Top 6 ways that governments can drive the green transition

Top 6 ways that governments can drive the green transition

Managing environmental degradation and climate change is the only way to grow economies sustainably. In addition to the devastating impact on the environment, such as the depletion and intensification of natural resources and extreme weather, failure to address these threats will increase health and social inequality and push millions into extreme poverty. This will also reduce the resilience of countries to future shocks.

According to national pledges of CO2 emissions made before the COP26 Summit, the situation is grave. The planet is on a trajectory to a 2.7 degree Celsius temperature rise by 2050, 1 — far above the 1.5 degree Celsius Paris Agreement target. Swiss Re estimates that if this trajectory continues, the global economy will be reduced by 10% in value by 2050. 2

Many countries have increased their ambitions following COP26. According to the International Energy Agency, the latest pledges are still not enough to meet the 1.5 degree Celsius target by 2030. 3

The climate crisis requires a step-change in our efforts

The UN estimates that agricultural production needs to rise by 50% by 2050 in order to meet the rising demand for food. 6 Food systems are responsible for a third of greenhouse gas emissions and up to 80% of biodiversity loss. They also use 70% of the freshwater reserves.

It is important to not underestimate the scale of action needed. This requires a fundamental change in all sectors, including energy, manufacturing, and transport, as well as infrastructure, agriculture, forestry, and land use. The human race must also fundamentally rethink the way we produce, consume, and dispose of food and fuel.

The market alone will not solve the problem. It is up to governments to lead. Many countries have set goals — some of which are enshrined into law — for achieving net-zero emissions by specific dates (from 2030 in Uruguay to 2035 in Finland, to 2050 in most other nations). In order to meet its sustainability goals, the EU has also introduced a set of new policies. The EU Green Deal and Climate Law set binding targets for emissions to be cut by 55% (from 1990 levels) by 2030 and for climate neutrality to be achieved by 2050.

Sustainability is a challenge that governments must meet.

The government can choose a variety of policy interventions and financial measures to support transformations of energy and industrial system, improve energy efficiency and tackle environmental pollution.

There are many who use a “stick and carrot” approach. This includes taxation on harmful activities that harm the environment, stricter regulations and new standards for energy efficiency, pollution, and emissions, as well as tax rebates if these standards are met. There are also many examples of grants and loans for green investments, such as sustainable agriculture, low-carbon or renewable energy sources, energy-efficient buildings, public pathways and cycleways, and electric vehicle infrastructure.

Subsidies, tax rebates, and other incentives can be used to increase demand for environmentally friendly products and services such as EVs, solar panels, and renewable energy. The government also offers grants and subsidies to academic institutions, research institutes, and private R&D companies to encourage innovation and develop transformative technology such as renewable energy and waste management.

Germany has committed EUR2.5 billion to invest in EV infrastructure and EUR9,000 per vehicle as a subsidy. Three major bus operators in Shenzen, China, were encouraged to switch to EVs by receiving an annual subsidy for each vehicle in USD 75.500. In Vietnam, rooftop Solar PV installations have risen by 2,435% in the last year. This is mainly due to a feed-in tariff scheme. 7

Direct public investment is also needed in agriculture and nature-based solutions to create a sustainable food supply and protect ecosystems. This includes wetlands restoration, water irrigation, and wildfire prevention. The Pakistani Government, for instance, has allocated between US$800m and US$1b over the next 4 years for an afforestation program to capture carbon while creating jobs for thousands of low-skilled workers.

COVID-19’s massive stimulus package offers countries the opportunity to integrate these measures into their recovery plan, allowing them to return their economies to growth and meet environmental goals. For example, the Recovery and Resilience Facility of the EU Commission is dependent on climate goals. It requires that at least 37% of countries’ spending be spent on green initiatives. The US Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act allocates US$1 trillion to investments that target sustainability.

Green stimulus measures are not enough. The Greenness of Stimulus Index evaluated the environmental impact of US$17.2 Trillion of stimulus across thirty countries and found that more negative environmental policy interventions were identified than positive.

