The strategic role of governments in decarbonization

Wed 01 Mar 2023

Only the invention of a new virtuous, inclusive and sustainable economic and social model will allow for decarbonization.

In 2015, historic decisions emerged from the UN's adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement to transform our planet into a sustainable world. However, geopolitical, economic and energy-related tensions are hampering the efforts of the ecological transition. Midway through the process, it is up to governments to provide new momentum.

In the summer of 2022, floods, droughts, heat waves and fires — and their disastrous consequences — sounded the alarm. Climate change is a tangible reality. More than ever, it threatens the future of the planet. To reach their objectives of carbon neutrality by 2050, countries must increase their efforts and drastically reduce their CO2 emissions.

Thinking about the ecological transition with the energy transition and the economic transition

The success of the ecological transition depends strongly on the energy transition, since energy is the source of the majority of greenhouse gas emissions. It is also dependent on the economic transition, since activities are based on this energy. It is essential to revisit the ways of consuming, producing, working and living together in order to meet the major challenges of climate change, the accelerated loss of diversity, the scarcity of resources and the increasing health risks linked to environmental pollution. Only the invention of a new virtuous, inclusive and sustainable economic and social model will allow for decarbonization.

Three levers

Faced with this major challenge, states and governments must pursue three operational objectives:

  • Accelerate the use of renewable energies: Reduce dependence on carbon-based energies and gradually replace polluting energies with wind, solar and hydroelectric power.
  • Promote energy moderation and responsible consumption: Promote moderation in the production and consumption of products and resources, particularly energy. Promote energy efficiency.
  • Develop a circular economy that creates local jobs and prioritizes short supply chains: reuse, repair, recycle and limit transportation.

Make the green and digital transformations a central part of government recovery plans

To succeed in this urgent and strategic transformation and to drive a global acceptance, states and governments have several roles to play:

  • Open fragmented government strategies. The economic slowdown linked to the pandemic is conducive to resilience in building recovery. The necessary ecological and energy transitions add to the challenges of the digital transformation that governments have been launching for several years. They are an opportunity for states to develop a more inclusive and sustainable global economy. Indeed, it is no longer possible to think of these transformations as independent pieces. National strategies must integrate, within a single plan, the challenges and objectives of ecological, energyrelated and economic transitions and consolidate them within the digital strategy. Digital technology is already recognized as a lever for success in the ecological transition, even though the sector's carbon footprint currently represents 3.8% of global emissions.

  • Steer, support and promote this transition to a sustainable world and its key success factors. It is up to the States to be actors in the definition and implementation of the strategy, which must:

*Promote the transition to all businesses, associations, donors and citizens.
* Involve all public actors in the process, including elected officials and territorial agents.
* Encourage and support citizen participation. For, several years, very young actors have been mobilizing for the climate. Their initiatives are often more advanced than those of governments.
* Encourage the development of skills in the field of green technologies.
* Develop awareness and education actions for all, along with a culture of transformation and resoluteness.

  • Increase international cooperation. The action of countries must be part of a "One Planet" vision and remain consistent with the commitments of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), in particular the 17 SDGs adopted in 2015 by 193 countries. Indeed, developingn countries and vulnerable countries are unfairly suffering the effects of climate change caused by the economic activities of developed countries. A universally supportive approach is essential to co-build a resilient, adaptive and responsible approach.

Financial and regulatory tools

To accelerate the transformation, governments have two tools at their disposal:

  • Financing. In 2009 and again in 2015, developed countries committed to mobilizing $100 billion per year to finance their climate action over the period 2020-2025. They also promised to commit funds to, in part, finance the actions of emerging and developing countries.
  • An incentivizing legal framework. Structural regulations to support renewable energies and the circular economy have already proven their effectiveness. In France, for example, the ecotax, the end of the allocation of hydrocarbon exploration permits and the reimbursement of a portion of the cost of repairing a household appliance are encouraging companies and citizens to take the path of a virtuous and sustainable transition.

Insufficient and uneven efforts around the world

Sadly, the UN's Sustainable Development Report 2022, produced with the University of Cambridge, reveals that, for the second year in a row, the world is no longer making progress on the SDGs as measured by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Index. The average score even declined slightly in 2021. The progress made since 2015 has been held back by the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and wars. On the environmental side, energy-related CO2 emissions increased by 6% in 2021, reaching the highest level ever and reversing the historic pandemic-related drop in global emissions in 2020. Developed countries have also failed to meet their commitment to finance climate action: in 2019, they paid only $79.6 billion of the $100 billion planned.

The need for acceleration and global mobilization

There is now a 50% risk of exceeding the threshold of a 1.5°C average temperature increase, set for 2030! Halfway through the process, countries must redouble their efforts and commitments to make this major transition a success in a context of great uncertainty and human insecurity. A quarter of the world's population lives in a country in conflict. The health crisis and the war in Ukraine have accentuated the food crisis, the shortage of resources and the debt of developing countries. Inflation is here. To overcome the resistance to change, governments will have to: work for peace and strengthen international cooperation around shared objectives; commit to a more ambitious plan for financing the global ecological transition; rely on green technological innovations to find solutions; define rigorous governance to measure progress; and get all actors on board.


Samia Bendali-Amor

Director of the IT Consulting and Services Department of Sofrecom

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