The recently concluded UN global climate summit (COP26) in Glasgow dominated the news in the previous weeks. Although the outcomes aren’t satisfying, they should leave us hopeful.
The main objective was to drive progress for climate action by global leaders from government, business, and civil society gathering together. Governments were expected to increase their national commitments to maintain global temperatures to no more than a 1.5-degree rise, a target set by the Paris Agreement intended to limit some of the worst impacts of climate change. Moreover, wealthy countries were expected to deliver on the $100 billion annual contributions at the COP15 summit in Copenhagen in 2009, intended to support developing countries on addressing climate change mitigation and provide resources for adaptation.
By the end of COP26, 151 countries had submitted new climate plans to slash their emissions by 2030. To keep the goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach, we need to cut global emissions in half by the end of this decade. Unfortunately, current commitments are putting us on anything from a 1.8 to 2.4-degree pathway, given that some major emitters’ 2030 targets are so weak that they don’t offer credible courses to achieve their net-zero targets. That is better than the 4 degrees trajectory the world was on before the Paris Agreement was struck, but still extremely dangerous.
The target for climate finance was pushed down the road, as developed nations admitted that they would not meet the $100 billion goal until 2023. This aspect is critical in ensuring a just and equitable climate transition.
All in all, significant gaps remain. However, alongside the negotiations, we saw a remarkable mobilization of business, citizens, academia, and others pushing for bolder outcomes while also taking action at a wide scale. One example of this is the commitment through the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) at over $130 trillion of private capital to transform the economy for net-zero.
How will the path to 2050 affect the energy landscape?
Globally, energy use represents the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. About two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions are linked to burning fossil fuels for heating, electricity, transport, and industry. Given the magnitude of its contribution to climate change, net-zero by 2050 will require nothing less than the complete transformation of the global energy system.
A few insights from the 2021 IEA flagship report shed some light on what we should expect.
Electrification & renewables
As electricity generation becomes progressively cleaner, electrification of areas previously dominated by fossil fuels emerges as a crucial economy-wide tool for reducing emissions. This takes place through technologies like electric cars, buses, and trucks on the roads, heat pumps in buildings, and electric furnaces for steel production.
Renewable energy technologies like solar and wind are the key to reducing emissions in the electricity sector, the single largest source of CO2 emissions today. In the pathway to net zero, almost 90% of global electricity generation in 2050 comes from renewable sources, with solar PV and wind together accounting for nearly 70%.
Electricity accounts for almost 50% of total energy consumption in 2050. It plays a vital role across all sectors – from transport and buildings to industry – and is essential to produce low-emissions fuels such as hydrogen.
Hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels will need to fill the gaps where electricity cannot easily or economically replace fossil fuels, and limited sustainable bioenergy supplies cannot cope with demand. This includes using hydrogen-based fuels for ships and planes and hydrogen in heavy industries like steel and chemicals.
Net-zero by 2050 cannot be achieved without the sustained support and participation from citizens. Behavioral changes, particularly in advanced economies – such as replacing car trips with walking, cycling, or public transport, or foregoing a long-haul flight –provide around 4% of the cumulative emissions reductions in our pathway.
In the net-zero pathway, global energy demand in 2050 is expected around 8% smaller than today, but serving an economy more than twice as big and a population with 2 billion more people. Solar becomes the most prominent source, accounting for one-fifth of energy supplies. Solar PV capacity increases 20-fold between now and 2050, and wind power 11-fold.
The pathway is narrow but achievable and would bring significant benefits for human prosperity and well-being, providing an opportunity to limit global warming to 1.5oC.
Net-zero and implications in the job market
The transition to net-zero brings substantial new opportunities for employment, with nearly a 10 million net job addition by 2030 globally, thanks to new activities and investment in clean energy. In addition, spending on more efficient appliances, electric and fuel cell vehicles, and building retrofits, and energy-efficient construction would require a further 16 million workers. The spectrum of jobs to be created will be broad, including a significant part of jobs not requiring formal training in the energy sector.
A dimension that needs to be considered is that Energy transitions have to take account of the social and economic impacts on individuals and communities. Given that the new opportunities are often in different locations, skill sets, and sectors than the jobs lost as fossil fuels decline, careful policy attention is required to address the employment losses.
How to navigate through such change?
Whether aiming to take a further step in the energy sector or willing to become part of it, an MBA can prove to be a passport. In the first case, by helping you develop advanced and flexible management skills (including the improvement of leadership and people management skills) and in the latter one by opening the door to a career change and thriving business opportunities.
Acknowledging that every career path is unique, I would like to share some facts about my own path. During the first two years of my professional career, I undertook different roles in the solar sector in Greece, mainly on the commercial side. After this phase, I opted for an entrepreneurial venture, aiming to best capture the opportunity of the booming market in the same sector in Greece. Having completed six years of work experience in the energy sector, I enrolled at the iMBA Part-time program in 2015. Before graduating in 2017 with a major in Finance, I made use of the option for a minimester as an exchange student abroad, which I spent in one of the partner universities in the US, enhancing my skills in Business Intelligence.
Soon after graduation, I decided to move to Germany, where I joined E.ON, one of Europe’s largest energy networks and energy infrastructure operators and a provider of innovative customer solutions for 50 million customers. Currently, I am part of the global team of Future Energy Home, which delivered more than 100.000 Solar, Home Heating, or eMobility solutions to our customers across ten countries in 2021, helping them save more than 475.000 tons of CO2 annually.
Moving from the entrepreneurial sphere to the corporate world was a significant step, being a horizon-broadening & skill-development opportunity. The iMBA made this step more accessible, by providing me with all-round business skills, both in taking on the role and delivering on it.
Living Abroad: Clearer Sense of Self & Clearer Career Decisions
A few years ago, I came across an HBR article that resonated with me. Research suggests that people who choose to live abroad tend to develop a clearer sense of self. When people live in their home country, they are often surrounded by others who mostly behave in similar ways, so they are not compelled to question whether their own behaviors reflect their core values or the values of the culture they are embedded in. In contrast, when living abroad, researchers found that people’s exposure to novel cultural values and norms prompts them to repeatedly engage with their own values and beliefs, which are then either discarded or strengthened.
Regarding career management, studies have shown that most people will experience difficulty making important career choices at some point in their lives, and deciding what to do with their careers after graduation is one of the biggest challenges for MBA students. Therefore, it stands to reason that having a clear sense of self elucidates which types of career options best match one’s strengths and fulfill one’s values, thereby enabling people to be clearer and more confident about their career decisions.
To conclude, the ongoing energy transition makes the energy sector exciting. By being part of it, one can not only become a game-changer by contributing to tackling climate change challenges but also benefit from emerging career opportunities. Whether the path to advancing your career entails a step abroad or not, the iMBA is a powerful tool that can help you achieve your professional targets.