Yesterday was a good day for the global effort to tackle the climate crisis
We live in a world where the default-setting for much of the media is one of studied cynicism. And quite right too. I mean, just look at... *gestures at everything*.
Consequently, when governments or business leaders come together to promise to clean up their act or build a cleaner, greener world, as they have done again this week through the Petersberg Climate Dialogue conference, the inevitable response is a snorted "I'll believe it when I see it".
This is entirely reasonable and serves a valuable social purpose, helping to ensure those in power are not greeted with excess credulity when they over-promise or gloss over their myriad failures. However, the problem comes when the promises are delivered upon, when real tangible progress is made, and no one notices. "Show us action, not words," people cry. But all too often they the ignore the action when it materialises, either willfully or simply because they have been distracted by the next shiny new story.
Yesterday, provided a case in point. Everyone's attention is understandably on the continuing coronavirus crisis. What focus has been assigned to environmental issues was likely aimed at the Petersberg Dialogue and growing calls for a climate-focused stimulus programme.
And yet, at precisely the same time a flurry of stories revealed how while a green stimulus programme remains essential, genuinely encouraging progress is continuing even in the midst of the worst global crisis in nearly 70 years.
At 6:10am yesterday morning it was confirmed the UK has completed its longest run of coal-free power since 1882. The record is important, but more important still is the recent evidence the grid has been operating comfortably for several weeks now with variable renewables as the dominant power source. The blackouts renewables-critics used to predict have been nowhere to be seen.
We are going to see a lot more renewables in the mix, because as BloombergNEF's latest report highlighted, two third of the world's population live in regions where wind and solar power represent the cheapest route for delivering new power capacity. And energy storage costs are plummeting too.
Companies understand this cost competitiveness, which is why this week also saw news Nestle UK has signed a major deal to source power from the one of the UK's largest offshore wind farms.
Investors get it too, which is why Oxford University confirmed this week it is not just divesting its endowment from fossil fuels, it will also be demanding that all the companies it invests in have credible net zero strategies.
And the green news avalanche did not stop there. In many ways standing on a stage (or staring down a webcam) and pledging to deliver net zero emissions and climate resilient recovery is the easy part for politicians. The difficult part is delivering the policies that can make the world's largest and fastest industrial revolution actually happen.
As such, it was hugely encouraging to today see a besieged Whitehall still manage to launch a major new consultation exercise on how the government plans to deliver a massive uptick in green heating installation rates and unpick one of the thorniest of decarbonisation challenges. Critics maintain significantly more support will be required to make green heat happen at scale, but the new proposals suggest that at last Ministers and officials are recognising bolder interventions are needed to decarbonise heating systems.
Moreover, beyond these practical steps forward the dialogue coming from the Petersberg Dialogue was genuinely encouraging. In the wake of the 2008 financial crash talk of Green New Deals and climate stimulus packages was largely confined to academic seminar rooms and environmental NGO away days. Some politicians did run with the idea. A number of pioneering clean tech companies benefitted from post-crash funding and loan schemes, while President Obama did manage to tie auto industry bailouts to new emissions standards. But no government truly foregrounded climate action as part of their recovery packages.
In stark contrast, virtually every senior figure talking at this week's conference, including Angela Merkel, Antonio Guterres, and Dominic Raab explicitly backed calls for climate focused recoveries. Conservative MPs, such as Dominic Raab who previously belonged to the climate ambivalent, Britannia Unchained wing of the party are now warning the challenge of climate change "has not gone away" and demands government action.
While the world is rightly focused on #COVID19, challenges of climate change have not gone away.— Dominic Raab (@DominicRaab) April 28, 2020
Here's my message to world leaders at the Petersberg Dialogue on behalf of @10DowningStreet & @COP26 on the need for ambitious plans to tackle climate change pic.twitter.com/xXNcitvnhI
Cynicism still has a vitally important role to play, especially when the past decade has seen global emissions spiral upwards even as more and more governments and businesses have nominally pledged to decarbonise. But in the midst of a crisis sometimes it is worth reflecting that beyond the warm words on climate action, tangible steps forward are being made. There is actual, genuine, good news to be found, if you know where to look.
A version of this article originally appeared in the BusinessGreen Overnight Briefing email, which is available to all BusinessGreen subscribers.