This is an updated version of an opinion piece first published by Huffington Post.
Last month the Paris Agreement to address climate change entered into force, just ahead of world leaders reconvening at the COP22 climate talks in Marrakesh.
This historic deal legally binds countries that have ratified it to act on the pledges they made last year to limit their greenhouse gas emissions in a bid to keep the global temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius.
The UK government has since ratified the Paris Agreement - but also recently gave the go-ahead to horizontal fracking in Lancashire and to the multibillion pound white elephant that is the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station. A third runway at Heathrow Airport - with all the additional carbon emissions that that brings - also looks set to be built. How does any of this sit with the promise that Theresa May made in her maiden speech at the UN in New York that the UK is “determined to play our part in the international effort against climate change”?
The International Energy Agency (IEA) was putting it mildly when it said of the UK recently: “While government support for new gas and nuclear capacity is evident, recent policy changes indicate that the role envisioned for renewables is uncertain.” The UK is currently lacking a credible plan for making the transition to sustainable energy which will be necessary if we are to meet the UK target of an 80% reduction in emissions from 1990 levels by 2050, as set out in the Climate Change Act. Additionally we are currently not even on track to meet the current carbon budget, largely due to slower than expected progress on renewable heat, low carbon transport and domestic energy efficiency. All of which means that we are missing a huge opportunity to generate new jobs and businesses, reduce costs for existing businesses - by being energy efficient and saving costs on energy bills - and help grow the economy.
In more positive news elsewhere in the world, the IEA this month significantly increased its five-year growth forecast for renewables due to strong policy support in countries like China, India and Mexico, and sharp cost reductions. A rapid transformation has taken place in emerging economies that - together with the still untapped potential of renewables - should see clean energy outgrow fossil fuels in the next five years.
Five years may not sound all that long but we really don’t have time to waste given that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere passed the 400 parts per million mark globally for the first time in 2015 and is likely to set a new record this year. According to experts, the last time CO2 was regularly above this threshold was three to five million years ago. The recent global agreement reached in Kigali to phase out the destructive hydrofluorocarbon gases that are mainly used in air-conditioning systems and refrigerants is a very welcome step but it’s critical that countries remain focused on cutting carbon emissions.
As well as the need for states to rapidly increase their emissions pledges, we need investors to accelerate investment to end energy poverty through clean energy, and sovereign wealth funds and public sector pension funds to shift away from fossil fuels into renewables and other climate solutions. As a founding member of Europeans for Divest Invest, it’s been fantastic to watch over the last couple of years how investors and institutions are starting to build investor confidence and the political mandate for a low carbon economy.
And it’s not just financial institutions who are helping to lay the groundwork. Recently eleven Catholic organizations on four continents jointly and publicly divested from coal, oil and gas and the Anglican Church of Southern Africa passed a motion during its provincial Synod to divest from fossil fuels. At a Divest Invest meeting that I hosted at COP22 in Marrakesh for faiths, foundations and heads of finance, faith leaders from around the world presented a multi-faith statement calling on states and investors to move quickly beyond fossil fuels and build an energy system that is fair and clean for all.
At Ashden, we’re now looking for our next crop of Award winners - the class of 2017 - and want to hear from enterprises and programmes in the UK, developing countries and emerging economies that are blazing a trail in increasing access to energy, improving energy use in buildings, promoting more sustainable forms of travel, and driving innovation in the field of sustainable energy. The winners receive up to £20,000 as well as a package of support tailored to their needs, including business advice, help with communications and introductions to investors, together with extensive media exposure.
With green energy accounting for more than half of net electricity generation capacity added around the world last year, the shift to low carbon is under way. Now is the time to raise our game, pick up the pace and join forces to make the momentum truly unstoppable.
Ashden is a partner of the Futures Centre.
This piece was first published on The Huffington Post.