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Renewable energy capacity is set to expand 50% between 2019 and 2024, led by solar energy. This is according to The International Energy Agency (IEA)’s ‘Renewable 2020’ report, which found that solar, wind and hydropower projects are rolling out at their fastest rate in four years, making for the argument that the future lies in using renewable energy. 

The Future of Renewable Energy: Growth Projections

Renewable energy resources make up 26% of the world’s electricity today, but according to the IEA its share is expected to reach 30% by 2024. The resurgence follows a global slowdown in 2019, due to falling technology costs and rising environmental concerns.

Renewable energy in the future is predicted that by 2024, solar capacity in the world will grow by 600 gigawatts (GW), almost double the installed total electricity capacity of Japan. Overall, renewable electricity is predicted to grow by 1 200 GW by 2024, the equivalent of the total electricity capacity of the US. 

The IEA is an autonomous inter-governmental organisation that was initially created after the wake of the 1973 oil crisis. It now acts as an energy policy advisor to 29 member countries and the European Commission to shape energy policies for a secure and sustainable future.

Solar Will Become 35% Cheaper By 2024

When the sun shines onto a solar panel, energy from the sunlight is absorbed by the PV cells in the panel. This energy creates electrical charges that move in response to an internal electrical field in the cell, causing electricity to flow.

Industry experts predict that the US will double its solar installations to four million by 2023. In 2018, the UK had over one million solar panel installations, up by 2% from the previous year and Australia reached two million solar installations in the same year. A big reason for this increased uptake is the fall in prices to install the panels.

The cost of solar PV-based power declined by 13% in 2018, while Carbon Tracker predicts that 72% of coal-based power will become globally unprofitable by 2040. The IEA report found that solar energy will account for 60% of the predicted renewable growth, primarily due to its accessibility. Compared with the previous six-year period, expansion of solar energy has more than doubled. The cost of solar power is expected to decline by 15% to 35% by 2024, spurring further growth over the second half of the decade.

Future Capacity of Solar Energy

Wind and hydropower often require users to live in specific locations, but solar offers more freedom; the sun rises and sets on a predictable schedule, and it’s not as variable as running water or wind. Residential solar power is expected to expand from 58 GW in 2018 to 142 GW by 2024, and annual capacity additions are expected to more than triple to over 20 GW by 2024. China is expected to register the largest installed residential solar capacity in the world by 2024, with the strongest per capita growth in Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands and Austria.

Solar facilities will continue reducing their variability rates by storing electricity during the day and running at night. However, advanced solar plants will operate on higher DC to AC ratios, meaning they’ll deliver more consistent service for longer durations.

Commercial and residential buildings will keep running at full capacity even in periods of low sunlight. Closing the gaps between sunlight collection and electricity generation will spur residents and corporations to join the solar movement. Therefore, it’s imperative for governments to implement incentive and remuneration schemes, as well as effective regulation policies. For example, California has mandated that after 2020, solar panels must be installed on new homes and buildings of up to three storeys.

Commercial and industrial solar energy capacity is forecast to constitute 377 GW in 2024, up from 150 GW in 2018, with China predicted to be the largest growth market. This market remains the largest growth segment because solar power is usually more inexpensive and has a relatively stable load profile during the day, which generally enables larger savings on electricity bills.

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Onshore Wind Energy Capacity Will Increase 57% By 2024

To generate electricity using wind, wind turns the propeller-like blades of a turbine around a rotor, which spins a generator, which creates electricity.

The adoption of wind power is becoming more prominent due to increased capacity.

Onshore wind capacity is expected to expand by 57% to 850 GW by 2024. Annual onshore wind additions will be led by the US and China, owing to a development rush and a policy transition to competitive auctions respectively. Expansion will accelerate in the EU as competitive auctions continue to keep costs relatively low. These auctions will mean that growth in Latin America, the MENA region, Eurasia and sub-Saharan Africa will remain stable over the forecast period. 

Offshore wind capacity is forecast to increase almost threefold to 65 GW by 2024, representing almost 10% of total world wind generation. While the EU accounts for half of global offshore wind capacity expansion over the forecast period, on a country basis, China leads deployment, with 12.5 GW in development. The first large US capacity additions are also expected during the forecast period. 

Japan Expands Wind Energy

Japan is experimenting with the idea of installing offshore turbines to replace many of their nuclear reactors, a result of the country’s 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima. The company Marubeni recently signed a project agreement to build offshore farms in northern Japan, with each farm able to produce 140 MW of power.

Japanese lawmakers have created regulations to give developers more certainty in constructing sources of wind-based electricity; legislation outlining competitive bidding processes has been passed to ensure that building costs are reduced and developers consider potential capacity issues. The country’s Port and Harbour Law has also been revised to spur wind turbine construction in port-associated areas and other locations favourable to wind turbines. 

Grid integration, financing and social acceptance remain the key challenges to faster wind expansion globally. 

Hydroelectric Capacity Will Rise 9% By 2024

Hydropower plants capture the energy of falling water to generate electricity. A turbine converts the kinetic energy of falling water into mechanical energy. Then a generator converts the mechanical energy from the turbine into electrical energy.

According to the IEA, hydropower will remain the world’s primary source of renewable power in 2024. Capacity is set to increase 9% (121 GW) over the forecast period, led by China, India and Brazil. 25% of global growth is expected to come from just three megaprojects: two in China (the 16 GW Wudongde and 10 GW Baihetan projects) and one in Ethiopia (the 6.2 GW Grand Renaissance project).

