Why 2021 could be turning point for tackling climate change

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Countries only have only a limited time in which to act if the world is to stave off the worst effects of climate change. Here are five reasons why 2021 could be a crucial year in the fight against global warming.

Covid-19 was the big issue of 2020, there is no question about that.

But I'm hoping that, by the end of 2021, the vaccines will have kicked in and we'll be talking more about climate than the coronavirus.

2021 will certainly be a crunch year for tackling climate change.

So, in the spirit of New Year's optimism, here's why I believe 2021 could confound the doomsters and see a breakthrough in global ambition on climate.

1. The crucial climate conference

In November 2021, world leaders will be gathering in Glasgow for the successor to the landmark Paris meeting of 2015.

Paris was important because it was the first time virtually all the nations of the world came together to agree they all needed to help tackle the issue.

The problem was the commitments countries made to cutting carbon emissions back then fell way short of the targets set by the conference.

2. Countries are already signing up to deep carbon cuts

The most important announcement on climate change last year came completely out of the blue.

At the UN General Assembly in September, the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, announced that China aimed to go carbon neutral by 2060.

Environmentalists were stunned. Cutting carbon has always been seen as an expensive chore yet here was the most polluting nation on earth - responsible for some 28% of world emissions - making an unconditional commitment to do just that regardless of whether other countries followed its lead.

That was a complete turnaround from past negotiations, when everyone's fear was that they might end up incurring the cost of decarbonising their own economy, while others did nothing but still enjoyed the climate change fruits of their labour.

3. Renewables are now the cheapest energy ever

There is a good reason why so many countries are now saying they plan to go net zero: the collapsing cost of renewables is completely changing the calculus of decarbonisation.

In October 2020, the International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organisation, concluded that the best solar power schemes now offer "the cheapest source of electricity in history".

Renewables are already often cheaper than fossil fuel power in much of the world when it comes to building new power stations.

4. Covid changes everything

The coronavirus pandemic has shaken our sense of invulnerability and reminded us that it is possible for our world to be upended in ways we cannot control.

It has also delivered the most significant economic shock since the Great Depression.

In response, governments are stepping forward with stimulus packages designed to reboot their economies.

And the good news is it has rarely - if ever - been cheaper for governments to make these kind of investments. Around the world, interest rates are hovering around zero, or even negative.

5. Business is going green too

The falling cost of renewable and the growing public pressure for action on climate is also transforming attitudes in business.

There are sound financial reasons for this. Why invest in new oil wells or coal power stations that will become obsolete before they can repay themselves over their 20-30-year life?

Indeed, why carry carbon risk in their portfolios at all?

The logic is already playing out in the markets. This year alone, Tesla's rocketing share price has made it the world's most valuable car company.

 

It is still all to play for.

So, there is good reason for hope but it is far from a done deal

 

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