For almost half a century, the world has talked about giving up its addiction to fossil fuels. Yet year after year, we remain stuck with the same old dirty energy system.
The consequences of that delay are now upon us, with the climate crisis breaching our front door. Extreme rainfall in Pakistan affected more than 33 million people this year, with some communities converted into lakes. In Florida, hurricane Ian caused more than $50 billion in insured damage, making it the second-most-expensive hurricane in US history. In the western United States, drought left the nation’s two largest reservoirs nearly three-quarters empty.
But when we look back a decade from now, we may find that 2022 was an inflection point. New policies in the United States and Europe and elections in Australia and Brazil are creating momentum for the shift towards clean energy. If moving away from dirty energy is like rerouting a giant ship, then this could be the year when world leaders started to turn the ship around.
An energy transition sounds smooth and orderly. But in a year with a brutal war that turned energy markets upside down, we learned that it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
After more than three decades of largely failed efforts, the US. Congress passed climate bills aimed squarely at infrastructure. The biggest one, the Inflation Reduction Act, is projected to invest around $370 billion in clean industries. Much of the funding will flow through unlimited tax credits to households for everything from electric vehicles to solar panels to heat pumps that run on electricity rather than gas.
Overall, these new laws will set the US on a permanent course away from fossil fuels-even if the journey has ups and downs.
This year will also likely be a turning point for Europe. The energy crisis, driven by Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, has all but cut off Europe from its largest source of gas. In response, prices have surged; in August, gas in the EU cost a whopping 12 times as much as the start of 2021.
The explosion of the Nord Stream gas pipeline in September will only accelerate these trends, and it’s unclear if the pipeline can be repaired. Most likely, the damage will permanently reduce Europe’s access to fossil fuels from Russia.
Given these disruptions, Europe has accelerated its plans to move toward clean energy. In November the European Union decided to speed up permitting and installation for renewable energy projects by setting maximum timelines for equipment such as solar panels and heat pumps. The EU negotiators also recently completed a deal to cut carbon pollution faster this decade.
In October and November, gas usage in Europe was roughly a quarter below its five-year average for the same period. Part of this reduction is from people changing their behavior to save energy, a trend that could be temporary. But in the first half of 2022, Poland, the Netherlands, Italy and Austria saw massive growth in sales of heat pumps. The buildings that now have heat pumps are unlikely to ever return to burning gas, even if the geopolitical situation changes.
As the world manufactures more solar panels, electric vehicles and heat pumps, it will also learn how to make them less expensive. That innovation cannot easily be undone. As clean technology falls in price, more consumers and businesses around the world will choose it rather than fossil fuels.
In May, Australian voters booted from office a party whose approach to climate change was to deny and delay. After devastating wildfires over the past few years that killed or displaced three billion wild animals and destroyed thousands of homes the toll of climate inaction was too much to bear. The victorious Labour Party put climate change at the center of its platform.
In October the Brazilian people chose Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as their next president, rejecting the anti-environment Jair Bolsonaro regime. Whose policies caused a 50 percent increase in deforestation within. Six months of his first year in office and the devastation of the Amazon Rainforest the size of Belgium in less than three years.
Last month at the U.N. climate conference, Mr. Lula said that he would do “whatever it takes to achieve zero deforestation” and that climate change will have the “highest priority in his government”.
It’s hard to say exactly how things will play out but my bet is clean energy wins the day.
The information for this blog was taken from an article in the New York Times by Leah. C Stokes associate professor at the University of California Santa Barbera.