Climate change: the bad news story that won’t go away

Reading time: 6 minutes
18 September 2017

As Climate Week NYC kicks off in New York City, Dr. Roland Busch, Chief Technology Officer and Member of the Managing Board, Siemens AG - a key sponsor of the summit - blogs on the joint responsibility of businesses, communities and cities to take action on climate change.

Every once in a while we remember climate change. A severe storm strikes, leaves a path of destruction in its wake and the issue of climate change dominates the headlines for a while and then it goes away again. Except that it doesn’t really go away. We don’t have to wait for the next big storm to hit for fatalities to arise. Last year the World Bank published a study which found that air pollution is the fourth leading cause of premature deaths and cost the global economy US$5 trillion annually in welfare costs and lost income. Meanwhile our planet is getting warmer and the longer we delay taking action, the more serious the consequences become.

Most people accept that climate change is happening and that man-made factors are a major contributor. When we see so many news stories about natural disasters and their terrible aftermath, I often wonder what stops us from doing something about it. Why do we talk about it for a while and then go back to leading our lives as before? Are we waiting for governments to take action? Is it the concern over jobs and the cost to our economies that deters us from action? Or is it the inconvenience that it will cause to our lifestyles to make climate-friendly choices?

Joint responsibility

Let’s look at the first point. Even if all countries were to deliver on the Paris Agreement targets, the earth’s average temperature will still increase by 1.5 to two degrees Celsius. While governments have an important role to play by establishing the requisite frameworks and policies; businesses, communities and cities will need to take action. 80% of all emissions come from cities. If we want to win the battle against climate change, we need to win the battle in cities first. Here we have cause for optimism, with so many cities around the world leading the way, making commitments and taking action.

We don’t have to sacrifice profit for the sake of the environment

If it is the economic costs that deter us from action, then this fear is unfounded. Firstly we bear the burden of the costs of inaction daily through the effects of air pollution, to time lost in traffic, to our cities’ competitiveness. Then there is the cost of rebuilding our infrastructure every time a natural disaster strikes, not to mention the tragedy of the lives that are lost. But if it is the economic costs that deter us then maybe it’s time to focus on the opportunities. In 2015, Siemens pledged to become the world’s first major carbon-neutral industrial enterprise by 2030. The business case is clear: out of the €100 million investments in energy-efficiency technologies, we expect annual savings of at least €20 million. Our environmental portfolio helped our customers and partners reduce their CO2 emissions by 521 million metric tons. That’s around ten times New York’s annual carbon-dioxide output. And it generated revenues of €36 billion in 2016.

Tackling climate change through innovative solutions

Reducing emissions is not easy, but challenges can inspire us to develop innovative solutions such as MindSphere, our cloud-based IoT operating system, which opens up new opportunities to reduce emissions, by enabling cities to connect different infrastructure systems and thereby use their data to optimize operation. Other examples include congestion charging or integrating distributed renewable energy sources like the Brooklyn Microgrid.

To effectively tackle emissions, it helps to have a clear strategy. The City Performance Tool (CyPT), which was developed by Siemens, assesses the impact of technologies in the building, energy, and transport sectors on GHG emissions and air pollutants, and calculates the CAPEX and OPEX required. For example, using CyPT, Charlotte, North Carolina, found it could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5% and improve air quality by 8%, all while generating more than 8,000 jobs by 2025. By 2050, benefits could increase to 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, 21% improvement in air quality, and close to 100,000 jobs.

Is there a happy ending to this story?

The public and private sector have an important role to play in enabling people to make climate-friendly choices. In recent months several automotive companies committed to producing more hybrid and electric vehicles. It’s good for their brand, their bottom line and enables lifestyle choices that are good for the planet. Whether it’s e-vehicles, better public transport, more renewable energy choices or energy-saving solutions, the more accessible these solutions are, the greater the uptake, the more affordable they become. Who would have thought 10 years ago that the cost of renewables would become as competitive as fossil, not to mention the positive effect on job creation. It’s time to start creating some more good news stories around climate action and inspire others to follow.

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