Shift to renewable energy would make economic growth impossible, says expert

Mr Jancovici said this was doable but would “not itself save the industrial world”.

Tripling capacity means “going from 2 per cent of the final energy that we use to 6 per cent globally,” he said, adding: “It’s a good idea but will not spare us from having to make tremendous efforts on decreasing energy use.”

Given all that, he said he had sympathy for politicians such as Mr Macron and Rishi Sunak who continue to plug “green growth”.

He said: “They can’t really promise anything else because they have no alternative. France, like the UK, has no plan B for a world in structural recession. How do you manage the budget? How do you manage pensions?”

“As we are not equipped to face that situation, it’s pretty logical and human to say that it won’t happen.”

The world will have to “get rid of India starting next year” if the planet is to stick to global warming targets, he said.

Mr Jancovici, 61, a charismatic climatologist who pioneered the carbon footprint concept in France and sits on a climate commission advising the government, has a habit of dropping bombshells.

Long-haul flights

According to his assessment, individuals can afford to take only four long-haul flights per lifetime to achieve carbon cuts. Even he was surprised when 41 per cent of the French said they would consider respecting such a rule.

“The probability of keeping to the 1.5 degrees is zero unless a comet hits the earth or there is all-out nuclear war, or a new pandemic more harmful than Covid,” he said, scoffing at suggestions that the latest “historic” Cop28 climate deal was a game changer. It offered nothing legally binding as “there is no boss of the world” to enforce pledges.

It’s simple maths, said the professor. “To respect the 1.5 objective, global emissions must start decreasing by 7 to 8 per cent per year right away,” he said.

“Seven per cent is India’s share of world emissions. So for the plan to work, India’s emissions would have to disappear next year. In year two, two-thirds of Europe’s need to go. That’s the rate at which things must evolve. Even for two degrees, we would need an extra Covid each year to stay on track.”

“My best guess is that as we are animals, we trust what our senses tell us. And our senses will tell us that the situation is critical once it is too late.”

Mr Jancovici, an avid mountaineer, is remarkably upbeat given his assertion that the world is about to end. He said: “Since the first oil shocks in 1974, we have hoped that significant growth would resume. It never did so we have piled up debt for the past 50 years.

“In Europe, we are already on a downward path regarding the physical economy. So when Mr Macron or Mr Sunak says that growth will resume, in real terms, it has been waning since 2007 in Europe as a whole.”

Experiencing limits

Europe didn’t act first to reduce emissions because it was “more virtuous than our neighbours”, he said. “We have done so because we are already experiencing limits. We have been constrained regarding fossil fuels since 2008.”

Similar colour blindness was in evidence over air travel, said Jancovici, whose “four long-haul-flights-per-life” calculations were recently slammed by Airbus chief executive Guillaume Faury as “despairing”.

“My analysis is that this would lead to complete chaos. It would create the conditions for an even more conflict-ridden world, with an increase in regional and even global conflicts,” Mr Faury told Challenges magazine last month. Alternatives would soon be available, he insisted, confirming in the same breath that the world’s commercial air fleet would double in the next 20 years.

“It’s a calculation, not a suggestion,” hit back Mr Jancovici, who hasn’t flown in 20 years.

“It’s a rough figure. It could be four, it could be three, it could be six. I also assumed that the right to fly was evenly distributed among the world population. So people in Somalia or Kenya or Brazil could fly as much as French and British, which is not the case.”

But he insisted: “Democratic commercial airlines are something that appeared with oil and will disappear with oil because there is no substitute to scale.”

“Alternatives we will find, but not for four billion passengers per year,” said Mr Jancovici, whose think tank The Shift Project has looked into it with top aviation engineers.

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