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The Climate Change Struggle: A Little Ray of Sunshine?

I’ve written about climate change in this blog before, and it’s rarely been good news. After you’ve read about the serious rise in global temperatures now being inevitable, the government abolishing the Department for Climate Change and flooding right here in Tameside I wouldn’t blame you for feeling a bit hopeless.

That’s why I welcomed a bit of optimistic climate-related news last week. We know that the only way to reduce our global CO2 emissions is to make a serious move away from using fossil fuels to generate most of our electricity and power our vehicles. Up until now most people thought that it wouldn’t be economically possible. A new report from Imperial College, London and the Climate Tracker think-tank, rather aptly titled “Expect the Unexpected” instead offers the argument that growth in the electric vehicle and solar panel market could led to demand for fossils fuels peaking as early as 2020.

Let me give you an example to show how they reached that conclusion. When IBM released the first PC in 1981 it cost almost £8,000, and that was considered cheap. Around about the same time, Ken Olsen, the founder of computer company Digital Equipment Corporation, said “There is no reason why anyone would want a computer in their home”. Fast forward thirty or so years, I’m writing this blog on a laptop that costs 40 times less and is easily thousands of times more powerful than that IBM PC. That laptop is also one of an estimated two billion computers that are used around the world, in everything from phones to cars to household appliances and goodness knows what else.

What’s the point I’m trying to make? When a new technology appears it’s almost always expensive and impractical, but it gets cheaper, more powerful and easier to use very quickly. As it was with computers, so it looks like it’s going to be with renewable energy. The cost of solar panels has fallen by 85% in the last seven years, while batteries for electric vehicles are 73% cheaper now than they were in 2008. If those costs keep going down people, businesses and countries might start using renewable energy not because if any particular feelings about climate change, but because it’ll actually be cheaper than fossil fuels.

Of course, it’s all very well saying that, but it looks like there are enough willing to take that prediction to the bank. Saudi Arabia, not exactly a country people think of when it comes to renewable energy, is looking to invest £40 billion in wind and solar power by 2030. China is planning for half of its increase in electricity generation over the next 4 years to come from £291 billion worth of renewable energy infrastructure. Almost all of Costa Rica’s electricity in 2016 was produced by renewable energy, compared to 5.7% in the UK over the same time.

Tameside is doing its bit as well. The Greater Manchester Pension Fund, administered in Droylsden and chaired by yours truly, has invested £150 million in the UK’s second largest onshore windfarm in South Lanarkshire, Scotland. Closer to home we’re continuing to roll out LED lighting to all of Tameside’s streets, recycling bins to all our town centres and thousands of trees in every space we can find for them. We’ve also worked closely with our residents to increase recycling in the borough by over 50%, with more to come in the future.

So let’s not underestimate the challenges that we face by choosing to tackle climate change, but let’s not underestimate the opportunities either. Putting Tameside and Greater Manchester at the forefront of the struggle is not just the right thing for the planet; it may very well be the right thing for creating the jobs and the economy of the future as well.

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