However, there has been a slowdown in the two largest markets, China and Brazil; growth is challenged by rising investment costs due to limited remaining economical sites and extra expenditures in addressing social and environmental impacts.

Nevertheless, annual additions are expected to expand in sub-Saharan Africa and in the ASEAN region as untapped potential is used to meet rising power demand. 

Geothermal Capacity Will Increase 28% By 2024

To generate geothermal energy, hot water is pumped from deep underground through a well under high pressure. When the water reaches the surface, the pressure is dropped, which causes the water to turn into steam. The steam spins a turbine, which is connected to a generator that produces electricity. The steam cools off in a cooling tower and condenses back to water. The cooled water is pumped back into the Earth to begin the process again.

The US market for geothermal heat pumps will exceed $2 billion by 2024 as demand for efficient heating solutions increases. Transformed building codes will encourage a move to renewable heating and electricity systems in commercial and residential real estates. 

Geothermal capacity is anticipated to grow 28%, reaching 18 GW by 2024, with Asia responsible for one-third of global expansion, particularly Indonesia and the Philippines, followed by Kenya, whose geothermal capacity is set to overtake Iceland’s during the forecast period. 

The same research from Global Market Insights predicts the commercial market will experience the most considerable uptick; according to the Department of Energy, geothermal solutions will generate 8.5% of all electricity in the US by 2050. 

The Future Lies in Using Renewable Energy

Renewable energy will continue to rise in the upcoming decade, edging out fossil fuels and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

“This is a pivotal time for renewable energy,” said the IEA’s executive director, Fatih Birol. “Technologies such as solar and wind are at the heart of transformations taking place across the global energy system. Their increasing deployment is crucial for efforts to tackle greenhouse gas emissions, reduce air pollution, and expand energy access.”

November 21 to 29, 2020 is European Week for Waste Reduction! In celebration, we are republishing a previous Earth.Org piece detailing how the EU is working to reduce waste. In early March, the EU released its Circular Economy Action Plan which requires manufacturers to make products that last longer and are easier to repair, use and recycle. Taking effect in 2021, the plan is a part of the EU’s targets to become a climate-neutral economy by 2050 as outlined in its New Green Deal. How will the average consumer be affected by this plan?

The climate crisis has no borders; it affects everyone at all levels. Most Europeans agree with this. A recent Eurobarometer survey carried out in 2019 showed that 95% agree that environmental protection is important, while 91% believe that climate change is a serious problem and protective legislation is required. Policies aimed at reducing plastic waste were also widely supported. In response to this support for environmental protection, the EU Commission signalled The European Green Deal in the same month as the Eurobarometer survey. 

The EU says that global consumption of materials such as biomass, fossil fuels, metals and minerals is expected to double in the next 40 years. 

This deal aims to reset the EU’s commitments on climate change, whilst also serving as their new economic growth strategy. One of the main targets outlined in the Deal is for the EU’s economy to become climate-neutral by 2050, and the Commission hopes to achieve this through legally binding laws, social improvements, and a shift in economic growth thinking. 

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Soon after, the Commission released its proposal for the first European Climate Law which aims to write into law the goal set out in the European Green Deal- to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. With this law, all member states are required to set measures to meet this target, monitor their progress, and make the changes permanent. Hence the EU Circular Economy Action Plan was born.

What is the circular economy?

A circular economy is based on the principles of doing away with waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use and regenerating natural systems. Under the ‘Circular Electronics Initiative’, the plan will require manufacturers of products like smartphones, tablets, laptops and other electronics to use designs and materials that allow for easy repairs, such as the use of screws instead of glue, and to include parts that are more recyclable, repairable and durable. These standards already exist for some items manufactured within the EU, like dishwashers, televisions and washing machines. 

The plan also attempts to tackle ‘throwaway culture’, by preventing planned obsolescence of products; companies like Apple have admitted intentionally making goods with a shorter lifespan to force consumers to buy a new model. Other initiatives include creating a universal charger that fits all brands of phones and an EU-wide trade-in scheme for electronics. These policies will reduce consumption of raw materials and prolong the lifetime of products. 

Consumers can also expect to receive information at the point of sale regarding a product’s lifespan, where to receive repair services, and repair manuals. This aims to address the ‘right to repair’ movement, a campaign advocating for consumers to fix their electronic items themselves and breaking the monopoly that manufacturers have over repair parts where fixing a broken part is extremely expensive or only available at the brand’s authorised outlets.

Consumers will also start to see restrictions on products that include microplastics, for example, personal care products, paints, detergents, and more. Labels will be placed on products that unintentionally release microplastics, such as tyres and woven polyester textiles, to empower consumers to make more environmentally conscious purchasing decisions. Additionally, plastic products will be required to be composed of a set amount of recycled content. 

In 2017, Europeans on average generated 172kg of packaging waste each, with 116kg being recycled. The plan will require all packaging to be reusable and reduce the complexity of materials so that it is easier to recycle by 2030. Often products are encased in packaging that has multiple layers of plastic, making it extremely difficult to recycle and ending up in landfills or incinerators. While there are options to recycle multi-layered packaged products, most of these are limited in scope or use too much energy. Sorting of these plastics becomes too complex for existing systems and the only viable solution is to reduce the material complexity at the source. 

A study says that manufacturing firms in the EU spend on average about 40% on materials; this ‘closed loop’ model can increase their profitability. 

