We’re at crunch time. It’s not 1992 anymore: either we get the foundations for the low carbon transition in place over the next 10 years, or we can kiss goodbye to the 2 degree target.
We all agree climate change is a global challenge that needs global solutions. And yet despite hundreds of international agreements already in place, there is not enough implementation of joint R&D, large scale pilots and demonstrations, regulatory and policy alignments that are needed to make this happen.
New analysis from the Carbon Trust estimates that for electricity and transport alone, to be on track to meet the IEA 2015 2DS scenario we need to invest £3 trillion by 2025 – but that could be reduced by almost £370 billion through innovation – and effective collaboration is key to unlocking this saving. This huge prize is available to the countries that decide to recognise their shared interests and start working together on making the low carbon energy transition possible.
In the first few days of COP21 we have reassuringly seen widespread global commitment from both public and private sector to pour billions into technology innovation, through the government led Mission Innovation and Bill Gates’ and Mark Zuckerberg with their Breakthrough Energy Coalition. The key question now is how can we get the biggest bang for our buck?
Existing international cooperation mechanisms must be reorganised and streamlined to support turning words and investment into action; we need more coordination and transparency; we need governments to work together on creating an equal playing field, through better regulation and policies, so that the private sector can have the confidence it needs to invest in innovation and bring new products to market. We need to align the incentives to act – for countries, for academia, for the private sector.
While competition in the private sector remains essential, collaboration between nations could catalyse and accelerate innovation, create new markets, and reduce the risk of duplication and waste. Despite these benefits, collaboration remains difficult to get right, and often misaligned incentives, conflicting regulatory and policy regimes, and other hurdles have prevented private sector involvement at scale.
Coupled with pressures around fairness and environmental justice arising from negotiations at COP21, the need for effective collaboration becomes more pronounced. Newly industrialising economies and developing countries have faced difficulties in accessing and adapting low carbon technologies, and have seen little involvement in high profile global initiatives. Developing and newly industrialised countries will represent almost 90 percent of the growth in future energy consumption by 2050 – they can only overcome this challenge by working with developed countries, but as active participants not as passive recipients of technology transfers. Innovations will emerge from the need to adapt technologies to industrialising countries local contexts and needs.
It is time for a new approach to enhance international efforts. There is an urgent need to address serious barriers to the research, development and deployment of low carbon technology at a global level. We believe this can be achieved through a new approach to partnership and adopting best practice models, which will enable governments and businesses to collectively create initiatives that deliver the energy technologies needed to keep global warming below 2 degrees.
The decision is no longer when to act, but how.
This article is published as part of the Carbon Trust's COP21 Blog Series: The Road to Paris is Paved with Good Intentions.