“An addiction to fossil fuels is mutually assured destruction”. These were strong words from the UN secretary-general António Guterres yesterday morning, as he opened the Economist’s 7th Sustainability Week with a keynote on ‘Keeping 1.5 alive’. His remarks were a stark reminder that if we are to keep 1.5 alive, we must reduce carbon emissions by 45% – yet last year energy-related carbon emissions alone surged 6%, to their highest ever level.
The discussions planned this week span climate debate and insight from across the private, public and policy spectrum. The week of panels and talks also cover sectors that we are hugely passionate about, and are supporting day in day out through our work with clients: from the future of agriculture and farming to the decarbonisation of our homes, transport and urban spaces.
In Guterres’ opening address, the tension between the G20 and emerging economies being left to address emissions was identified as a key challenge, with accusations the developed world is still effectively ‘outsourcing pollution’. The need to eliminate fuel subsidies and halt coal investment at a global level were addressed in no uncertain terms.
Duncan Burt the Chief Sustainability Officer for National Grid, later mentioned that the UK is the fastest decarbonising economy in the G20 (although we are still more reliant on fossil fuels than many other European nations, such as Poland and France) – thanks primarily to the rollout of infrastructure for electric power, low carbon transport and heat. In the case of electric transport there is huge optimism, with a view that the market is in fact leading policy – demand we’ve seen first hand through our work with InstaVolt, Octopus Electric Vehicles, Bonnet and Dcbel.
Interestingly though, Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency called on the need for better alignment between environmental, financial and economic regulators to ensure policy timelines for development don’t hold up further progress on a broader scale. As almost a case in point, this Friday the UK government will be releasing its long-awaited EV Infrastructure Strategy… There’s no single answer, but the reality is that current planning rules could stifle the scale-up of decarbonisation projects.
Alongside the fact most nations need to go to a fossil-fuel rehab, a major theme of the conference is also around supporting adaptation and building resilience in the world’s most at-risk communities, as well as reducing dependence on fossil fuels. The Net Zero agenda is vital, but government and businesses need to keep their focus on action now too – preparing for climate shocks from temperature to storms and rising water levels. In the UK, the environment agency referenced that a decade of investments protected 45,000 homes last year alone from flood damage: take the example of the Thames Barrier quietly doing its job and protecting thousands of homes from the highest sea levels seen in years in 2021. With extreme weather events becoming more and more common, baking-in resilience to built environments is as urgent as decarbonisation.
The question is how do we get ahead of the climate emergency on a global scale, improving and funding resilience in emerging economies, as well as our own?
In addressing the climate emergency, the macro themes of adaptation, funding, planning and commitments to decarbonise on a global scale all play their role. We’ll stay tuned in this week to the Economist’s further sessions, and our hugely inspiring client Nicola Stopps, founder and CEO of global sustainability and ESG consultancy Simply Sustainable, will be there on the ground too.