The plan also bans the destruction of unsold durable goods, likely targeting designer brands and luxury goods, such as Burberry, which has burned £90 million of merchandise over the past five years to prevent them being stolen or sold cheaply. This change follows in the footsteps of France’s recent and similar law

Understanding the difficulty a lot of businesses and countries will likely face in adhering to this plan, the EU has pledged to provide financial and non-financial support to those who need it. 

A study estimates that applying circular economy principles across the EU may increase EU GDP by an additional 0.5% by 2030 creating around 700 000 new jobs, showing that the advantages of adopting a circular economy are not just environmental. 

The EU is making excellent strides in moving towards a circular economy, reducing intensity of resource use, promoting the use of recycled and secondary materials, and the empowerment of eco-conscious consumers. Aside from environmental benefits, consumers will enjoy more durable, reliable and protected products. The targets and legislative proposals in this action plan will need to be approved by the Members of the European Parliament before going into effect, but with increasing pressure from EU citizens, it will likely be approved. Parts of the legislation will come into effect this year and 2021.

Asia would benefit from policies such as the EU Circular Economy Plan. Rapid development and population growth has put immense pressure on the continent’s infrastructure. By 2050, the population is expected to rise to 5.3 billion people, however, as many Asian countries work to grow their economies and lift their people out of poverty, it is likely that this will not be the continent’s priority for many years to come. 

Featured image by: Klaas Brumann

In recent years, “blue” hydrogen has attracted much attention from both policymakers and energy-sector firms alike, for its alleged potential in facilitating the clean energy transition while providing alternate revenue streams for traditional fossil fuel companies. These assertions are not without controversy, given criticisms of how “blue” hydrogen production perpetuates greenhouse gas emissions while side-lining its “green” counterpart. This article examines such issues in the wider context of clean energy transition.

Historically, much of the hydrogen produced is derived from fossil fuel combustion, with natural gas used as an input for approximately 75% of over 110 million tonnes of hydrogen produced annually. Waste carbon dioxide from this process is released into the atmosphere, earning such hydrogen its “grey” label. Its “blue” variety retains the same production technique, but aims to trap and store these carbon emissions underground using carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. There also exists “green” hydrogen, which is manufactured via electrolysis of water powered from renewable energy.

Several major stakeholders have announced plans to develop their capabilities in “blue” hydrogen. Notably, the Norwegian energy company Equinor hopes to install its production facilities in Hull within the UK, using CCS technology to extract and bury the resulting carbon under the North Sea, while OPEC nations are in the midst of discussing its potential exploration.

Simultaneously, criticisms have arisen over the dependency of “blue” hydrogen on natural gas, which subjects it to commodity price fluctuations and geopolitical risks. This comes before considering that technical viability and lifetime costs of CCS facilities remain wrought with uncertainty, while modern CCS technologies only capture between 71% and 92% of the carbon in steam methane reforming (production of hydrogen and carbon monoxide), falling significantly short of any ‘net-zero’ emissions targets.

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blue hydrogen blue hydrogen
Forecasted global production capacity of blue (top) and green (bottom) hydrogen by region, between 2020 to 2028 (Source: S&P Global Platts Analytics). 

Despite its shortcomings, “blue” hydrogen remains a beneficial, even necessary, option for the energy transition, since its “green” counterpart lacks both production capacity and cost-competitiveness in the short-term. As fossil fuel reserves can be utilised, energy giants would probably be more receptive towards “blue” hydrogen, possibly even funding research and development efforts instead of lobbying against it. By installing the necessary infrastructure and stimulating uptake of hydrogen-based energy technologies, “blue” hydrogen can set the stage for the subsequent emergence of its “green” counterpart, especially if renewable energy prices continue to plummet in the future. All avenues for improvement should be explored in constructing a more sustainable economy, rather than allowing the strive for perfection to impede progress.

blue hydrogen
Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) projections of the cost of producing green hydrogen, when compared with hydrogen derived from natural gas (Source: Bloomberg). 

Featured image by: Flickr

The climate crisis is the most pressing issue humanity is facing today; global temperatures have increased by 1C since the pre-industrial period and under current policies, are expected to increase by 3.1-3.7C by the end of the century. Why do we need to reduce carbon emissions? Carbon emissions remain in the atmosphere for 100 years and up to 80% of this dissolves into the ocean over a period of 20- 200 years. The crisis not only has impacts for the environment, but also for the economy. Evidence shows that reducing carbon emissions will benefit the economy, but will governments make the decisive actions needed?

Why Do We Need to Reduce Carbon Emissions?

Global temperature increase and climate change are causing environments inhospitable and posing greater risks to public health. Problems caused by excessive carbon emissions to the atmosphere are vast and widespread. From exacerbating outdoor air pollution, which according to World Health Organisation led to an estimated 4.2 million premature deaths, about 90% of them reside in low and middle-income countries, to ocean acidification – causing ocean temperature to rise, coral bleaching and creating irreversible damage to marine ecosystems – to food insecurity, where changes in temperature and precipitation affect crop yield and shift agricultural zones.

How Do Greenhouse Gases Affect the Economy?

A 2017 study found that in China, 1.23 million air pollution-related deaths in 2010 represented up to 13.2% of the country’s GDP. In the same year, air pollution caused over 23 000 deaths in the UK, representing up to 7.1% of the GDP. Another report projects that annual premature deaths due to outdoor air pollution will increase to up to 9 million people in 2060 from 3 million in 2010, as well as an increase in annual global hospital admissions: 11 million people in 2060 from 3.6 million people in 2010. One of the biggest benefits of reducing carbon emissions is that it would decrease the number of deaths related to air pollution and help to ease pressure on healthcare systems.

