As unprecedented storms, extinctions, and water, food, and energy wars continue to touch our world, warnings about destructive human-made climate change multiply and increase in stridency. At the United Nations in New York yesterday, some possible solutions were officially released. (VIDEO available here.)
Experts from leading world research institutes convened several years ago on 15 country research teams under the auspices of the international Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Paris-based nonprofit Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI). They partnered with four other organizations (the German Development Institute, International Energy Agency, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis) to compile the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project report.
Deep Decarbonization is the first global cooperative program to identify practical pathways for major industrial economies toward a low-carbon world economy by 2050. Unlike many recent assessments, it focuses potential solutions rather than agonizing statistics and definitions. In this sense, says Laurence Tubiana, the French Ambassador for climate change, co-chair of SDSN, and IDDRI founder, it is a “transformational milestone.”
From the report introduction:
The Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPP) is a collaborative initiative to understand and show how individual countries can transition to a low-carbon economy and how the world can meet the internationally agreed target of limiting the increase in global mean surface temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius (°C).
The two-degree limit has begun to seem unattainable now that we’re passing into the third month of 400+ ppm CO2 in the atmosphere—although it looked more achievable in 2012, when the report was solicited—but the DDDP had to start somewhere, and the report clearly asserts a reasonable thinking process. To keep world temperature from rising above 2°C, say the authors, we must send global net greenhouse gas emissions toward zero by the second half of the century.
“We know that we are not on track, and time is not on our side.”—UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
The SDS Network states that to reach the goal, nations of the world must profoundly transform their energy systems by mid-century by steeply reducing carbon intensity in all sectors of the economy. Their numbers: from a current level of about 36 GtCO2eq down to 11 gigatons by 2050 (see chart for broad country-by-country details by decade.) The planners call this transition “deep decarbonization.”
Mr. Ban adds:
People need to understand why decarbonization is necessary. They need to know it is possible. And they need to see that cutting emissions can benefit economics and people’s well-being.
At a news conference yesterday, Ban clarified that different countries would adopt different solutions according to their own needs, resources, and priorities. “But all countries need to embark on the same journey,” he says. He believes it is feasible to decarbonize, but that the effort must include global commitment to advancing key low-carbon energy technologies.
Economist Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, Special Advisor to the United Nations on Millennium Development Goals, and SDSN director, finds the report’s results concerning, but also heartening because they show a path to relative climate safety. However, he adds, “we’re just about out of time to meet this crucial limit.”
“No country can afford to diverge,” says Tubiana of France. All comment that major cooperative efforts to achieve the goal are not currently in place.
We are on a trajectory of some four degrees centigrade or more, depending on exactly the assumptions that one makes; and all of the evidence is that the business as usual path would be an absolutely reckless and unforgivable gamble with this planet.
The report says that success rests on these three key actions (“pillars”):
- Energy efficiency improvement,
- Low-carbon electric production, and
- Fuel switching from carbon-intensive sources (esp. coal) to renewables.
The authors outline steps that 12 of the 15 selected countries (Australia, Canada, China, France, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, United Kingdom, United States; India, Brazil, and Germany still in progress) can take to meet the internationally agreed two-degree target. They base the pathways on based on economic and population profiles and projections.
Combined emissions from energy generation in most of the world can only continue upward until around 2020 and must decline from then until 2050. Developing countries will be able to use coal for the next few decades, but currently developed countries must drop their high coal use during this decade.
Solar and wind are the main renewable modes considered, with improvements in storage factored in over time. Assumptions also include efforts from individual countries, efforts from the global community, use of both proven and emerging technologies, and underground carbon capture and sequestration at coal and natural gas plants.
Where do we go from here? Keep an eye on CleanTechnica for further discussion of the 2°C limit, CO2-energy budgets necessary to stay below it, research, development, demonstration, and diffusion of low-carbon technologies, country-level deep decarbonization pathways, and the aggregate results and cross-country comparisons from the 15 national deep decarbonization pathways as they are developed over the coming weeks.
If you would like to comment on the report draft and/or make suggestions, access the pdf file here and contact firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com before August 15, 2014.
Leaders from governments, business, finance, and civil society will meet at the Climate Leaders summit Ban Ki-moon called for the UN on September 23 of this year, the Conference of Parties to the longstanding UN Framework Convention on Climate Change three months later in Lima, Peru, and the critical Paris round of world climate negotiations in 2015, where countries intend to adopt a comprehensive world agreement to address climate change.
In the meantime, every person who proceeds with clean energy “full speed ahead” will lessen the impact of absurdist denial and delay.
“Change is in the air,” says the Secretary-General. “Solutions exist. The race is on, and it’s time to lead…. The report we are launching today shows how we can achieve deep decarbonization.”
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