Figures lie and liars figure, but if the figures presented by researchers from Radboud University, the University of Cambridge/C-EENRG, Cambridge Econometrics, The Open University, and the University of Macau and published in the journal Nature Climate Change this week are correct, the transition from fossil fuels to renewables is now unstoppable whether nations adhere to their commitments under the Paris climate accords or not.
In the wake of such change, assets valued at trillions of dollars will become stranded as what the researchers call the “carbon bubble” collapses, leading to global economic instability similar to what the world experienced in 2007.
The researchers used advanced computer modeling techniques to arrive at their conclusions. Such techniques have come under fire from fossil fuel advocates, who accuse climate scientists of cooking their research to fit their preconceived notions. We here at CleanTechnica believe the opposite is true.
“If countries keep investing in equipment to search for, extract, process and transport fossil fuels, even though their demand declines, they will end up losing money on these investments on top of their losses due to limited exports,” explains lead author J F Mercure of Radboud University and C-EENRG.
“Countries should instead carefully deflate the carbon bubble through investment in a variety of industries and steady divestment. The way in which this is done will determine the impact of the ongoing low-carbon transition on the financial sector.”
Hector Pollitt, study co-author from Cambridge Econometrics and C-EENRG, adds: “This new research clearly shows the mismatch between the reductions in fossil fuel consumption required to meet carbon targets and the behavior of investors. Governments have an important role to play in emphasizing commitments to meet the Paris Agreement to ensure that the significant detrimental economic and geopolitical consequences we have identified are avoided.”
Just this week, 288 of the world’s largest investors wrote a joint letter to world leaders attending the G7 conference in Toronto calling on them to close coal power generating stations, stop subsidizing fossil fuels, and ramp up their carbon reduction policies in accordance with their commitments to each other in Paris in 2015.
Examining the impacts of new low and zero emissions technology on multiple countries, the computer modeling suggests countries that continue to base their economies on fossil fuel exploration, use, and export will suffer the most economic harm when the carbon bubble bursts. “This means that by 2035, GDP growth is affected negatively in producer countries such as the US and Russia, while it is affected positively in importing countries such as the EU and China,” Dr. Mercure says.
The researchers say in their report, “New efficiency standards imply that we do more with the same amounts of energy, as older, less efficient technologies are gradually phased out. The transition is therefore irreversible; however its pace can vary according to whether and how new climate policies are implemented.”
The best way to avoid economic damage when the carbon bubble bursts is to start reducing carbon emissions early.
“Divestment is a prudential thing to do. We should be carefully looking at where we are investing our money. For instance, much like companies, pension funds and other institutions currently invest in fossil fuel assets. Following recommendations from central banks, commercial banks are increasingly looking at the financial risks of stranded fossil fuel assets, even though their possible impacts have not yet been fully determined.”
“Until now, observers mostly paid attention to the likely effectiveness of climate policies, but not to the ongoing and effectively irreversible technological transition. This level of ‘creative destruction’ appears inevitable now and must be carefully managed,” Mercure concludes.
It should be noted that the United States under Donald Trump is racing ahead with a plan to become the largest fossil fuel exporter in the world, which is one step in the process of making America great again, according to the wisdom of the polluter in chief. If the researchers are correct, that policy will ultimately bankrupt the United States and allow other nations to amplify their influence in the world as the sun slowly sets on the American Empire.
We may not find out which view of the future is correct for a decade or two, but the scientific evidence suggests the US has chosen the wrong road and is speeding headlong toward a financial cliff. “We’ll see,” said the Zen master.