How do we reconcile this balance of urgency to decarbonise society in support of the climate crisis, whilst avoiding panic, fear and real-life impacts on people when energy supplies fail?
At the end of this month world leaders will convene at the ‘COP26’ international climate summit in Glasgow to lay down new commitments to curb greenhouse emissions. Scientists have made clear that a climate that sees temperatures rise 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels will be marked by increasingly extreme weather events, while rising sea levels, droughts and other phenomena displace whole communities.
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said that we have only the equivalent of about 10 years of current global emissions left to have a chance of hitting that 1.5 degrees Celsius target (approx. 500 additional gigatons of carbon dioxide) – i.e., we are running out of time.
However, at the same time of trying to tackle climate change we have governments facing a severe rise in energy prices.
‘Surging costs for natural gas and shortages of coal have led to significant spikes in the price of electricity — tripling from the previous year in some European countries. The prospect of a cold winter with skyrocketing heating bills may weigh far more heavily on most people’s minds than the distant, abstracted calculations that guide climate action’ – Washington Post
The energy supply crisis is showing how difficult ending the dependence on fossil fuels can be.
‘China is driving demand for coal as it tries to secure the fuel to keep factories running. A loss of industrial output may have an impact that ripples through a global economy already snarled by supply chain issues.’… Europe remains reliant on gas supplies from Russia and is seeing companies seeking more coal for electricity generation ahead of winter with gas prices at record highs and supply hard to come by’ – Bloomberg
‘With winter fast approaching and the global economy rebounding from the pandemic faster than the world had prepared for, governments are being forced to reach for sources of energy that are readily available. The infrastructure that exists to harness energy from renewable sources like wind and solar simply isn’t enough to meet demand’ – CNN
Throwing money at coal (as the UK has done) is a short-term solution which is contradictory to longer-term sustainable goals. A better response would be to double down on funding for deploying renewable and energy efficiency programs, including getting infrastructure projects that were hampered by the pandemic, off the ground.
There’s a growing feeling that COP26 has a lot to deliver in November.
- OECD Policy Responses to Coronavirus (COVID-19) – COVID-19 and the low-carbon transition: Impacts and possible policy responses – 26 June 2020 – http://www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/covid-19-and-the-low-carbon-transition-impacts-and-possible-policy-responses-749738fc/
- Addressing climate change post-coronavirus | McKinsey – https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/sustainability/our-insights/addressing-climate-change-in-a-post-pandemic-world