Adam Tooze writes on the roadmaps to net-zero by 2050. Is a just transition for Europe realistic?

Adam Tooze | Social Europe | March 23, 2021

In the 18th century, Europe was the cradle of the fossil-fuel revolution. Now, we are calling time on the energy sources which have hitherto defined modern history. If we achieve net-zero carbon-dioxide emissions by 2050, it will be a remarkable achievement. If we do not, we have reason to believe that the basic conditions of our existence will be in question. Even in the best case, stabilising with 1.5-2C degrees of warming, the world will be a much more dangerous and unpredictable place.

The stakes are huge. But how big is the transition required? In hard times, realism all too easily shades into pessimism. Reasonable evaluation of worst-case scenarios gives rise to gothic imagining of catastrophe. We are, after all, setting ourselves to defy the laws of thermodynamics—converting a civilisation based on concentrated energy to rely instead on the power of the wind and the sun.

In the midst of such a transformation, how do we decide what is realistic and what not? Clearly the energy transition is fundamental and far-reaching, but how much will it cost? How much change will it require in the way Europeans live and work? How large is the challenge of managing a just transition?

Originally published in Social Europe. Read more here