My predictions for 2017
Given the curveballs that 2016 threw at us, I can’t help feeling a bit foolish in trying to predict what will happen in Sustainability in 2017. Brexit, Donald Trump’s election and a number of forthcoming elections across Europe have created unparalleled uncertainty for the 12 months ahead. Having said that, the big global megatrends are largely positive: growth in global carbon emissions has stalled, population growth is easing off and extreme poverty is falling. So there is an argument that short term noise will do little to derail those patterns.
So, looking into my crystal ball:
1. Coal Takes The Hit
Coal is the climate’s worst enemy, both in terms of pollution and its historically cheap price. But with two of biggest markets India and China turning towards cleaner fuels, it looks like game over for the coal industry. The big uncertainty of course is Donald Trump’s championing of coal to appeal to working class US voters. However, it takes a lot longer to build a coal fired power station than it does to close one, so I suggest a US resurgence in coal is very unlikely to happen.
2. Investment in Renewables Continues to Rise
I keep reading apocalyptic predictions of what will happen to the renewables industry as various Governments water down their subsidy schemes. However, these analyses tend to ignore the dynamics of supply and demand. As renewables’ prices fall to levels which are increasingly competitive with fossil fuels, investors will continue to invest on a purely commercial basis. And that’s how we want it: clean energy standing on its own two feet. The fact that many corporations are investing to meet their own Sustainability targets (see 4. below) will help renewables navigate any bumps in the road.
3. Energy Storage Moves Up the List
Renewable energy is now becoming such a significant provider of electricity in many countries that energy storage will be required to match supply and demand. While the ideal solution is distributed home/electric vehicle storage, I suspect that the initial moves will come from energy companies and large industrial users. The innovations from these large scale initiatives will filter down into small scale installations over the longer term.
4. Business Drives Change
One of the main reasons for the negativity amongst the Sustainability press is the assumption that change only comes if Governments drive it. However, many of the most significant changes have been coming from the commercial sector. If major corporations such as Google go 100% renewable energy (eg via the RE100 scheme), then that’s a huge deal and one which brings economic benefits to the wider renewable industry. With big names like Ikea going zero waste, I expect the circular economy will continue to move up the agenda.
5. Go Green or Go Bust
While the green economy has its fair share of business failures (as you would expect in a nascent sector), what is more interesting is the increasing failure rate amongst established companies in the fossil fuel industry (eg coal giant Peabody’s bankruptcy). To shift to a sustainable economy, we not only need new green businesses, but to lose the old brown businesses too. The latter have a big decision to make this year: whether to transform themselves or fade away. I can’t predict which way they will jump, but to me it looks like a no-brainer.
So there are my five predictions. What do you think?
Gareth Kane is a sustainability consultant, author and coach. You can follow him on Twitter @GarethKane.