The journey towards global sustainability

In a world without Covid or Brexit, “sustainability” might have been among the favourites for word of the year in 2020. Perhaps because the pandemic has reminded us how vulnerable we are to nature’s depredations, the need for urgent action to ensure global environmental sustainability is increasingly accepted.

A global scale

The EU, the UK, China and Japan all unveiled targets last year to achieve carbon neutrality. Joe Biden has promised to rejoin the Paris agreement on climate change as soon as he is sworn in as US president. ESG, once a fad, has become a core investment theme. Electric car maker Tesla is now worth more than the nine biggest global car manufacturers combined.

This collection of articles includes a piece on aircraft emissions validating optimism that the battle to contain global warming can be won. Thanks to technological advances and greater use of renewable energy, aircraft are set to use much less fuel by mid-century. But another important contributor to sustainable air travel will be well-designed carbon taxes or emissions trading schemes that make us consider the alternatives to flying and, crucially, incentivise airlines and manufacturers to raise fuel efficiency.


A non-fossil-fuel burning fireside chat

Other articles explore further how public policy can complement new technologies in the pursuit of sustainability. As the decarbonisation of the European economy increases existing links between different sectors and fuels, we make the case that energy regulation should change with the times to promote the swift, smooth phasing out of fossil fuels. We also look at how sustainability considerations can be built into antitrust regimes, and use the experience of the telecoms industry to show that sustaining competition is a tough task in a fast-changing sector. Trade policy, too, has a role to play. In a non-fossil-fuel-burning fireside chat, Matthew Bell and Amar Breckenridge discuss how carbon border taxes and trade in carbon offsets are sure to be on the table when the UK hosts climate change talks in Glasgow in November.

Team thoughts

Fernando Barrea 2019.jpg
The European Green deal to make the EU climate neutral by 2050, China’s pledge to achieve net zero emissions by 2060 and US President-elect Joe Biden’s promise to re-join the Paris agreement on climate change all bode well for progress at next November’s climate conference in Glasgow.
Fernando Barrera
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Competition can in some cases make the challenge of dealing with environmental hazards even greater by driving firms to focus narrowly on the interests of the consumers they serve, even when these interests clash with those of wider society.
Vlada Bar-Katz
Matthew Bell.jpg
The main issue for sustainability is the lack of a developed and enforceable system of rules. Those exist, to some extent, in trade agreements. If you’re breaking WTO rules, you’re hauled before its dispute settlement body, and if you remain in violation you’ll face retaliatory tariffs until you comply.
Matthew Bell

In numbers

1bn tonnes

of greenhouse gases emitted by the transport sector


of UK lenders are taking a "responsive" approach to climate change

Team Thoughts

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