So, what was 2020? Exceptional? Sure. Astonishing? Yes. But good? Well, that’s a tricky question. Basically, yes, actually 2020 was a pretty good year. We were able to respond appropriately on a threat of global dimension, we have managed the unexpected challenges of the COVID-19 crisis so far and are now shortly before several and safe vaccines are available. Even though it seems as if we have lost control over the COVID-19 crisis for the moment, in a long-term perspective we can see the end of the pandemic is near. And that is what really counts. We have done quite well on this crisis and we should be proud of it. We have seen change. We have seen the will and in particular the political will. We have seen care and humanity. We have truly seen what makes us human.
However, we should still be aware of the future. This time, our system was resilient enough to deal with the crisis. This time. Yet, there are more crises looming at the horizon. Our economic system is trapped in a deadlock of mounting debts. Our climate warms, our biodiversity decreases, our soils get lost and our environment is getting highly polluted. We need to act on these crises as well. And we need to act on them now, because we cannot trust on our systems ability again to be resilient enough if one or more of these crises start to explode like the pandemic did in 2020.
Several climate tipping points are almost reached if not already passed. This holds not only for tropical coral reefs but also for the Artic and Antarctic as well as for the Greenland Ice Sheet. Urgent action is, thus, required to limit global warming to well below 1,5 °C or at least 2 °C. We have already passed 1.1 °C and currently, global warming increases further due to still unabated global greenhouse gas emissions.
At least, climate change has finally become a major political issue. The European Union, China and the USA as well as other industrial nations has pledged to become climate- or at least carbon-neutral by mid-century. This is in line with the Paris Agreement, but it is not enough to stay within 1.5 °C or at least 2 °C.
According to the 2020 UNEP Emissions Gap Report, we are heading for at least 2.5 °C of global warming until 2100. Even now, only at 1.1 °C of global warming, extreme weather events had already increased in number, frequency and intensity. We can already see the manifold impacts of climate change in almost every region of the world. “Our house is on fire.” Now try to imagine what our world would look like, if we do not limit global warming but keep accelerating it even more.
At the beginning of 2020 and in the aftermath of the devastating bushfires in Australia, the term “new normal” was shaped in the public media. Now there is a problem with this term because it is simply false. What we see is not a new normal but only the beginning of a dramatic shift in our climate system. And it’s getting worse with every tenth of a degree.
Due to this, it is obvious that current ambitions are not enough. We don’t have time anymore. Climate-neutrality by mid-century is a nice-to-have, but inadequate to solve the problem. Therefore, immediate and more ambitious action is indispensable.
The good thing is that innovation and processes have been taking place in the background for many years now. Change is coming. And quite likely it is going to come faster than we may think. We may soon enter into a period of disruptive development. Digitalization, electrification, clean energy, behavioral changes due to better knowledge and improved efficiencies will soon pass societal and economic tipping points and develop large scale. Green technologies are on the breakthrough, while established technologies already start to disappear. And that makes perfectly sense because green and smart technologies are more efficient than established technologies, they are sustainable, and due to more opportunities and less pollution they will make our lives even more livable.
We see some big things coming. And we see them changing everything. Transitioning to a net-zero economy implies changes for every single business. Those, that are not able to switch to climate-neutrality, will sooner or later disappear. However, what may sound as a tremendous challenge at first sight is in fact a huge opportunity for our economies as their will be and already is a growing demand for green and climate-neutral products. Therefore, there is no reasonable reason why one should not invest in green products and technologies. And to get prepared for the transition in terms of understanding the changes and getting to know the possibilities it offers for oneself. A whole new economic sector is about to emerge within the next ten to twenty years and it offers a myriad of opportunities.
Currently, we stand at the edge of a cliff and must fear to fall down. But there is so much hope looking over the water that if we keep pushing the transition forward, we will not fall down but build back better our way for the future.
We have, hopefully, heard the shot of the pandemic. Now we know what is at stake if we keep gambling with our luck. This time we were able to respond appropriately, but we also need to be able to respond likewise in the future as well. In particular, as those crises looming at the horizon would imply far worse outcomes than those of the pandemic. So, 2020 was a good year, because it proved us that we and foremost our politicians actually are able to respond, to take urgent action and to realise change.
2021 needs to be a game changing year for the transition. And it can be it. Trillions of dollars will be invested to recover economically from the pandemic. Green technologies are abundantly available and wait to scale exponentially. There is a huge window of opportunity at exactly the right time. Missing it would mean to lose everything. But there are sparkles of hope that we will see the transition soon if we keep pushing it forward. Together.
"Currently, we stand at the edge of a cliff and must fear to fall down. But there is so much hope looking over the water that if we keep pushing the transition forward, we will not fall down but build back better our way for the future." - Patrick Hohlwegler