Leading by Example: How We Can Inspire an Energy and Security Revolution

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And incremental change will not suffice — the challenge is just too great for that. The only solution is to fundamentally transform our key economic systems — our energy system, food production system, our cities, and our goods manufacturing system. We simply have no other option. As environmental pressures mount, and some governments falter, we need to find ways to harness the disruptive power of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in the cause of sustainability.

The proliferation of data sources and new tools for finding signal in the noise can create inescapable public accountability for controlling GHG emissions or protecting forests or even conserving groundwater. The Fourth Industrial Revolution can also enable the transition to sustainability. It promises new tools to manage public resources, even as ecosystems and resources are increasingly in flux. New tools for tracing products from origin to use to disposal can help small producers access global markets, enable buyers and consumers to support better management, and lubricate a circular economy.

Big markets are well-served by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Temperature records were smashed month by month from January through to August making it the warmest year since records began. The Arctic was hit by an unprecedented heat-shock in November, halting the refreeze of sea ice. We need emergency measures.

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Germany Has Some Revolutionary Ideas, and They're Working

This is not only economically feasible, the good news is we have already started to follow the Carbon Law. The Global Carbon Project reports that annual emissions have not grown for three years running, even with strong economic growth globally, and renewable capacity is expanding exponentially. What does this mean in practice? Current emissions are about 40 Gigatonnes of carbon dioxide GtC. Following the Carbon Law we need to reach 20GtC by , 10GtC by , and 5GtC by , when the world economy is net-zero for carbon with food production pulling out more than 5GtC from the atmosphere every year.

Follow the curve and coal collapses to zero globally in the early s and oil early in the s. Encapsulating the Fourth Industrial Revolution within a global Carbon Law will not only enable the world to develop on a stable planet, it is also bound to unleash even more disruptive innovation and sustainable transformations. Considering the magnitude of the challenge we are facing, it is no less than a transformation of our economic model that is needed.

How a Leader Inspires Others to Take Action

The way we produce and consume raw materials, fossil fuel or gas, water, has to change. By going from a linear to a circular economy, we will be able to decouple economic growth from resources consumption and from greenhouse gases emissions. The question, "how do we do it?


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In my opinion, carbon pricing is the only way to trigger a technological momentum towards a low-carbon economy, by fostering the necessary investments. The price of carbon can give back imagination to finance and it can restore the growth of the world economy: green business is a true source of opportunities and it could be a key success factor for economic rebound.

Again, it can generate jobs and wealth, both in the North and in the South. World Economic Forum reports may be republished in accordance with our Terms of Use. And from Wendelin Einsiedler, a Bavarian dairy farmer who has helped transform his village into a green dynamo.

A revolution deferred?

All of them said Germany had to get off nuclear power and fossil fuels at the same time. Climate change affects my kids. If you ask why antinuclear sentiment has been so much more consequential in Germany than, say, across the Rhine in France, which still gets 75 percent of its electricity from nukes, you end up back at the war. It left Germany a divided country, the front along which two nuclear superpowers faced off.

When the German Green Party was founded in , pacifism and opposition to nuclear power were both central tenets.

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In the first Green representatives made it into the Bundestag, the national parliament, and started injecting green ideas into the political mainstream. Even though Chernobyl was hundreds of miles away, its radioactive cloud passed over Germany, and parents were urged to keep their children inside. Chernobyl was a watershed. But it took Fukushima, 25 years later, to convince Merkel and her Christian Democratic Union CDU that all nuclear reactors should be switched off by By then the boom of renewable energy was in full swing.

And a law that Hans-Josef Fell had helped create back in was the main reason. On the south side, facing the backyard, the grass is partially covered by photovoltaic and solar hot water panels. On the March morning when I visited, the wood interior of the house was bathed in sunlight and warmth from the conservatory. In a few weeks, Fell said, wildflowers would be blooming on the roof. A shed in his backyard, next to the swimming pond, houses a sauna, powered by the same green electricity that powers his house and his car. Tighten your belts. His father, the conservative mayor of Hammelburg, supported nuclear power and the local military base.

Young Fell demonstrated at Grafenrheinfeld and went to court to refuse military service.

Years later, after his father had retired, Fell was elected to the Hammelburg city council. It was , the year Germany was officially reunified—and while the country was preoccupied with that monumental task, a bill boosting the energiewende made its way through the Bundestag without much public notice. But Fell, who was installing PV panels on his roof in Hammelburg, realized that the new law would never lead to a countrywide boom: It paid people to produce energy, but not enough.

In he got the city council to pass an ordinance obliging the municipal utility to guarantee any renewable energy producer a price that more than covered costs. Now there are hundreds in Germany. In Fell rode a Green wave and his success in Hammelburg into the Bundestag. The Greens formed a governing coalition with the SPD. Fell teamed up with Hermann Scheer, a prominent SPD advocate of solar energy, to craft a law that in took the Hammelburg experiment nationwide and has since been imitated around the world. Its feed-in tariffs were guaranteed for 20 years, and they paid well.

We live in a market economy, after all. Fell was about the only German I met who claimed not to have been surprised at the boom his logic unleashed. Outside his sunroom, which overlooks the Alps, nine wind turbines turned lazily on the ridge behind the cow pen. The smell of manure drifted in.

Einsiedler had started his personal energiewende in the s with a single turbine and a methane-producing manure fermenter. He and his brother Ignaz, also a dairy farmer, burned the methane in a kilowatt cogenerator, generating heat and electricity for their farms. But after the renewable energy law took effect in , the Einsiedlers expanded.

Today they have five fermenters, which process corn silage as well as manure from eight dairy farms, and they pipe the resulting biogas three miles to the village of Wildpoldsried. The biogas, the solar panels that cover many roofs, and especially the wind turbines allow Wildpoldsried to produce nearly five times as much electricity as it consumes.

Thirty people invested in the first one; 94 jumped on the next. At the peak of the boom, in , 7. A German solar-panel industry blossomed, until it was undercut by lower-cost manufacturers in China—which took the boom worldwide.

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Germans paid for this success not through taxes but through a renewable-energy surcharge on their electricity bills. This year the surcharge is 6. The German economy as a whole devotes about as much of its gross national product to electricity as it did in In the elections Fell lost his seat in the Bundestag, a victim of internal Green Party politics.

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No one, not even the industry, thinks nuclear is coming back in Germany. Coal is another story. Germany got 44 percent of its electricity from coal last year—18 percent from hard coal, which is mostly imported, and about 26 percent from lignite, or brown coal. The use of hard coal has declined substantially over the past two decades, but not the use of lignite.

Ideally, to reduce emissions, Germany should replace lignite with gas.