‘Net zero won’t change the way we live’ | Free Lunch on Film

Making our societiescarbon free is now the name of the game ininternational politics. We need to fend off the climateemergency caused by a warming planet. And the war in Ukraine hasshown the geopolitical risk of relying too muchon fossil energy. But it's a huge challenge. Fossil fuels are so embeddedin so many invisible ways.

The difficulty of gettingrid of them is much, much greater thanpeople realise. Does it also have tomean a radical change in our lifestyle? It's much more findinga diversity of solutions rather than justmore consumption. In this film I will argue thatwith the help of technology we can decarbonise theeconomy without people in the rich world having tosacrifice the activities we.

Like while continuing to liftpeople in poorer countries into middle-class lifestyles. One can see it as a racebetween technology, which should make ushopeful, and politics, which is going to be a sourceof anxiety and concern. Welcome to Free Lunchon Film, the series where I take controversialeconomic ideas that I find appealingand put them to the test.

Most countries have seta goal of net zero carbon by 2050, emittingno more than they remove from the atmosphere. But we're nowhere neara path to net zero. If we continue asnow the planet will warm more than the 1.5degrees above pre-industrial temperatures where scientistswarn of intolerable climate damage.

But we have faced a globalclimate challenge before – and solved it. This is not just a spray can. It's an exampleof how technology can save the environmentwhile letting us lead our lives as before. Forty years ago theworld was worrying about the hole in theatmosphere's ozone layer, which raised the risk ofskin damage and cancer.

From ultraviolet light. The hole was caused bychlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, molecules releasedby everyday products like spray cans and fridges. We observed a 35 per centdecrease of the total ozone overhead. So in 1987 everycountry in the world signed the MontrealProtocol, which banned CFCs.

And it worked. The ozone in the atmospherestabilised and the hole is shrinking. But we still have spray cans. We still have fridgesand air conditioners. Companies found new ways to makethe same things without CFCs. So as consumers we'vehad to sacrifice nothing. My hope is that we canget rid of greenhouse.

Gases in the same way withcarbon-free substitutes for the things ourlifestyles depend on. This view has a name:techno-optimism. I foresee a completelydecarbonised economy where we still travelmuch as before, where we keep consuminggoods from around the world, we continue to putup large buildings, and still enjoy economic growth.

But some see this as anirresponsible fairytale. Many of my FT colleaguesdoubt we can even achieve net zero carbon ontime without massive disruption and economic fallout. You know, it's a verydifferent situation to CFCs. We didn't have countries andcompanies relying very heavily on these chemical compounds. And it was really easy toswap them for harmless ones.

Unfortunately, we're notin the same situation with fossil fuels yet. For all that, Ithink techno-optimism has a lot going for it. Let me tell you why. Ten years ago, ona trip to Japan, I saw the world's firstmainstream electric car,.

The Nissan Leaf. Until then, electric cars hadseemed geeky, unpractical, and with looks onlya mother could love. But the Leaf, it justseemed remarkably normal. On the other side ofthe world, one country has since taken to electriccars like no other. I've travelled to Norway towitness the country's record uptake of electric vehicles,because the electric car is.

A perfect illustration of thisidea that we can decarbonise our economies without deprivingourselves of anything that we value. This car emits no carbon,nor does the electricity that powers it, becauseNorway has always run its grid on hydroelectricity. And yet, the drivingexperience is no worse than an equivalentinternal combustion engine. If anything, it'squite a bit better.

The first time I drove anelectric car was back in 2006. It was a Norwegianelectric car called Think. And it made me quite amazed. Christina Bu heads upNorway's Association for Electric Vehicle Drivers. With 100,000 members, it'sthe largest in the world. It's incredible. Back in 2010 most peoplewere opposed to everything.

I was talking aboutwith electric cars. Last year, nearly two-thirdsof new passenger cars were electric. That's compared to just3 per cent back in 2011. Nobody at that time would havebelieved standing here now, in the city of Oslo almost 30per cent of all passenger cars are fully electric. There are chargingstations everywhere. People are using them.

