2020 is an iconic year and a tipping point for our low carbon energy transition

If we had to have a worldwide closedown, at least it is occurring during the tipping point year of 2020, argues Andrew Warren, chairman of the British Energy Efficiency Federation and a friend of EiD, in a column on the Business Green website.


Coronavirus Response: 2020 has become a watershed year in more ways than one

The founder of the world-renowned Potsdam Institute, Hans Joachim Schnelnhuber, is spot on in relation to the coronavirus, when he warns that “there is no other way that is more expensive to save carbon dioxide” than to shut down the economy of the western world.

Nonetheless the present epidemic is guaranteed to help combat the threat of climate change by reducing emissions – and crucially not just in the short term.

I have spent decades preaching the practical sense of not wasting energy. Time and again, energy salesmen would respond with warnings that I was just trying to destroy the economy by stopping economies developing profligately (“energy rationing” as Trump’s people called it). Now professional loudmouths like Jeremy Clarkson scoff that the present collapse of GDP is just what eco warriors have long sought.

Oil Price Fall

Even halving, or more, the traded price of oil over the past month is making no difference. Demand is falling. And falling. Last week the boss of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol, reckoned that worldwide consumption of oil could be as much as a massive 20 million barrels per day lower than in 2019. That means a precipitous 20 per cent sales reduction.

It seems certain that during the year 2020 we shall end up consuming far less fuel, and hence emitting far fewer greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, than everybody predicted. And even if governments don’t automatically start rebuilding their economies in the eco-friendly ways that BusinessGreen columnists like me endlessly espouse, these 2020 lower figures should end up altering longer term  policies very much to the good.

Iconic Year

Why am I so optimistic? It is because all this is happening in an iconic year. A date like 2020 is far more emblematic than, say, 2019, 2021 or 2022. It is because it can be portrayed as both the beginning of, and the end of, an epochal period.

It is not just historians that talk in terms of round decades. So critically do politicians.

Just stop and think about the base year upon which practically all climate change targets are based. It is, for no very obvious reason, 1990. What is the date by which  long term climate change targets seem inevitably to be set? It is 2050. And which year is exactly halfway between the two? Precisely.

As a result of the coronavirus, the outcome consumption statistics for 2020 will enable a far more positive tale to be told about just how we much we have progressed to date. And hence encourage more ambition for the future.

An obvious example: at the start of the century, the European Union committed to improve its energy efficiency by 20 per cent between 2000 and 2020. At the time, many pundits said this was absurdly ambitious.

2020 Targets

Statistics from Eurostat revealed that by the end of 2019 primary energy consumption across the EU had dropped by only 15.1 per cent. Final energy consumption – measured at consumer level – was a bit better, with a 16.8 per cent improvement. But there was still a strong probability, as the European Environment Agency had been warning, that Europe was “at risk of not meeting” that 2020 target.

In consequence many governments were overtly dragging their heels regarding the wisdom of trying to achieve the next staging post (a 32.5 per cent drop), currently set for the equally iconic year of 2030.

Future Ambition

But right now I am prepared to bet that the final figures for 2020 will come close to, and may even exceed, that 20 per cent target. That in turn will help enforce the determination to deliver this next target, and undermine the naysayers seeking to block progress with the European Green Deal.

There are many other commitments that are set to be based upon actual 2020 figures. For instance, 2020 marks the closure of the current phase of the European Emissions Trading Scheme. Reducing the 2020 energy consumption and hence carbon equivalent emission figures will surely ensure tougher targets for the next decade, whether for heavy industry or for air travel companies.

It is, as they say, an ill wind that blows nobody any good. If we had to have a worldwide closedown, at least it occurred during the iconic date of 2020.

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