By Ashden CEO Harriet Lamb and Mark Campanale, founder and executive chair of Carbon Tracker
Despite years of campaigning, innovation and negotiation
from the climate sector, despite millions of hours and billions of dollars
spent, global carbon emissions continue to rise – projected to climb by 0.6%
in 2019. We are fighting a war, and we are losing. For now, fossil fuels
continue to generate huge revenues. 14 oil and gas companies generate annual
revenues of more
than $100 billion. And their huge profits are boosted by generous subsidies
and tax break from governments around the world.
Ten years ago, world leaders agreed to phase
out this dangerous form of corporate welfare. But International Monetary
Fund experts estimated the world’s annual fossil fuel subsidies have grown to $4.7
trillion, or 6.3% of global GDP. This includes at least $34.5
billion from US local and state government – even though deaths from air
pollution in the US rose by 9,700
from 2016 to 2018.
We should all demand an end to these infuriating handouts.
In particular, we must address the madness that sees countries spend cash on
climate action – and steps to deal with the damaging health and social impacts
of climate change – while simultaneously propping up planet-killing
These enormous subsidies are a bizarre act of self-harm by
Governments that have pledged to serve and protect their people. We must ask similar
question of banks and pension funds that pledge green action while investing in
But with powerful commercial interests involved, the
handouts won’t disappear overnight. We need to overwhelm the climate delayers
and deniers with an opposing force – more powerful, more inclusive, more radical
climate action. As we work towards the COP26 climate talks in Scotland in November,
the climate sector needs to be sharper, more persuasive and more united.
We can’t hope for miracles in Glasgow – we need COP26 to cap
a year of solid achievement, so we must kick start The Climate Decade right now.
The good news is that the innovations to address the climate crisis already
exist. Ashden has been boosting them for almost two decades. But these solutions
need a huge injection of investment and political will if they’re to scale up
quickly enough. So how can we win the fight of our lives?
Earn public support
Misjudged climate action can do more harm than good. Think
of France’s Gilets Jaune protests, triggered by the threat of new fuel taxes –
poorer families said they had no alternative to their cars, unlike rich people
in the country’s city centres. In contrast to this failure, smart solutions can
deliver day-one benefits to people’s lives, on top of climate benefits. Like
the work of SMV Green,
the electric rickshaw company bringing fairly-paid jobs and cleaner air to
India – or the Energiesprong
retrofit system, creating warmer homes and lower heating bills in Europe and
We need to keep track of these benefits, shout about them,
and use them to drive public support for further climate action. Let’s listen
to the kind of benefits people actually want – and back solutions built on
local accountability and ownership, the strong roots that allow innovation to
Leave no-one behind
As well as slashing emissions, sustainable energy could
transform the lives of the world’s poorest people, including the 1.1
billion without access to reliable electricity. But energy access won’t create
big change on its own, as our new
research on gender and energy in ‘off-grid’ rural Tanzania shows. We found
that access to solar energy had not created more free time for most women, or
helped them complete the most demanding daily tasks. And women were
de-prioritising their own needs so other family members could benefit.
Clearly we must tackle wider questions of injustice and
inequality, or much-hyped sustainability benefits will be no more than empty over-promises,
and the global clean energy transition will fall apart. For solutions to take
flight they must be holistic, and grounded in the reality of people’s lives.
Fight money with money
In 2020 fossil fuel companies will spend billions on new
pits, pipelines and glossy PR campaigns that help keep them in business. For
example, the five biggest oil and gas companies, and their industry groups,
have spent at least €251m lobbying just one organisation – the European Union –
2010. Meanwhile, campaign group ClientEarth is taking
action against BP for misleading advertising. They say the company’s
messages create the impression it is a renewable energy company, when in fact
oil and gas account for more than 96% of its annual capital expenditure.
We can shake our fists – or we can beat the fossil fuel
companies at their own game, by driving new investment in climate solutions. Make
no mistake, this is a huge challenge. Many of the most promising projects and innovators
are new and unproven, or serving customers without much money to spend. A
steady flow of finance is however, vital – particularly from patient investors
interested in driving social change. We need to ensure these socially-minded
investors are inspired by climate solutions as they are by other important
And, most importantly, we need new financial innovation that
de-risks the sector and reassures investors. New subsidies and guarantees, new
investment vehicles, new analysis and data that identifies great opportunities.
Get it right and we’ll unlock huge change – in just a few years the Beyond the Grid Fund for Zambia
has used a new type of public-private partnership to connect almost 800,000
rural people with clean, reliable energy.
Every moment matters
In a pivotal year, we must make more of every summit,
conference and campaign. 2019 saw the first London Climate Action Week – a
great initiative, and this year’s edition has to be even more coherent, higher
profile and more solutions-focused. New York Climate Week buzzed with energy
and ambition, but this didn’t filter through to the UN Climate Action Summit
taking place across the city in the same week.
Delegates at these events should arrive with a
firm idea of the proven innovation that will deliver their plans and targets. They’ll
need every resource imaginable, from policy and finance models to the latest
battery technology to the best natural climate solutions. The year of climate
fightback starts now.
This piece first appeared at Impakter.