To achieve growth in the economy while still prioritising the reduction of carbon emissions, a decoupling between the two is needed. There are a variety of ways this can be done; a notable example is implementing a carbon tax

Carbon taxes are seen as a way to reduce emissions, while making the economy more efficient, and are advocated as a means to improve the operation of the economy, lower dependence on foreign fossil fuels (for importing countries), reduce pollution and cut government spending. Over the last 20 years, Sweden has proven this with their carbon tax; announced in 1991, the price of carbon has risen steadily from €29 to €125 in 2014. Globally, Sweden has the highest level of carbon taxation in the world and has been able to achieve decoupling. The revenue from this tax is used wherever the country needs it. 

China is the highest global emitter of carbon and experiences high levels of air pollution. In 2010, China’s Low-Carbon Pilot Policy (CLCP) was implemented in five provinces and eight cities aimed at decoupling economic growth from fossil fuel use by shifting to an economy based on energy efficiency and renewable energy. While the pilot cities have made progress in establishing low-carbon plans, there are barriers such as a lack of explicit definition for ‘low-carbon city’, confusion resulting from several parallel programs, and insufficient supporting policies. However, the CLCP promotes regional economic growth and while it increases production costs, it also promotes the growth of enterprises’ output and benefits. Additionally, it helps to strengthen internal management, efficiency and innovation, which fosters competitiveness and higher productivity. A 2019 study shows that as a result of the CLCP, the degree of competitiveness in markets has been magnified, encouraging economic growth by not only selling products at competitive prices, but also driving for innovation. This is clearly evident in July 2021 when China managed to launch a national emissions trading scheme after much delay. The market saw 4.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide quotas worth USD$32 millions traded on the first day of its opening, making it the world’s largest carbon market

A 2017 study claims the best way to avoid increasing production costs is for developers to produce new technologies that reduce CO2 emissions while also decreasing costs. According to the National Statistics, as a result of not only climate regulation and economic structural change, but also technological advancements that took place in the UK, the region was able to achieve decoupling between 1985 and 2016 with GDP per head rising by 70.7% while emissions dropped by 34%. These technological advancements involved developments in vehicle efficiency and replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy; between the years 1990 and 2017, the use of energy from renewable sources grew by 1 267% while fossil fuel consumption decreased by 22%. Denmark’s rapid increase in renewable energy reduced emissions while encouraging local production. 

Conversely, productivity is negatively affected by the climate crisis through the loss of infrastructure through disasters like flooding, sea level rise and the hampering of agriculture. 

A study in the journal, Nature, says that for each trillion tonnes of CO2, GDP losses could be nearly half a percent. Developed countries such as Canada, Germany, New Zealand and the UK will have less than 0.1% of productivity loss per unit emission. However, productivity losses in developing countries like India, Thailand and Malaysia will range from 3-5% of total GDP per year for every trillion tonnes of carbon emitted. Implicitly, keeping carbon emissions down would result in a reduction of productivity losses (the degree of reduction depending on the country). 

Further, if we pursue all of the low-cost climate crisis abatement opportunities currently available, the total cost of mitigating the climate crisis would be 200-300 billion Euros per year by 2030 – less than 1% of the forecasted global GDP in 2030

It is imperative that countries achieve this decoupling and reduce carbon emissions, ideally through a carbon tax, to ensure a more sustainable and prosperous economy. Failure to act, or acting too late, will result in even further climate breakdown, affecting any chance humanity has of extending its lease on the planet.

Between 2011 and 2013, China consumed 6.6 gigatons of concrete – more than what the US used in the entire 20th century. Since the integration of China in the world economy, the consumption of materials in general and construction material in particular, has been driven by the growth of China’s economy. An indicator of this growth is the consumption of cement. Since 2010, China’s consumption has increased from 2.05 billion tons per year to 2.35 billion tons with a high of 2.7 billion tons in 2014. In the same period, the world consumption of cement has increased from 3.64 billion tons to 4.65 billion tons. How can the construction industry green itself?

Interestingly, the global consumption has remained more or less unchanged from around 2014 (including China) with a reduction in China’s consumption being made up by the increase in developing countries. Cement is mainly used in making concrete, which requires about 8-10 times more raw materials in the form of sand and aggregates. Thus, the consumption of 4.65 billion tons of cement implies mining, transportation and use of around 33 billion tons of aggregates per year. This makes concrete by far the most used material at about 35-40% of all material consumption by mankind, second to water. Global consumption of cement is expected to double by 2060 as per a 2018 OECD report, which has significant environmental implications. 

Economic Contraction Due to the Pandemic

Hong Kong just declared its second-quarter figures which show a contraction of the economy of 9.1%, matching that of the first quarter’s contraction year-on-year. Most of the developed countries such as the US, the UK, Japan, Australia and the members of the EU are projected to undergo unprecedented double-digit quarterly contractions in the current calendar year compared to pre-COVID-19 2019. The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) latest projection for the annual growth rate of world GDP is around -4.9%. The projection for 2021 is 5.4% year-on-year which barely makes up for the overall contraction due to the pandemic.

