Ocean Mist

Issues and trends shaping our environment, health and economy

19 Feb 2021

Are we reaching a tipping point?

Posted by Michael Keating

More than 30 years after the Brundtland report, Our Common Future, called for sustainable development, are we reaching a tipping point for a greener future? The struggle to control climate change is taking off. First, and most important, a lot more people are worried. People have seen enough killer forest fires, floods and giant storms to realize the world is changing for the worse, because of our actions. Fear of climate change is a great driver of action. They are starting to spend serious money on electric cars and are pulling their investments from fossil fuels. They are giving governments permission to roll out one greenhouse gas control after another.

Business is in a historic shakeup, one caused not by new inventions or changes in consumer demand but by a series of environmental crises. Mark Carney, who has headed the Bank of Canada and the Bank of England, warned that companies that fail to adapt to climate change will go bankrupt. Major financial groups are turning away from fossil fuels. BlackRock, the world’s biggest investment fund manager, has threatened to sell shares in the worst corporate polluters in a bid to support the goal of net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. While fossil fuel generating stations are still being built, the rate of growth is slowing while the growth in renewable energy has grown dramatically. Renewable energy companies are overtaking the big oil companies in market value. Renewables have become the cheapest form of energy in many parts of the world.

Wind energy

Car makers are on the front line of the green shift. While most people still buy gas and diesel vehicles, one government after another has said it will ban fossil fuel vehicles over the next 10-15 years. The switch has started. In Norway, battery electric vehicles made up 54.3 per cent of all new cars sold in the country in 2020, a world record. In December one-quarter of cars sold in Germany were hybrid or pure electric.

Tesla, a pioneer in making electric cars has seen its value rocket above that of traditional automakers, helping to make founder Elon Musk the world’s richest person. Others are racing to catch up. In early 2021, Ford Motor Co. doubled its investment in electric vehicles and General Motors said it plans to make almost all its vehicles electric by 2035. This came a day after U.S. President Joe Biden signed executive orders that include moving to an all-electric federal vehicle fleet. Jaguar the maker of beautiful luxury cars, announced it will go all electric by 2025.

Governments play key roles in setting expectations, passing laws and regulations to control pollution, and in putting their money into green projects. The 2015 Paris Agreement pledged countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to prevent a climate disaster. Globally, emissions are still rising, but many countries have promised to reduce them in coming years. Last year the European Union set a target of 32 per cent of electricity production to come from renewables by 2030. It has often been said that crisis creates opportunity for change. Many countries have promised a “green recovery” from the COVID-19 economic collapse. Last year a number of large governments made pledges to phase out fossil fuels and to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Late last year, the world’s publicly-financed development banks pledged to tie together their efforts to rescue the global economy from the Covid-19 crisis and the climate emergency, using their financial muscle to assist a green recovery for poor countries.

It is ironic that a health crisis is opening the door to more sustainable development. The fact that the COVID-19 virus appears to have originated in wild animals sold in markets revealed the dangers of pushing deeper into primaeval areas with their hidden diseases. The pandemic reminds us of how vulnerable we are to natural forces. It drives home the point that climate change can also threaten our health and well-being. The social and economic upheaval caused by lockdowns has made people realize that huge changes can happen rapidly. The effects of the COVID-19 crisis, including a sharp fall in demand for oil, gave a peek at what the future holds. Last year, I wrote that in a post COVID-19 world we will have a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a serious shift to sustainability. As the world recovers from the pandemic over the next few years, we will see if people, governments and business have the will and ingenuity to give us a safer and more stable future that no longer runs down the environment on which we depend for life itself.

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