15/08/2021

2050 target: decarbonise the economy

3 min
Objectiu 2050: decarbonising the economy

The new IPCC-UN report on the climate crisis reflects, like previous ones, the best science of the moment incorporating advances in observational and analytical capacity. It is forceful, but at the same time considered. It aims to alarm but avoids demoralising catastrophism. The spirit is well captured in the ARA's interview with Josep Canadell, one of those responsible for the report, published on Tuesday 10 August (in Spanish).

It confirms that the threat is of an enormous magnitude and irreversible effects, that we still have time to manage the arrival at a new balance that avoids the worst consequences, that everything depends on achieving a goal: zero CO2 emissions in 2050 - in clean terms - and that reaching it requires a qualitative leap in the assumption of responsibilities by all:

1. Each of us will have to express our conviction in market behaviour - avoiding carbon products - and in political behaviour: we need laws that encourage, penalise and also prohibit.

2. It would be absurd to demand carbon neutrality for every square kilometre of the world. But it is reasonable to demand it for territories of a certain size. I believe that Europe, Spain, but also Catalonia, are qualified to be so. Therefore: we will need collective action to ensure that in Catalonia we induce zero emissions in clean terms by 2050. It is feasible. The auxiliary automotive industry, for example, must be reconverted. In 30 years, if we plan it well and from now on, it can be done.

3. In Europe, we have made a political turnaround. The most important decision-makers are firmly committed. A few years ago the future was hybrid cars. Not any more: we are heading straight for electric cars. I am optimistic. We have placed compromise at the heart of Next Generation and we know, and I think we will accept, that carbon products will be more expensive and that perhaps one day they will have to be banned. We can also see a positive aspect. The decarbonising reconstruction of the economy is an economic stimulus that is going well for us. Economic activity is picking up again after the destruction caused by a natural disaster or a war. Well, this is what is happening to us: many of the assets and infrastructures that we had have been devalued, it is as if they had been destroyed. By the way: the authorities, whether European, Spanish or Catalan, should avoid, in this process of reconversion, that territorially speaking there are big winners and big losers.

4. The USA is key. The critical path towards the decarbonisation of the world passes through the consolidation of the Biden spirit. However, the political danger exists. Trumpism is still alive and can reappear in various forms.

5. With a strong commitment from the EU and the US, I believe that together we can impose best practice on the rest of the world. Negotiating and inducing formal commitment from the different countries (the Glasgow conference next November will be key). Or at least by conditioning access to the EU-US market. For example, with customs tariffs on carbon content. The European Commission already proposed last 14 July a carbon border adjustment mechanism.

6. The problem has been created by the developed world but will have to be solved by the whole world, including China, India and Africa. It is clear that, morally and in practice, we cannot ask the developing world to give up economic progress. Let's face it: compliance is much more costly for them than it is for us. We can condition them by discouraging the import of carbon products, but the decent thing to do is to go further and help in a positive way. How? We can send them money, certainly, but there may be more forceful measures. I suggest two:

-The developed world can bear, and indeed will bear, the cost of the R&D needed to meet the technological challenges related to energy. We should not have to withhold intellectual property or take advantage of the leverage this gives us.

-We need to keep our markets very open to imports of clean products. There is a cruel irony in saying that we will not import carbon products and, at the same time, that we will make clean products at home. The principle of the international division of labour is still valid (securing logistical chains is a second order problem compared to what we are dealing with now). It has both efficiency and distributive justice in its favour. I wouldn't mind if the resources that Spain now spends on importing dirty energy were spent on importing clean energy from Africa.

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