In its October 2018 Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5° C, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provided governments with top-level policy advice on how to transition from brown (polluting) processes like thermal coal power to green (clean) ones, such as electrified transport.
This report represented a sharp escalation in its messaging, which began in the 1990s. However, worldwide efforts are lagging on introducing meaningful policies designed to accelerate the transition from brown to green.
What's the point of climate policies and regulations?
In the context of the environment, policies and regulations should serve two functions:
Protect society and the natural environment from environmental threats
As such, the policy measures should be guided by science-based and data/risk-driven processes.
Guide the private sector to more investment and greater innovation in green rather than brown products and processes.
Policy/regulatory interventions that governments design should be legally binding.
They should have consequences for market actors that choose to ignore regulations.
Unfortunately, the current policies in place don't have enough "teeth." Think of this like a referee in a competitive sport that either has no whistle or is unable to blow it.
You're refereeing a competitive sport game and realize that some players are playing dirty because it helps them win. What do you do?
Why do brown industries fight regulations?
InfluenceMap.org's ongoing research details the opposition by corporate vested interests against climate policies and regulations.
These interests include brown players like coal, oil, and gas companies that strategically block binding measures that would impose a cost on their outdated business models.
But crucially, these vested interests also include other sectors like chemicals, power, automotive, and heavy industry. While green options exist within these sectors — electric vs. internal combustion engine vehicles, for example — corporate actors also wish to maximize the life span of their legacy investments.
Why are corporations slow to go green?
Many corporations hope to maintain short-term profits from brown activities while slowly planning for the inevitable transition to green.
Many companies have championed the idea that voluntary measures, long-term targets, and "corporate social responsibility" are sufficient tools to drive change.
Unfortunately, the IPCC argues that we can no longer wait for a corporate-driven timeline for the brown-green energy transition. Voluntary compliance is not working.
What could strong regulations look like?
The need for binding government rules to guide business activities in the urgent transition from brown to green is now more apparent than ever.
Regulators have a range of tools available in solving what is essentially an issue of polluting emissions:
Binding emission limits for vehicles
Fiscal incentives for renewable energy
The banning of polluting processes like methane flaring by the oil/gas sector
Meaningful market structures like emissions trading systems (with no loop holes)
Such measures have been conceived and attempted over the last decades by science-based regulatory bodies like the US Environmental Protection Agency. But the overwhelming response from the corporate sector has been to oppose such measures and instead promote a voluntary approach.
The next few years likely represent the last best chance to begin implementing a comprehensive plan to "green" the economy.
Any delays beyond 2025 could see the accelerating impacts of climate change cross dangerous tipping points, all but guaranteeing a disorderly transition (too little, too late).
Such an outcome would hurt the economy and the business sectors clinging to outdated business models.
Learn more about how meaningful regulations can drive the transition to a clean energy future: