There is a growing realisation that independently from whatever developing nation-states do, affluent countries are going to have to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 at the latest and provide suitable financing flows to incentivise developing countries to play their substantial part.
The main measures will include radical energy efficiencies across building stock and transportation; policy integration across all sectors and energy systems; the early retirement of old inefficient coal fired power stations and the rapid deployment of ultra super critical plant built to a common standard retro-fittable for full CCS; full participation in zero ongoing emission platforms, smart grids, and desert based concentrated solar power plants linked to the UK smart grid.
The science makes the UK’s already demanding legal obligation to achieve 80% reductions progressively more urgent. The obstacles are the huge funding costs, the uncertainty about carbon price and ecological costs, the morass of government bodies and institutions involved, and the layers of previous investment which were not ‘carbon conscious’ when made but remain active assets on company books until a more attractive deal is on offer to retire them.
The problem for governments is to overcome these legacy investments, attitudes and rules of the game to speed up the natural rate of capital replacement and to fund and create new low carbon business models.For the UK that requires at the very minimum:
a) intensive engagement by government with business in joint sector working parties, initially covering these main measures, to agree what conditions must prevail for existing corporate priorities and investment models to be rapidly replaced by new sustainable ones.
b) new urgency in government comparable with its response to the financial crisis, and a change in its inner logic from ‘how can we get markets and the private sector to pioneer the new framework whilst continuing to compete’ to ‘what must government provide in terms of resources, policy integration and regulatory frameworks to make the transition happen’.
c) beefing up a single executive office resourced and charged with monitoring sector achievements, developing green funding alternatives, and rehearsal of ‘catastrophe scenarios’ and ‘life boat drills’ to prepare for immediate implementation as and when critical events occur.
It may become necessary sooner rather than later to establish a national command structure on a war footing with the powers to mobilise the resources and integrate the policies necessary to incentivise and deliver the new very low carbon models, as part of an international alliance of high emitting countries supported by a ‘sherpa’ network of experts.
Leslie Dighton, Keith Mackrell and Vic Henny, Global Initiative Solutions project