Economic tipping points are small interventions that can drive large positive effects in society Photo: AFP/File
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Policy levers that can push decarbonization into overdrive

7 Comments
By Marlowe HOOD

Government measures to boost electric vehicle sales, the share of green ammonia in fertilizer, and public purchasing of plant proteins could help shift the decarbonization of the global economy into high gear, researchers said Friday.

Strategic support through regulation and subsidies in these three areas would have knock-on effects, accelerating the transition away from planet-warming fossil fuels across nearly a dozen high-emitting sectors, they said in a report released as business and political leaders meet at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

"We need to find and trigger positive economic tipping points if we are to limit the risk from damaging climate tipping points," said University of Exeter professor Tim Lenton, one of the first scientists to quantify the danger of such thresholds in Earth's climate system.

A world two degrees Celsius warmer than preindustrial levels, for example, could push the melting of polar ice sheets past a point of no return, resulting in many meters of sea level rise.

Other climate change tipping points could see the Amazon basin turn from tropical forest to savannah, and billions of tonnes of carbon leech from Siberia's permafrost into the atmosphere.

In a mirror image, economic tipping points are small interventions that can drive large positive effects in society.

"This non-linear way of thinking about the climate problem gives plausible ground for hope," said Lenton, co-lead author of the report, "The Breakthrough Effect: How to Trigger a Cascade of Tipping Points to Accelerate the Net Zero Transition".

"The more that gets invested in socioeconomic transformations, the faster it will unfold," he said.

A decade ago, for example, electric vehicles barely registered in terms of market share and a rapid phase-out of the internal combustion engine seemed highly improbably.

But a mix of subsidies and deadlines for phasing out the sale of new combustion-engine vehicles had catapulted the EV revolution into overdrive far more quickly than even boosters had expected.

France, Spain, California and other countries or states have banned the sale of new combustion engine cars and vans starting in 2035, and the European Union is well on its way to doing the same.

"By rapidly increasing the production of batteries, prompting technological and cost improvements, electric vehicles could support the transition to clean power and the decarbonization of other sectors that need cheap and clean energy," the report said.

Mandates that require the use of green ammonia -- made from hydrogen using renewable energy -- to produce fertilizers could kick-start the hydrogen economy, the report found.

This would not only replace fossil fuels in fertilizer, but also bring down the costs of green hydrogen, paving the way to their use as fuels in shipping and steel production, two sectors where decarbonization is especially difficult.

The third "super leverage point" assessed in the report is alternative sources of protein, especially plant-based, which are already cheaper than most meats.

Requiring their use in schools, hospitals and government offices could spark a more widespread shift towards non-meat protein sources, leading to reduced emissions from livestock and freeing up an estimated 400 to 800 million hectares (one to two billion acres) -- equivalent to seven to 15 percent of global agricultural land today.

This, in turn, would reduce incentives for deforestation and leave more land available to support biodiversity and carbon storage in trees and soil.

"High-emitting sectors of the economy do not exist in isolation, they are deeply inter-connected," said co-lead author Simon Sharpe, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute in Washington.

© 2023 AFP

©2023 GPlusMedia Inc.

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In a mirror image, economic tipping points are small interventions that can drive large positive effects in society.

It could happen, if orchestrated wisely, such economic tipping points could be used to benefit society as a whole quite significantly.

The reality is "disaster capitalism", in other words has only been used as leverage to increase the influence of oligarchical capital.

9/11, the 2008 financial crisis, COVID and climate change; it will only change once the privileged influence capital, such as with the Davos reps, is removed from the political equation.

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@dagon,

I agree with your sentiment but unfortunately it's the very entitled capitalists who make up the WEF who are driving the SDGs and ESGs of progressive policy making. Make no mistake it is the polluters who are going to benefit from our sacrificial efforts to end pollution.

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Requiring their use in schools, hospitals and government offices could spark a more widespread shift towards non-meat protein sources

So forcing it on people.

What happens to plants if there's less carbon in the air? It's good for them: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2016/carbon-dioxide-fertilization-greening-earth/.

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Yes, it surely has to be stopped, that pseudo semi-religious eco cult. They can do or save or avoid whatever they want in their own influence zone or at their private home, but they are surely not entitled to force the whole planet under their weird ideology.

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Governments are already doing this up to a point.

They have hugely inflated the cost of fuel, food and everything else, wiped out millions of poultry, broken supply chains by starving them of workers, banned ICE vehicles from some city centres, and have hampered the movement of people and parcels across borders.

But their attempts to deflect blame on to Covid, Putin and The Demon Plastic have largely failed, in part due to their incompetence, obvious deceitfulness, and endless logical glitches. As a result, regimes are widely hated for keeping people away from dying relatives, destroying businesses, careers and jobs, and impoverishing people, leaving many cold and hungry. Strikes and shortages are wrecking economies. Local government restrictions upon vehicles are proving real vote losers, and 20mph zones may be increasing pollution, as it takes cars longer to pootle through them. They may also be increasing accidents, as drivers are not used to keeping to such a low speed limit.

In a democracy, we have a way of dealing with regimes we don't like. Johnson has gone and the Tories will follow him soon. Morrison has gone. Ardern has gone and her party may well follow her soon. Ditto Trudeau. Macron and Biden are hamstrung in their parliaments. Japan is more tolerant. Even if Kishida goes, the LDP will survive.

Incoming regimes will attempt to manipulate the electorate in the same way, but folk have less tolerance for it than they once did, are more suspicious, detect manipulation more easily, distrust state-controlled media, and get angry much quicker. New governments will be as hated as the old ones much more quickly than they expect. There will be no goodwill, nor any honeymoon period.

Ironically, Putin will outlast most Western leaders, as they all seem determined to keep him in power, untouched, as a Cold War bogeyman. I'm sure he is pleased with that.

Incidentally, despite living in what is (now only nominally) a G7 nation, I have only ever seen four electric vehicles, three of them delivery vans. They are simply too expensive. And the recent Chinese deal for Bolivian lithium, should the West freeze China out of markets, will mean that they stay that way.

And the first world still hasn't done anything to protect the rain forests and vital ecosystems of the developing world. I doubt there is the competency in government to save the planet.

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It has been a couple of years but I recall listening to NPR (US's public radio) about a statement from the UN that "we" need to reduce and eliminate meat to save the planet. I then looked at the UN website for their internal catering menu..., mouth watering roast beef and other meat dishes abound.

Then look at the UN carbon offsets, which include a hydro-power dam that "could have been" coal powered plant - so look how much carbon was offset that the UN purchased from China.

My take on all of this hysteria is the the gentlemanly, "After you."

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And then there is the fine state of Wyoming whos legislature is debating a bill to ban the sales of electric vehicles, claiming they go against their economic interests in oil production.

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