The electricity sector, one of the major areas where the challenge of climate change can be met, is at the center of a revolution.
The reality it faces is that we need to multiply carbon productivity – GDP generated per tonne of CO2 emissions – by a factor of ten between now and 2050 if we are to solve the climate change problem and maintain economic growth. In the Industrial Revolution, the labor productivity of the United States increased tenfold between 1830 and 1955. We have to replicate the scale of that achievement but do it three times faster.
The good news is that the investments needed to convert our society into a low-carbon-emitting economy will generate faster economic growth over the coming decades. They will help create jobs, foster technological innovation and ensure that this growth, together with an improvement in quality of life, will be truly sustainable. Here lies the opportunity, particularly important in the current economic environment, that the world cannot miss.
Many argue that there is no time left to strike the right balance. The Copenhagen UN Conference on Climate Change is therefore key to providing momentum to make changes irreversible. It requires the involvement and commitment of all stakeholders to reach a global and lasting agreement.
A snapshot of where we are today does not provide the full story; we must look at the entire “movie” to understand this script. Countries that have benefited from the free and distorted regime regarding CO2 emissions of the last decades need to be sensitive to those that have not, in order to reach a fair, sustainable and balanced outcome.
A successful Copenhagen Conference is one at which binding, quantified and ambitious targets for 2020 will be set by developed countries and, more importantly, where indicative longer term (i.e. 2050) targets are agreed for developing nations that include China, India and Brazil. A common international CO2 emission trading framework must be implemented, financing solutions must be created and innovation transfer must be strongly promoted.
Participants require a new mindset that approaches these changes as an opportunity, not a cost. Governments must provide the correct incentives and companies have the responsibility to implement them.
However, equally important is that every person acknowledges that success also depends on each one of us. We must change our individual behavior – for example, energy can already be generated in our homes from renewable sources and in the near future we will be able to switch to electric cars. We need to be actors, not spectators. For better or for worse, the world remains in our hands.
I am proud that EDP is setting an example and leading the way. We have been able to anticipate the changes and are prepared for a post-Copenhagen world. Today we are the company with the largest hydroelectric development program in Europe, the second largest listed wind operator in the world and a leader in wave power technology. However, we believe that renewable energy is not sufficient: EDP is also in the front line in the development of electric mobility, smart grids and energy efficiency as well as promoting cutting edge innovation, through direct and indirect support of energy-related start-up projects by EDP Inovação.
The grandchildren of our grandchildren will look back in history and study this moment. Let’s make history for the right reasons.
António Mexia is CEO of EDP – Energias de Portugal.