Climate change and the coronavirus
But how do we stay focused on the long-term (or even medium-term) picture when more immediate concerns, such as the coronavirus pandemic, are creating economic disruption and uncertainty? Subramanian notes that ESG exchange-traded funds saw continued inflows during the recent market turmoil (based on weekly flows between January 9 and March 18, 2020). “The idea that climate concerns go away during times of stress is false,” she says. “We continued to see strong investor interest in sustainable investments, even during the dramatic sell-off that started earlier this year.”
Additionally, the pandemic has sped up the adoption of many climate-friendly and energy-efficient solutions, some of which may be here to stay. “The pandemic has really hastened the mission to have a lower carbon footnote from both a technology and an industrial perspective,” Subramanian notes. “Companies have realized they don’t need to fly people out to Hong Kong five times a year and can do a lot more through video conferencing and chats and apps on their phones than they have in the past,” she adds.
5 industries creating climate solutions
While some potential energy-efficient solutions—such as increased investment in public transportation—may be adversely affected by the coronavirus in the near term, Israel believes the world will continue to seek out ways to reduce its carbon footprint. “It’s not just our kids’ problem anymore,” he adds. Here are a few of the promising areas that Israel says could play a pivotal role in driving climate solutions now—and into the future.
Renewable energy. Annual wind and solar energy volumes are expected to double over the next 10 years, as improvements in efficiency, scale and equipment prices should make these sources even cheaper. These are also complementary energy sources, which suggests that they will develop in tandem: Wind power tends to work better in the winter and at night, and is more abundant in colder regions and coastal areas; solar, meanwhile, works better in the summer and during the day, and tends to be more abundant inland, in dry and desert regions.
Electric vehicles. Similarly, annual electric vehicle sales, which currently number around 3 million this year, are forecast to grow dramatically in the coming decade, reaching as high as 43 million by 2030. Some of the transition may come from an unlikely source: the increased development of large electric vehicles such as SUVs, trucks and vans. For commercial vehicles—whether designed for ride-sharing or long-haul transport—the fuel savings would be significant, thus potentially hastening the switchover.
Energy storage. Much of the growth of the electric vehicle market will depend on the increased production of more powerful and cheaper batteries. And while the challenges of storing the energy created by wind and solar have hampered their advancement in the past, with better technologies and evolving energy and climate policies, renewed investment in storage could set the stage for a major transition to renewables.
Meat alternatives. Animal products represent around 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, while animal farming contributes significantly to deforestation and land use. These are some of the reasons behind a growing trend toward reducing our reliance on meat and other animal products, along with the development of meat substitutes such as plant-based burgers.
Vertical farming. Meanwhile, vertical and greenhouse farming technologies use much less water and land, and are more climate-resilient than traditional open-field farming. They also require less transportation, since urban and greenhouse farms can be built closer to population centers. The one drawback: These new farming technologies tend to use more energy—something that renewable sources, like solar and wind, could potentially help supply.
The bottom line is, everything in our planet is connected. And as the Earth’s climate changes, every corner of society—wealthy or poor, giant corporations or solitary individuals—will be affected. This also means that everyone will have a role to play in helping build a more sustainable world in the coming years. “The 2010s were a lost decade when it comes to ameliorating climate change,” says Israel. “As we head into the 2020s, we need to move forward very fast.”
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