“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss you will land among the stars.” — Les Brown
A zero-carbon economy may seem like an astronomical feat, but in fact there is a roadmap that has recently become more defined that could allow us to achieve massive progress in that direction; one that accounts for technological innovation combined with advanced data science and the political will to plan for a sustainable future. There are several pathways that we must recognize and nurture if we are to build the momentum this revolution requires.
FOCUS ON URBAN CENTERS
According to the UN, by 2050, 68% of the world population will live in cities. This means that any hope of a zero-carbon future must begin by dealing with inefficiencies in transportation and infrastructure of our most congested and outdated urban centers. Advanced mobility and energy efficiency are two sectors that are poised to provide immediate reductions in carbon emissions. The promise of more powerful batteries, an ever-expanding vehicle charging infrastructure and an increasing lineup of attractive models will break down the barriers to new EVs hitting the road. For our buildings, more resource management data is available than ever before, allowing pinpoint efficiency upgrades throughout the manufacturing and construction processes for new buildings and retrofitting processes for existing ones.
PROHIBIT COAL GENERATION
There is no denying that coal is on the decline around the world. Even with artificial incentives being set up to extend the lives of coal plants in supply-strapped regions, it is clear that no amount of subsidies or lobbying will slow the global transition. The problem is with the laggards, certain regions that have been too slow in realizing the true cost of coal to their citizens and natural environment, and therefore have dangerously prolonged the decline. Germany, for example, has announced an end to coal power by 2038, though throughout Asia, large-scale plants are still being planned. We need to fight and win that battle by offering these countries our best technologies instead of allowing them to rely on what others do not want anymore.
GRADUALLY PHASE OUT O&G EXPLORATION AND COMBUSTION
Coal is joined by the oil and gas sectors in need of rapid strategic adjustment. Currently, O&G companies spend only 1% of capex on clean energy. This is one of the largest opportunities to tackle if we are to meet zero-carbon standards. We all know it will not happen overnight as supermajors need time to transition, but there is more and more recognition at the top of these organizations that their core capabilities (particularly around energy trading and complex project management) could be deployed within the cleantech sector.
PUSH FOR ESG
Companies tend to listen to their sources of funding. The financial community is finally starting to put real pressure on corporates to adopt clear Environmental, Social and Governance standards. One visit to a session at Davos will reveal the extent of this pressure, with trillions of dollars in investable capital seeking to fund those companies that can prove themselves to be true practitioners of sustainable values. As one of the leading global Investors stated during the last WEF, “it is time for a lot of corporates to stop shaping the narrative and start shaping the action.”
PROMOTE ADVANCED NUCLEAR FUSION
While recent nuclear disasters such as the one at the Fukushima facility in Japan are still fresh in the minds of the public, we must recognize and promote recent breakthroughs in nuclear technology that have the ability to mitigate those fears. Many interesting companies, such as TAE or First Light Fusion, are working on new generations of nuclear fusion reactors that promise zero-carbon, low-waste sources of power, with no risk of meltdown or of being weaponized. They’ve set out aggressive commercialization timelines, with some hoping to come online by 2025.
The fact is that we are running out of time to allow the world to catch up to its own homemade crisis. If we do not progress fast enough, we will invite the worst impacts of climate change and face unprecedented damages to our environment, economy, and our health. As younger generations wake up to this new reality, they are beginning to demand, if not overtly force, this revolution to occur. For this reason I am optimistic. We have the technology, funding capability, and roadmap to target a zero-carbon future. Now we must find the strength to make it a reality.