Success Redefined for Our Time

Success in our time is the achievement of a thriving economy and a participatory society fully free of the hidden costs that that come with using greenhouse gas-emitting compounds as fuel. On Friday, May 22, in Paris, Laurent Fabius, foreign minister of France, explained that the nations of the world are now working together “to make sure the decarbonized society is a definitive fact.” Major breakthroughs in local clean energy storage are giving low-carbon energy sources a clear path to dominant market share. We have moved into a new age of innovation and economic development. By way of smart policy, business decisions and technology advancement, prosperity is being decoupled from greenhouse gases.

We can now look ahead with clarity to a fabric of prosperous markets dominated by low-carbon development and sustainable abundance.

To define success is to make a claim about the boundaries of a context: what is possible, what are we working toward, and why do we privilege certain activities and move away from others? Having so long deferred to already dominant market players to determine what constitutes success, we are only now emerging fully into the cold light of morning, where we aim to reward not those who control market share now, but rather those who are actively building future value for people and for the life-support systems on which we depend.

Just one year ago, it looked as if aiming for a global average temperature rise of 1.5ºC or less would continue to be seen as impossible, even though that is the upper limit we need to stay beneath, if we are to prevent some nations from disappearing below the waves. Now, it is has become part of the IPCC’s most recent synthesis report, has been added to the 195-nation consensus of the UN negotiating process, and is actively part of a vibrant decarbonization discussion among business leaders, governments and non-governmental organizations. In that same discussion, the debate is no longer about whether we should decarbonize or how much, but rather whether to aim for full decarbonization for 2050, 2060 or 2070.

No one is seriously considering the ongoing use of combustible carbon-based fuels beyond the year 2100. During Climate Week Paris, Saudi Arabia’s oil minister announced that his ministry is planning for a future in which there is no longer a need for oil, possibly as early as 2040.

The clean energy race is on.

Last week, during the Carbon Expo in Barcelona, a coalition of partners including governments, multilateral organizations, business leaders, and civil society organizations, moved closer to agreeing shared principles for efficient, effective carbon pricing strategies. On the same day, Norway’s $900 billion national oil fund announced it would withdraw funding from any entity depending on coal for more than 30% of its activity. With more than 400 million people in India alone still unable to access electricity, decisions are being made to make India the first major economy in the world to complete its industrial transition without majority dependence on fossil fuels. There is no other way the world can achieve the goal of decarbonization on schedule to avoid a temperature rise of more than 1.5ºC.

Business as usual is no longer an option, so politics as usual is no longer an option.

2015 has seen a major shift in the priorities of smart enterprise: businesses are looking to quantify their carbon delta, the added risk due to carbon cost exposure. Economics and budgeting that leave out embedded costs externalized to other parties, or to future generations, are no longer an option. Finance ministers are now grappling with an uncomfortable, but promising paradigm shift: continued dependence on fossil energy will harm an economy in complex ways that will be hard to escape. Success in our time is freedom from carbon-bound energy.

We can and must achieve resilient prosperity rooted in clean, renewable energy that does not degrade natural systems and builds value at the human scale.

[ The Note for May 2015 ]

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