The future is green, we must embrace it

The future is green, we must embrace it

(File/AFP)
Investing in green technologies could not only be profitable, but also help save large sums of money worldwide (File/AFP)
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From each COP environmental summit to the next, the window of opportunity to save our planet from ecological catastrophe gets smaller and smaller. This, evidently, is not sufficient incentive for the world’s leaders to agree on any measures that are far-reaching enough to stop the rot. Instead, they continue to make a few grand gestures and pledges that never come to fruition.

The negotiators of COP27, which concluded in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, last week, eventually managed — after 40 hours of extra time — to establish a “loss and damage” fund, something that has been demanded for three decades and is desperately needed by developing countries. This is no mean achievement, as at last there is a recognition by high-emitting nations that they should financially aid those countries that are bearing the brunt of the devastation caused by climate change even though their contribution to global warming is negligible.

In many other areas, the negotiators of COP27 left without reaching the necessary breakthrough that would have instilled in everyone the confidence that there is a global strategy that prioritizes tackling global warming head-on.

What is required now is more than the annual ritual of promising to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which hardly ever happens in practice, or the constant warning of a fast-approaching ecological cataclysm, as valid and urgent as it is, but the outlining of a future that is greener, environmentally sustainable and also more prosperous.

The current prevailing perception is that a greener future is one that compromises the development and progress in the human condition that has been achieved since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. In fact, the opposite is true: The transition toward a greener world could lead to prosperity that outperforms anything that humanity has experienced thus far — a prosperity that is more equally distributed and coexists in harmony with nature, instead of destroying it. However, the longer we avoid the necessary transformation, the more painful the necessary measures to force our transition to a green economy will be. It is as important to change the discourse as it is to deal with the necessary scientific-technical aspects of confronting global warming.

Harnessing global forces could transform world economies into mechanisms that will take humanity to a better place

Yossi Mekelberg

While maintaining the warnings about climate change is crucial — and with it maintaining the sense of urgency in addressing the need to contain and reverse it — it requires us also to constantly outline a message of hope, albeit a realistic one. Moving toward a greener world is not only about avoiding the complete annihilation of humanity, but also as much about what we can all gain in terms of quality of life and the creation of highly skilled and well-paid jobs.

Although currently there might not be enough positive news about climate change, General Motors CEO Mary Barra last week said that her company forecasts its portfolio of electric vehicles will turn a profit in North America by 2025. This is eye-catching news. The giant automaker has set itself a goal of selling only electric passenger vehicles by as early as 2035. Such an achievement would not only contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but also create jobs and optimism that profits can be made in the process.

The evidence that investment in alternative green technologies can be fruitful and economically viable must encourage the business community to accelerate its efforts in this direction. It is especially promising when this kind of news originates in the US, considering the very special relationship its people have with their cars.

The capacity for producing renewable energy through solar, wind, hydro, tidal, geothermal or biomass energies is growing as part of the economic reformation of the near future. Around a third of global electricity production capacity currently comes from low-carbon sources, with 26 percent from renewables and about 10 percent from nuclear power. However, annual investments in clean energy will need to triple by the end of this decade if net-zero emissions are to be achieved by 2050.

For this to happen, not only are investments and technological advances required, but also a perceptual change among all segments of society, including government, businesses and consumers. At this moment of existential crisis, when climate change skepticism and denial are finally being confined to the very margins of society, it is time to harness the innovative forces in industry, academia and research, with the support of the financial markets and the power of governments to incentivize the transition to a green economy.

There is also enough evidence that investing in green technologies could not only be profitable, but even save huge sums of money worldwide. According to a study conducted by Oxford University researchers, transitioning to a decarbonized energy system could, by the middle of this century, save the world “at least $12 trillion, compared to continuing our current levels of fossil fuel use.” It is not unrealistic, according to this and other studies, to conclude that, by 2050, fossil fuel-free energy will have grown to provide 55 percent more energy services globally than today.

Fear of change and of the unknown is understandable, especially because for more than 150 years fossil fuels, typically coal, oil, and natural gas, have been powering economies and have greatly helped to improve our life expectancy and quality of life, and still supply a huge proportion of the energy the world consumes. However, the alternative is even more promising.

It is not easy to bid a gradual farewell to the rapid economic development that requires burning excessive amounts of fossil fuels. But there is enormous opportunity in the green economy and with it the means to minimize the occurrence of natural disasters that claim the lives of millions, force many others from their homes and destroy their livelihoods and risk political instability, not to mention the threats to health caused by the pollution of air, land and sea.

Out of necessity, a green economy is on its way, but harnessing global forces could transform world economies into mechanisms that will take humanity to a better place. Certainly, one side of the equation is the need to compensate for the damage caused by global warming to the poorer parts of the world. But the other is to turn the planet’s resources into a vehicle for growth and development, not to compromise it, and to ensure that this march toward a sustainable and prosperous green economy is inclusive of and equally benefits the world’s low-income countries.

  • Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations and an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media. Twitter: @YMekelberg
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