Besides tackling the immediate health sector demands, the first challenge of the pandemic for governments everywhere was to provide support for those who were affected by lockdowns and lost their jobs. The next task was to kickstart economies. Very early on in the pandemic, many people realised that it presented an opportunity to rebuild the world economy to be more resilient and sustainable. 

After every major disaster, we try to rebuild in such a way to make societies less prone to the damages from similar or worse future shocks. In the case of the pandemic, every country should be looking to invest in its public health system to prevent or mitigate the effect of future events. Clear links have been established between the emergence and spread of new pathogens and anthropogenic causes. 

Therefore it makes sense that actions to address risks of future pandemics take into account those needed to address the climate crisis as per recommendations of experts such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

GDP is Inadequate

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) measures the monetary value of all goods and services produced by an economy. It has become the universal measure of the economic prosperity of a country and even the world since after the second world war. 

In a recent article, Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz proposed a dashboard of customisable indicators to guide the economic policy of nations based on his work since the great recession of 2009. He quotes American senator Robert Kennedy who once said “GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile.” A poignant illustration of how badly flawed GDP is as an indicator of social well-being is illustrated by the abject failure of the US in managing the pandemic compared to countries such as Vietnam and New Zealand, both with much lower GDP per capitas. The fact that it doesn’t measure sustainability, the value of community-led non-profit initiatives or wealth inequality makes GDP a deeply flawed measure of overall social wellbeing which is far more important than just income and wealth. 

Stiglitz’s dashboard proposes that indicators can be different for different countries by emphasising the issues most important for the people such as health, education, employment, environment and sense of security, similar to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals identified by the UN. While GDP would be one of such a group of indicators, environmental sustainability would have critical importance as this has a much larger impact on what happens on a planetary level.

Risks of Inaction and the Opportunity for Building Back Better

The World Economic Forum in its 15th Global Risks report highlighted two stark facts. One was that for the first time since the survey started being conducted in 2005, climate change-induced extreme weather, natural disasters, biodiversity loss, climate action failures and man-made environmental disasters were the top five global risks in terms of likelihood. In terms of impact, climate action failure, biodiversity loss, extreme weather and water crises were among the top five risks. The only other non-climate risk was weapons of mass destruction. None of these climate-related events featured in the top global risks a mere 10 years ago in the same survey. 

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construction industry green
A figure of a Global Risk Landscape that shows the Impact versus Likelihood of a given risk factor on a scale of 1 to 5. The higher a given risk factor measures on each axis, the worse it is. In the latest survey, Climate Inaction and Extreme Weather events top the charts (Source: Global Risk report by WEF)

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” said Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s Chief of Staff in November 2008 at the beginning of the Great Recession. For some, the pandemic becomes an opportunity to profit while for others it is humanity’s chance to make a strong beginning towards a resilient and sustainable future. EffortsIt will need something akin to the ‘New Deal’ implemented by President Roosevelt after the Great Depression or the ‘Marshall Plan’ implemented to rebuild Europe after World War II will be needed, but with a green agenda that puts sustainability at the heart of all decisions. In the current context, the proposed ‘Green New Deal’ on a global scale will fit that bill.

Green Construction should Lead the Industry

An effective way for economies to create jobs and recover growth is to revive and accelerate the building and construction sector, particularly public-funded large infrastructure projects. This brings us back to the question of the consumption of materials like cement and aggregates and their large carbon footprint and potential damage to the environment. 

The UK has declared a climate emergency and has mandated by law to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, however a Construction News of UK report says that the construction industry is still using conventional ‘dirty’ concrete instead of available low-carbon ‘green’ alternatives. The government must enact regulations and set an example through public infrastructure projects that use these alternatives. 

The existing carbon credit system and a low carbon tax of 16 pounds per ton don’t seem to be incentive enough to get contractors to switch from high carbon ordinary Portland Cement to, for example, blended cement. While a landfill tax and aggregate levy has been beneficial, concrete construction requires the use of low-carbon quotes (estimates used in the tendering process to give bidders who use low-carbon alternatives a chance to compete), Environmental Product Declarations, standard measurements for the carbon in a building, a higher carbon tax, and whole life cycle design for sustainable construction practices to take root. With trillions of dollars being invested in the form of stimulus packages, there couldn’t be a better time to enforce these changes on a global scale that would have profound long-term effects.

Every sector of the world economy holds such opportunities to address the climate crisis.The world is at an important inflection point – a fork in the road. A lot rides on the decisions that are made by policymakers, leaders and the corporate world this year. Building back better led by a more green construction industry and frameworks that measure social welfare and health instead of GDP is the best way not only to get out of the current crisis but create a resilient and sustainable future.

Donald Trump recently signed into law the Great American Outdoors Act, a historic bill that will provide dedicated funding to acquire and preserve the country’s 419 national parks, 193 million acres of forests, wildlife refuges, and more, in what the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) calls the ‘largest investment the country has made in its national parks and public lands in more than 50 years’. 

Passed with bipartisan support and hailed as one of the most important environmental bills in decades, The Great American Outdoors Act comprises two major components, one of which is The Restore Our Parks Act. The act will use 50% of the government’s energy revenues to provide up to US$1.9 billion a year for five years to repair critical facilities and infrastructure in national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, recreation areas and American Indian schools.

For many conservationists, this is crucial. Across the US, national parks and public lands are facing a funding crisis caused by a surge in popularity. In 2016 and 2017 alone, national parks saw a record high of 330.9 million visitors, but this has led to public lands being overrun with visitors and demand overtaking parks’ capacity. As such, state funding has failed to keep up with parks’ mounting needs.

