“Owing to the CO2 that’s been pumped into the air so far, average global temperatures have risen ~0.85 degrees Celsius (1.5 degrees Fahrenheit). This relatively small increase has produced some very large effects: almost half of the permanent Arctic ice cap has melted away, millions of acres’ worth of trees in the American West have died from warming-related pest infestations, and some of West Antarctica’s major glaciers, containing tens of thousands of cubic miles of ice, have started to disintegrate.”
-- Elizabeth Kolbert reporting in The New Yorker
“There is no ‘Plan B’ for climate action, as there is no ‘Planet B’.”
-- Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General
No Planet B
The Earth is warming. The impacts of climate change are being felt worldwide. Scientists predict that, unchecked, global climate change will raise water levels, flood cities, eradicate species, increase the volatility and devastation of storms, unleash disease, alter agriculture, and hinder access to clean air and water. So what are we waiting for?
The rallying cry “There is no Planet B!” has taken on renewed urgency. The world has one chance to get this right: we must keep warming this century within 2° C to stave off the worst effects of climate change.
We know there is a way forward to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save our planet. Here are four pillars of that winning plan.
1. Today’s climate-friendly technologies can deliver growth
“It is apparent to me that Paris (COP 21) was a milestone on the path towards a world that is more sustainable,” said Jean-Pascal Tricoire, CEO of Schneider Electric. “I have been participating in these conferences for the last decade, and each year I see companies and countries taking on more serious commitments to help the planet.”
Not only are companies “upping their game” in the climate fight, making more serious pledges to become increasingly energy efficient and reliant on renewable energy, but the technology needed to deliver these gains is developing apace. For example, a 2015 Deutsche Bank report predicts that zero-emission solar power will achieve grid parity (i.e., become comparably priced to fossil-fuel based electricity generation) in 80% of the global market by 2017. This is a game changer!
Emissions-reducing technologies are gaining traction in every part of our lives. They are transforming energy use in the home, across modes of transport, throughout industry and supply chains, and within power grids themselves. From solar installations and smart thermostats for the home, to charging stations for electric vehicles, to controls for lighting and thermostats in buildings, where, according to the United Nations Environment Programme, 40% of all power is consumed, the adoption of scalable, renewable energy and energy-efficiency solutions is making a huge impact.
These successes have also exposed the myth that taking such sustainability measures would have dire economic consequences. In fact, we are finding the opposite to be true. Sustainability is our new critical success factor. The renewables industry has been a huge growth driver in its own right, spurring global economic development. Just as important, companies making their operations, supply chains, and products more sustainable are gaining a competitive advantage in the marketplace. The Harvard Business Review found that more-sustainable companies outperformed their peers on net margin (+6%), return on assets (+3%), and return on equity (+11%) for the past eight years. Turns out that what’s good for the planet is also good for business.
These technology-driven sustainability gains are being amplified by widespread Internet connectivity and the advent of the “Internet of Things,” the cornerstone of “smart” homes, buildings, manufacturing plants, and cities. In the next five years, 2 billion more people are expected to gain access to the Internet, but so, too, are 40 billion machines! Think of the consequences.
In the digital age, information is power. New technologies and breakthroughs in data aggregation have transformed how we live, work, and play. Today’s digital solutions integrate seamlessly into our environment, supporting the rhythm of our lives. The skyrocketing number of “smart” devices connecting machines to machines, machines to people, and people to people generates a huge amount of information — Big Data. New tools that help people make sense and good use of this avalanche of data offer unprecedented opportunities to drive efficiencies in operational intelligence, energy management, and automation.
For instance, plant managers today have access to 10 times more information about their plants than they did 20 years ago. In addition, plant/shop operators now have access to data from off-the-shop-floor systems. For example, weather data can be used to predict crop growth, which can then be used to predict the need for fertilizer manufacturing over the upcoming 3 months. The fertilizer production plan therefore becomes more accurate.
Through robust smart monitoring of facilities and assets, a baseline can be established to track down how resources are consumed. Improvements to efficiency can also be simulated, tested, and measured. With accurate measurement comes the ability to facilitate change and to engineer real (and financially quantifiable) improvement.
3. The fight against climate change must address the energy paradox
While we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions in all quarters, we must do so understanding that energy is a basic human right. But today about 1.1 billion people have no access to modern energy. What those of us in the developed world take for granted at the push of a button is unavailable to almost 1 out of every 5 people on the planet. Everyone on our planet should have access to safe, reliable, efficient, and sustainable energy. We must fight energy poverty through a combined approach of training, offers, business models, and investment.
So, we have an energy paradox. On one hand, energy demand will almost double in the next 40 years — stemming from the twin challenges of access to energy and the mega-trends of a more urbanized, digitized, and industrialized world. However, at the same time, we have to reduce CO2 emission by half to avoid significant irreversible damage to our planet. The way we currently manage energy is unsustainable. All government and scientific institutions agree: the choices we make today about energy affect our climate and will impact future generations forever. Successfully addressing the energy paradox is fundamental to creating a sustainable future.
4. We must establish a clear and predictable carbon pricing mechanism
Today the power is in our hands to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save our planet. Carbon-reducing technologies, ongoing innovation, and Internet of Things–driven connectivity promise a radical transformation in how energy is generated, stored, transmitted, and consumed. Positive change is happening. Now we must accelerate it.
One way to do so would be to adopt a global mechanism for pricing carbon. Governments, businesses, and citizens all understand that emitting greenhouse gases is not “free” — it comes at a cost to the environment that is threatening our very existence. Corporate leaders know that sooner or later businesses will be charged for their emissions. They want to address this now.
Corporations want the price certainty and clear rules a binding emissions framework would provide them. They also want a structure that acknowledges the distinctive characteristics of different regions. Companies are ready to build the price of carbon into their cost of doing business. This process will further reward organizations that understand sustainability is more than a marketing slogan, that it is the only way to do business on Planet A.