Monday, May 29, 2023
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< view full issue: Infrastructure and Climate Change in Latin America

​James Close: “In the next 20 years we will have to build as many infrastructures as in the entire history of mankind”


James Close. Responsible for the London Waste and Recycling Board's Circular Economy Programme and former director of the World Bank's Climate Change group.

Close James

According to you, what are the future Climate Change challenges of worldwide?

That's a hard question. We are facing a climate crisis, a climate emergency, there is no doubt about this, so we have to act now, and the first thing we have to do, I think, is to define the objective. The objective should be to reduce CO2 emissions or to reach a level of zero CO2 emissions before 2050 if we really want to reduce the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees. Moreover, to achieve this goal of maximum global temperature increase, we have to set quite ambitious objectives to combat climate change because they involve reformulating lifestyles, reformulating the way of doing business and of financing ourselves to get the most out of the circular economy.

So, given the scenario you outline, is public-private collaboration necessary in the fight against climate change?

It is indeed. This transition will not be possible without the involvement of the private sector. We are seeing quite positive signals from private sector companies that are becoming aware. Obviously, we need the full involvement of the public sector which should have a different role in defining strategic ambitions and establishing a political context that facilitates or enables this economic transition. For example, the European Union has already defined zero emission targets by 2050. In the UK, there is already legislation in this area that requires the implementation of an economy free of CO2 emissions. With which, the combination between both players and both initiatives is what can save us. It is the only way.

You were responsible for the fight against climate change at the World Bank, therefore you have an overview of what is happening in the world. How are we going to fight against Climate Change in Europe and Latin America?

The comparison by countries rather than regions is the best way to find out who is leading in the fight against climate change. The EU, the UK and France also have quite ambitious policies on this matter. Nevertheless, in other places such as Costa Rica, there exist quite good policies; Morocco also, with a quite ambitious contribution in the fight against climate change. In this way, there are countries that should be regarded as leading countries, such as Butan that has a negative rate of CO2 emissions due to its substantial production of hydroelectric power. Comparisons can only be made by countries rather than by regions, given that at the regional level it is much more complicated, because each region has had a different starting point. The main challenge will be to find the right balance between several imperatives: economic creation, access to energy for economic creation and decarbonisation.

Each region of the world has different challenges: in Latin America the main challenge is how to stop the deforestation. In Africa, access to sustainable energy is a challenge. China and India are in a creation boom, such as promoting renewable energy. These would be the main challenges in each of the regions.

Where does access to energy fit into the circular economy tool? Will this type of economy take over from the traditional economy?

There is research in the matter that was carried out in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. According to these studies, energy production accounts for 55% of CO2 emissions and consumption the other 45%. As for energy, the solution is easier to achieve since we know how to make renewable energy, which will allow us to achieve a zero impact.

The problem is in the 45% of CO2 generation through consumption because it is more heterogeneous than energy production - land use, food production and industrial process. So to achieve a green world we have to take together both energy and consumption to reduce emissions from both segments. Moreover, the circular economy must lead to a reduction of consumption, which is what we are missing if we manage to create green energy.

To access this green economy and generate more and more sustainable energy, we will need to have good infrastructure and to have good infrastructure, so then, will public-private collaboration throughout the world be quite necessary?

In the next 20 years we will have to build as many infrastructures as we have built throughout the history of mankind to adapt to the coming world. Moreover,, of course, these infrastructures have to be fundamentally resilient to climate change. Climate change is a reality. They have to be resilient and smart infrastructure, intelligent, and low in CO2 emissions.

We will need to build quite long-term infrastructures, that are ecological that are low in CO2 emissions and that are resilient, because private investment will not invest. As an example of what I mean by resilient, a road by the sea will have to have a wall because the sea level will rise and we should not be building a road that will flood in five years.

Is it important to instigate energy policies to deal with climate change? Create new laws, facilitate the taxation of the green economy so that the entire society changes its mentality in the fight against climate change?

There are many fiscal policies that could help in this regard. Taxes on cars that use fossil fuels should be much higher to send a signal to the sector, to the industry so that it adapts to a more circular economy. Additionally, to collect taxes that can be reinvested in sustainability plans and to help people with fewer resources left behind.

You talk about the need for the car industry make up for lost time. Do you think that this industry is truly developed or do they have to run to catch up?

I think that if we look at car advertisements and the commitments that car companies are making to go towards electric vehicles, there are reasons for hope as well. Moreover, there is the coming of new players such as Tesla, which is greatly increasing the level of ambition of the sector. If they weren't there, my opinion would be different. I still think there is a huge gap between the desirable scenario and the possible scenario they are leading us to.

You have come here to explain the need to use cleaner energies.

Our focus is the circular economy, we promote the circular economy. For this, we need to develop new business models that allow generalizing the circular economy in all the businesses where possible, working from the logic of the circular economy.

The circular economy revolves around the use of renewable energy, the use of more efficient resources, the collaborative economy. This is, how can the general public share our resources so that the use of products is more efficient. However, all this without neglecting the design of the circular economy, how to invent industrial processes and ways of doing business that are not based on the economics of using and throwing away, which is more or less where we are today, but rather based solely on the recycling economy. Buy it and recycle it. But not exactly this either - we have to go to a logic of reducing, recycling, reusing and repairing. Before, we talked about the three Rs: Reduce, Recycle and Reuse. Moreover, now we also have to add repair, and throwing away only as a last resort. We have to move towards a repair economy.

So, should we be fighting against obsolescence?

Yes indeed, we have to fight against planned obsolescence. In the circular design, programmed obsolescence would not be allowed, of course. It is anti Circular Economy design.



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