Advice given on on the March for Science, Hamburg, Germany, April 2017. Photo: / Frerk Meyer CC BY-SA

1.5°C target still within reach

Scenarios show that the 1.5°C target can be reached without BECCS, through a massive expansion of renewable energy, improved energy efficency and lifestyle changes.

In 2015 in Paris it was agreed that global temperatures should not increase by more than 1.5°C, or well below 2 degrees. Hundreds of scenarios have been developed over the last three years to show how the target could be reached.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), an intergovernmental body, says that increasing the adoption of renewable forms of energy by at least a factor of six is the answer for the Paris target. The global economy would grow by one per cent by 2050, IRENA says, and global welfare, including gains not measured by GDP, for example health benefits from reduced air pollution and lower climate impacts, would improve by 15 per cent, compared with the current trajectory. This could create over 11 million additional energy sector jobs, completely offsetting job losses in fossil fuels.

“Renewable energy and energy efficiency together form the cornerstone of the world’s solution to energy-related CO2 emissions, and can provide over 90% of the energy-related CO2 emission reductions required to keep global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius,” said IRENA.

“If we are to decarbonise global energy fast enough to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change, renewables must account for at least two-thirds of total energy by 2050. Transformation will not only support climate objectives, it will support positive social and economic outcomes all over the world, lifting millions out of energy poverty, increasing energy independence and stimulating sustainable job growth. An opportunity exists to ramp up investment in low-carbon technologies, and shift the global development paradigm from one of scarcity, inequality and competition to one of shared prosperity – in our lifetimes.”

The roadmap analysis outlines an energy system in which clean renewables account for up two-thirds of total final energy consumption and 85 per cent of power generation by 2050 – up from 18 per cent and 25 per cent respectively today. IRENA says solar and wind capacity should lead the energy transformation.

Several other studies present pathways without the use of carbon capture and storage (CCS), bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) or negative emissions from land use. These technologies and methods have been criticised by many for being unsafe and harmful to nature and human societies.

One of the scenarios was published recently in Nature Climate Change. Carbon Brief summarized the study as follows: The research says that it is possible to limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures without using negative emissions from BECCS. This is controversial, because BECCS is largely untested, might not become available at the levels anticipated and could require land equivalent to the area of Australia, for growing bioenergy crops.

The paper instead explores alternatives including lifestyle changes, agricultural intensification and lab-grown meat, as well as an even more rapid adoption of renewables and energy efficiency. Some of these have tended to be excluded from the conversation, because they are hard for scientists to model. Deployment of each mitigation option is designed to be “ambitious but not unrealistic”, the paper says. These alternatives include:

  • Renewable electrification. All energy end-use sectors are rapidly electrified, including heat. The technical constraints to integrating variable renewables on the grid are overcome. Some fossil-fuelled power stations retire early and, by 2030, all new cars are electric.
  • High efficiency. The best available technologies are quickly adopted for all energy and material uses, including cement and steel. From 2025 onwards, only highly efficient new cars and aeroplanes are sold and only the most efficient home appliances allowed.
  • Lifestyle change. The majority of the world population adopts sustainable lifestyles, including, by 2050, 100% adoption of healthy diets with lower levels of meat consumption. There is less private car use and more walking or cycling, while air travel is reduced.

Each of the mitigation alternatives cuts emissions, with the electrification and efficiency scenarios mostly affecting CO2 and the others having a greater impact on other greenhouse gases. This, in turn, cuts the need for BECCS and for agricultural land. Combining all of the mitigation options together effectively eliminates the need for BECCS to stay within a 1.5°C limit. This frees up significant areas of agricultural land in the model, some of which is reforested, resulting in “natural” CO2 removal.”

In May 2018, at the start of the Talanoa Dialogue in the UN, representatives of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) urged countries to step up and revise their national climate plans without further delay. “Growing climate risks, economic and technological developments in low-carbon technology, as well as increased action by sub-national actors, make the national climate plans submitted by governments in 2015 outdated and requiring review. 1.5°C is completely feasible, but it requires bold political will. All countries must internalise the urgency and start the process of revising their current national targets no later than January 2019 to secure survival and prosperity for all of us.

The current commitments made by countries in 2015 lead to dangerous warming that can reach 3 or 4 degrees Celsius. The gap is wide with the 1.5°C target set in Paris. We must act fast otherwise we will lose out in every sector and every country. Therefore, it is imperative that the Talanoa Dialogue should deliver a political outcome in COP24 that triggers a process for revision of national targets before 2020.”

Compiled by Reinhold Pape

Sources: Carbon Brief and IRENA



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