Net zero possible in 2040s, says outgoing UK climate expert | Climate crisis

The world could reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions in the early 2040s, well ahead of the mid-century climate target, if governments set bigger targets and take bold policy decisions, an outgoing British business climate expert said.

Nigel Topping served for two years as the high-level champion for Britain’s presidency of the UN’s Cop26 climate summit, handing over the role to Egypt’s Mahmoud Mohieldin late last year at the Cop27 summit in Sharm el-Sheikh.

In his role, he forged alliances between companies to lead the “race to zero”, whereby companies set targets for achieving net zero emissions and outlined the measures they would take to achieve them. More than 8,300 companies worldwide are now members of the UN’s Race to Zero initiative, along with more than 3,000 other organizations including cities and local governments.

Topping said his experience with businesses has shown him that governments can act much more quickly, without harming their countries’ competitiveness or alarming the business community.

“Governments could be much bolder in setting goals and supporting their scientists, engineers, companies, banks, cities to come up with solutions,” he said. “The moonshot analogy is not inappropriate.”

In the UK, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has produced a plausible scenario where the UK could reach net zero by 2042, he said. “Given that we now have California and Germany saying they’re aiming for 2045, I think you can make a pretty strong case that the whole world could get to zero net worth in the early 2040s, and in many sectors in the late 2030s he has,” he said. .

The experience of the Covid-19 pandemic showed what governments can do when they try, he added. “Lesson [from the pandemic] What I still don’t think we’ve learned enough is that we can do amazing things, that governments can put in a dime if they need to, and the relationship between government and the private sector can be transformed to deliver solutions much, much faster if we really placed in an emergency situation.” .

He said the need for such an urgent transformation is becoming increasingly evident in the form of extreme weather events around the world.

“I think that pressure is coming, because it’s a squeeze between the growing realization of how great the damage is [from the climate crisis], and growing confidence – which is the real lesson I’d like us to learn from Covid, which is that we are amazing. We should support each other more,” he said.

He pointed to the multitude of governments now aiming to phase out fossil fuel vehicles and the extraordinary rise in electric vehicles that has followed. “Once you name an end date, that’s a really strong signal. Not all markets agreed, but when you reached [a large proportion], you can go a lot faster,” he said. “Europe, and the US, and the speed at which the Chinese and Indians are changing – it’s all over.”

However, he said that some sectors are still holding back progress. Oil, gas and coal companies made big profits last year thanks to record fossil fuel prices that jumped after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

However, this fortune was built on false assumptions, Topping said. “American oil companies are living in a fantasy land,” he said. “There are still some pretty big heads in the sand. But they will die. They cannot survive. Their Kodak moment is near.”

Topping said fossil fuel companies would be better off shifting their engineering skills towards renewable energy. “We may be in the last great wealth of oil and gas profits. Maybe there will be some more, but the shareholders will ask that those who cannot invest in the transition [to clean energy] they will just have to return their money to shareholders to distribute,” he said.

Businesses were transforming faster than many governments realized, Topping said. “There is a lot more momentum in the system than most analyzes suggest,” he said. Growth forecasts for renewable energy and technologies such as electric vehicles and batteries have proven too conservative in recent years, he said, as sales have increased and technology has improved rapidly.

“A lot of it is growing exponentially,” he said. “If you look at where we are now [in terms of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions], never looks good enough. But if you look at the trajectory [for low-carbon technologies] can be much more encouraging”.

Rich countries should see fast-growing developing countries as competitors in the clean-tech race, rather than focusing on their own high emissions, he added.

“China is very happy to be labeled a coal problem by the west as it develops global competitive leadership in [clean] sector after sector. And India is now on the same path. But you show me how many times Western commentators single out India or China as competitors rather than polluters,” he said. “I think it’s a big strategic mistake to underestimate how clear it is [countries such as China and India] see this as the future.”

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