The effects of global warming and climate change are getting ever more apparent even to the ‘blindest’ deniers of the phenomenon.
And this calls for increased efforts as a matter of urgency to decarbonise the global economy and protect the planet from a potentially cataclysmic event.
Recent years have seen an upswing in the frequency and intensity of weather-related disasters, including heat waves, tropical storms and floods, prolonged droughts, loss of freshwater and flooding of coastal areas.
As a result, millions have been displaced, thousands killed or injured and property worth billions of bucks destroyed.
Reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050 to help dodge a climate bullet should, therefore, be a priority for nations.
While some investors are shifting away from the fossil fuel economy, over 80 percent of global primary energy still comes from coal, oil and gas. And no one should be led to believe that the temporary decline of emissions during the Covid-19 pandemic will last once the virus is brought under control.
Whereas fossil fuel production needs to be decreased by about six percent between 2020 and 2030 in order for countries to remain in line with climate goals, governments are planning instead to increase fossil fuel production by an average of two percent annually, according to a joint report by Stockholm Environment Institute and UN Environment.
In addition, between 2016 and 2020, the world’s largest banks collectively put $3.8 trillion into fossil fuel companies. This is perhaps a perfect demonstration of why it is naïve and dangerous to rely on the “invisible hand” of market forces either for economic transformation or for a solution to the problem of climate change.
While some development finance institutions have recently started pulling the plug on fossil fuel financing, it is not enough. A green transition has been seen as expensive, a deterrent to many investors and institutions. And several governments view it as a destabilising force to the socioeconomic set-up of the society in terms of jobs and revenue losses should the fossil fuel industry close shop.
The truth is that, it is financially manageable, especially given what is at stake if we fail to stop irreversible and disastrous changes to our climate system. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, the global economy must invest about $4.4 trillion per year (or 2.5 percent of global GDP) over 2024-2050 in clean energy investments in order to hit the 2050 emission cuts target.
In addition to staving off the worst effects of global warming, a switchover to a clean energy economy will also boost economic growth by creating millions of new, well-paying jobs in manufacturing, construction, energy, sustainable agriculture, engineering and transportation.
This is of course when a just transition is put at the heart of the changes. Those working in the fossil fuel industry and whose jobs will evaporate should be retrained and re-absorbed in the renewables space.
Additionally, a transition to clean and zero-emission energy systems will substantially reduce energy costs and health care expenses.
According to forecast reports, the world will spend around $13 trillion per year on energy by 2050 if we are still reliant on fossil fuels, but the cost drops steeply to $6.8 trillion if a switch to clean, renewable energy is made. Additionally, trillions of dollars will also be saved each year in health costs, because greening the economy would reduce toxic air and water pollution, which are now responsible for millions of deaths annually.
However, powerful economic interests and lack of political will continue to stand in the way of a shift towards a green economy.
Critics continue to latch onto the traditional argument that economic growth and development go in lockstep with carbon emissions primarily because of energy use which until recently has primarily been fossil fuels. But times have changed and thanks to advancement in technology, science and engineering, it is now possible to decouple the two.
Fossil fuel operators should be held accountable and pushed towards ecofriendly energy sources. Banks and international financial institutions should go back on funding fossil fuel production. Further, deliberate destruction of the environment should be recognised by international law as a crime against humanity. We should all rise above our own narrow interests and work toward achieving a sustainable future.