Energy transition and climate change. A simple goal but a complex problem.
Climate change is happening, the science is clear and the world is reacting. The 2016 Paris Climate Agreement was a commitment signed by 196 nations to cut global emissions by 45% in the next 11 years to stop the planet warming to irreversible levels.
Energy transition and climate change are inextricably linked. The overwhelming contributor to global carbon emissions is the practice of burning fossil fuels to produce energy. The burning of coal increased dramatically in the 19th century as Western countries industrialized and it continues today as many developing economies follow the same path. In fact, oil, gas and coal still account for two-thirds of the world's energy consumption. Hence the need to accelerate the ongoing energy transition from traditional forms of energy to renewable energy sources. However, energy sources like oil and gas are deeply entrenched in the global system, and the transition to low carbon economies will have far-reaching implications. We spoke to leading experts who gathered at last year's 24th Credit Suisse Salon in Zurich, Switzerland, to explore some of the challenges and opportunities presented by energy transition.
A worldwide commitment to mitigate global warming
The key orchestrator of the Paris Agreement, Christiana Figueres, Former Executive Secretary of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, talks to Dr. Manuel Rybach, Global Head of Public Affairs and Policy at Credit Suisse about the immediacy of the problem and what countries need to think about in order to meet the targets set out by the agreement.
An energy transition success story
JB Straubel is a man who has already solved the transition to zero carbon emissions for a product that is notoriously pollutant, the motor car. As Co-founder of Tesla he pioneered the development of the electric vehicle and solved many of the issues that the industry said could not be done. We talk to him about the transformation of an industry and the potential for new battery technology in a lower carbon world.
The implications of energy transition
As global incomes rise and economies develop, the demand for energy continues. Christof Rühl, Senior Fellow at the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at the Harvard Kennedy School remains cautious about how quickly the world can move to cleaner sources of energy without restricting the economic development needed to lift people out of poverty. He talks to us about the issues around intermittency and energy diversity and the need to be more realistic about what is achievable.
The way forward
A full global de-carbonization shift in the mid-term appears unlikely, but there is broad agreement that we need to work towards this goal as it is clearly in everyone's interests in the long term. However what is clear is that the transition is complex and also different to previous energy transitions (from wood to coal and coal to oil and gas). We are still in the nascent stages of rolling out the technology needed for a full transition to clean energy, so we are faced with decisions that do not yet make full economic sense. The transition will need to be driven far more by behavior change and guided by government policy than we have ever seen before.