Now, with the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, local governments will have the resources to address $11.9 million worth of long-overdue maintenance and help restore the nation’s 419 national parks— from the trails in the Yosemite National Park to the sewage system in the Grand Canyon, the campgrounds in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the failing electrical system in Kalaupapa National Historical Park in Hawaii.

The act also guarantees full and dedicated annual funding of $900 million for The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the nation’s bedrock land acquisition program. Since its establishment in 1964, more than $22 billion has been diverted from the fund for other unknown and unaccountable purposes. In signing the act, the congress attempts to redress this lapse and ensure that the funding- coming almost exclusively from royalties from oil and gas drilling activities- is used to support much-needed land conservation as was intended 56 years ago.

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The enactment is as much a victory for public lands as it is for the rural communities that depend on them. Outdoor recreation tourism has long been one of the backbones of the nation’s economy, generating $125 billion in tax revenue and supporting 7.6 million jobs. However, with the shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the sector has suffered the hardest blow. 

“The unusual show of bipartisanship that led to enact this legislation is largely due to the political and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Professor Linda Bilmes, the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Senior Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) told The Harvard Gazette. “The US tourism industry is facing massive job and revenue losses. The Great American Outdoors Act is expected to create more than 108 000 new jobs to repair park infrastructure, including access roads and bridges in these adjacent communities,” she continues.

Economic benefits aside, the passage of this act mandates the conservation of huge landscapes that soak up floodwaters, recharge aquifers and provide clean drinking water to millions of Americans.

In these uncertain and often polarising times, the bill has successfully united the country’s politicians, environmentalists and economic groups. “We’ve always needed our public lands,” congresswoman Torres Small says about the importance of public lands to a country roiled by the COVID-19 pandemic. “They boost our economy, they connect us to the generations who came before us, and they provide an opportunity to relax, to marvel and to learn about our natural world. As we work to rebuild our country and heal from this pandemic, we’ve never needed our public lands more.”

More importantly, it has secured the public’s equitable access to natural spaces. As Land Tawney, president of the Montana-based nonprofit Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, said in a statement, “the Great American Outdoors Act is a once-in-a-generation conservation and public access legislation that will have impacts for generations to come.”

As pushing climate action and creating environmental and social impact becomes mainstream thought, so is the awareness that the future of jobs, as well as skills, is turning a shade of green. The US Department of Labor defines green jobs as those that produce goods and services that benefit our environment and natural resources, and where the employee is involved to make the production and delivery processes more environment friendly, use fewer resources and promote a circular economy. More broadly, a green economy is not just one that replaces extractive activities with regenerative options, but is also one that pushes and sustains economic, gender and racial justice.

A transition to a green economy has the potential to create millions of sustainability jobs. A growing consciousness about sustainability, climate change and carbon footprint as an offshoot of unbridled consumption along with emerging contours of lifestyles in the post-COVID era will push the drive towards green jobs. This growth is likely to more than compensate for the job losses in traditional industries. According to the ILO’s World Employment and Social Outlook report, adoption of sustainable practices in energy and energy efficiency could create 24 million new jobs globally by 2030, while cutting 6 million jobs in fossil fuel industries. Degradation of the environment and ecosystem apart, heat stress and rising temperatures will impact our jobs and working hours, especially in the agriculture sector.

But this transition cannot occur smoothly unless our workforce, existing as well as new entrants, acquires the necessary green skills these green jobs would require. The green economy will not be a reality without integrating green skills into countries’ National Determined Contribution (NDC) targets. A 2019 article by ILO’s Senior Specialist Olga Strietska-Ilina highlights this disconnect as two-thirds of the NDC’s recognise the importance of capacity development, but less than 40% include skills training to support their implementation.

In terms of the sectors that would emerge as a hotbed for green jobs, the 2019 State of Jobs in India report by Grameen Foundation India analyses the potential of green jobs across water, housing, farming, clean energy, waste management, mobility, hospitality, health and other sectors. It identifies the potential of over 3 million green jobs to be created in the country by 2021, although this estimation was made before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In terms of the types of enterprises where such opportunities may arise, it may include green-solutions focused companies (say Germany’s Bio-lutions setting up a plant in India to make cutlery from agri-residue), large companies implementing sustainability strategies into their business models (apart from conglomerates like Pepsi or Tatas, even mid-sized companies in India like Arvind Mills are recycling water to reduce freshwater consumption) or companies that provide niche, green support-services. Even traditional artisan segments are addressing the need for sustainability, which unlocks the scope for green jobs. For instance, a block-printing artisan enterprise in Rajasthan using eco-friendly colours enables the unused wastewater from its production process to be utilised for farming.

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The Importance of Green Skills

The green transition will require sector-specific knowledge and technology to support decision-making, implementation and maintenance of the modified production processes, revamping of communication, analytical and management styles, and changes to how we invest. Mapping the occupational needs and then investing in the relevant green skills training are vital. It will also require legal recognition and protection; for instance, the informal sector working in waste picking/recycling are often bereft from identity cards, a basic need for social protection. While skills training programmes are being pushed, there is a need to reorient the investments into skills-training by both the public and private sector to ensure it closes the skills gap for the green economy. There is a need to build marketplaces for sustainable products, like a dedicated market for recycled plastic products or organic foods, which would incentivise the development and job creation in those sectors.

