What’s next for Sustainability?

Posted on the 23rd January 2017 by Ieva

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The world is filled with fossil-fueled power stations and energy-guzzling factories, the Earth is experiencing radically high temperatures, while the most powerful leader proclaims that the concept of global warming was invented by the Chinese.

Fatih Varol, Chief Economist at the International Energy Agency believes that the door is closing. He says, "I am very worried – if we don't change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for safety]. The door will be closed forever." In our century, world emissions have risen by a record amount. Consequently, 2016 has been the third year in a row to break the record of the warmest year. Shockingly, even with these figures at hand, just 5% of the energy produced by the United Kingdom comes from renewable sources. Spencer Dale, Chief Economist of BP Group claims that renewable sources of energy like solar wind and biomass will struggle to reach 10% of the world’s energy supply by 2035.

Despite worrisome statistics and evidence of climate change in our daily lives, most people fail to grasp the gravity of the situation. Considering it as a distant phenomenon, people going about their daily jobs rarely give much thought to melting ice caps thousands of miles away from where they live. However, drastic changes in the environment will inevitably have a domino effect throughout the planet. Energy will be one of the most important proponents of this effect.

Pollution levels are soaring in the East but far less is being done about this than in the West. Here, it is important to take into consideration the debate between Growth and Sustainability. When the UN held its first global conference on the human environment, the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, unknowingly began a debate that has echoed through the discussions of climate change ever since. "We do not wish to impoverish the environment any further and yet we cannot for a moment forget the grim poverty of large numbers of people," she said. In the global south, the dilemma of whether to use resources for poverty alleviation or environmental protection has existed for a while now. However, many scholars have stated that it is possible for both to go hand-in-hand.

While there is considerable inertia in the energy sector, especially because of its deep-rooted institutional arrangements, regional cooperation, through sharing of policy experiences and mobilizing finances, can play an important role in assisting countries to implement their own reforms in the energy sector. The Chinese wind market now accounts for half of the world market, and the incentive for this change in energy behaviour is not just because of declining prices, but from the risk of social unrest in the population provoked by the highly polluting coal power plants. Solar prices are falling even faster, due to a booming energy technology renaissance. The cost of wind power is down by one-third and is poised to decrease further within the next 10 years, edging below fossil fuel electricity costs in most Asia-Pacific countries.

There is optimism in the air, despite concerns about the implications of possible changes in the US policy regarding energy and carbon management. Some claim that the ‘green transition’ will continue to be motivated by market forces. A similar conclusion was reached at the COP22 conference in Morocco last November. The slogan arose: “Markets eat politics for breakfast.” And market forces are turning greener all the time.

Written by Anisha Bhavnani

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/nov/09/fossil-fuel-infrastructure-climate-change
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2014/may/06/indira-gandhi-india-climate-change
  3. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jenspeter-saul/policy-changes-under-new_b_14218018.html

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