April 20, 2018│ Author: Christiana Figueres, Convenor of Mission 2020 and former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (2010-2016).
The global community is currently facing an immense challenge – to ramp up climate action at such scale and speed that we are able to bend the curve of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. While that may sound daunting, we must not be paralyzed: impossible is not a fact, it is an attitude, and our path to bending the curve will unlock cleaner air, cleaner water, better health and prosperity for all humanity. Decarbonization of the economy is not a burden, it is actually an incredible opportunity unique in history.
My confidence that we will succeed in bending the curve of emissions is largely based on evidence of the transformation that is underway in the energy sector, and the fact that most of it is exponential.
There are seven dimensions that signal this transformation:
1. Renewable energies are completely disrupting the energy sector as technology costs have fallen to near parity with traditional sources, and continue to fall. The characteristics of renewables are already causing national energy systems to restructure themselves, and this will continue.
2. The devaluing of incumbent fuels is happening at an unprecedented pace. The Executive Director of the International Energy Agency recently noted that renewables are rapidly eroding the dominance of the coal-fired power industry that took 80 years to build.
3. We are bearing witness to the dematerialization of fuels. Over the last century, we dug up coal, gas and oil and transported them across great distances and borders, but sun and wind do not have a material substance you have to process or burn. We’ve seen similar rapid dematerialization in other parts of the economy, where, for example, the iPhone has done away with our need for separate cameras, recorders, GPS systems, the Encyclopedia Britannica, and music on vinyl, tape or CD.
4. Similarly, we are seeing the decentralization of energy generation. We are no longer going to rely on only huge power plants and their long transmission lines. We now have the capacity to have tiny solar modules installed almost anywhere. Very soon it will be possible for a single building to be energy independent, for a city to be energy independent.
5. With this comes the democratization of access to energy. If there is something that is unforgiveable in the year 2018, it is that 1.3 billion people still do not have access to electricity. Fortunately, renewable energy has the capacity to change this reality by shifting generation to the individual village or home. Access to energy forms the basis of economic growth – it’s about time we step up to that challenge.
6. The combination of clean energy and digitalization that is now occurring is perhaps one of the most important components of the exponential nature of our current energy revolution. Digitization will allow two things to happen for the first time in history. We know that the decoupling of greenhouse gas emissions from economic growth has begun. Digitalization will enable another decoupling: because both energy generation and energy use will be so systemically efficient, we will decouple population growth from energy use. We will continue to see the population grow and we will continue to see economic growth, but the energy and GHG curves needed to support that growth will begin to go down. That is a concept that even five years ago would have been unthinkable, whereas today I see us already pursuing that important path.
7. Finally, renewable energy is going to disentangle. When I was a university student, I was taught that geopolitics is very closely linked to the presence of fossil fuels in the ground, and to the transportation routes of those fossil fuels. We know how many wars have been fought around fossil fuels, either because of fossil fuel fields or because of the transportation of the fuels. We are now moving toward a world where we will use the energy that is endemic to each country. This brings us closer toward true energy independence, which will massively change geopolitics and, I hope, lead to a more peaceful world.
These seven signals point to the most far-reaching, intentional, economic transformation that we have ever set ourselves to achieve.
Cities, states, businesses, investors and civil society the world over are already contributing to this exponential transformation. They will be gathering this September for the Global Climate Action Summit to show what they are doing to bring even more sources of clean energy online so that we can deliver healthy energy systems for everyone. It’s happening and you can be part of it!
#2020DontBeLate #GCAS2018 #StepUp2018.
About the Author
Christiana Figueres is the Convenor of Mission 2020 and former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (2010-2016).
Mission 2020 is a global initiative aiming to accelerate action on climate change so we can reach a turning point on GHG emissions by 2020. The evidence that a 2020 climate turning point is within our grasp is growing every day. For more information, please visit http://www.mission2020.global and read 2020: The Climate Turning Point.