RIP: The Petrol Engine, 1884 - 2028

Will it soon be time to open the first retrospective museum dedicated to the internal combustion engine?

The road to the future is clear – and the petrol car isn’t on it, says Christiana Figueres, the former Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

How we are shifting away from carbon?
Transportation is clearly showing sign
s of accelerated transition towards a low-carbon model. It would not be too much of a fairy-tale to suggest that we could see the first museum dedicated to the internal combustion engine in just the next 10 to 15 years, such is the scale of progress.

It’s exciting to imagine how quickly this revolution could combine electrification with shared mobility and driverless mobility; changes that point toward mobility moving from being a commodity to a service as our ownership of vehicles diminishes.

It may be that the rise of electric vehicles will also foster an important working relationship between the private and the public sector.
 So, while manufacturing companies have challenging deadlines for moving to electric vehicles, one possibility is that the universal charging infrastructure needed to power them could be built by the public sector, or even by privately held utilities, in order to be ready at the same time as widespread electric vehicles.

Countries With Petrol Car Bans
Norway – 2025
Netherlands – 2030
Germany – 2030
India – 2030
Scotland – 2032
England & Wales – 2040
France – 2040

Are we running out of time when it comes to climate change?
There is a fast closing window of opportunity for the world to address climate change and in doing so, human ingenuity and the commitment to collaborate will be our greatest resource.

By 2020 we need to be bending the curve of emissions – a line that has been heading upwards for 100 years – into a downward curve that can help close the door to maximum temperature rises. This will allow us to stay within the manageable limits of temperature rise of well below two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.

Thirty years later, by 2050, society needs to be fully decarbonised, with zero net emissions. This is far removed from where we are now. If we fail, we will be allowing the intensity and a frequency of natural disasters to reach such high levels, that most countries would be in permanent reconstruction mode, and we will be paying high human life costs.

Bending the curve of emissions by 2020 is our first checkpoint on 
the way to a better future, giving us just enough time to manage the transition to net zero emissions by 2050. Meeting the turning point will help us lock in a clean energy, clean air, sustainable infrastructure future that supports economic development, thriving communities and our life-sustaining ecosystems. So let’s not be late.

Wind energy is the fastest growing mode of electricity production across the planet. Photo credit Jason Blackeye

Some say the USA’s current administration will slow things down. How true is this statement?
Of course, there is always politics involved. But the recent statements from the White House regarding energy are akin to saying: “We don’t believe in cellular phones, we are going to go back to landlines”, just as the world is perfecting cell phone technology. It is not in America’s interest to do that and it would put them at a disadvantage compared to other economies.

Are we on track to make the 2020 turning point?
Time moves swiftly and while it’s difficult to make sweeping statements, my impression is that millennials and the younger generation have a much higher awareness of environmental protection and economic opportunity.

The myth that you have to choose between environmental protection and economic growth has long since been put to bed. The only way to achieve effective change is to do it across both imperatives. Our economic growth depends on the protection and enhancement of natural capital to grow financial capital. Millennials understand this and are being pretty discerning about the kind of jobs they apply for and how they want to use the cutting-edge technologies of the future. I sympathise with the concerns of many of them that we are not seeing the transition at the pace that they know is necessary. But I maintain my optimism because I have seen the huge shift that has already taken place over the last 20 to 30 years. Over the course of the next generation, we have at our disposal everything we need to achieve a radical transformation away from carbon as the fundamental energy source. Against the backdrop of the science-based need for speed on climate action, this is an extraordinary, unique-in-time opportunity, for us all.

Christiana Figueres, former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

Are we successfully adopting renewable energy?

Over the last decade we have seen the advance of renewable energy continue to evolved at an accelerated pace – perhaps helping to address some of the economic disparity that we witness around the world today.

Never before had we seen the prices of renewables drop so quickly. A growing number of countries – at least 20 already – have committed to powering past coal, and investments in renewables have been beating records year on year.

This technology will allow reliable energy generation to penetrate to the farthest corners of the world, where freely decentralised electricity could lead to widespread improvements in the lives of the 1.1 billion people who currently don’t have electricity. Women, who have to walk for hours every
day to get water and food, children who can’t study at night, and adults with no capacity to put time into a productive occupation.

Having the technical capacity to electrify every single home is absolutely revolutionary; so it may be that this change could be a cornerstone of economic development and poverty eradication in the future. Last year, we heard of the Indian Prime Minister’s intent to electrify every single non-electrified home in India with renewable energy and that is the kind of commitment we need to have across the world if we are to eradicate poverty. In the medium term, the combination of renewable energy, decentralised storage and digital innovation could also increase the efficiency of energy around the world substantially.

There is a fast closing window of opportunity for the world to address climate change. Photo credit Adam Kedem

What is your biggest worry for the future of the human race?
As the time for humankind to meet these tough deadlines approaches, we must work hard to ensure these huge transitions take place across the world in a just, economically inclusive way that leaves no-one behind. We must also be watchful that the concentration of benefits from change do not become too centralised, but rather that the shift creates equitable access to the opportunities that will abound.

Christiana Figueres is an internationally recognised leader on global climate change. She was Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 2010 – 2016 and is currently the Convenor of Mission 2020.