The year 2020 has been one of a kind, that is undeniable. Yet, not only has the pandemic caused us to rethink, but also to act on issues like lockdowns, travel restrictions, climate change and government policies. Many governments around the world have set ambitious climate targets, not only to meet the requirements under the Paris agreement, but also to exceed them.
In this post we will look more closely at what selected countries are doing to reduce their carbon emissions, upscale renewable power sources and fight climate change.
Said to be a paradigm when it comes to energy from renewable power sources and innovative technologies, even Zac Efrons’ Netflix series “Down to Earth” features Iceland’s geothermal and hydroelectric power supplies, that contribute to a 100% renewable electricity portfolio. To be sure, with 9 out of every 10 houses heated directly from geothermal energy, Iceland has made an astonishing transition from fossil fuels to almost 100% of its consumed energy coming from renewables.
Geothermal and hydroelectric power are the main sources of the country’s energy, which does not come as a surprise when looking at the island’s geographical location. It is located on both the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, which are the cause and source for its vast geothermal resource.
But what has driven Iceland’s transition from a fossil reliant country in the 1970’s to a 100% renewable society, apart from the transport sector? Credit goes to the move to become independent from global oil prices as Iceland could not sustain them in the long run. Climate awareness has not been the main driver; it was the desire for energy independence instead.
Having been involved in geothermal assistance all around the world, Iceland has demonstrated its technical expertise and drive for innovation. Even so, potential exists, especially with regard to wind power generation, which, in combination with green hydrogen production, can contribute to transforming the transport sector.
A plan to ban newly registered fossil fuel cars by 2030 and to increase forestation, amongs others, should help Iceland become carbon neutral by 2040.
Wind and solar power alone have accounted for 42% of Germany’s electricity generation in the first half of 2020. But to meet its 2030 climate targets, the country has a long way to go. The German government plans to expand the current European Emissions Trading System (ETS), which limits carbon emissions within the energy and heavy industry sector, yet fails to account for more than half the European Union’s total emissions. By gradually expanding the ETS into the transportation and building sectors, the government hopes to provide citizens and companies with enough time to adapt to the new pricing system.
A starting price for every ton of emissions of EUR 25, with a gradual increase to EUR 55 in 2025 should ensure for “reliable price development.” A total of almost 19 billion euros is expected to be generated by this scheme in 2025, which is planned to be invested either in “new climate action measures” or returned to the citizens as compensation. Germany already faces the most expensive household electricity prices across Europe. A planned decrease in nominal power prices should be able to achieve with increasing revenues from CO2 pricing.
As a country that meets over two thirds of its electricity demand from hydroelectric power, Austria is often seen as another paradigm when it comes to the operation of renewable energy sources. The so-called “Mission 2030” aims to meet sustainable development goals such as greenhouse gas reduction, renewable energy upscaling and energy efficiency.
Financial incentives and the identification and gradual phasing out of counterproductive incentives and subsidies within the non-ETS sectors should contribute and promote the switch to renewable energy sources and thus decarbonize, increase energy efficiency and enhance energy supply security.
Twelve flagship projects under various ministries’ responsibilities are the first steps that the Austrian government has defined as essential in reaching the Mission 2030 goal. One project is the increased use of solar power, in particular, a program for 100,000 rooftop solar panel and small-scale storage. This program is supported by tax exemptions, a legal framework and active promotion of investments. It should be achieved by 2023. However, Austria has set its target higher only recently to achieve 1,000,000 rooftops attached with solar panels by 2030.
Climate neutrality could be achieved by 2040 and Austria aims to become a leading hydrogen nation. First steps taken towards achieving this include one of the world’s largest pilot plants for the CO2-free hydrogen production. It has started operation at the voestalpine site in Linz, thus setting an international milestone in the development of new options for energy supply. Furthermore, Austria thrives to be a technology leader by taking part in blockchain based energy innovations like Energy Web Chain.
(On a side note, Saudi Arabia has developed and presented plans for the world’s biggest green hydrogen production site with an impressive 4GW of renewables powering hydrogen production.)
So far, 95 UK counties have signed up to join the UK100 Network, a consortium of local government leaders that aim to achieve 100% renewables by 2050. A decade ago, some 80% of the UK’s electricity demand was supplied by coal. Earlier this year, the country recorded more than 67 days of coal-free electric power generation. In the first half of 2020, some 33% of electricity generation in the UK came from wind and solar alone.
A report from the UK Committee on Climate Change states that current policies within Great Britain are insufficient to reach goals under the Paris agreement.
Policy development has already begun with components needed to reach net-zero GHG emissions. These include low-carbon electricity, efficient low-carbon buildings and heating, electric vehicles, carbon capture and storage (CCS), increased forestation and measures to reduce emissions on farms, to name a few. However, current policies need to be strengthened and extended. According to the report, phasing out combustion engines by 2040 is too late, which is reflected in other countries’ goals to reach the same objective by 2030.
Norway is one of the only countries that is actively slowing down the growth of renewable resources. In fact, the Oslo government is trying to tighten rules on onshore wind farms to better protect nature. The past boom in wind installations has seen some opponents claim that turbine heights have been exceeded and caused danger to birds and the environment in general. Norway sees its greatest contribution to its energy mix coming from hydroelectricity. At present, more than 99% of mainland Norway’s electricity production comes from renewables.
The four priorities of Norway’s energy policies are (i) improving security of supply by having a functioning power market and an uninterrupted supply system, (ii) achieving profitable development of renewable energies by maximizing societal values at minimal costs, mainly through hydropower installations, (iii) realizing more efficient and climate-friendly energy use, especially within the transport and manufacturing sectors, and (iv) creating value based on Norway’s renewable energy resources through employment, providing a framework that enables the country to develop its renewables even further and creating competitive advantage through a functioning energy market.
With the highest wind production per capita of all OECD countries and an established bioenergy system in place, more than 30% of all energy comes from renewable resources in Denmark. Nevertheless, bioenergy is the biggest single contributor of renewables. Similarly to Iceland, the 1973 oil crisis caused a shift in mindset regarding the country’s energy supply. As one of the pioneers in wind energy, the country’s first-ever commercially installed wind turbine began operating in 1979.
Denmark is trying to reach its 2050 net zero emissions goal with the help of five-year milestone targets. These include a share of at least 55% renewable energy in gross final consumption in 2030, energy efficiency while simultaneously reducing energy consumption, energy security by reducing energy import, an internal energy market, and research, innovation and competitiveness by spending 1.5 billion DKK until 2024 on R&D on new technologies related to energy and climate. 
Additional incentives and funding are given to climate-related research and innovation, including research and innovation in clean energy.
Given all these ambitious goals to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, one must wonder whether they are achievable with existing policies. Often, climate change is tied to monetization and viewed solely from an economics point of view. It shouldn’t come down to “is this economically justifiable” but rather “is it environmentally essential.”
What do you think are areas where governments must improve to actually be able to achieve their well-needed climate goals?