Development & Aid, Energy, Environment, Global, Headlines

Opinion

Hearts and Minds: We Need to Understand the Critical Role of Human, Social, and Institutional Leadership to Achieve the Goals of the 2015 Paris Agreements

Climate change cannot be addressed without social equity, and social equity cannot be achieved without human-centered climate solutions. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños / IPS

Climate change cannot be addressed without social equity, and social equity cannot be achieved without human-centered climate solutions. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños / IPS

NEW YORK, Dec 1 2023 (IPS) - The main challenge for addressing climate change a decade ago was how to develop low-cost, low-carbon solutions such as wind or solar power. Since that hurdle has been cleared, we now need to focus on social dimensions to deploying solutions quickly and at large-scale.

Important progress has been made over the past decade in terms of scaling up climate change mitigation efforts and the emergence of net-zero policies in many countries. Critical climate technologies such as solar panels, electric vehicles, and heat pumps have matured while countries and companies globally have made ambitious commitments to reduce emissions.

This progress has laid the groundwork for a Decade of Deployment during which solutions need to scale rapidly and globally. Although the technological progress of climate resilient energy solutions is good news, the bad news is that significant human, social, financial, and institutional barriers to deployment remain, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

Our research collectively supports the contention that climate change cannot be addressed without social equity, and social equity cannot be achieved without human-centered climate solutions. And with COP28 ongoing, it is time to take these elements more seriously

Equally concerning is the ability to address social equity and implement the Just Transition Declaration, which was adopted by 40 nations at COP26. Justice40 in the United States is one example of backing the declaration with measurable action. Our research collectively supports the contention that climate change cannot be addressed without social equity, and social equity cannot be achieved without human-centered climate solutions. And with COP28 ongoing, it is time to take these elements more seriously.

To achieve the Paris ambitions, and embrace the reality of technological progress, a people-centered approach that prioritizes trust is key and processes must be inclusive.

This localized approach includes education on alternative pathways that account for on-the-ground realities, such as disparities in financing costs, labor and permitting costs and workforce gaps.

This is critical so that low- and middle-income countries can meet their energy and quality of life goals while following a decarbonized path and realizing co-benefits such as improved air quality and reduced environmental burden.

A decade ago, this conversation would have been very different. The concerns at that time were about driving down the costs of cleaner energy options that are commercial today—by subsidies or innovation investments in the clean source or carbon fees on the dirty sources—so they would be more acceptable to market adoption.

But recent advances have changed the conversation. With significant reductions in the costs of equipment, such as solar panels and wind turbines, batteries and electric vehicles, there is an opportunity to integrate cleaner sources of energy and build a localized solution that is affordable, reliable, and resilient, albeit more complex to manage.

Those looking to realize the net zero economy by 2050 anticipate an enormous expansion of the role of these clean energy technologies, as well as electrification.

But realizing those possibilities faces numerous challenges, including defiant incumbents, political opposition, local community opposition, a higher cost of capital in those countries that need it most, and more recently BANANA (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anyone) mindsets.

The negotiations of the UN’s annual Conference of Parties (COP) are grounded in the history of technocratic and bureaucratic analysis and diplomacy.

While the COP negotiations garner the attention of high-level diplomats and bureaucrats, there is a growing desire and need for solutions that address fundamental human needs.

We all desire heating & cooling, clean cooking, potable and sufficient water, electronic and in person connectivity, and the provision of sustainable food and other goods.

The importance of meeting these basic needs in the immediate term leads communities to make choices that discount the value of actions with future benefits.

Since many of the engineering challenges have been met or are now on a glidepath to be met, we need to shift from a technology-centered to a people-centered approach. We must focus on trust and empathy and make stakeholders the center of our solutions and not just an object of our analysis.

Engaging with and understanding the needs and wants of the communities is a necessary step. And we can establish with certainty that they care about staying healthy, educating their kids, having enough food and water, and having the means to improve their lives. But, can they afford to care about the environmental impact of their energy supply? What benefits of clean technologies do they care about?

Much like locations and countries compete for manufacturers to build new factories with tax incentives and other inducements, paradigms need to shift to welcome and embrace clean energy as the preferred pathways, while simultaneous embracing just procedures and outcomes, energy security and affordability.

Doing so might require a break from conventional methods for organizing local and regional processes so that all stakeholders, including residents and consumers, can access a set of benefits such as ownership, job creation, low-cost power, and clean water.

Examples of these outcomes are playing out around the world, including South Africa, where communities are offered ownership interest and jobs in clean power and water. In India, distributed renewable energy to support income-generating activities in rural areas is a potential market of more than $50 billion usd. In England, communities compete for local, clean energy generation because they are offered low-cost power. Why are these approaches not used ubiquitously?

Other, more progressive possible examples: bans on the use of Internal Combustion Engine cars in specific locations (e.g. within a city), which have been implemented in 40+ locations around the world, with huge emissions reductions; and the emergence of Just Transitions platforms and social movements.

Why is trust such a critical component? What about empathy? Information is increasingly obtained through narrow channels which may or may not be backed by science nor reflect global best practices and state of knowledge.

Fact-based information has to be contextualized empathetically and conveyed through a trusted source—not advocates, reports or through additional leadership dialogues. The world needs a new cohort of trusted emotional insiders – not elite, intellectual outsiders.

Finally, we must realize that safe, secure, and affordable energy services are a critical enabler of life. They support agriculture, clean water, education, mobility, communications, the internet, and manufacturing and delivery of food, clothing, and the goods for our well-being.

Focusing the energy transition only on addressing climate change is no longer enough. People – as individuals, members of social networks and organizations and institutions—are not only the enablers of this transition, but they must be at the center of it.

The authors convened several times throughout 2023 to identify key barriers to implementing climate solutions with speed and scale as part of the 17 Rooms Initiative, which is co-organized and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and Brookings Institution.

 

Douglas Arent, U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, CO, USA; Emily Beagle, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, USA; Leonardo Beltran, Columbia University, NY, NY, USA; Simone Borghesi, European University Institute, Florence, Italy; Bankole Cardoso, Factor[e] Ventures, Nigeria; Sanya Carley, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA; Ashvin Dayal, The Rockefeller Foundation, NY, NY, USA; Peter du Pont, Asia Clean Energy Partners; Joisa Dutra, Fundação Getulio Vargas, Brazil; Arunabha Ghosh, Council on Energy, Environment and Water, India; Nicole Iseppi, Bezos Earth Fund, Washington DC, USA; Dan Kammen, University of California – Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, USA; Jennifer Layke, World Resources Institute, Washington DC, USA; Abraham Ngobeni, Innovation: Africa; Shonali Pachauri, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Vienna, Austria; Kelly Twomey Sanders, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA; Benjamin Sovacool, Boston University, Boston, MA, USA; Anna Shpitsberg, United States Department of State, Washington DC, USA; Christie Ulman, Sequoia Climate Foundation, San Diego, CA, USA; Michael Webber

 

 
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