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Around the world, researchers and federal officials are creating exciting new ways in which we can move away from our dependency on fossil fuels and instead transition to a clean, sustainable and green future. Reformed government subsidies, national and international environmental regulations and technological advancements are some of the most impactful strategies that can ensure a successful green transition.
Reformed Government Subsidies
Government subsidies are one of the most commonly employed federal policies used to stimulate the development and utilization of clean technology.
Government subsidies are employed in several different ways, such as through a direct transfer of funds, goods, income or price support from the government to the entity. At its core, a government subsidy aims to replace fossil fuel-based energy systems with sustainable and clean energy sources.
Despite the apparent usefulness of such fossil fuel subsidies, many of these conventional federal programs have had little to no impact on improving public access to clean energy options.
Within the United States, for example, several tax subsidies to the fossil fuel industry exist to encourage domestic energy production and economic growth.
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It is estimated that each year the US government provides approximately $20 billion USD in direct subsidies to fossil fuel energy, 20% of which is allocated to the coal industry and the remaining 80% to natural gas and crude oil producers.
While this type of program provides a boost to the American economy, the growing impact that fossil fuel usage has on our global climate remains a significant problem. In addition to their contribution to global climate change, these types of fossil fuel subsidies are associated with a higher level of local pollution rates, encouraging wasteful consumption and reducing the availability of public resources.
As a result of such inherent issues associated with government subsidies in terms of their contribution to climate change, over 50 countries between the years 2015 and 2018 employed some level of fossil fuel subsidy reform. These reforms reduced the economic value of global fossil-fuel consumption subsidies from $550 billion USD in 2012 to a total of $280 billion USD by 2016. The removal of these subsidies frees up resources that can be diverted to sustainable investments to improve public health and welfare.
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Environmental Regulations and the Paris Agreement
In 2016, the first universal and legally binding global climate change agreement, more commonly referred to as the Paris Agreement, was signed by a total of 190 nations from around the world.
Some of the ambitious goals set out in the Paris Agreement include increasing the average global temperature to a minimum of 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, which has been theorized to significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change to countries around the world.
One of the most essential steps that the countries participating in the Paris Agreement have taken to achieve this goal is through the submission of their own unique national climate action plans, or nationally determined contributions (NDCs).
While many of the NDCs provide the foundation for these nations to undertake further action, they are limited in their realistic ability to reach the agreed temperature objectives outlined in the Paris Agreement.
Developing nations and emerging economies also struggle in their ability to prepare and implement NDCs at the 5-year frequency required by the Paris Agreement due to issues surrounding political support, analytical capabilities, as well as a lack of human, financial and technical resources.
The only way in which the parties of the Paris Agreement can reach their goal of limiting global warming is by setting ambitious but also realistic goals that are supported by public and private stakeholders.
The transition required for the fulfillment of a green future is entirely dependent upon maintaining international support for climate action and keeping the momentum and interest moving in a positive direction.
For nations that are struggling to implement and process their NDCs, the international community has a responsibility to provide these countries and their governing entities with technical assistance and information on high-quality data. These efforts can ensure that developing nations can create sufficiently ambitious and realistic plans.
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Research and Development
Theoretical research models have found that investments in the early stage of clean technology projects stimulate necessary innovation that directly contributes to advancing the green transition.
Both developing and developed nations around the world have already implemented various strategies and policies that support this theory.
Within the United States, the Photovoltaic Research and Development (PVRD) funding program operates under the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. The goal of all projects supported by the PVRD is to advance the fundamental science of photovoltaic materials, which can include but are not limited to enhanced power conversion efficiency, service lifetime, and fielded energy output rates.
Such federal support systems have allowed the United States to emerge as a leader in the production and development of novel photovoltaic systems.
References and Further Reading
Yang, Y., Nie, P., & Huang, J. (2020). The optimal strategies for clean technology to advance green transition. Science of the Total Environment 716. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.134439
Environmental and Energy Study Institute (2019) Fact Sheet: Fossil Fuel Subsidies: A Closer Look at Tax Breaks and Societal Costs. [Online] Available at: https://www.eesi.org/papers/view/fact-sheet-fossil-fuel-subsidies-a-closer-look-at-tax-breaks-and-societal-costs (Accessed on 16 June 2020).
Chepeliev, M. & van der Mensbrugghe, D. (2020). Global fossil-fuel subsidy reform and Paris Agreement. Energy Economics 85. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eneco.2019.104598
European Commission. Paris Agreement. [Online] Available at: https://commission.europa.eu/index_en (Accessed on 16 June 2020).
Roser, F., Widerberg, O., Hohne, N., & Day, T. (2019) Ambition in the making: analyzing the preparation and implementation process of the Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement. Climate Policy 20(4); 415-429. https://doi.org/10.1080/14693062.2019.1708697
United States Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. Photovoltaic Research and Development (PVRD) [Online] Available at: https://www.energy.gov/eere/solar/photovoltaic-research-and-development-pvrd (Accessed on 16 June 2020).