The 2021 Sustainability Leaders survey (pdf) ten also concluded that the national governments lack leadership in sustainable development, further evidence for the need for more state intervention to address the growing global sustainability challenges.

Leading the charge toward sustainability

The business has the power and influence to create impactful outcomes. In this report, we observe that high-performing companies are increasingly aware of the importance of paying attention to stakeholders and the long-term and social and ecological consequences of their products. The GlobeScan study (pdf) highlights private sector and non-profit organizations that are leading the way. These organizations have achieved their goals by integrating sustainability into the core of their business models, setting ambitious targets, and is committed to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

University students are setting an example. For instance, the University of Tasmania was ranked third globally by the Times Higher Education University rankings for climate action. It has been carbon neutral for the past two years by closely auditing and reducing its emissions.

The Weather Chasers Group in Malawi is a good example of how citizens can play a major role. They have become an important force for environmental protection and are part of the larger civil society movement to influence government policy.

 What is holding back governments?

A number of factors prevent governments from achieving their sustainability ambitions.

Political short-termism. Despite much rhetoric promising change, governments can be swayed, often by populist media, short-term cycles, and public opinion. This can lead to policies that are not able to tackle complex, long-term issues. Moreover, it’s difficult to measure progress without budgets, regulations, sector plans, and detailed policies to support pledges.

Priorities for funding and policies are competing: COVID-19’s recovery puts further pressure on the public finances, already under strain due to record debt levels. It may also change the priorities of donor organizations in terms of climate action and reduce funding for green investments. The siloed culture can also prevent cooperation between government departments. Conflicting goals may hinder a coordinated effort.

Economic pressures and lobbying by industry: Many governments face pressure to maintain established carbon-intensive industries or “brown,” such as manufacturing and airlines, which are strategic and contribute a large share of jobs and the GDP. The G7 has allocated over US$189 billion in recovery funds for fossil fuel industries. 11 Some business lobby groups have even called for a rollback on environmental protections as a way to boost economic recovery. For example, the Federation of Korean Industries claims that manufacturing is a major factor in employment and production and that a radical carbon reduction target would hinder efforts to create jobs.

The US government also instructed its agencies to give priority to economic recovery, waiving or exempting any regulation or requirement that might hinder their progress.

Poor planning and implementation. Governments need to create the right conditions in order for sustainability. Some initiatives failed to consider key dependencies. The failure of the UK government’s Green Homes program has been attributed, in part, to its rushed design. The short duration of the scheme, combined with a lack of engagement from the industry, made it difficult for energy efficiency installers to mobilize in order to meet the demand. 13

The UK National Audit Office surveyed Audit and Risk Assurance Committees in government to assess climate change maturity. While the private sector has reported more on ESG issues in recent years, the public sector still isn’t doing much. A survey of international public sector organizations found that over half (56%) don’t currently report their climate impact.

Currently, many public sector organizations do not report their climate impact.

Public engagement is lacking: Governments have failed to engage the public enough in order to inform them of environmental issues. As a result, inertia has been attributed to a lack of understanding in regard to changing consumer choices and behaviors. In the 2020 Ipsos Global Trends Survey, more than one-third of respondents said that they were “tired” of all the fuss being made about environmental issues. ” 15 The “Gilets Jaunes,” protests in France against the carbon tax, have also led to strong opposition.

Disruption of global energy supply: The war in Ukraine created opposing forces that made the transition to green energy even more difficult. Simultaneously countries pledge to reduce carbon emissions while advocating increased fossil fuel exploration in order to satisfy immediate energy requirements and reduce dependency on Russian oil and natural gas.

COVID-19 exposed the weaknesses of multilateral organizations and highlighted the lack of global leadership. Moreover, international cooperation is made more difficult by the geopolitical implications of the war.

Early attempts to reach a consensus on a response to the crisis have failed. Carbon markets, for example, have been touted by many as an effective way to reduce carbon emissions. They allow companies and countries to invest in projects that cut carbon elsewhere to achieve their climate goals. The UN’s effort to create a marketplace for units that represent emissions reductions under the so-called Article 6 was finally approved at COP26 17, 18 after six years of debate. It is vital to provide more support to developing countries that are most affected by climate change and those that can least afford its consequences. The final COP26 accord notes that the rich countries failed to meet their 2020 goal of providing US$100 Billion a year for developing countries.