It's become the new normal. And it's happened very fast. And it's not happenedjust by chance. Well, it's all aboutpolitics, really. Norwegians are not moreenvironmentally friendly or anything else. And we have ruggedmountains, long distances. So it's not really the countrywhere you would think we would first start witha total revolution.

Really in the way we drive cars. But it has happened becauseof strong policies over time. The key has been to make EVsas affordable and attractive as conventional cars. The most important policieshave been tax exemptions and taxing pollutingcars heavily, so that electric cars cancompete on the price tag when you buy it. In most other countries EVsare still a lot more expensive.

And with additional incentiveslike lower tolls and cheaper parking, it's not just thetech-savvy going electric. Because incentivesare there, they still choose to buy ordrive an electric car. And I think that is the key. We will never succeed withcutting emissions in time if we have to wait for everyoneto care about the climate. So the big questionis, can other countries follow Norway's lead and makecar transport carbon-free?.

And not only that, decarboniseevery other activity as well? Well, let's look atwhere CO2 comes from. Some three-quarters of itis from the use of energy, above all in industry,buildings, and transport. After that, it's agricultureat nearly one-fifth of all emissions. Some think that that's justtoo much to eliminate by 2050. We often think, well,we've got electric cars. We know how todecarbonise electricity.

But unfortunately, electricityonly makes up about 18 per cent of final globalenergy consumption. And we need a lot moreenergy that is currently fossil-fuelled to make stufflike steel, and cement, and plastic, and ammonia,all of these things that are really crucial toour modern way of living. And it's very difficult to seehow we can decarbonise them in time to reduceemissions by nearly half by 2030, and then toalmost nothing by 2050.

Now, critics thinktechnology can't save us in the time we have left. Instead, they say we mustlimit economic growth and simply accept having less. But who's right? Here's a helpful wayto think about it. This equation is calledthe Kaya Identity.

It shows the key factors behindtotal carbon dioxide emissions. Total CO2 depends on thenumber of people in the world and CO2 emissionsper person, which in turn break down further intoeach person's average income or GDP per capita andthe average CO2 emitted per dollar of income. So this Kaya Identity shows thatdecarbonisation must logically happen in one of three ways. We can shrink theworld's population.

We can limit and reduce incomes. Or we can lowerthe amount of CO2 emitted for each dollar of GDP. Let's put to oneside the prospect of reducing thepopulation, which I for one find both immoraland unrealistic. Then, net zerocarbon can only be achieved by cutting economicproduction, degrowth, or finding ways toproduce without emitting.

Greenhouse gases: green growth. That's a debate our next experthas thought deeply about. We can't have it all. We can't get ridof climate change, and just haveperfectly free choices, and enjoy the thingsexactly as we did before. Diana Urge-Vorsatzis a vice-chair on the IntergovernmentalPanel on Climate Change, which.

Has warned against any furtherdelay in cutting emissions. An environmentalscientist in Hungary, she's already changing toa low-carbon lifestyle. I do try to travel much lessby plane unless I really cannot have an alternative. We allow a lot of ourgarden to be taken over by green vegetation, which coolsboth the garden environment, and our house.

I don't buy almost anything new. To Diana Urge-Vorsatz wehave to reduce our material consumption. But that doesn't have to meanour well-being will suffer. So technology alone won'tfix all of climate change. Nevertheless, thisdoes not necessarily mean giving up all the thingsor even some of the things that you said: simply changingour lifestyle, focusing more on well-being rather thanfocusing on consumption.

And consuming stuff. We are happier if we havea better work-life balance, if we are healthier, if we havemore education, if communities are stronger and better. That sounds fine in theory. But if it's difficult toreduce the amount of carbon in our consumption,it can be even harder to demand that peopleshould consume less.

