbott 2011: "You can't have a solar powered steel mill or a wind powered manufacturing plant"
This ad for Bank Australia is a great example of normalising socially responsible business, renewable energy and divestment. None of these are particularly new ideas but the fact they’re on TV in a slick ad for a business shows how they’re becoming mainstream.
When watching the ad keep an eye out for the solar panels being installed by a business owner to save money, the message that the bank “doesn’t lend to the fossil fuel industry”, the lady charging her Tesla and wind turbines as the picturesque backdrop to an Australian road trip.
The more these kinds of images and messages appear in the media, particularly in a way that portrays them as business-friendly, the more normal they will seem and the more support they will have. And we certainly need more businesses and more people using their power to create a better world by investing in solutions, not fossil fuels.
In the US, coal’s decline has been stark. Around 15 years ago coal generated around 55% of US electricity, but by 2016 it was just 33%. Between, 2011 and 2016 the four largest US coal companies lost 99.9% of their market capitalisation.
While globally, coal demand is still set to increase, technological advancements and the falling cost of both renewable energy and energy storage will eat even further into coal’s dominance. According to the International Energy Agency, the cost of building new renewable energy is increasingly the same as or lower than new-build coal or gas plants and renewables are set to grow twice as fast as coal out to 2022.
International Energy Agency
Coal may still be dominant but the writing is on the wall. According to a study published in Nature, 88% of the world’s coal reserves will have to stay in the ground if we are to have just a 50% chance (the toss of a coin) of capping temperature rise at 2 degrees, the target agreed to as part of the Paris Accord.
As countries face increasing pressure to meet their emissions reduction targets under the accord coal will become increasingly unpopular. Coupled with the increasing appeal of renewables and storage it seems that coal is inevitably heading for the door.