Exclusive Book Preview “The Winning of the Carbon War”, Jeremy Leggett
Jeremy Leggett is an award-winning social entrepreneur and author whose books include The Carbon War, Half Gone, and The Energy of Nations. He is founder and a director of Solarcentury, the UK’s fastest growing renewable energy company since 2000, now developing and installing solar in a dozen countries on four continents.
In 2016, Leggett published the book ‘The Winning of the Carbon War’ to great acclaim. The author is releasing an updated version of the book tomorrow, which can be purchased from his website from Thursday February 15. The latest version includes a summary of the evolving drama in the two years since the Paris Agreement was adopted in December 2015.
Digital and print copies will be also be available from Amazon and other websites. All the author’s royalties will be going to SolarAid to help disseminate solar lights in Africa.
Here Impact4All provides an exclusive ‘long read’ of the Paris Agreement abridged chapter. It’s riveting stuff, trust us.
CHAPTER 34: TWO YEARS ON
Paris, 12th December 2017
Entering 2016, doubters suggested that key governments would not all actually sign the Paris Agreement in the cold light of day, thereby derailing it. On Earth Day, 22nd April 2016, 175 of them did – more than had ever signed any treaty in history. The doubters then ventured that the agreement wouldn’t be ratified by enough governments to come into force. It was, and did, on 4th November 2016.
The doubters then said that the election of Donald Trump as US President, five days later, was a setback that would stall the Paris climate process, maybe destroy it. It didn’t. Here in Paris, on the second anniversary of the adoption of the treaty, another climate summit has been convened, this time by President Macron, successor to President Hollande.
Sixty world leaders have joined hundreds of ministers, diplomats and leaders of business and other organisations in a concert hall on an island in the River Seine. Many of the people here regularly refer to the Paris climate process as “irreversible”, based on the evidence of the last two years. In what follows I will review the key events of 2016 and 2017, allowing me to relay the very latest developments on the front lines of climate action, at this latest summit, in context. I hope I will impart enough information, in among my own prejudices, to allow the reader an independent judgement of whether “irreversible” has now become an appropriate word for the subject matter of this book.
When I give talks on the global energy transition these days, I tend to cast it as an epic drama. Like any such saga, it has multiple interweaving stories spanning more than one metanarrative. This saga has three of these metanarratives. The first entails a mass awakening to a threat to civilisation: a global society responding to a common threat, in critical mass. This societal response is far from total, with many people finding ways to deny or ignore the danger, but the net effect is enough to drive the narrative of system change forward. The second metanarrative entails an insurgency disrupting an incumbency: new, clean, forms of energy disrupting old, dirty, forms of energy. This one is driven only in part by the first metanarrative, and it is happening much faster than most people appreciate.
The first metanarrative entails society awakening. When Donald Trump was elected, he doubtless hoped that merely the suggestion of America quitting the Paris Agreement would be enough for the climate talks to fall apart. At the annual climate summit in Marrakech in November 2016, underway at the time of the election, exactly the reverse happened. 195 countries issued a declaration reaffirming the Paris Agreement, the urgent imperative for it, and the speed of the energy transition in the real economy. They spoke of the “urgent duty” to respond to the threat of climate change, and agreed that “momentum is irreversible – it is being driven not only by governments, but by science, business and global action of all types at all levels.” The Chinese delegation referred to a “a global trend that is irreversible”. The Russian delegation pledged to stick with the treaty “even if others don’t”. No major country disagreed, including Saudi Arabia. In January 2017, the Chinese delegation to the World Economic Forum announced that they were ready to take the lead in the global climate-action movement.
On 1st July 2017, resisting all appeals, Trump confirmed that he would be endeavouring to withdraw the USA from the Paris Agreement when he was legally able to do so under the terms of the treaty ie in November 2020 (in a putative second term, note). In the speech announcing his intention, he made the point that he represented the people of Pittsburgh, not Paris. The next day, Pittsburgh committed itself to 100% renewable energy by 2035. Mayor Bill Peduto told the world that Trump’s “misguided decision to withdraw from Paris does not reflect the values of our city”.
That same day former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg announced the creation of a “We Are Still In” coalition of US cities, states and businesses. “The American government may have pulled out of the agreement,” he said, “but the American people remain committed to it — and we will meet our targets.” Within less than a week, more than 1,000 cities, states and businesses, representing a third of US GDP, had signed up.
For many states, this merely involved going with the flow, at this point. Fully 33 of the 50, including both Democrat- and Republican-controlled states, have cut their carbon emissions while expanding their economies since 2000. Trump may “dig coal”, as he told his supporters on the campaign trail, but how do you persuade officialdom in those states to revert to a failed economic model that seeks essentially to recouple economic growth and fossil fuel use? Fifteen of the states, led by California, New York, Virginia, Vermont and New Mexico, have already told Trump that if he tries to kill US climate plans, they will see him in court.