Especially people whoare poor to begin with, like many in India or China,two of the world's biggest emitters, or in otherdeveloping countries. So the question is,whose consumption are you going to shrink? Economist Arvind Subramanian isa former chief economic adviser to the Indian government. And if you thinkyou're going to shrink.

That of those whoare living at barely frugal levels ofconsumption, I mean, that would be completelyunethical and unconscionable. It's completelyclueless politically. Not only that, hesays the rich world is guilty of rankhypocrisy in what it demands from poorer countries. We won't allow fossil fuelsin developing countries. Whereas in advancedcountries themselves,.

You still allow, youwill have natural gas, even if you don'thave coal, you're going to have someform of fossil fuels. So the kind ofimplicit hypocrisy suggests that you, the poor,you use a lot of fossil fuels. Tough luck for you. You have to kind of adjust. If it's callous to suggestdegrowth for poorer countries,.

Then perhaps we can focus iton the consumption of the rich. Degrowth scenariosalso never assume that those segments of thepopulation who don't have yet adequate diet or adequateaccess to education and health would need to degrow. Not at all. They still verymuch need to grow. Letting the poor enjoyeconomic growth need not threaten net zero.

Why? Because carbon emissionsare astonishingly unequal. I think it's avery important fact to understand thatabout one-tenth of the global populationis responsible [for] well over half of allglobal carbon emissions. And it's also truethe other way around. Over half of theworld's population emits less than a tenthof all global emissions.

So even if theygrow tremendously we won't even noticeit in our emissions. But even reducinggrowth only for the rich is not straightforward. It's not as if you have acertain average level of income where you reduce oneand therefore you can transfer thatcostlessly to the poor. If rich countries start slowingdown and you get degrowth,.

Our export markets aregoing to be affected. Our access to technologyand cheaper inputs are going to be affected. Degrowth in one place meansnegative repercussions for the otherparts of the world. All these problems with degrowthconvince me that it cannot address the challengeof climate change. I think that leaves us withonly one option: green growth.

If techno-optimistsare right, it's not our consumption we need tocut but the amount of carbon we emit in satisfying it. And ideally, we'llcut it fast enough to keep economic growth goingwhile moving towards net zero carbon. As the experts put it, weneed to decouple growth.

From emissions. Many countrieshave managed this. Their consumption is growing,but emissions are falling. The question is whetherthe rest can do the same and whether all countriescan do it fast enough. In some sectors, decouplinggrowth from emissions is definitely doable. We have the technology toproduce zero carbon electricity from renewables likewind and solar energy,.

And from non-renewable butemissions-free nuclear power. Decarbonising electricity isreally the low hanging fruit. It's really the easiest,because we have the technology, we know how to do it. Nonetheless, you still haveto invest a huge amount in electricity grid systemsto make it all work at scale. This will costtrillions of dollars. But once done we candecarbonise other sectors by electrifying them.

Electrification oftransport is well under way. And for heavytransport, hydrogen is another carbon-freealternative. The big challenge is flying. It's really difficult. We justdon't have electric planes yet. And it's going to be difficultbecause of the physical density of kerosene versus lithium-ionbatteries to imagine how that gets done very quickly. We're not talking abouta massive contributor.

To the problem yet, butit is growing very fast. Next is energy used in industry. We have the potentialto electrify or use hydrogen in manyindustrial processes too, even if much isstill experimental. We actually do know how tomake green steel, for example. That's being done in a reallyinteresting way in Sweden. But it's really expensive. What about construction?.

It releases carbon dioxideboth from the energy needed to put up buildings andalso from the process used to make materials like cement. But the search foralternatives is on. We have manyskyscrapers today, which are mostly built from timber. Nevertheless, timber isnot available in most of the world in quantities thatwe need for new construction. But the good newsis that you can also.

Use other bio-based materials:agricultural waste, straw. These are all excellentbuilding materials. And we have veryhigh-tech alternatives for cement andpartially also steel. Then there are the bigemissions from agriculture and other uses of land. We need a fundamental changeof how we make agriculture. The present practicesare very unsustainable,.

