With many commentators predicting a somewhat bleak future dominated by climate chaos, it’s time to take a look at what a sustainable world would look like 20 years from now…..
“After waking in 2035 I find the world has shifted to a more sustainable state than when I left it in 2015.
My last memory was of rising conflict, water shortages, poverty, biodiversity loss, mass urbanisation and population growth. Many of these impacts are exaggerated by the threat of climate chaos, which is where the world chose to focus its efforts in its to mission to achieve sustainable development. By reducing GHG emissions by 80% by 2050 (relative to 1990 levels) not only are the worst impacts of climate change avoided but a better quality of life for can be enjoyed by all.
What I find now is a world on course to achieving this target. This is something no one thought possible 20 years ago, not least due to challenges such as the rise of the middle class (from two to four billion) which is coupled with an enormous demand for resources.
Europe is now predominantly powered by renewable energy. CSP plants in North Africa combine with wind and tidal power in northern Europe to form a super grid. All remaining coal fired power stations are fitted with CCS. National governments benefit from an increase in energy security and the creation of 1000s of green jobs. The introduction of renewable technologies (such as solar power and advanced batteries) to remote areas has improved global health and education systems by supplying electricity to areas where it was previously unavailable. Moreover, we are now living in a world that is almost completely free of oil spills, air pollution induced asthma and coal mining disasters.
Radical changes have also taken place to worlds transport systems. Electric vehicles powered by renewable energy have become common place, with consumers commuting to work in high performance EV’s, which have now overtaken petrol alternatives. LED lights can now be found in many streets and homes with a better quality of light and financial savings enticing consumers and local authorities to invest in this low carbon alternative. Many people I have met tell me they have been using the same light bulb for the last 20 years, a period during which they have changed their car two to three times and moved house several times! ICT enabled climate solutions (such as Smart Grids) have enabled the world’s cities to make a significant contribution to making the cuts necessary to stabilise GHG emissions, necessary given the rate of urbanisation over the past two decades. And finally tropical deforestation has halted.
So how did we get here? By the late 2010s a prolonged period of extreme weather events led to an eventual global agreement on climate change, which led to a shift in capital investment flows. A global price of carbon emerged after the problems in European carbon market were resolved and North America introduced a domestic emissions trading scheme which linked with China and other emerging schemes. Meanwhile fossil fuel subsidies were eliminated which enabled the rapid scaling up of key renewable technologies.”
Whether this can be achieved remains to be seen. The 2015 Paris climate summit looks destined to fail (from a scientific perspective) but there is still time for the worlds political and business leaders to set us on a path way that will at least avoid the worst impacts of climate change – especially if the positive impacts of mitigation action, such as increased energy security & reduced air pollution, are factored in to long term planning decisions.
Thurstan is an experienced environmental commentator, having spent many years working in the climate change & sustainability arena within a variety of top tier academic, non-profit and corporate settings. He currently works as a Senior Analyst at IDEAcarbon, writing daily articles on the latest developments in the global carbon markets, climate finance and the UNFCCC negotiations. Previously Thurstan worked as a Policy Analyst for The Climate Group (a leading climate change NGO) where he wrote regular articles on international climate policy, drafted speeches for external partners such as the Rt Hon. Tony Blair & former BP CEO Lord Browne and managed the organisations relationship with a variety of corporate sponsors (including Barclays, Marks & Spencer and Cadbury). Before that Thurstan worked in a research and project management capacity for the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.