The Donald Trump administration is busy rolling back the environmental legislation put forth under his predecessor, Barack Obama. Despite Trump’s anti-environmental measures, the world is headed toward a path where the year 2020 could be the turning point for climate change.
On April 10, Christina Figueres, former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), convened a meeting of climate and business experts in London to identify serious and urgent actions for the next three years.
The group used the findings from a recently published report, 2020: The Climate Turning Point, as their guide. The report is a collaboration between Yale University, Carbon Tracker and Climate Action Tracker (a consortium of Ecofys, New Climate Institute and Climate Analytics), with a contribution by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
The report identified six sectors where achievable milestones are possible by 2020:
- Energy: Renewables could out-compete fossil fuels as new electricity sources worldwide by 2020.
- Transport: Zero0emission transport will be the preferred form of all new mobility in the world’s major cities and transport routes.
- Infrastructure: Cities and states will establish plans and implement policies and regulations with the aim to fully decarbonize infrastructure by 2050.
- Land use: Large-scale deforestation is replaced by large-scale land restoration and agriculture shifts to earth-friendly practices.
- Industry: Heavy industry — including iron and steel, cement, chemicals, and oil and gas — will commit to being Paris compliant.
- Finance: Investment in climate action will move beyond $1 trillion per year, and all financial institutions will a disclose transition strategy.
“Everyone has a right to prosper, and if emissions do not begin their rapid decline by 2020, the world’s most vulnerable people will suffer even more from the devastating impacts of climate change,” former UNFCC Executive Secretary Figueres said in a statement.
“This is no time to waver. What has been missing since Paris is a near term focal point for action, which is why we have brought together some of the best minds on the subject to collectively demonstrate that the arc of transformation to a fossil free energy system is possible.”
“This report correctly identifies 2020 as a key milestone which will indicate whether we are on the path to realizing the goals of the Paris Agreement,” added Professor Lord Nicholas Stern, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science and president of the British Academy.
“If the Paris target of holding global temperature increase to ‘well below [2 degrees Celsius]’ is to be met, there must be an acceleration around the world of the transition to low-carbon growth and development.”
It really is possible for renewables to out-compete fossil fuels by 2020
Power generation is responsible for 42 percent of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. The relevance of the power sector “will only increase as other sectors, like transport, buildings and industry, become electrified,” according to the report.
For global emissions to peak in 2020 and zero out by 2050, electricity supply systems need to “undergo a radical transformation.” The first step is for renewables to make up at least 30 percent of the global electricity supply by 2020, with no new coal-fired power plants being built and existing ones in the process of being retired.
Retiring fossil fuel plants can reduce the amount of early deaths from outdoor pollution by up to 500,000 globally a year, and if they are replaced with clean energy, the amount of deaths could be reduced by another million.
Investment in renewables “continues to gather pace,” the coalition pointed out in their report. At the end of 2015, renewable sources accounted for 23.7 percent of new energy generation. In the EU in 2016, wind and solar photovoltaics (PV) represented 78.4 percent of new capacity, while renewables made up almost two-thirds of new capacity in the U.S. In China, new wind and solar capacity reached 52 gigawatts and was roughly equal to coal and gas capacity.
Solar PV already outcompetes fossil fuel generation capacity in many world regions, as its cost decreased by 85 percent. More global capacity for renewables is being added every year than coal, natural gas and oil combined. In 2015, the renewable sector overtook coal in cumulative installed capacity, and the latest modeling predicts that demand for coal and oil will have peaked by 2020.
In other words, we are on the brink of the beginning of a new revolution — and, unlike the industrial revolution, this one will see fossil fuels become a relic of the past.
Image credit: Flickr/minoru karamatsu