The big monocultures, andnot only for climate change, but also for biodiversityand also for soil health. So that's where wereally have to go for much smaller fields,much more diversity of things that we produce. We have to go for dietarychange as much as we can. Here's the bottom line. In some areas, likeground transport,.

It's technologicallyfeasible, even easy, to take the carbon out. In other areas, it's morecostly, more difficult, maybe even impossibleto do by 2050: flying, cement making,meat production. And here is thestrongest argument that decarbonisationwill require us to give up some ofthe things we value in our economic well-being.

If that's the case it mayseem like techno-optimism won't save the day after all. But there are other wayswe can bridge this gap to net zero, whichalso rely on better or smarter uses of technology. We can be more efficient inhow we consume so that less of the production is wasted. This goes back tothe Kaya Identity.

In green growth, we wantto reduce carbon dioxide emissions per dollar of income. That can be done in two ways:by reducing energy intensity, the energy used in one dollar'sworth of economic activity, or by reducing carbonintensity, the carbon emitted by using one unit of energy. So we can in fact decarbonisewhile keeping our consumption the same, by keeping our homeswarmer with better insulation, for example, or bytaking the waste out.

Of our food habitsor building designs. But to really be moreefficient we'll need more than individual change. Energy needs dependon our wider systems. For example, how much we designour cities to depend on cars. Yes, we do need systemicchange, because it means we have to do ourcities completely differently. Significantly lesscars, which means we'll need significantly lesssteel, much less concrete.

For parking lots, forroads, while still having the same access to mobility. Now, if we can'teliminate all the carbon we emit, then anotherway to get to net zero is to suck out the remainingcarbon from the atmosphere, as trees do. And the easiestway to do that is to plant more trees,which is what they do here.

At the Forest of MarstonVale in the east of England. We can certainlyplant more trees. But it's a race between thetrees and the fossil fuels, essentially. And at the moment the morethat we extract and use fossil fuels themore difficult it is to imagine thatforests and indeed oceans are going to be able to continueto absorb the CO2 pollution.

If planting moretrees isn't enough, then we come to the morespeculative possibilities of negative carbon technologies:carbon capture and storage. We talk about technologieslike direct air capture and even carbon captureand sequestration. These things in 2022 reallydon't exist at scale. And not only do theynot exist at scale, but the policies neededto increase them at scale.

Don't exist. I just feel that we'veunderinvested globally in this. We've all gotten a bitenamoured of renewables. And therefore, that'swhere all the R&D effort, and the excitement,and entrepreneurship has been. If we focused a little bitmore attention on that, maybe we'll get a lot moreaction on this as well. As you can see, the debate abouthow far technology can get us is far from settled.

So where does that leave us? If we can't be sure that wecan take enough carbon out of the atmosphere,then the aim must be to put as littleas we can into it. And it's clear to me that we canmake large parts of our economy emissions-free if we do threethings: electrify everything we can, make all thatelectricity carbon-free, and push fortechnological advances.

To decarbonise the rest. For those threethings to happen, we need two 'Is':incentives and investments. The Norwegian experiencewith electric cars shows the power of incentives. Get the price rightand people will switch. If we can do it, any othercountry can do it as well. It's all aboutdeciding that this is where we're going togo and implement policies.

To make it happen. But switching alsorequires huge investments to scale up existingtech, like batteries and hydrogen-poweredlorries, to build smart grids to manage electricity, andto advance the tech that is still at its earlystages, like green steel and electric planes. These investments are drivenby incentives too, of course. It has to cost youto emit carbon.

So if I'm runninga steel factory and selling my steelaround the world, and I'm told, well, if youwant to make that green, you're going to have to buy awhole lot of new equipment, and you may have todouble the price of it, I'm not really going to beterribly keen to do that. And in the absence ofa carbon price that's going to essentially force me todo it, why am I going to do it?.

