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We are living through one of the most extraordinary years in recent history, a year none of us will ever forget. Much has been written about the parallels with 1918, the year of the Spanish Flu, but I want to start by taking you back even further, to 1868, a year in which a number of developments occurred which still resonate today.
The 2020s may have started with a nasty shock, but they have only just started – and there is much work to do and much that can be achieved before the decade is out.
"It now looks like emissions could easily drop by 5% or more this year alone as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic."
Much uncertainty and anxiety lingers over the impact of the coronavirus but, at some point, normality will resume and the world will have once again to think about a much more dire threat to human existence, climate change.
Thinking about the world in terms of primary energy masks the important role of electricity where heat losses are highest at around 63%. It can also help to explain why many of the world’s most eminent energy experts have underestimated the growth to date of renewable energy, and its future potential.
So here we are, standing on the threshold of a new decade. It will be, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, a decade of consequences. Play it right, and we have a chance of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. Waste it, and we are in uncharted territory.
Looking back at the intervening decade since Copenhagen, it is not that climate diplomacy delivered no wins: the Paris Agreement, struck in December 2015, was a stupendous success. Over the past three years, the Paris targets have been progressively more deeply embedded into the political, social and business landscape in nations around the world.
Half the world uses the internet. It took almost the entirety of human existence for half the world’s people to live in cities. It took 27 years for the global population on the internet to grow from less than 1% to more than 50%.
Ten years ago, the planet was facing a climate change emergency – and now, yes, it is facing a climate change emergency. Therefore surely the 2010s, which end in two months’ time, have been a “wasted decade” from the point of view of climate and the decarbonization of energy?
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences concluded its announcement of this year’s chemistry prize rather poetically: “Lithium-ion batteries have revolutionized our lives since they first entered the market in 1991,” the academy said.
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