ForTheDoers Blog

Climate Action is a growth story for the future – COP23 highlighted the sense of urgency for energy transition

Kari Kankaanpää 16 November 2017, 10:21 EET

Green business is expanding not only because of the need to mitigate climate change, but also because it’s being pushed by many other drivers in the society.

Fortum in India

The title is a direct quote from Lord Stern during his address at the Sustainable Innovation Forum (SIF) at COP23 in Bonn. His statement nicely crystallises the overall messages from various stakeholders: green transition is here to stay. What’s interesting is that there are more drivers behind it than we used to think.

Human health endangered

An extremely worrisome driver that is emerging is the concern for human health, especially in the growing cities around the world. Air pollution is a severe problem in numerous megacities, and as much as 92% of the global population living in cities are breathing air that does not meet quality standards. Three billion people in the world are still relying on primitive fuels like charcoal, poor-quality firewood or kerosene to cook their food and heat their houses. There are 6-7 million premature deaths annually due to air pollution. Air pollution forces politicians and decision-makers to take dramatic measures. Electrification of transport is one of the key solutions. In the SIF presentation by Oslo’s Mayor Johansen, he mentioned that already 47% of all cars sold in the Oslo area are EVs or PHEVs. At COP23, the city of Oslo also announced its participation in the Breathe Life Campaign. 

Green technology economically viable

Another major driver is the rapidly declining cost of renewable energy technologies. For the first time in history, green energy is cheaper than conventional energy. In many cases, it just makes economical sense to shift to green technology. Solar is set to become the cheapest form of energy globally. Global growth in solar PV capacity in 2016 was greater than for any other form of generation, with costs down 70% from 2010. Wind is set to become the leading source of electricity in the EU soon after 2030. Renewables as a whole are expected to account for 80% of new power generation capacity in Europe between now and 2040. 

Changing consumer behaviour

The third driver is the increasing demand for green products and services – both by businesses and individuals.

Businesses are in a race to set commitments. At COP23, BMW announced its target to meet 100% of its energy use with renewables by 2020. Microsoft is targeting a 75% cut in its emissions by 2030. Companies that are committing to source 100% renewable power could have a huge influence on how renewables are built. In addition, public procurement by cities and states is a huge game changer, if effectively used.

A paradigm shift and changes in human behaviour and consumption habits are under way. At COP23, Orsted (previously DONG) published a Green Energy Barometer on public attitudes towards green transition. Over 80% of people want a world fully powered by renewable energy. According to the barometer, climate change is considered the second most pressing challenge the world is facing, just behind terrorism. In another survey, young people considered climate change as the most serious global issue for the third year in a row. 

Sense of urgency – is the progress fast enough?

However, the challenge is timing. The transition to a low-carbon future must be accelerated. The sense of urgency was highlighted at COP23 not only by scientists and NGOs, but also by the business community.

Nordic solutions for green growth were highly visible at COP23. Nordic countries are early adopters of many novel environmental technologies and there is a huge emissions savings potential available in scaling up proven low-carbon solutions to other parts of the world.

Lord Stern was cautiously optimistic, saying that what has changed in recent years is the realisation that green economic growth is the only long-term option: “There are some tremendous developments so I am very confident now we can do this, but the change, attractive as it is, has to be radical,” he said. “Will we have the political and economic understanding and commitment to get there? I hope so.” 

What, then, is the role of climate negotiations?

Having been involved in COPs for several years, from year to year I ask myself whether this is the way to solve the global climate challenge. Do we need this annual “circus” with more than 20,000 people travelling around the world? The answer is not straightforward. As described before, in terms of climate mitigation, solutions are proceeding more effectively driven by issues other than climate negotiations. On the other hand, the UN is the only truly global organisation that can act as a legitimate instrument in discussing wider aspects of climate change and sustainable development. Therefore, climate negotiations are a much wider process than just pushing for the green economy.

It’s fantastic to note that we at Fortum are part of this growth story. We are accelerating the change by reshaping the energy system. It is important for us to remain an opinion leader, paving the way for new solutions for a cleaner world.

Kari Kankaanpää
Senior Manager, Climate Affairs