Ed. note: This is an entry in Masdar’s 2016 Blog Contest.
A lot of proposals have been put forth in recent years on how the world community can jump start a green economy and, in effect, transition away from fossil fuel dependence. Steering many of those proposals is the recognition that change is most successful when it has the support of both governments and private citizens. And as history has proved, public-private partnerships don’t just increase access to funding for startups, but they also incentivize dialogue, cooperation and new ideas.
Since the late 18th century, North America has benefited from technology that has helped mechanize the Western economy. It not only built cars, but also an entire way of thinking about what the world’s standard of living should look like. It lifted cities out of poverty, lit schools and businesses, and revamped the way we looked at our food industry. This past technology, while often thought of as the bane to a greener economy, holds at least part of the key to how we find the new technology for a renewable energy revolution.
Any public-private partnership must take into consideration the benefits of that now-antiquated technology, and the financial investments that have not only maintained industries that benefit from fossil fuels, but also the global economy as a whole. But just as importantly, it requires a change of mindset in how we source energy and its interrelationship to how we survive on the planet.
The following steps would be applied nationally, with global benchmarks that would help ensure a transition away from international dependence on fossil fuels by 2030:
- Establish subsidies for the coal, natural gas and other fossil fuel-source industries to redirect their technology and investments into renewable energy. The incentives would be generous but specifically targeted to support the migration and phase-out of carbon-based fuels. Applicants would be expected to submit detailed business plans outlining their strategies for a successful transition to one or more renewable energy sectors, including exploratory technologies.
- Set benchmarks for research and development with incremental subsidies for each phase of the development portion of the program.
- At the same time, introduce deadlines for gradual phase-out of fossil fuel supply, These changes would be mandated by gradual tax code changes and other legislation that favor renewable energy investment.
- Since many of the affected fossil fuel industries benefit from international investment, the above deadlines and benchmarks could be established through global consensus.
- Encourage partnerships in research that help promote changes across the board in the affected industries like transportation, power generation, communications on both the national and local level.
- Partnerships could include educational networking that help inspire changes at the social level, such as a) elementary and secondary school programs, competitions or tours for students in local industries or b) scholarships to bolster research and training in renewable energy industries.
The recent COP21 conference took the first of many steps to spur a global phase-out of fossil fuel development. But constructing a viable path toward its replacement most likely will need to be implemented on a national or regional level. The lessons learned and the benefits gained along the way, however, can be shared through mutual partnerships that ensure the world’s transition to cleaner and more effective energy technologies.
Image: Floris Oosterveld