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'Glimmers Of Hope' In The Effort To Stop Climate Change

 June 9, 2021 at 10:23 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 Do you remember when the pandemic started, everyone parked their cars, the world seemingly stopped, and there were reports that the earth was healing, that there was cleaner air. Well, even with that reduction in emissions, the climate has actually reached another grim milestone. The amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere hit its highest ever recorded level in may 419 parts per million, according to data released by the national oceans and atmospheric administration. But while most climate news is bleak, there are glimmers of hope as David Victor, a professor of industrial innovation at UC San Diego school of global policy and strategy writes, and an article published in the journal nature. He points to niches like electric vehicles, batteries, and solar and wind industries that are seeding a decarbonisation revolution. And David Victor joins me to talk about why this is so important now, David welcome. It's terrific to be with you. You co-wrote this article with Ryan Hannah and assistant research scientist at UC San Diego who studies energy, who were you talking to and what do you want them to do with this information? Well, we're speaking Speaker 2: 01:11 Really to policymakers who were getting together later this week at the [inaudible] meetings to talk about climate change and other topics they're getting together again, the end of this year at a big meeting on climate change to take stock of progress on the Paris agreement and they're trying to set goals. And so we wrote this article to try and make those goals realistic and connected to what's really happening in the energy system and in part, because there's a lot of pessimism out there. The overall picture is that emissions are still very high. They went down and only 7% last year during the pandemic they're roaring back right now. Um, but then we see these areas. You mentioned electric vehicles, batteries, solar, wind, there's all these areas. These niches, where a lot of progress is being made and we're are arguing. The policymakers should focus more on those niches and on accelerating them so that we can create the kinds of energy revolutions needed to stop global warming. Speaker 1: 02:02 Let's talk about those niches. You use the examples of electric vehicles, solar panels, and batteries. You say they are moving at a stunning pace. How do these industries illustrate the possibility of change? Speaker 3: 02:16 Well, these industries Speaker 2: 02:17 Are the place where we should have hope because when you look at the overall global picture, change is very, very slow. Uh, overall emissions are still going up globally. The overall energy system is decarbonized, as we say just a little bit over time, but then when you look closely at individual niches, the rates of change are truly extraordinary. So for example, in electric vehicles, we are going to see over the next 10 to 15 years in a few markets like California, essentially the elimination of the internal combustion engine and a switch completely to a new kind of technology. Norway is doing something similar. Korea is now doing something similar. So it's in these places where we can see a lot more hope. And if we invest more in those, then we have capability of building and creating these revolutions in technology that are going to be needed ultimately to spread around the world and cause big global reductions in emissions. Speaker 1: 03:08 So are these niches, just a technological phenomena? Speaker 2: 03:11 That's a good question. The niches are both technological and political. So technologically you have new devices come into place that then get better with experience and investment. Think about electric vehicles as each new generation of electric vehicles gets better. But then also politically what happens is you build new interest groups that want those technologies to be successful and adopted more widely. And those interest groups then organize to change policy. And so it's the interaction between technology and politics. It really explains why these niches then, uh, gather and gain a much greater, ultimately global impact. More and more. Speaker 1: 03:48 We are hearing companies and countries and the state of California make net zero pledges and the goal of carbon neutrality. But you have a caution about this, how realistic is net zero? Speaker 2: 04:00 Yeah, so that's one of the other reasons we wrote this article is that it's very easy given all the political pressure for action on climate change to make bold promises that you then can't live up to. And zero is a good example. About 70% of global emissions come from countries that have net zero pledges by mid mid century here in California, we have a net zero pledge by the year 2045. Zero is a really, really small number. And for all the progress we're making an individual niches, for example, electric cars, there are other kinds of, uh, energy uses buildings, heavy trucks, where we don't really have the solutions at hand. And we're a little concerned that the race to net zero while well-meaning is going to result in companies and governments investing a lot in accounting tricks that gets you to zero, as opposed to the real reductions in emissions that that will ultimately be needed to heal the planet. And Speaker 1: 04:49 You also point out, we have to be vigilant about auditing the promises made, right? Speaker 2: 04:54 Yeah, I think that's crucially important. And California's a great example of that. Part of our system of emission controls here in California is to allow companies to get credit for, uh, offset. So for example, if you invest in a forest in protecting a forest, you can get credit for the carbon. That's kept in the forest as opposed to release stuff in the atmosphere. And some very careful research has been done over the last few years, looking at the quality of these credits. And most of them are just terrible. And so you've got companies getting credit that helps them get to net zero. When in reality, they're not actually making reductions in emissions and that kind of vigilance is needed if we're really going to fix the climate problem, as opposed to shuffle a bunch of money around and pretend that we're fixing it. Speaker 1: 05:36 The group of seven nations, as you mentioned, is, is meeting this weekend in the UK. What are you going to be looking for coming out of those talks on climate change? Speaker 2: 05:46 Well, I'm going to be looking for two things. At least the first is how much attention climate change really gets that the British government is investing very heavily in action on climate change. They've made that the center of their hosting of the G seven meeting, but the G seven meetings happen in the context of whatever's going on in the world. And we have cyber attacks. We have the ongoing pandemic, we have all kinds of other problems. And so, um, the first thing I'm gonna be looking for is to what degree to real promises come out of these meetings about climate change. And the other thing I'll be looking at is what's called climate finance. It's been a lot of progress made with finance ministers, uh, trying to re rewrite the rules around finance, the disclosure rules around finance so that the capital markets know more about the, their exposures to climate change. And so that the incentives are there for money, ultimately, trillions of dollars. We're talking about to move into the kinds of investments we need for reduction of emissions. And there's been a lot of progress, uh, in small working groups. And I'm going to be looking for a big announcements around climate climate finance. Jeez, have a meeting later this week, Speaker 1: 06:50 The G seven meeting this weekend is a bit of a preview of the UN climate change conference. Also known as cop or conference of parties, 26 happening this fall. What are you hoping will come from that conference? Speaker 2: 07:03 Well, what we know is going to happen at the conference is that every country that goes is going to go with a new pledge, a new promise to the rest of the world, about the reduction in emissions, that it will be making the Biden administration is going to promise to reduce its emissions 50 to 52% by the year 2030. For example, a lot of these pledges are just not anchored in any reality. So what I'm going to be looking for at the cop 26 meetings later this year is which are the countries and ultimately firms and individual sectors of the economy, which are going to come with the plans that we can really measure the impact and then demonstrate. Here's how we make big reductions in this sector, whether it's steel or cement or electric power, here's how we make the reductions. Then here's how those emission reductions will scale up over time. And that's, that's going to be the ultimate measure of progress is sector by sector, niche by niche. As we argue in this new article in nature energy, uh, that's how we're gonna solve the decarbonisation problem. And I'm hoping that there will be a lot of big pledges around that at the meetings later this year, I've Speaker 1: 08:09 Been speaking with David Victor, professor of industrial innovation at UC San Diego school of global policy and strategy. David, thank you so much for joining us Jade. It's always a pleasure. Thank you. Speaker 4: 08:27 [inaudible].

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While most climate news is bleak, UC San Diego scientists point to niches like electric vehicles, batteries and the solar and wind industries that are seeding a decarbonization revolution.
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