How to accelerate the green energy transition

The Common Futures Conversations community share strategies for accelerating the adoption of renewable energy around the world.

Explainer Updated 16 March 2022 Published 15 March 2022 3 minute READ

The green energy transition, the process of shifting away from fossil fuels to renewable energy such as solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, hydrogen or biomass energy, is critical to limiting global warming to the 1.5°C target aspired to in the 2015 Paris Agreement. But, in 2021, a report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that the world is currently on track to exceed this target in  just two decades.

Transitioning to a carbon-neutral economy requires a collective effort in order to mitigate the risks to the health and wellbeing of current and future generations.

Reaching net-zero will have positive impacts on the global economy and reverberate through human systems around the world. However, accelerating the transition to a carbon-neutral economy requires a collective effort in order to mitigate the risks to the health and wellbeing of current and future generations posed by climate change.

Young people face an elevated risk of dealing with the impacts of the changing climate — such as extreme weather-related events and its compounding effects — if greenhouse gas emission trends continue in an upward trajectory. Recent research showed that 84 per cent of young people are at least moderately concerned about climate change and have negatively rated government responses to the crisis. More must be done, not only to allay these concerns, but also to meaningfully include young people in policy debates.

While some progress has been made in terms of including young voices in climate action, a generational divide is still apparent. Last year, 40,000 young people were able to express their concerns through the 16th UN Climate Change Conference of Youth (COY16) and Youth4Climate 2021, and Alok Sharma, the UK’s COP26 president, urged decision-makers to consider youth priorities in national climate action. However, ‘youth-washing’, the idea of inviting young people to fill a quota but not giving them enough power in decision-making processes, remains a prevalent concern for global climate politics.

In 2021, dubbed the ‘super year’ for climate action, Common Futures Conversations (CFC) pitched ideas on ways to encourage the green energy transition at the local, national and even global levels. CFC members from Africa and Europe drew from their own experiences to brainstorm policy ideas, from regulating aviation and communicating risks, to creating incentives and improving waste management.

Creating incentives, Jan Stormann, Austria

The importance of a green energy transition in the long term is undisputed for the most part. However, in the short term, most stakeholders fear negative side-effects such as increased energy prices, job-losses or mundane inconveniences such as noise output from wind turbines near their community. These fears, and the potential consequences of a transition, need to be mitigated as much as possible.

National profits from the green transition could be pooled to create wealth for future generations.

On a local level, stakeholders could be made shareholders to offset incurred costs, be that noise or unemployment, while nationally, price differences could be bridged by gradually increasing taxes on non-renewable energy to subsidize and invest in renewable alternatives. In fact, national profits from the transition could be pooled to create wealth for future generations and offset existing climate damage mirroring the Norwegian oil fund.

Internationally, wealthier countries can help reduce the impact of the transition on fossil fuel dependent countries with smaller economies by sharing technologies and financing investments.

Improving waste management, Aisha Hamidu, Nigeria

Nigeria is currently witnessing significant changes in the nation’s economy, induced by mineral exploitation, insurgency and insecurity. As a result, communities have expanded in size, leading to a phenomenal increase in the volume and multiplicity of solid waste generated daily.  

Since 2011, the insurgency in northern Nigeria, with Borno State at its epicentre, for example, has resulted in massive population displacement both internally and across international borders as well as increased food insecurity and the destruction of public infrastructure.

Despite this disruption, there are energy-efficient solutions domestically which collectively have a profound impact on waste management across the country. As municipal waste remains extremely threatening to the environment and its inhabitants, the production of useable products — especially alternate fuels — is a modality to waste management. By decreasing the reliance on fossil fuels, and petroleum products in particular, through applying locally applicable technologies of recovery and recycling, we could tackle the global waste plastic issue while reducing landfills.

Regulating travel, Samantha Gordine, Germany

One of the areas in which people massively contribute to greenhouse gas emissions in their day-to-day life, especially in developed countries, is through their modes of travel. In particular, the comfort of driving everywhere in one’s own car is a culturally accepted norm in many developed countries. Likewise, increasingly cheap plane tickets further incentivize air travel at a cost to the environment that realistically cannot be regained with small, often voluntary, CO2 offset costs.

Instead of offering passengers the option to fly from Frankfurt to Cologne, which takes around 30 minutes, there could only be a rail option which would take an hour.

To drive the switch to lower-emission transport, rail travel needs to be incentivized. This can be achieved by drastically raising taxes or banning short-haul flights to destinations that can be reached by trains. For example, instead of offering passengers the option to fly from Frankfurt to Cologne, which takes around 30 minutes, there could only be a rail option available which, in contrast, would take an hour.

Alternatively, the option to fly could be priced at 500 per cent of a rail ticket, whereby the cost of a rail ticket could be lowered due to higher demand. This would eliminate unnecessary flights that come at a particularly high cost to the environment without jeopardizing logistics. In addition, it would empower rail networks to be expanded for short and medium distance travel.

Weakening incentives for cheap and excessive flying, such as frequent-flyer programmes, and reducing public funding that supports local flights would also be beneficial.

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Communicating risk, Ako Eyo Oku, Nigeria

While the idea of green energy has become increasingly popular in local communities, few understand its importance in climate change mitigation. There is a need for local communities to be sensitized on the dangers of non-green energy and how they can adopt available green energy options instead.

There is a need for local communities to be sensitized on the dangers of non-green energy and how they can adopt green energy options instead.

The World Health Organization designed a tool, Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE), that helped local community engagement staff develop, implement and monitor action plans during the early response to COVID-19. While the RCCE model has only been applied to the pandemic response so far, the tool can no doubt be adopted as a strategy to facilitate the energy transition by communicating the risks of climate change.

Climate risk should be properly communicated and this can be achieved through media campaigns and advocacy. The other side of RCCE is local community engagement with compliance to action plans. In the context of green energy, this would mean engaging with local communities on environment-degrading energy choices as well as holding authorities accountable and demanding policies and action that promotes green energy.

Goal-oriented risk communication can improve understanding of the necessity of the green energy transition to renewable energy and change the way they are viewed.