The seven megatrends that could beat global warming
The consequences of environmental hazards, such as Climate change and extreme weather are the world’s biggest problem right now. According to this U.S. report, humans have had more impact on climate change than natural forces. This means that slowing down or reversing the effects of climate change is up to us.
According to our source, these seven, fast-growing, global ‘megatrends’ that have developed over the years might be the key to averting the worst impacts of global warming
Plant-based milk – soya, almond, oat and more – have led the way and are now about 10% of the market and a billion-dollar business in the US and sales of other meat and dairy substitutes have climbed 8%, with some specific lines, such as yogurt, shooting up 55%. Alison Rabschnuk of Good Food Institute believes meat will either be plant or lab based in about 30 years
The most advanced of the megatrends is the renewable energy revolution. Production costs for solar panels and wind turbines have plunged, by 90% in the past decade for solar, for example, and are continuing to fall. As a result, in many parts of the world, they are already the cheapest electricity available and installation is soaring: two-thirds of all new power in 2016 was renewable. China is leading the surge but the impact is being felt around the world. Germany produced so much wind power that customers got free electricity.
The death spiral of coal
The flipside of the renewables boom is the death spiral of coal, the worst of fossil fuels. Production appears to have peaked in 2013. In 2013, The IEA expected coal-burning to grow by 40% by 2040 – today it anticipates just 1%. This is believed to be due to the drop in the prices of solar and wind energy.
Solar and wind are cheaper than new coal, says Michael Liebreich, the founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, but a second tipping point is needed. That will occur when renewables are cheaper to build than running existing coal plants, meaning that the latter shut down. If renewable costs continue to fall as expected, this would happen between 2030 and 2040. At that point, says Liebrich, “Why keep digging coal out of the ground when you could just put up solar?”
Slashing oil use – a third of all global energy – is a huge challenge but a surging market for battery-powered cars is starting to bite, driven in significant part by fast-growing concerns about urban air pollution.
China is selling as many electric cars every month as Europe and the US combined, with many from home-grown companies such as BYD. US-based Tesla is rolling out its more affordable Model 3 and in recent months virtually all major carmakers have committed to an electric future, with Volvo and Jaguar Land Rover announcing that they will end production of pure fossil-fuelled cars within three years. These cars are “now being made for the mass market and that is really what is going to make the transformation,” says former UN climate chief, Christiana Figueres.
The rapid rise of electric cars has left the oil giants, who have a lot to lose, playing catchup. The oil cartel Opec has increased its estimate of the number of electric cars operative in 2040 by five times in the past year alone, with the IEA, ExxonMobil and BP all bumping up their forecasts too. Heavy transport remains a challenge, but even here ships are experimenting with wind power and batteries.Short-haul electric airplanes are on the drawing board, too.
Batteries are key to electric cars and, by storing energy for when the sun goes down or the wind stops blowing, they are also vital when it comes to enabling renewable energy to reach its full potential. Here too, a megatrend is crushing prices for lithium-ion batteries, which are down 75% over the past six years. The International Renewable Energy Agency expects further falls of 50-66% by 2030and a massive increase in battery storage, linked to increasingly smart and efficient digital power grids. In the UK alone, government advisers say a smart grid could save bill-payers £8bn a year by 2030, as well as slashing carbon emissions.
However, batteries will not be the solution for energy storage over weeks or months. For that, long-distance electricity interconnectors are being built and the storage of the energy as gas is also being explored.
Boosting energy efficiency
Just as important as the greening of energy is reducing demand by boosting energy efficiency. It’s a no-brainer in climate policy, but it can be very tricky to make happen, as it requires action from millions of people.
Nonetheless, good progress is being made in places such as the EU, where efficiency in homes, transport and industry has improved by about 20% since 2000. Improving the efficiency of gadgets and appliances through better standards is surprisingly important: a new UN Environment Programme report shows it makes the biggest impact of any single action bar rolling out wind and solar power.
The demise of deforestation
One sector that is lagging on energy efficiency is industry, but technology to capture and bury CO2 from plants is being tested and ways to clean up cement-making are also being explored. This is particularly worrying as stopping deforestation and planting new trees is, in theory at least, among the cheapest and fastest ways of cutting carbon emissions. New research has shown that better land management could deliver a third of all the carbon cuts the world needs
The good news is tree-planting has increased in the past two decades, in China, India and South Korea and has removed more than 12bn tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere – three times the entire European Union’s annual emissions, Wolosin says. This action was driven by fears about flooding and food supply, meaning that global warming needs to be seen as equally urgent in this sector. Regrowing forests can also play a crucial role in sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere, which is likely to be necessary after 2050, unless very sharp cuts are made now.