COP27: 5 things to be hopeful about the climate summit and beyond

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Stefan Ellerbeck, Senior Writer, Formative Content

  • With many countries’ climate commitments falling short, the COP27 summit is as vital as ever.
  • But there are reasons to be optimistic, too, as these 5 pieces from the World Economic Forum’s Agenda platform make clear.
  • Investment in renewable energy production is ramping up, while the use of science and technology to provide more sustainable solutions is rapidly growing.

World leaders have another chance to make progress on taking concrete steps to tackle global warming at COP27 in Egypt this November. It is the United Nations’ largest and most important annual summit on climate action.

Recent reports have provided a timely reminder of the urgency of the situation. The World Meteorological Organization says that atmospheric greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane are at record levels. And the UN itself has concluded that global commitments to reduce emissions are falling short and there is currently “no credible pathway to 1.5C in place”.

However, amid the alarming warnings around this year’s summit, there is still optimism that ongoing efforts to ease the climate crisis will make a difference. World Economic Forum contributors to its Agenda platform have recently highlighted 5 things that we can feel hopeful about:

1. Clean energy production is rising to the challenge

Renewable energy met all increased electricity demand in the first half of 2022. According to data released by the energy think-tank Ember, global electricity demand rose by 389 terawatt hours, or 3% compared to the first six months of 2021. During the same period, renewable energy generation increased by 416 terawatt hours, meaning clean energy sources met 107% of demand.

Ember’s Global Electricity Mid-Year Insights report estimated that new solar and wind generation met 92% of energy demand in China, 81% in the US and 23% in India.

Meanwhile, a separate report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) shows that renewable energy employment now accounts for more than half of all energy sector jobs. Major new manufacturing facilities, especially in solar power and electric vehicle technologies, are helping to drive this ‘clean jobs’ growth, the IEA says.

2. Investment in renewable energy reaches record levels

The Ukraine conflict and the subsequent decision by many nations to reduce their reliance on Russian oil and gas has caused energy prices to soar. The upside is that this is leading to greater investment in renewable energy sources.

Clean energy investment is expected to top $1.4 trillion in 2022, according to the IEA. It now accounts for almost three-quarters of the growth in overall energy investment, and has been growing at an average annual rate of 12% since 2020. Investments in renewable power, greater energy efficiency and electric vehicles are all driving the increase.

However, the IEA’s Executive Director, Fatih Birol, says that although “this kind of investment is rising … we need a much faster increase to ease the pressure on consumers from high fossil fuel prices, make our energy systems more secure, and get the world on track to reach our climate goals.”


What’s the World Economic Forum doing about the transition to clean energy?

Moving to clean energy is key to combating climate change, yet in the past five years, the energy transition has stagnated.

Energy consumption and production contribute to two-thirds of global emissions, and 81% of the global energy system is still based on fossil fuels, the same percentage as 30 years ago. Plus, improvements in the energy intensity of the global economy (the amount of energy used per unit of economic activity) are slowing. In 2018 energy intensity improved by 1.2%, the slowest rate since 2010.

Effective policies, private-sector action and public-private cooperation are needed to create a more inclusive, sustainable, affordable and secure global energy system.

Benchmarking progress is essential to a successful transition. The World Economic Forum’s Energy Transition Index, which ranks 115 economies on how well they balance energy security and access with environmental sustainability and affordability, shows that the biggest challenge facing energy transition is the lack of readiness among the world’s largest emitters, including US, China, India and Russia. The 10 countries that score the highest in terms of readiness account for only 2.6% of global annual emissions.

To future-proof the global energy system, the Forum’s Shaping the Future of Energy and Materials Platform is working on initiatives including, Systemic Efficiency, Innovation and Clean Energy and the Global Battery Alliance to encourage and enable innovative energy investments, technologies and solutions.

Additionally, the Mission Possible Platform (MPP) is working to assemble public and private partners to further the industry transition to set heavy industry and mobility sectors on the pathway towards net-zero emissions. MPP is an initiative created by the World Economic Forum and the Energy Transitions Commission.

Is your organisation interested in working with the World Economic Forum? Find out more here.

3. The race to net zero is affordable

Achieving net zero will not be as prohibitively expensive as many people think, argues Sverre Alvik, Director, Energy Transition Outlook at DNV. He says, “since the Industrial Revolution, energy demand, cost and emissions have moved in lockstep with GDP growth”. However, he says that as the world electrifies, and benefits from the associated energy efficiency improvements, energy demand – together with emissions and costs – will slow, while global economic growth continues. “This historic decoupling means that just 2.1% of global GDP will be spent on energy in 2050 compared to 3.4% today,” he adds.

Although there will be higher upfront costs of additional renewable installation, huge investment in carbon capture and removal, and premature retirement of fossil plants, Alvik says the world will still spend a much lower share of GDP on energy than it is today. Factoring in the cost of climate change would make the difference even larger, as this would also increase year by year.

4. Autonomous farming is coming

Food production systems produce more than a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to UN scientists. Autonomous farming promises to produce more crops with less effort and in a more sustainable way. It also could be the key to securing future food supplies. The sector is projected to be worth $95 billion by 2027.

Self-driving tractors could help solve farming labour shortages which are affecting food chains globally. Drones are helping farmers to monitor and increase crop production. Farmers are using drone data to extract soil samples to check temperatures, moisture and elevation. Seed sowing requires a substantial amount of human effort, but innovations like seed-sowing robots are saving farmers time and money.

5. Biotech is helping sustainability

Biotechnology can provide powerful solutions to many of the world’s climate and sustainability challenges, according to CEOs at the Novo Nordisk Foundation.

They say that biotech can protect biodiversity in food production, and companies are already working towards replacing chemical insecticides and fossil-based pesticides with biological components. Progress is being made in transforming food systems with plant-based solutions using fermented proteins and microorganisms. Meanwhile, sectors such as the construction industry are looking to become more sustainable by using microorganisms to produce bio-cement.

However, transformative biosolutions can often face long approval processes before they can be released into the market. “To incentivize the shift, we need fast-track approval processes for biosolutions that contribute to the green transformation.”

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