With CO2 emissions rising again as the world recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic, researchers at the University of California San Diego have found encouraging signs that emerging clean energy technologies are on the rise in key markets.
“In certain areas, adoption rates for solar and wind turbines, as well as electric vehicles, are very high and increasing every year,” researchers Ryan Hanna and David G. Victor wrote in an op-ed.
They said specific “niches” – be they countries, states or companies – are pioneering the decarbonisation of the global economy.
“It’s important to look at niches, because this is where the real work of decarbonization takes place.
In fact, one can think of the whole challenge of decarbonisation as one of opening and growing niches for new technologies, policies and practices, all of which are needed to tackle the climate crisis.
” Ahead of the COP26 meeting later this year, each country will report on its emissions accounting for the past five years and make new bolder commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, global fossil fuel emissions had increased by about one percent per year over the past decade.
During the same time, fossil fuel emissions in the US decreased by about one percent per year.
The researchers note, however, that that slight drop is nowhere near the drop written by the US in the original Paris Agreement pledge.
“The profuse talk of ‘the energy transition’ in recent years has barely fueled reliance on conventional fossil fuels, and hasn’t changed the trajectory of carbon emissions much or put the world on track to meet the Paris targets.
Hannah and Victor wrote. “Instead, policymakers should measure the real engine rooms of technological change — into niche markets.
” They point to a growing number of markets deploying clean technology at speeds well above the global and regional average.
Norway and California, for example, are at the forefront of electric vehicles. Ireland is at the forefront of wind energy. China has embraced electric buses and new nuclear facilities.
These markets are developing and testing new technologies that are critical to the climate change crises as they absorb relatively risky factors which are then lowered for global markets to follow suit.
For example, from 2010, Germany launched a massive investment in solar photovoltaics, cutting costs to make photovoltaics more politically and economically viable around the world.
“Eliminating at least a third of global emissions will require technologies that are currently prototypes,” the researchers said.
“To deploy more clean energy technologies on a global scale, new investments in research and development (R&D) are needed, especially in new technologies related to power grids.
” These investments are strong in China, mixed in Europe and – along with other R&D spending – lagging behind in the US.
“In the US, a new administration that takes climate change seriously could give new impetus to R&D spending — for example, through a future infrastructure bill due to pass into law this fall — as innovation is one of the few areas of energy policy that is twofold.
consensus,” the authors wrote. Limiting warming to 1.5°C under the Paris Agreement has become increasingly out of reach. Achieving the target now requires a continuous reduction in emissions of about 6 percent per year around the world.
“That is a speed and scope comparable to what has been delivered by global pandemic lockdowns, but previously unprecedented in history and far beyond the scope of what is practical,” the authors conclude.