While funding may be a constraint given that many of the green sectors do not yet generate the cash-flow to capture the attention of fund managers, blended finance or outcome-based funding mechanisms may be an opportune way to start.

One must also note that the definition of what comprises a green job and skills is still evolving and not uniform or consistent. Even people working in this space give varying answers to the same question. This implies that the employees must develop a skill-set that is adaptable to different aspects of the field.

With the growing awareness about the environment and social issues amongst the world’s young millennials, interest in green jobs will undoubtedly accelerate as the youth seek to focus their education and careers on areas that they are more passionate about. This will add to the demand pull. At the same time, the supply push to green jobs and skills must be backed by steady regulations, government incentives and the mainstreaming of the green development agenda across employment and skills. It would also require the guidance and forecasting of green skill areas to facilitate relevant vocational and tertiary education programmes.

Ultimately, the potential size of the green economy is enormous, because each sector holds ample scope to become greener. A mind-shift change is visible in many companies and consumers, and this must accelerate. Innovations within existing green sectors are also heartening to see, like floating solar projects that overcome the constraint of onerous land acquisition rules for utility-scale solar projects. But while the sky is the limit, it would be prudent to focus on a few sectors as a low-hanging fruit and ramp up the initiatives towards skills-training for those sectors first. Without the necessary skills, any discourse on green jobs and its realisation in any sector of our economy will remain a pipedream!

Co-written by Prabhat Labh, CEO, Grameen Foundation India and Sourajit Aiyer, Consultant, South Asia Fast Track Sustainability Communications

A new green stimulus plan aimed at rebuilding Australia ’s economy from recession while tackling the climate crisis could generate nearly 80 000 jobs, according to new analysis.

A report by the consultants AlphaBeta says that 76 000 positions could be created over three years with the help of $22 billion of combined public and private investment. The plan focuses on 12 areas, including designing extensive renewable energy projects, restoring deteriorated ecosystems, creating solutions for dealing with organic waste, modernising ineffective public buildings and infrastructure and expanding electric vehicle networks. The analysis identified that 70% of the jobs would be in construction and administration, 42% would be based in regional areas and close to a third would require minimal training. 

Moreover, jobs would be tailored to regional needs; for instance, in New South Wales, opportunities would involve building public transport infrastructure and large-scale renewable energy plants, and in Victoria, jobs relating to utility scale clean energy and organic waste management. In all other states and territories, ecosystem restoration was identified as a leading job creator. 

Australia is currently 43% more emissions-intensive than the OECD average. The country emits more greenhouse gases per unit of GDP than each of the EU, Japan, the US and Canada. This plan is one such way to help Australia in achieving its green goals, an important feat considering that the government has historically not acknowledged the dangers of the climate crisis.

Australian Green Policies

Stimulus projects should prioritise economic recovery while promoting the shift to cleaner energy. They aim to reduce costs in the long-term and better position the economy to adapt to a greener and more sustainable environment. 

The analysis suggested investment in pilot-scale green hydrogen developments would be economically beneficial, yielding $4 of private spending for every public dollar invested. Large solar and windfarms would unlock $3 for every dollar spent, while electric vehicle infrastructure, waste collection solutions and community-scale energy and storage projects could generate $2, showing the economic benefits of investing in green infrastructure. 

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Pushing for a Green Recovery from Recession 

Numerous groups and organisations have advocated for a green recovery from the recession by  improving the energy efficiency of Australia’s ‘substandard’ house and building stock. An energy and climate change thinktank, Beyond Zero Emissions, found that practical projects that decarbonise the economy could create an average of 335 000 jobs annually, for five years. 

The Morrison government has yet to prioritise low-emissions investments in its response. The energy and emissions reduction minister has called for a gas-fired recovery and the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission has firmly supported expanding the gas industry without considering renewable energy. However, the proposition of a green recovery has won more support from state governments. 

Amanda McKenzie, the Climate Council’s chief executive, said the green plan proposed by AlphaBeta would put Australia ‘on a practical, jobs-rich path and focuses on areas most in need’. “It sets us up for the future by creating jobs and tackling climate change…it’s a win-win solution,” she said.

According to a new analysis released in the journal Nature Communications, ignoring the climate crisis could cause the global economy to lose between US$150 and $792 trillion by 2100 if countries do not meet their current targets to cut down greenhouse gas emissions. In contrast, it would cost G20 countries between US$16 and $103 trillion to limit warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius. 

Economists often divide and measure the impact of the climate crisis in terms of the market and non-market costs. Non-market related impacts, such as those on human health and the ecosystem, are highly observable, however, they are more difficult to calculate than the market impacts, which can be calculated financially. 

The Economic Costs of Climate Change

A report, published by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), explores the impact of warmer weather and heat stress on labour productivity and work. Heat stress refers to heat in excess of what the body can tolerate without psychological damage, which generally occurs at temperatures above 35C in high humidity. Heat stress is an occupational health risk and can hamper workers’ capabilities. In extreme cases, it may even lead to fatalities due to heat strokes. According to the report, even a 1.5C rise in temperature could cause losses in productivity of up to 2.2% of working hours per year. This is equivalent to 80 million full time jobs or $2.4 trillion lost. 

