Policymakers need to work together more closely if net zero targets are to be met, warns a report published today (20 September). Nearly a year after the UK led global climate action efforts at Cop26, UK Prime Minister Liz Truss would be well advised to take heed of this warning as the country appears to dither over how and whether it will continue to pursue its net zero path.
The Breakthrough Agenda Report, authored by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) and the UN Climate Change High-Level Champions, is a stark warning to policy and business leaders everywhere that the food and energy crises are not an excuse to drop the ball on climate action. An “international collaboration gap threatens to undermine climate progress and delay net zero by decades,” states the study, published ahead of Cop27, the next round of international climate negotiations that will take place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November.
Rather than seeing the current crises as an excuse to drop or slow down the implementation of policies aimed at reducing emissions, transitioning to a clean energy economy is the only way to go, insists the report. “We are in the midst of the first truly global energy crisis… Only by speeding up the transition to clean sustainable energy can we achieve lasting energy security,’’ said Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA. “Through international collaboration, we can make the transition quicker, cheaper and easier for everyone.”
The report accepts that there has been progress in recent years. It highlights a doubling of electric vehicle sales in 2021 compared to the previous year, to a record high of 6.6 million. Likewise, global renewable energy capacity is forecast to increase by 8 per cent in 2022 to pass the 300 gigawatt mark for the first time, the equivalent to powering approximately 225 million homes on clean energy such as solar and wind power. Such advances are, however, far from sufficient if the world is to meet its aim of net zero emissions by 2050 and avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The floods in Pakistan and Puerto Rico show only too clearly the future for people around the world if countries fail to stick to climate pledges.
Twenty-five collaborative actions are detailed in the report, showing how policymakers can make clean power, electric vehicles, low-carbon steel and hydrogen, and sustainable farming the most affordable options as soon as possible. Together, these sectors account for nearly 60 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The recommended collaborative actions include demonstrating and testing flexible low-carbon power systems; creating cross-border supergrids; agreeing a common definition and target dates by which all new road vehicles will be net zero; mobilising investment in electric vehicle charging infrastructure; and investment for agriculture technologies and farming practices that can cut emissions from livestock and fertilisers, expand the availability of alternative proteins and accelerate the development of climate-resilient crops.
This time last year, the UK government was clear that the country was a climate leader. When quizzed about the number of private planes flying into Glasgow for the Cop26 negotiations, Liz Truss, then foreign secretary, told the BBC that it was “fantastic” that world leaders were there in person. “When you really get into crunch negotiations, when you want to look somebody in the eye and talk to them face-to-face, you do need to meet in person,” she said. “World leaders are going to have to make some tough decisions… they’re going to have to commit to things they didn’t necessarily want to when they arrived at the conference. That’s why it’s really important we do have people face-to-face.”
During her short time in power, Truss’s “tough decisions” on energy have involved green-lighting fracking and supporting more North Sea oil and gas. Unlike in other European countries, measures to help people insulate their homes, bringing down emissions and energy bills, are still missing in the UK. Research published today shows that the decision in 2013 by the UK government to cut support for home insulation means ten million homes have missed out on upgrades that could have saved taxpayers up to £9bn a year. Action taken now would have rapid payback, finds the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, a think tank. Investment of £1,000 per home would break even for the Treasury by around the next election, as well as saving over £600 for the household and reduce climate change-causing emissions.
As for agriculture, author and farmer James Rebanks recently wrote in the New Statesman ahead of Truss becoming Prime Minister about her “frankly ridiculous and deeply dangerous ideology surrounding food, farming and the environment”. Her apparent answer to “our disastrous environmental problems is to ‘free’ farmers from red tape, deregulate, and encourage a growth in productivity through intensification,” he commented. “Truss is so historically and agriculturally illiterate that she seems to have completely missed what happened last time we pursued her methods in farming. Sterile fields. Collapses in biodiversity. Ruined soils.”
As the IEA report shows, putting net zero at the centre of every policy decision makes most sense environmentally, economically and socially. Whether global leaders are ready and mature enough to accept this, or whether they will use the global crises as an excuse to defend vested interests with dangerous consequences for all of us, remains to be seen.
[See also: Liz Truss faces a frosty reception at the UN]