Chinese shutdown isn’t the path to a just transition

9th Mar 2020


I was struck by figures coming from China, that in the four weeks to 1st March their carbon emissions were down by 200m tonnes, with the impact of coronavirus being held responsible. This downturn was confirmed by NASA (never thought I’d write that in a blog) and several thoughts came to mind.

Firstly, for those celebrating and proclaiming that it shows what can be done, be careful, de-industrialisation of this scale brings with it huge social and economic costs. Simply shutting down economic activity is a foolish way to curb carbon.

Secondly, that number is staggering. To put it in context, the annual carbon emissions for UK residential buildings in 2018 was 69m tonnes. So four weeks of virus impacted emission reductions in China, at a global level, is three years-worth of UK domestic heat emissions.

Thirdly, it reinforced the global nature of the challenge. If the big polluters do not join the world in reducing carbon, then we simply won’t hit our collective goals of limiting temperature rises and climatic impacts upon rising sea levels. And living in Worcestershire, which has been flooded for the past month, I don’t need reminding of what the future might look like.

But nagging away at me was the need for a just transition and how that will be organised and paid for. Hoping that millions of individual decisions all lead in the same direction may be a touch optimistic. Instead, looking to socialise the problem and finance the solution, seems the most sensible approach.

Networks hold the key. Already established, they are the backbone of our current energy system and that of the future if we are to ensure a just transition. Socialising the cost of decarbonisation, reducing the need for individuals to make the difficult decisions has to be the most common sense approach. Some ivory-tower thinkers believe individuals will become “active” energy citizens; I suspect that the majority have more important things to worry about and so will remain “passive”. Nothing wrong in that if we, the energy industry, are looking after their interests, both now and into the future. Certainly beats hoping for a virus to tackle climate change.

Best wishes

Mike Foster, CEO