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The vulnerability of different market sectors to the climate crisis will differ. An economic sector expected to be significantly hit is agriculture. Since crops have optimum ranges for temperature and precipitation, shifts in rainfall patterns throughout the world will either have a positive or negative impact on agricultural production. With a temperature increase of less than 30C, the changes in weather patterns may cause the agricultural impact of these shifts to possibly even be positive in certain regions due to geographic shifts in suitable land for cultivation as a response. However, these shifts will cost money and beyond 30C, the impacts will be largely negative because of uncertainties that will arise in climate change predictions as our knowledge of certain processes remain incomplete and uncertainties concerning the potential to adapt agricultural practices. In 2019, approximately 28% of the global labour force was employed in agriculture. However, some countries, especially developing countries, have a much larger proportion of their population employed in the agriculture sector and so will face a larger exposure to the costs. Other sectors of the market that are sensitive to these climate changes and would be largely impacted by them include forestry, fishery, tourism and energy. However, aggregating impacts across the different sectors presents a number of difficulties, due to uncertainties in predicting the ability of societies to adapt to the climate crisis. It is important to note that wealthier countries have a better chance of coping with drastic climatic changes than developing countries. Developed countries should therefore avoid ignoring the climate crisis and instead invest in and develop zero-carbon and green technologies to share their knowledge with developing nations to protect the global economy. 

If the United States invests between $5.4 and $33 trillion to avoid the effects of extreme warming and meet its current emissions reduction targets, it could actually achieve economic gains in the long run. These investments and policies have been termed a ‘self-preservation strategy’ by researchers. The same researchers asserted that most countries who meet their current targets will in fact experience future economic gains. However, to implement these strategies, nations must recognise the severity of global warming and work to develop low-carbon technologies. 

Although the World Economic Forum has called the climate crisis the biggest risk to the economy and society in 2020, multiple factors make it difficult for individuals and policy makers to act on it. Climate change action requires a trade-off between short-term and long-term benefits. For example, Individuals may not make the switch to sustainable and greener products, while large corporations will prefer to utilise cheaper but unsustainable methods of manufacturing and governments may avoid large financial investments in developing greener technologies, despite them being more cost-effective in the long run. 

Other hindrances include the climate crisis being a nonlinear problem, with people not feeling the impacts until tipping points are reached and it becomes too late to act. Furthermore, construal level theory states that people not directly affected by climate change psychologically process it as an abstract concept, which does not motivate them to act as forcefully as if they were directly affected. 

While the future is always uncertain, studies have revealed that these ‘self-preservation strategies’ would reap economic gains in the long term. Although it is difficult for individuals, corporations and governments to make this trade-off between short term and long term benefits, it is vital that nations stop ignoring the climate crisis and realise its intensity, invest in low-carbon technologies, and meet the current targets to avoid facing large losses, both to the economy and human health. Furthermore, as developing countries are more sensitive to the climate crisis and face a larger risk, it is important for wealthier nations to provide support and share knowledge of new technologies to reduce the impact to the global economy.

In 2007, Marc Collins Chen, minister of tourism of French Polynesia, said that a third of the French Polynesian islands would be submerged by either 2035 or 2050- “depending on which scientist you spoke to.” An estimated 2.4 billion people- 32% of the world’s population- live in a coastal region and will likely be impacted by rising sea levels as a result of the climate crisis. In late 2018, Chen pioneered the concept of off-shore urban infrastructure, or ‘sustainable floating cities’, in order to tackle the issue of rising sea levels, founding the company Oceanix to put his vision into action.

In a 2019 meeting with the UN, Chen and a group of specialists, including zero waste experts, proposed their idea of what sustainable floating cities would encompass. Their plan involves 4.5-acre hexagonal floating islands- about the size of three and a half football fields- that each house 300 people. These islands are the foundation upon which these settlements would be built. A village could be formed by combining six of these islands and connecting them via an open port. The idea is that as long as each island operates an essential service such as healthcare, education, spirituality and commercial services, they could be fully functional communities. Furthermore, outside these communities there could be uninhabited functional islands for energy collection and crop yielding.

Furthermore, Chen claims that marine life would not be threatened under his vision as ‘the technology exists for us to live on water, without killing marine ecosystems’. There have been several plans for floating homes and apartments but what makes Oceanix’s plan more viable is their plan for scalability, such that scaling up and looping six villages together would result in a city of 10 800 people. These floating islands are intended to be self-sustaining in terms of their energy, food and water production. Ideally, they would be efficient as well through their repurposing of waste materials produced, and fuelling all operations with energy produced by the islands themselves in a closed loop system. These efficiency goals are ambitious, and take inspiration from cities such as Stockholm, Amsterdam and Copenhagen (this city is planning to become the first carbon-neutral city by 2025) that are making efforts to steer away from their reliance on fossil fuels. 

The feasibility of the project hinders its implementation. Much of the technology to make this happen will need to be either invented from scratch or wholly adapted to fit the floating city. Further, Oceanix has yet to formulate a concrete business plan that would render them eligible to apply for green venture capital funds or government grants which aim to promote sustainable development. Furthermore, one of Chen’s main goals is to make these islands affordable but given the amount of investment and work that the first prototypes would need, this may be difficult to achieve. Moreover, the governance of such settlements has come into question, as it is unclear how these islands will be run, if inhabitants will have to commute to the mainland, and how they fit into more established economic systems. 

Despite the technicalities, the point of such a concept is to revolutionise the way that we live, and question the systems we have in place. In a world that is in need of change, it’s these crazy ideas that will breed the innovations and sustainable technologies that are needed to combat pressing environmental concerns.

Featured image: Oceanix’s rendering of its sustainable floating cities (Source: BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group). 

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