The world is not making nearly enough progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to achieve the goals for limiting global warming agreed at the Paris climate summit in 2015, a group of political and business leaders has warned.
The next decade or so would be “a unique ‘use it or lose it’ moment in economic history”, creating an opportunity to put the world on a path of low-emissions growth. If that opportunity was not grasped, however, the group warned that “by 2030 we will pass the point by which we can keep global average temperature rise to well below 2C”, the objective set at Paris.
It is calling for a price of $40-$80 a tonne on carbon dioxide emissions by 2020, well above today’s price of about $23.70 for allowances in the EU’s emissions trading system.
Since its first report in 2014, it has been making the case that cutting emissions can strengthen economic growth rather than undermine it. the plunging cost of renewable energy, and the emergence of electric vehicles, battery storage and other technologies, meant that the net benefits of shifting to a low or zero-carbon economy were likely to be even greater.
Over the next 15 years, the world is expected to invest about $90tn in infrastructure, roughly doubling the current stock, giving a window of just a few years to put in place policy frameworks to drive that investment into technologies and assets that help reduce emissions.
As well as the carbon price, the commission is recommending regulatory changes to encourage low-carbon investment, and cuts in subsidies for fossil fuels. In its report, it warned that failing to direct investment into sustainable infrastructure would lock the world into “a high-polluting, low productivity, and deeply unequal future”.
Expectations have been raised that a decisive point may have been reached in German, and therefore European, energy policy — a moment at which the rhetorical commitment to a low-carbon future is transformed into reality.
Just before the summer, the German government established a task force to lay out a plan for the elimination of coal from the country's energy mix and to report by the end of the year.
In both practical and symbolic terms, the elimination of coal in Germany would transform the energy outlook across Europe. The targets for dramatic reductions in emissions — the EU energy commissioner Miguel Arias Canete recently proposed extending the targets to a cut of 45 per cent from a 1990 baseline by 2030 — would begin to be taken seriously.
There would be enormous pressure on eastern European countries that have clung on to their coal industries, such as Poland and the Czech Republic, to follow Germany's lead. The prospect of establishing a carbon price across the continent at a level sufficient to change behaviour, opening up the possibility of wider international co-operation, would dramatically improve. The move would also be a timely boost for the renewables sector, which along with gas would fill any gap left by coal.