Delivering a net-zero economy

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

All sectors in developed economies could achieve zero emissions by 2050 - and by 2060 in all developing countries - at an estimated cost of just 0.5% of global GDP by 2050, according to the Energy Transitions Commission. [Louis Vest / Flickr]

Mid-century climate targets are feasible but decisive action needs to be taken in the 2020s to put the world onto the right trajectory, writes Sandrine Dixson-Declève.

Sandrine Dixson-Decleve is co-president of the Club of Rome, and ambassador for Europe at the Energy Transitions Commission (ETC).

The pandemic has been catastrophic for European economies. Unemployment rates continue to rise, and many countries are on the brink of recession. Despite long-standing warnings from scientists about the risks of a pandemic, we were woefully unprepared for this crisis.

The same is true for climate change, and in many ways, this is a warning about what would be manifestly greater, long-term chaos should climate change run away unabated.

Recent research shows that since 2000, climate change has already cost both the US and EU at least US$4 trillion in lost output. The EU has rightly therefore encouraged recovery plans to focus on a green recovery in its response to COVID.

First, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen proposed to increase targeted reductions in greenhouse gas emissions for the EU to 55% by 2030, up from the 40% agreed by member states in 2014. The European Parliament has since called for a yet more ambitious of 60% cuts.

We see also the importance of European leadership abroad:  President Xi Jinping has said that China would achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. California is seeking by 2035 to make all cars sold in the state zero-emission vehicles.

Delivery is of course key. Increasingly the data shows that ambition is economically manageable. The Energy Transitions Commission latest report “Making Mission Possible” for example shows how all sectors in developed economies could achieve zero emissions by 2050 — and all developing countries by 2060. The estimated cost is just 0.5% of global GDP by 2050.

Mid-century climate targets are feasible but decisive action needs to be taken in the 2020s to put the world onto the right trajectory. It is essential that we identify and implement the actions and policies needed in the next ten years to make that vision attainable. This will require greatly accelerated progress in terms of investments, technologies and policies.

As a priority, we should focus on three things:

First the deployment of zero-carbon power and other proven emissions reduction technologies and business models. This will drive innovation and economic growth and create new jobs. It will improve living standards – particularly in developing economies – through reduced local air pollution and health impacts, lower energy bills, more flexible mobility services and higher-quality, more durable consumer goods.

Second, where low-carbon solutions exist at similar or lower costs than the high carbon alternative, the focus should be put on unlocking investment at scale to deploy rapidly and achieve major emissions reductions in the short term.

Third, when ministers meet to discuss their commitments under the Paris climate agreement, they must recognize that a high level of ambition on climate change is achievable and will generate the kind of positive economic co-benefits necessary to accelerate the recovery from the COVID crisis.

Zero-emission EU industry ‘within reach’ but costly, study says

Bringing emissions from heavy industry down to net-zero by 2050 is possible but will require costly new production processes and a 25-60% increase in near-term capital investments to reach €40-50 billion per year, according to new research published on Thursday (25 April).

The Energy Transitions Commission released their latest report, “Making Mission Possible: Delivering a Net-Zero Economy” on 20 September.  The full report can be downloaded here.

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