A multisectoral effort to close climate funding gaps

The sustainability challenge will require significant investments that go far beyond the current levels. Citi estimates that the difference between climate crisis spending and what is actually spent amounts to US$3-US$5+ billion per year.

Governments must also encourage multilateral organizations, corporates, and financial institutions to invest. ESG is now a priority for corporates, and institutional investors are increasingly interested in renewables and mobility. Capital is plentiful, and a pipeline of green projects that will spur growth is ready for investment. Implementing the shovel-ready pipeline of renewable energy projects over a period of three years would inject US$1.9t into the global economy, which is equivalent to an 85% GDP loss by 2020. 20

Why are private investors hesitant to invest in green projects?

Uncertainty in policy and regulatory matters increases project revenue risks, which reduces the viability of projects, as well as investment, interest from private investors, and innovation. Institutional investors are also faced with significant bureaucracy, onerous reporting requirements, and disclosure obligations — including demonstrating that their investments meet regulatory criteria.

Incentives are poor: Many green technologies require large R&D upfront costs, long development periods, and high risks, but they only pay off in the long term. The potential of knowledge spillovers also means that investors earn only a fraction as the benefits accrue to others.

Investors may not be confident that they can recoup large and risky investments made upfront in R&D or in new production capacity if the market is small.

Lack of data on the market: It can be difficult to determine whether an investment is worth it, especially when you are dealing with smaller companies and innovative new products. This can increase the cost of financing and limit external finance.

PPP failures can be due to a lack of clarity in the outcomes, inadequate private sector capabilities, and a lack of experience and expertise among private and public actors. This can lead to poor project planning, delays in implementation, and failure.

Uncertain investment goals: Investors struggle to align their investments with climate goals due to the lack of global agreed-upon principles. The EU is the most forward-looking with its Sustainable Finance Taxonomy. It aims to encourage sustainable investment through a clearer understanding of the economic activities which contribute most to EU environmental goals. 21

Six government priorities for Accelerating the green transition

Governments’ actions could lead the world to a sustainable future with a balance between environmental, economic, and social outcomes. The clock is ticking, and progress must be made quickly.

Detailed action plans and clear accountability

Incentivize the market to change and be bolder about it

Increase funding for innovation

Green initiatives can be improved in terms of their design and implementation.

Be a role model for other sectors of the economy

Promote a people-centered, whole-of-society approach

Develop detailed action plans with clear accountability

Sector-specific road maps that are produced in partnership with the industry can help bridge the gap between long-term pledges and action plans with quantifiable targets. They should include specific policies and initiatives as well as desired outcomes, timelines, and resources. These plans allow governments to show how they work towards environmental goals and identify the key players.

A green action plan is not just for the energy or environment ministry. The green action plan becomes an integral part of all government activities, including infrastructure, housing, and transport, as well as education, health, and social services. Other policies and priorities are likely to conflict with climate goals. A clear vision and holistic plan are essential to align the efforts of all departments to achieve shared goals.

It is important that a single entity, whether new or old, has oversight of delivery in order to ensure a coordinated approach by the government across all sectors. This team will be able to manage cross-departmental projects, identify synergies and dependencies and anticipate issues.

Local and regional governments are vital to the implementation of green initiatives. They should therefore be involved in the policy design process from the start and provided with the necessary resources and powers. Local governments can be involved in pilot projects and EV infrastructure and will also play a major role in retrofitting housing and creating an EV infrastructure. The Climate Group’s global research shows that only 21% out of 121 surveyed states and regions were consulted about national climate action plans. 22

Lastly, governments must monitor the implementation and progress of their plans. To do this, it is necessary to establish a baseline as well as clear and consistent measures for monitoring status and reporting progress – both internally and externally. Moreover, to maximize accountability, the measures must take into account contributions from public, private, and third-sector entities.

