What does an environmentalist do when she realizes that the numbers simply don’t add up? She co-founds a new, evidence-based NGO to tackle those challenges.
Energy for Humanity (EfH) was founded to help us solve two pressing problems: halting climate change and reducing air pollution by moving towards clean energy sources and helping reduce poverty by making modern energy services more available to all people.
These two goals might sound simple, but solving them will also offer solutions to a much wider variety of problems we face, starting with population growth and gender equality.
Kirsty Gogan has worked most of her life on environmental issues, and has done so from many different positions. She has been an activist, a communications professional, a government advisor and an advocate for clean energy and climate mitigation. She is also a mother of two.
Back in 2014, she co-founded Energy for Humanity with Robert Stone (award-winning director of the documentary Pandora’s Promise) and Daniel Aegeter (a Swiss entrepreneur and philanthropist).
Energy can improve living standards
– If we can improve the living standards of the poor by improving their access to energy services, we also address many of the other pressing problems that humanity has as well, says Gogan.
According to Gogan, energy access and increasing living standards will enable children, especially girls, to go to school, often leading to more egalitarian society in the long term. This can help reduce crippling and even lethal diseases and nutrient deficiencies, further increasing human well-being and productivity. It is a positive self-reinforcing cycle, that can lead – with the proper institutions and laws in place – to lower fertility rates, helping us solve the overpopulation problem in the long term.
If emissions from the energy sector drop to zero by 2040, we have a 50 per cent change of staying under 1.5 °C warming. If they drop to zero by 2060, we have a 66 per cent chance of staying under 2 °C warming. These scenarios assume there will be no net-negative emissions, meaning that we will not be able to remove carbon from the atmosphere more, for example by growing trees, than we emit.
– One of the big solutions we can use to solve these problems is nuclear energy. It is low emissions, has no air pollution and offers affordable and reliable energy, and unlike hydro-power, can scale up and be built on much more locations.
The amount of renewable energy or nuclear power is not relevant. Only the emissions are decisive.
Energy for Humanity supports all clean and low-carbon energy technologies, including solar, wind hydro and nuclear energy. Surely it would not be a good idea to start building nuclear reactors in unstable, poor nations?
– While there are options even for those, such as offshore reactors situated on a barge or something like that, it would often not be a good idea. These countries lack the social stability, the proper institutions and expertise, and often have quite a bit of corruption as well, to make nuclear power feasible, says Gogan, and continues:
– But this is where the rich countries need to step up. There is no moral excuse for developed countries to keep on burning coal and then opposing clean energy, often especially nuclear, on largely made-up, populist and intellectually dishonest arguments. We have burned our share.
It all comes down to the carbon budget
Carbon budget is the amount of emissions we, as a collective, can emit before the risks of runaway climate change grow too large. While there is an ongoing discussion on what the remaining carbon budget is and what level of risk we are willing to tolerate, we do know that it is limited, and that it is not very much.
According to The International Energy Agency (IEA), for example, by the end of 2017, humanity has constructed enough infrastructure that will eat our remaining emissions budget on their operative lifetime to stay below 2 degrees C warming, a goal that most nations have agreed not to surpass in the long term.
– It means that from 2018 forwards, we should only build zero-carbon power plants, factories and other infrastructure. It is not going to happen, of course, but that is all the more reason for the rich countries to step up their efforts on all clean energy sources. Today, nuclear energy is often either ignored or actively forbidden in many rich countries, leading to more emissions, Gogan says.
It’s the emissions, stupid
This is why EfH published a report with the title Climate Leadership Report 2017 – Measuring the Metrics that Matter during the recent climate negotiations (COP23) in Bonn, Germany. The Energiewende -policy of the host country, Germany, has long been the poster-child of the global environmental movement – largely because its goal of shutting down nuclear and replacing it with renewable energy.
But when one takes a hard look at the actual climate results, it has been an expensive disappointment. This failure needs to be communicated to the policy-makers of the world, so others can learn from it and aim for more effective climate and energy policies.
Kirsty Gogan concludes:
–The only metric that matters for climate change is the carbon intensity of the economy and the amount of actual emissions we release. Not the amount of renewable energy, not the amount of efficiency, not the amount of nuclear energy. Emissions matter. That is where we need to keep our eye on. This is something we aimed at when we did our first ever Climate Leadership report in late 2017.