As for the way forward, California – the 6th biggest economy in the world – is the leader among the states. On 8th September 2016 Governor Jerry Brown signed the toughest US climate law, with a target of 40% greenhouse gas cuts, from 1990 levels, by 2030. For comparison with national governments, Sweden claims first place among developed nations for bringing the world’s strongest climate law into force, in June 2017: carbon neutrality by 2045.
Alongside the leading states, city governments worldwide are also awakening to the threat climate change poses to their futures. On 28th June 2017 7,400 mayors, announced the creation of a Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, vowing at minimum to match President Obama’s climate objectives. 250 US mayors pledged to shift to 100% renewable energy by 2035.
At the G20 meeting in July 2017, 19 of the 20 national leaders reaffirmed in a communiqué that the Paris process is, in their view, indeed “irreversible”. The actions by their equivalents in state and city governments had unquestionably made it much easier for them to take this stand. At the annual climate summit, held during November 2017 in Bonn, world governments made satisfactory progress towards a detailed rulebook for the Paris Agreement, so teeing up the enhancement of national emission-cutting ambitions that the treaty requires of them in 2020. Syria, the last country other than the USA to be outside this process hitherto, agreed to join it in Bonn. The US stands isolated today as a single rogue state on this issue.
Air pollution has increasingly emerged since 2015 as a powerful additional driver for national, state and city governments to cut fossil fuel emissions, notwithstanding climate change. The World Health Organisation reported in May 2016 that air pollution is now the single biggest killer in the world, with three million deaths a year.
In October 2017, the Commission on Pollution and Health went further, in the most comprehensive medical study of pollution to date. Global pollution kills nine million a year and is threatening the “survival of human societies”, they concluded, adding that their estimate is almost certainly an underestimate. This tally is triple that of AIDS, malaria and TB combined, and far ahead of the combined death toll of road accidents, wars, and acts of terrorism. The welfare losses are an estimated $4.6 trillion/year, 6% of global GDP. Air pollution is the single largest slice of the nine million deaths.
China and India are two of the countries with the biggest national air pollution problems, and both have acted in the face of it. In China, appalling air quality in December 2016 put 24 cities on red alert, with schools shut and flights grounded. Half a billion people were affected by this “airpocalypse”. In early March 2017 the Beijing government vowed a new round of steel and coal capacity cuts as part of its national drive against air pollution.
In January 2017 it issued a directive cancelling 120 gigawatts of coal-fired power: 103 plants, including dozens already under construction. In India, concentrations of harmful particles were so high in Delhi during November 2016 that they could not be measured by most instruments. The Indian government declared a state of emergency and took action including shutting coal-fired power and diesel generators.
The governments in Beijing and Delhi know that oil burning in the internal combustion engine is a major part of the problem, and that electrification of transport is integral to the solution. In September 2017, Chinese Vice Minister for energy Xin Guobin announced that China would be banning production of diesel and petrol cars “in the near future”. In India, Power Minister Piyush Goyal announced in March 2016 that the nation was aiming to move to 100% electric vehicles by 2030. In the light of these aims, France’s stated national intention of banning sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2040 seems short of ambition.
Major cities around the world are also playing leading roles in this emerging trend. In December 2016, Paris, Mexico City, Madrid and Athens vowed at the C40 cities summit to ban diesel vehicles by 2025. In June 2016 Oslo voted to slash emissions 95% by 2030, and ban cars in the city centre by 2019 en route. In January 2017, they staged a dry run: excluding cars from the city centre until a bout of particularly bad air pollution had cleared.
The rising awakening of corporations to the climate threat is perhaps best expressed in the commitments they are making to 100% renewable powering of their operations. In July 2017 the number of major firms to make this pledge reached 100. The “RE 100” group had by this point already created around 146 terawatt hours in demand for renewable electricity annually: about as much as it takes to power Poland. New members include AkzoNobel, the second biggest electricity user after WalMart. The latter is not just committed to the RE100 target but to a more exacting list of Science Based Targets for climate action. It is the first retailer in the world to go this far.
By September 2016, 600 multinational companies had factored the Paris Agreement into their business plans. The business case for doing so was clear, they reasoned: over the next 15 years, $90 trillion will be invested globally in infrastructure where emissions are currently concentrated. The national climate plans under the Paris Agreement represent at least a $13.5 trillion market opportunity for the energy sector alone.
In all probability, no one of these three metanarratives would be enough, on its own, to force change all the way to a denouement of total decarbonisation, as the Paris Agreement targets. It is the power of all three, acting in parallel and in synergy across the full breadth of the climate-energy-information nexus, that makes that transformative ending to the saga feasible.
To read more of the updated version of ‘The Winning Of The Carbon War’, visit Amazon from Thursday 15 February.