When I was flying with my solar plane over the Atlantic Ocean, I remember looking at the sun that was giving energy to my four electric motors and their huge propellers. There was no noise, no pollution, no fuel… and I could fly for ever. At one moment I thought, “This is science fiction, I’m in the future.” And then I realised, “No, it’s completely wrong, I’m in the present. This is what the technologies of today already allow me to do. It’s the rest of the world that is in the past, with old and inefficient devices.”
A rough estimation shows that existing clean technologies and processes could divide by two the energy consumption of the world and therefore the CO2 emissions, if only they were implemented. Thousands of them are available everywhere, for everyone to use, but who knows about them? They are often hidden in start-ups or research labs. So few people realise how profitable, for both the industry and the planet, they have become! They create jobs, generate profit and boost economic growth.
I have always said that protection of the environment would become a reality only if it requires no financial or behavioural sacrifices. Who would renounce driving their car or heating their house because of sea levels rising in 20 years’ time? The truth is that today, even if climate change didn’t exist, building clean and efficient infrastructures would make sense. They represent the greatest industrial market ever, with the introduction of electric mobility, fully insulated constructions, heat pumps and LED lighting, smart grids and modern industrial processes. And for the protectors of the environment, a clean growth is certainly better than the dirty status quo we have today. That’s a win-win situation.
An encouraging sign of this is the rapid expansion of the green bond market, which doubled to almost US$83 billion after the signature of the 2015 Climate Agreement. Investors are beginning to take into account the threats – slow growth trap, low interest rates – of being addicted to fossil fuels. Investing in these new solutions is the next driver of real economic development.
But to reach the objectives set in Paris and keep global warming below the 2 degree mark, public and private sector investment in clean energy needs to reach at least US$1 trillion per year by 2030, starting now, as shown in the New Climate Economy 2015 report. Although US$1 trillion per year might seem a huge amount, we need to consider this a profitable investment rather than an expensive cost. So the more we invest, the more we will earn.
Yet, we keep setting goals and objectives for 2050, 2040, 2030 at best. I hate this, because it is too far away – no one feels accountable or responsible for such a distant target! Decision-makers need to focus on solutions and shorter-term achievable goals as part of their roadmaps for action. An ambitious legal framework would pull innovative products to the market instead of leaving everybody in uncertainty.
Last year Solar Impulse completed the first solar flight around the world, demonstrating that clean technologies can make a plane fly perpetually with no fuel. Today the second part of my vision has started: selecting 1000 profitable solutions to protect the environment by COP24. I will then personally go around the world again, to deliver those same solutions to governments, companies and institutions, and we shall of course also make them available for everyone to access and use. Things have been rapidly falling into place. Several partners have extended their support to the Solar Impulse Foundation (www.solarimpulse.com) to create the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions. We have entered into close collaboration with a number of international institutions, states as well as cities over the world. We have already gathered more than 500 members bringing solutions that are designed to be both profitable and environmentally friendly. In parallel, we are growing a network of independent experts who will assess the solutions from a technical and financial standpoint.
This is my new challenge and I do need all of you for that: demonstrate that solutions to solve climate change not only work, but are profitable and can improve the quality of life on Earth; that they are ‘logical’ rather than simply ‘eco-logical’. Together we can make what was possible in the air, possible on the ground. We need to start telling ourselves, and our political leaders, that clean solutions are profitable, and that change is possible, not only in 2050, but already today.