A carbon price means quitesimply paying for emissions. The more carbon usedthe higher the price. If designed well itcreates an incentive to switch to greener tech. The good news is thatcarbon pricing is starting to happen in earnest. Canada and Norway haveset carbon taxes on a path to well above $100per tonne by 2030. In the EU some industrieshave to buy allowances.

To emit carbon and the marketprice of those allowances reached recordhighs in early 2022. And with a war inUkraine fossil fuels themselves are alreadybecoming very expensive. But there is stilla long way to go, as investors are juststarting to look away from carbon-basedenergy to green tech. When that switch happens itwill be deeply disruptive. Anything based oncarbon becomes pricier.

And workers in carbon-intensiveactivities will be hit too. If you were to go and closedown every aluminium smelter, every steelmakingoutlet, if you went about trying to reallyradically decarbonise quickly, people would bethrown out of work. Given all this, doI really believe we can reach net zerowithout big sacrifices? I started out asking howour lives will change.

If we reach net zero by 2050. That's a big 'if'. Politicians facedifficult decisions. We have to transform ourindustry and our energy. Huge amounts have to beinvested into new technology. And a lot of thatwill feel like a cost. There'll be new taxes,lots of expensive equipment to invest in, and somejobs will be lost. But taxes on carbon canbe redistributed to those.

Who have the most to lose. I am very much in favour of acarbon fee and dividend policy, where instead of just puttinga carbon price on something and then the government takingthe money and using it to build new schools, hospitals,whatever it feels like, you return it to people in theform of a cheque, a dividend. If greaterinvestments mean we'll have to consume alittle less now,.

They do safeguardhigher standards of living in the future. So in a net zero world Ibelieve we won't feel deprived of much that we enjoy today. Nor will we stopthe world's poor from moving intomiddle-class lifestyles. Maybe we'll fly a littleless, cut back a bit on meat, pay slightly more foreverything from food to gadgets. We'll organise our lives ina more energy-efficient way.

But here is what hasreally struck me. The experts I've spoken tothink that decarbonisation will be difficult, yes. But not painful. Quite the opposite. With electric carsand electric vehicles we can continue the lifethat we like living today without too much sacrifice. Of course, we should have publictransport, bikes and so on,.

In the cities. But we do need vehiclesto work our lives. The only way weget to net zero is if growth happens andstandards of living rise. We'll have cracked the energyuse, the energy access problem. So a net zero world, if we getit, is going to be, I think, unambiguously positivefor everyone in the world. I think the greatestthing about it will be that we are goingto have much more free time.

And as a result, I won'tbe consuming that much. For example, I hope that Iwon't need to have my own car, but I still can getto anywhere I want to. If we're buying our food morelocally, it tastes better, it might last longer. There are lots ofways of imagining that a decarbonisedlife is not that hugely different to the one thatwe lead at the moment, and in many ways hugely better.

This doesn't sound likea life of sacrifice. But we do have an enormous jobto do and not a moment to lose. Every second ofdelay puts that net zero goal further from reach. Where we will have toaccept fundamental change is in our politics. We'll need a muchgreater more active role of the governmentin our economy,.

Taxes that drive usaway from carbon, and policies that make forless consumption and more investment. The reward comes in greenertech-driven policies that decarbonise and protectour material well-being. What I hope andbelieve is that this means having more forless: more economic growth, with ever less fossil energy. In this sense, Ithink techno-optimists.

Can agree with degrowthadvocates on one thing. We need to embrace cuttingcarbon radically and fast. But unlike the degrowthers,techno-optimists think people will respond tothat by developing and adopting green technology so economicgrowth doesn't need to suffer. Because if we try tohold back growth itself and not how it's generated, thenI'm certain people will rebel. We will reach net zero in waysthat make European middle-class lifestyles availableand sustainable.

To everyone on the planet. Otherwise, I fear wewon't get there at all. And finally, we'd loveto hear what you think. So please share your comments.‘Net zero won't change the way we live’  | Free Lunch on Film

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