Yesterday, a pretty astounding headline started making the rounds of the Internet:
G7 leaders agree to phase out fossil fuel use by end of century. (That particular headline is from The Guardian.)
This is a significant coup for climate hawks, especially given that the G7 includes tar-sands rich Canada. And yet I see many Internet commenters voicing their incredulity: 2100 is simply too slow, given the speed at which the climate is already changing.
In many ways these angry voices are right. Many were hoping for more ambitious push by 2050 – and many individual G7 member countries including the United Kingdom and the United States have emission reduction targets of around 80 percent by that date – but this collective commitment to actually phase out fossil fuels completely, now signed onto by recalcitrant nations like Canada and Japan, represents a significant statement about where the future is headed.
As I've argued before, once we are firmly headed in a particular direction, the pace at which we get there becomes less about specific government targets, and more about the sheer momentum of social and technological change.
As Big Energy starts eating itself, as financial institutions stop lending to carbon-intensive projects that risk becoming stranded assets, and as utilities themselves diversify and even quit fossil fuels in an effort to avoid divestment, smart investors will at least have to acknowledge that there's significant uncertainty about how long fossil fuels will remain a viable investment—and which fossil fuels will fall first.
Meanwhile with Chinese coal consumption dropping precipitously, entire cities aiming for 100% renewables well before 2100 and individual corporations pledging eye-watering amounts of money to ramp up clean energy, there are now significant and rapidly growing opportunities to invest in the solutions of the future.
I thought the fossil fuel industry looked worried back in February. I suspect that this weekend has done little to ease their fears.