The world could reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the early 2040s, well ahead of mid-century climate targets, if governments set ambitious targets and make bold policy decisions, Britain’s outgoing climate business expert said.
Nigel Topping was a senior advocate for the UK presidency of the UN’s Cop26 climate summit for two years and brought it to the fore at the Cop27 summit in Sharm el-Sheikh late last year. One role was handed over to Egypt’s Mahmoud Mohieldin.
In his role, he created coalitions among businesses to lead a “race to zero” through which companies set goals to achieve net-zero emissions and map out the steps they will take to achieve them. Today, more than 8,300 businesses and more than 3,000 other organizations including cities and local governments around the world have joined the UN’s “Towards Zero Emissions” initiative.
Topping said his experience with business has taught him that governments can move faster without hurting the country’s competitiveness or alarming the business community.
“Governments can be bolder in setting goals and supporting their scientists, engineers, businesses, banks, cities to come up with solutions,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with the moon landing metaphor.”
In the U.K., the Climate Change Panel has presented a plausible scenario in which the U.K. could reach net-zero emissions by 2042, he said. “Given that we’ve now got California and Germany to say 2045 is their goal, I think you could make a very strong argument that the world as a whole could be net-zero in the early 2040s and in many areas in the late 2030s, “He said.
He added that the experience of the Covid-19 pandemic showed what governments could do when they were trying. “course [from the pandemic] I still think what we haven’t learned enough is that we can do incredible things, that the government can provide on a dime when needed, and that the government/private sector relationship can transform to provide solutions in a much faster way , if we really put ourselves in a state of emergency. “.
The need for such an urgent shift has become increasingly apparent as extreme weather emerges around the world, he said.
“I think the squeeze is coming because it’s a squeeze between more and more awareness of how bad the damage is [from the climate crisis], and the growing confidence — that’s the real lesson I hope we take from Covid, which is that we’re fantastic. We should support ourselves more,” he said.
He pointed to the current goal of many governments to phase out fossil fuel vehicles, and the astonishing popularity of electric vehicles that has come with it. “Once you specify an end date, it’s a very strong signal. Not all markets agree, but once you get there [a large proportion], you can go faster,” he said. “The speed of change in Europe, America, and the Chinese and Indians — it’s all over. “
However, he said some sectors continued to hold back progress. Oil, gas and coal companies have reaped fat profits over the past year as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent fossil fuel prices soaring.
However, Topping said this wealth was built on faulty assumptions. “USO lives in a fantasy world,” he said. “There are still some pretty big heads in the sand. But they want them. They can’t survive. Their Kodak moment is near.”
Fossil fuel companies would be better off switching their engineering skills to renewables, Topping said. “We may be in the last big bonanza of oil and gas profits. There may be another, but shareholders will demand that those who cannot invest in the transformation [to clean energy] Will just need to return their money to shareholders for distribution,” he said.
Companies are transforming faster than many governments realize, Topping said. “There’s a lot more dynamics in the system than most analyzes would suggest,” he said. He said forecasts for the growth of renewable energy sources and technologies such as electric vehicles and batteries had been too conservative in recent years because of surging sales and rapid technological advances.
“Many of these are growing exponentially,” he said. “If you look at where we are now [in terms of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions], it never looks good enough.But if you look at the trajectory [for low-carbon technologies] That might be more encouraging. “
He added that rich countries should view fast-growing developing countries as competitors in the clean technology race, rather than focusing on their high emissions.
“China is happy that the West is labeling it a coal issue while developing a global competitive leadership in China [clean] Sector by sector. India is now on the same track.But you tell me how many times Western commentators have pointed out that India or China are competitors and not polluters,” he said. “I think it is a huge strategic mistake to underestimate its clarity [countries such as China and India] Think of this as the future. “