A new report from the Oxford Martin School has warned that the world’s energy sector is “uncomfortably close” to pushing global warming above 2°C.
A new study from the Institute for New Economic Thinking at the Oxford Martin School and the Smith School for Enterprise and Environment, University of Oxford, published in the journal Applied Energy, has revealed that “we are uncomfortably close to the point where the world’s energy system commits the planet to exceeding 2°C.” Specifically, the report calculated the Two degree capital stock — “the global stock of electricity infrastructure from which future emissions have a 50% probability of staying within 2°C of warming.”
The authors of the report concluded that we are likely to reach that Two degree capital stock in 2017.
Using carbon budgets from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the IPCC’s AR5 scenario database, as well as assumed future emissions from other sectors in line with restricting warming to 2°C, the researchers concluded that no new emitting electricity infrastructure can be built after 2017 if this target is to be met, unless existing emitting infrastructure is retired early or retrofitted with carbon capture technology.
The authors also noted that investors must take note of this if they are to play their part in restricting global emissions.
“Investors putting money into new carbon-emitting infrastructure need to ask hard questions about how long those assets will operate for, and assess the risk of future shut-downs and write-offs,” said Professor Cameron Hepburn, Professor of Environmental Economics based at INET Oxford and the Smith School, and one of the authors.
The authors also warned policy makers today of the imminent threat.
“For policy makers who think of climate change as a long-term future issue this should be a wake-up call,” said Professor Hepburn. “Whether we succeed or fail in containing warming to 2°C is determined by what we do now, not in future decades.”
The leading recommendation from the report is to transition immediately to zero-carbon technologies as the “most economically prudent course of action.” Zero-carbon technologies, such as wind and solar, have already shown that they are working to reduce emissions, and as their costs decline, along with building proof that deployment at scale continues to increase the declines in cost, the recommendation is an obvious one.