Be bolder when incentivizing and mandating changes

The urgency of environmental challenges calls for policies that are ambitious and prioritize climate action. They also need to send a strong message about the ways in which the market and the citizens can bring about radical change. Governments can only overcome opposition by demonstrating a strong sense of political will and gaining cross-sectoral support.

Incentives and penalties are used to encourage businesses and their economic activities to align with climate goals. Some governments, for instance, are gradually phasing-out subsidies for the fossil fuel industry to accelerate decarbonization. Other governments implement carbon taxes and emission trading to ensure that the prices of goods, services, and energy accurately reflect the social value of natural resources used to produce them and to make renewables cost-effective. Carbon taxes are not only a way to penalize carbon emissions but also provide governments with additional revenue. According to the World Bank, in 2021, 64 carbon pricing initiatives were implemented worldwide, covering 45 national jurisdictions and 21,5% of global emissions.

Parallel, regulators, and governments need to require effective carbon accounting by businesses in order to capture direct and indirectly emitted emissions throughout supply chains. They also need common reporting standards that are mandatory to track environmental impact. The International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation (IFRSF) announced in November 2021 that the International Sustainability Standards Board would be formed by June 2022, and prototype disclosure requirements for climate change and general disclosures would be published. In addition, the Securities and Exchange Commission in the US is attempting to mandate corporate disclosures on their exposure to climate risks, while the UK is looking to make climate-related reporting a legal requirement.

Some governments have taken an environmental stand by removing subsidies from carbon-intensive industries or requiring bailouts to be tied to environmental commitments or performance. Air France is, for instance, required by the French government to meet a minimum standard requiring 2% renewable fuel and reduce its emissions by 50% by 2030.

Some governments have passed legislation that bans environmentally harmful energy sources or mandates green energy. In France, the government has banned gas in new homes, and in Chandigarh in, India, all larger properties must have rooftop solar panels. These have produced more than 30MW of solar power in 2019 alone. The “Development of Solar Cities,” a scheme in India that covers 60 cities, requires solar water heaters to be installed on certain types of buildings. It also provides financial and technical support for renewable energy and energy efficiency. In the US, 30 states have adopted renewable energy portfolio standards that require electricity providers to provide customers with a minimum percentage of clean sources. However, in late 2021, a proposed national policy still remained to be approved.

A number of governments have implemented strict measures to outright ban products that pollute. Plastics, which emit greenhouse gases throughout their lifecycle and accelerate climate change, have been targeted in particular. Rwanda became the first nation to be “plastic-free” 10 years after it banned all plastic bags and packaging. Canada will declare plastic as a toxic substance in May 2021. This will pave the way for a proposed ban on most single-use plastics at the end of 2021. 25

Increase funding for innovation.

In order to meet its climate goals, the government has a number of tools at its disposal that can be used to increase public and private investments in new infrastructures and technologies, including early-stage development projects and demonstration projects.

The International Energy Agency estimates that around US$ 90 billion of public funds are needed to complete the portfolio of demonstration projects by 2030. Only US$25 billion has been budgeted so far, leaving a large funding gap. 26

This involves investing in a portfolio of initiatives with specific objectives and bringing together different sectors, public, private, and third-sector actors to innovate. It involves investing in initiatives that have specific goals and bringing together public, private, and third-sector actors to innovate. Continuous monitoring and evaluation should quickly identify pilot projects that could be either scaled up or withdrawn.

In addition to increasing public funding, the government can encourage more private involvement in R&D through the creation of an appropriate policy and enabling environment, which helps lower risk and unlocks the full potential for private investment. Flexible regulations that reflect the uncertainty associated with new technologies, for example, can accelerate innovation. Governments can also intervene in order to create alternative markets and break up monopolies. As a result, they can also encourage entrepreneurship.

It would be beneficial for investors and insurers to have a clearer understanding of government commitments on infrastructure spending and the pipeline of investments that are likely to receive support. This will increase funding opportunities as well as provide stability over time. The Japanese government funds renewables in order to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and move away from nuclear power following the Fukushima catastrophe of 2011. The Japanese government has committed to wind energy by passing a bill in 2019 that allows wind farms to operate for up to 30 years on Japanese waters.

