Imperial College London

New short film shows Grantham Institute vision for a low-carbon future

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A new animation encourages the public to think about how technologies can help to create a future without greenhouse gas emissions.

The Future We See’, was launched last week at an event hosted by the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment, at Imperial College London, and financial think tank Carbon Tracker Initiative, to discuss findings of a report produced by the two organisations.

Christiana Figueres, former Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and convener of Mission 2020, opened the event, and was joined by leaders in research, business and industry to discuss the transition to a low carbon economy and the disruptive power of new technologies on the global energy system.

Members of the audience, and online users were encouraged to share the short film with friends, relatives and contacts on social media, where it can reach a wider section of society.

Report predicts peak in coal and oil demand by 2020

In the report, Expect the Unexpected: the disruptive power of low carbon technologies, Grantham Institute experts modelled the extent to which falling costs could see electric vehicles and energy generated from solar photovoltaic panels affecting the demand for fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas.

Ms Figueres was joined by report co-author Ajay Gambhir, Senior Climate Change Mitigation Policy Research Fellow at the Grantham Institute, and industry experts Gareth Burns, Head of New Energy Ventures at Statoil, Martin Wolf, Chief Economics Commentator at the Financial Times and Tassos Vlassopoulos, Chief Marketing Officer at GE Oil & Gas.

The panel discussed the findings of the report, what the future energy system could look like, and the widespread changes needed to achieve climate stability. The discussion was chaired by James Leaton, Research Director at Carbon Tracker Initiative and co-author of the report.

Ms Figueres told the audience of over a hundred representatives from industry, Government and parliamentary advisors, that the transition to a low-carbon global economy is irreversible, highlighting the swell of support for low-carbon technologies and the exponential growth of renewable energy.

In order to both allow for a smooth transition of the economy and protect the most vulnerable we need to bend the curve of emissions by 2020. It is admittedly challenging but it is possible with intentionality, ingenuity and radical collaboration

– Christiana Figueres

Convener of Mission 2020

She referenced a number of recent, noteworthy events: China’s announcement that it is closing over 100 coal-fired power stations; India’s plans to have 60% renewable energy in the grid by 2027 – exceeding the targets set by the Paris Agreement; and the recent announcement from vehicle manufacturer Volvo that none of their cars will be reliant on internal combustion engines by 2019.

She also emphasised that more needs to be done in order to meet climate targets, highlighting land use, infrastructure and heavy industry as key sectors that need to innovate. “The level of change needed to meet the requirements set out in the Paris Agreement is more sizeable in some sectors than others, but not impossible,” she said. “By acting with intention, unleashing ingenuity, and making full use of the exponential nature of technological advance, we can get to where we need to be to create a climate-safe world.”

Ajay Gambhir summarised the findings of the report, highlighting exponential growth of solar photovoltaic panels and electric vehicles resulting from their rapidly falling costs, and encouraging audience members to consider how the dramatic and sustained falling costs of low-carbon technology could affect the global energy system.

The reductions in cost weren’t the result of an innovation fairy. Government policies and support have been absolutely central to success of this technological innovation.

– Ajay Gambhir

Senior Climate Change Mitigation Policy Research Fellow

He also emphasised the importance of government policy in driving technological change. “The reductions in cost weren't the result of an innovation fairy that sprinkled magic dust on these technologies,” he said. “Solar photovoltaic technologies have been supported by policies for a long time, right from the US space programmes in the 1950s and 1960s, to substantial funding for research and development, and huge subsidies for deployment. Electric vehicles have similarly benefitted from tax breaks, incentives and subsidies in many countries. Government policies have been absolutely central to the success of this technological innovation.”

Martin Wolf highlighted how policy and economics co-evolve, suggesting that the low-carbon transition will not be a result of either policy or economics, but a combination of both. Other topics discussed by the panel included how to create a low carbon future in a way that provides global prosperity and the importance of individual consumer behaviour.

The event was live-streamed on the Imperial College YouTube channel. Watch the full recording here:

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Miss Lottie Butler

Miss Lottie Butler
The Grantham Institute for Climate Change

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