Apr 22, 2020 09:21 PM

Blog: No Vaccine for Climate Crisis

Lei Zhang is CEO of Envision Group, a leading green tech company headquartered in Shanghai.

No one could have predicted a plague sweeping the globe. Although medical experts have warned humanity over the past few decades that a global pandemic could break out at any moment, governments, medical systems and international organizations continued ignoring the warnings. When we deceive ourselves, we invariably end up paying an extremely heavy price. Population aggregation and transnational mobilization — as results of urbanization and globalization — create a complex and highly beneficial “super network” of interwoven resources, information and logistics, but that same network makes civilization more vulnerable than ever.

Climate Crisis

In the face of a systemic crisis, neither countries, companies nor individuals can stand alone. Now, more than ever, we feel the urge for humanity to address a future inevitable crisis, one poised to be bigger and even longer-lasting than the current crisis we are facing — climate change.

Sea levels are rising. If the current warming trend is not reversed, about 150 million people will be living below sea level by 2050. At the end of this century, the world's coastal economic centers like Shanghai, New York, London, Tokyo and other city clusters will all be in jeopardy.

Extreme weather will become more frequent. Thorough changes in the climate system have induced an exponential increase in extreme weather events such as high temperatures, droughts, floods and typhoons. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2019, released in March 2020, shows that climate change and extreme weather are increasingly impacting socio-economic development, human physical and mental health and food security visibly and profoundly.

Ecological diversity has been destroyed. The rapid loss of biodiversity has led an increasing number of pathogens to infect humans as intermediate hosts. And the negative impact of climate change on habitat and diversity are far more profound than that caused by the wildlife trade.

The coming climate crisis may be more severe than the current coronavirus pandemic. The global pandemic could eventually be solved with a vaccine, but when the climate crisis we are facing reaches breaking point, we as mankind have no vaccine in hand. Unless we act fast, there will be nothing we can do except helplessly watch as civilization falls into catastrophe. Neither a sustainable public health system nor a sustainable human civilization should be built based on a “fluke.”

Negligence and Procrastination

In the face of a systemic crisis, negligence and procrastination are not a viable tactic for saving lives and economies. Burying your head in the sand only worsens the impact, and only urgent action can stop the spread of a crisis. As we reflect on why we ignored the warnings of medical experts, we cannot ignore the alarm bells that scientists are ringing about the catastrophic consequences of climate change.

Climate change began with the large-scale use of fossil energy during the industrial revolution, with gradual accumulation of greenhouse gases over two centuries as an indication. Further risks emerge with the passage of time and increase in intensity, progressively shaping an irreparable trend. We need to understand the “non-linear outbreak” model of systemic crises. The confirmed cases and deaths attributed to Covid-19 initially formed a sporadic pattern at the start. Both of them climbed slowly in the early stages, multiplied geometrically at the later stage, and eventually triggered a systemic collapse and a global crisis. Thus, for a “non-linear systemic crisis”, the cost of early intervention is much lower than the cost of handling the crisis at a later stage.

In order to avert a catastrophe caused by climate change, the world has struggled to reach a consensus, with the adoption of the Paris Agreement a noble attempt to limit the temperature rise this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius. Humanity, in order to achieve this goal, must achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Therefore, the next decade is the most critical decade for the global response to climate change, requiring cooperative action, and China has committed to peaking greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. A growing number of multinational corporations, local governments and countries have committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Zero-carbon transformation is not only a challenge, but also a huge opportunity to nurture a green economy.

Opportunities from a Zero Carbon Economy

At the end of 2019, the president of the European Commission announced the European Green Deal, setting out an ambitious strategy for the EU to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050, aiming to make Europe the world's first “climate neutral” continent, and promising to introduce the first European Climate Law within 100 days. The European Green Deal covers energy, industry, production and consumption, large-scale infrastructure, transport, food and agriculture, construction, taxation and social welfare. Within this framework, the EU plans to work on a number of fronts, including investment, finance and legislation.

On 10 April this year, China's National Energy Administration (NEA) released the “Energy Law of the People's Republic of China (Draft),” which clearly stated that the country will prioritize the development of renewable energy, pointing towards cleaner, low carbon and digitalized development.

In such an international environment, the sooner China begins its determined transition towards zero-carbon status, the sooner it will take a leading position in the global green industry. If China is to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050, wind and solar power will need to account for about 70 percent of total power generation. Nowadays it is good to see that renewable energy in general is already economically and technically feasible. At the same time, intelligent clean energy technology can potentially become the first sector in which China will lead industrial change and achieve economic upgrading. We should be able to see that before 2050, wind power and solar power will become the new coal for generating power, batteries and hydrogen fuels will be the new oil, and the internet of things will turn into the new power network.

The views and opinions expressed in this opinion section are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial positions of Caixin Media.

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