Many national and local governments have created publicly-capitalized, commercially-oriented green investment banks. By removing barriers and taking on some of the political and economic risks, they attract private investments for climate-friendly and sustainable projects. They tap into domestic capital sources (e.g., pension funds) as well as international capital sources (e.g., development banks). A 2020 report states that green banks have a proven track record of attracting private investment and launching new low-carbon markets. They have invested US$ 24.5 billion in their own capital.

The government must also create conditions that allow private companies to raise funds on a long-term basis in areas where financial institutions are unwilling to invest enough. Solutions include tailored finance for specific sectors and mechanisms and policies to mitigate risk or distribute it appropriately among different parties. In the renewable energy sector, feed-in rates and quotas have helped to drive growth for wind power and solar program. There is a growing interest in contracts for difference agreements that encourage investment in renewable energies by reducing volatility in prices and making future revenue streams predictable.

Low-interest rate policy measures reduce the risk for investors and buy time to scale up programs and technologies. They also help achieve financial sustainability in the longer term. Governments can also deploy tax incentives, favorable lending, and sustainable finance like green bonds or sustainability-linked loans.

Climate finance taxonomies, as well as other classifications, will help to align investments with climate-related goals. There is no single taxonomy that can satisfy all needs, but policymakers, regulators, and market participants must agree on global principles that will be used in different regions.

Improve green initiative design and delivery

To avoid failure, governments must carefully plan and implement green initiatives. As with all major government initiatives, these programs require a clear and realistic vision, adequate funding, a supportive regulatory climate, and realistic timescales. Success also depends on the availability of resources, such as workforce skills and supply-chain capacity. It is important to consult with key stakeholders and the industry to identify any other dependencies or barriers to change.

It is important to consider the larger context by adopting a whole systems approach based on coordination across government and sectors. It helps governments understand complex factors which could impact the outcome of the program, such as constraints or pressures within the system. They can also develop solutions for problems to be mitigated (for instance, encouraging businesses to build capacity). This tool can also be used to identify synergies and interdependencies between green strategies and policy priorities such as industrial growth and citizen convenience. It is important to know the levers and to know when to act.

The need for better data, insights, and a coherent view of the entire system has been a key challenge. The use of sophisticated analytical tools and integrated systems has enabled governments to capture and share data, enabling seamless interactions and informing decision-making. A policy can be created and monitored by a team, and regular reporting and communication will indicate when to act.

Governments must also anticipate the increased demand for new skills and knowledge to implement green initiatives. A national green skills plan and targeted funding can help determine the type and quantity of skills required, as well as where to locate new “green jobs.” This will ensure that no region is left behind. It will also show how much money should be invested in education and training. The US Department of Employment is planning to invest US$30m in training workers on how to build high-performance, energy-efficient buildings using renewables.

Organizations across the UK have warned of the difficulty in finding people with the necessary skills. Generation UK, a non-profit organization, has partnered with Macquarie, a private finance company, to offer specialized training to unemployed youths to help them succeed in green jobs. The program has a goal of placing 80% of the learners in roles within three months of completion of training. It is also actively recruiting employer partners.

Be a role model for other sectors of the economy

As a provider of services and a consumer of resources, the public sector is responsible for a large part of climate change and harm to the environment. Governments should force departments to place a greater emphasis on identifying the environmental impact of their activities and reducing it.

Public entities should all monitor and publish their carbon emissions. They should also embrace carbon offsets and removal. US federal government accounts for almost 60% of all energy consumption in the US. This is due to the 360,000 buildings that make up the US government. The Department of Energy developed a roadmap for “efficient building ” based on solar and wind energy, demand management, and storage. 39

Reforming the public procurement system can have a significant impact. Governments can reduce their carbon footprint by using greener products and services while also encouraging other actors towards sustainable consumption and production. The government may need to change negative perceptions, such as the idea that green products are more expensive. They will also have to train their public procurers and sustainability officers, and project managers, in sustainable procurement.

