Lighting the way: creating a pathway to zero-carbon

Posted on: January 24, 2020

Head of Global Public and Government Affairs, Signify


Photo: MT Exposures/Shutterstock

Business and governments cooperating and working together will build a prosperous, green economy

The 2020s must be the climate decade. We need rapidly to identify what every government and every business can do to help us get to zero-carbon. 

Three is the magic number. If we achieve a 3 percent increase in energy efficiency a year, driven by a similar 3 percent renovation rate, and combine it with a 3 percent annual increase in the use of renewables, we will be on the way to achieving a carbon-neutral world by 2050. These are manageable goals – as long as every business and every government realizes the imperative to get behind meeting them. 

Indeed, businesses and governments working together is the key to getting us to where we need to be in this decade. The immense transition that has taken place in lighting shows what can be done.

In December 2006, lighting was responsible for a fifth of global electricity consumption. There are now close to 20 percent more lights in the world than there were then – but their proportion of electricity consumption has fallen to just 13 percent.

Back in 2006, it was thought that making a global switch from traditional, incandescent light bulbs was unachievable. Today, LEDs dominate the global market. While there is still some way to go, the transition to highly energy efficient lighting is well on the way, in little over a decade.

It has happened through a combination of business innovation and government ambition. The technology existed, business invested and governments legislated. Businesses’ determination to fight climate change drove a greater policy ambition to create a positive feedback loop. Such “ambition loops” will play a critical part in how quickly we can transition to a zero-carbon future. 

All governments should embrace the ambition to become carbon-neutral by 2050, at the latest, and put this into law. This will enable companies to invest in solutions at the pace and scale necessary to achieve their own goals and get the world on track for net-zero.

Our own experience at Signify (formerly Philips Lighting) shows that committing our company to shift to low-carbon technology, combined with government policy to support the phase-out of high carbon technology, can have a major impact. 

Signify is one of a growing number of businesses demonstrating the highest level of ambition by setting emissions reduction targets aligned with limiting global warming to 1.5C (2.7F) above pre-industrial levels and committing to becoming carbon-neutral by 2020. 

For us, it’s about good business strategy. We know that playing our part in helping to limit global warming to 1.5C is the right thing to do. But we also know that investing in the technology and solutions that will cut emissions, and thus help safeguard the global commons on which we all depend, will ultimately also reduce costs.

We are committed to achieving our science-based emissions reduction target. We are also asking ourselves what more we can do to help decarbonize the power supply so that, when customers use our products, they are being powered by renewable sources. Meanwhile, we are switching our fleet to electric vehicles and rethinking the way we package and ship our products and the way our employees travel.

We are also partners in the Three Percent Club, a coalition of countries, businesses and international organisations committed to driving a 3 percent global increase in energy efficiency each year, launched at the UN Climate Summit last September, with the support of the Global Environment Facility and other leading multilateral bodies.

The costs of catch-up for businesses that haven’t yet started on the journey towards zero-carbon will become higher once inevitable climate regulations kick in. And quite apart from regulation, public scrutiny and opinion matter to all brands. Millennials making purchasing decisions vote with their pockets and want to work with companies that are purpose-driven and act responsibly.

Apart from setting policy, I would urge the EU to ensure that companies are transitioning to 100 percent renewable power and are setting end dates for the sale of cars powered solely by internal combustion engines. It should mirror business initiatives such as the Climate Group’s RE100 and EV100 under which companies commit to switch over entirely to clean energy, and to transition to electric vehicles.

At the same time, they need to implement public procurement processes that favour the best climate solutions and companies (instead of looking just for the lowest initial price tag). They should adopt such real initiatives as net-zero-carbon government building programmes, transitioning ministerial car fleets to electric vehicles and phasing out inefficient technologies. And they should drive more ambition loops by supporting financing mechanisms that reduce or remove budget hurdles and by putting a global price on carbon emissions. 

Business is behind all this and wants to do it. But we need government policies to ensure that we can get there, and to make it easier for all businesses to do so. In making the transition to zero-carbon, all governments and all businesses must step up to the levels of ambition needed to make it happen.

Look around. There is no cavalry coming over the horizon to save the day. We are the cavalry.

This piece was originally published for the GEF-Telegraph Partnership.

Add new comment