The government can lead the way in sustainability reporting by highlighting its environmental impact. It will be necessary to make efforts to harmonize and adapt the existing sustainability reporting frameworks to meet public sector requirements. Governments can improve their impact reporting and monitoring by capturing and analyzing advanced data. They can also upgrade staff data skills. Mandatory reporting can create a sense of urgency. Independent third-party organizations such as national audit offices should audit and recommend improvements.

Nordic countries are leading the way in sustainability reporting. Since 2012, the municipality of Herning, Denmark, has released voluntary “green” reports. Since 2012, the municipality of Herning in Denmark has released “green” accounts. These include procurement, waste and recycling, nature and green spaces, municipal properties and planning, private construction, and energy consumption.

Promote an approach that is centered on people and the whole society.

Climate change is a huge, complex problem that requires collaboration across the entire society. In the Netherlands, for instance, the initial momentum for energy transition began in 2013 with Energy Agreement for Sustainable Growth. This brought together government, industry, and trade unions to help shape the country’s plan. This led to the national climate commitments of 2018 after working with unions, NGOs, and business associations.

Citizens can play a vital role in solving climate and environmental issues by changing their behaviors and informing decision-makers of their opinions. People are more willing to change their behavior if it is part of a larger national effort to reduce emissions. 44 Online deliberation, citizen assemblies, and other forms of participatory public engagement can help engage people in climate action and problem-solving. A study of climate assemblies conducted in France and the UK shows that citizens are more likely to produce ambitious climate policies than politicians.

Researchers from INSEAD and the University of Southern California surveyed a wide range of behavioral experiments linked to green issues, concluding that nudges don’t just promote eco-friendly behavior; they may also be more effective than government communications. Researchers from INSEAD, the University of Southern California, and a range of other institutions surveyed a variety of behavioral experiments related to green issues. They concluded that nudges are not only more effective than government communication but also promote eco-friendly behaviors.

There is no single solution that fits all. All individuals will pay the price for achieving climate goals, whether they are taxpayers, billpayers, or shareholders. They may also be workers in industries that emit carbon dioxide or consumers of products with high carbon content. Energy bills, which make up a larger proportion of household expenditures, are often the biggest burden on the poorest households.

In a “just” transition, costs and benefits can be distributed fairly. To avoid negative outcomes, government support and investment, including exemptions and subsidies, are needed. These policies can have a positive impact on the economy and society, reducing poverty and addressing gender, health, and other inequalities.

The government cannot ignore the communities that stand to lose from the green transformation, like coal miners or oil workers. To diversify the economies of regions that are facing a loss of jobs or livelihoods and to create new green job opportunities, support will be required. The UK’s Humber Region has been transformed into a “cluster,” bringing new jobs to the area after years of economic decline. Six offshore wind farms are now operational in the area, creating new jobs for renewable energy plants and manufacturing.

Final Thoughts on the Green Transition

The government acknowledges the need for sustainable growth but, with few exceptions, has yet to gain the momentum needed to align its agencies, the private sector, NGOs, and citizens around a coherent plan.

Prioritizing resources is crucial to make the best use of limited funding and harness scarce resources. The learning curve can be shortened by adapting other people’s efforts and using some of the examples provided in this report.

Every part of society must contribute to collaboration, from individuals to multinational corporations and development banks. In a globalized world, where most supply chains cross national borders, international coordination is also required to meet the Paris Agreement goals. This requires improved leadership by the governments of developed countries and multilateral institutions in order to strengthen international laws governing environmental issues and provide funding and technical assistance for less developed nations that are most at risk.

COP26 revealed some hard facts about how far we still have to go. Despite this, innovation and unwavering commitment can help the world achieve its goal of sustainable growth, which benefits both the planet, as well as all those who live on it.


Every country has recognized the need to accelerate the green transition. Creating new green paths, however, will require a long-term commitment as well as increased investment, constant innovation, and collaboration among government agencies, the private sector, NGOs, and civil society.

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Economy Editorial Team

Economy Editorial Team

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