IEA: World Can Reach 'Net Zero' Emissions by 2060 to Meet Paris Climate Goals
By Simon Evans
Global emissions can be pushed down to "net zero" by 2060 to meet the climate goals of the Paris agreement, said the International Energy Agency (IEA).
For the first time, the 29-member intergovernmental group's annual Energy Technology Perspectives report, the 2017 edition published Tuesday, maps a "below 2°C" scenario. This shows how to limit warming to around 1.75°C above pre-industrial temperatures this century, roughly in line with Paris, which aims for "well below 2°C" and preferably 1.5°C.
The "well below 2°C" aim is "technically feasible" and the past three years of stalled emissions favorable, the IEA said, but the gap compared to current action is "immense" and the challenge "formidable."
Carbon Brief runs through what is needed to change course. This includes the early closure of most of the world's coal fleet, incurring losses of up to $8.3 trillion by 2060.
OUTRAGEOUS! Trump's Paris Withdrawal: One of the Most Ignorant & Dangerous Actions of Any President https://t.co/6Yjc7nsmcY #ParisAgreement— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1496348288.0
Zero by 2060
In serious discussions about climate change, it is universally acknowledged that the world must become carbon neutral in order to stop global temperatures from increasing. This is because of the carbon budget, which caps the amount of greenhouse gases that can be added to the atmosphere for a given level of warming. The only real question is when net-zero emissions must be reached.
Apart from the choice of temperature limit—whether 1.5 or 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures—the major uncertainties include how sensitive the earth is to increasing emissions and how effectively the natural world can continue to absorb much of the carbon we release each year.
The Paris agreement sets a warming limit of "well below 2C" with an aspirational 1.5°C target. It loosely follows the science of carbon budgets by calling for net zero emissions in "the second half of this century".
These more ambitious targets set a challenge politically, but also for energy modellers such as the IEA, which had previously focused on the 2°C goal. The IEA's Energy Technology Perspectives 2017 is its first attempt to determine if the goals of Paris can be met.
Previously, the IEA had shown that current policies and climate pledges were insufficient, implying global temperatures reaching 2.7°C in 2100 and still rising. That was before President Donald Trump began the process of tearing up the U.S. contribution.
It had identified a "bridge" scenario that would bend the path of emissions towards 2°C, as well as its more aspirational 2°C path, which reaches net-zero emissions by 2100. But these still fell short of reaching the Paris targets.
In its new report, the IEA said:
"Technologies can make a decisive difference in achieving global climate goals while enhancing economic development and energy security. For the first time, [our] technology-rich modeling expands the time horizon to 2060 and reveals a possible although very challenging pathway to net-zero carbon emissions across the energy sector."
The path to meeting this zero-by-2060 scenario is narrow and requires unprecedented action, the IEA said, though it does not rely on unforeseen breakthroughs in innovation. Its report emphasizes the scale of the challenge:
"Deployment of clean energy technologies, inclusive of those currently available and in the innovation pipeline, is pushed to its maximum practical limits across all key sectors ... This pathway implies that all available policy levers are activated throughout the outlook period [2014-2060] in every sector worldwide. This would require unprecedented policy action as well as effort and engagement from all stakeholders."
Even so, its zero-by-2060 scenario would give only a 50-50 chance of keeping global temperature rise below 1.75°C. This is within the bounds of the Paris goals, though the IEA said it is not trying to set the definition of the "well below 2C" target in the agreement.
Efficiency and renewables
Most of the emissions cuts in the IEA 2°C and below-2°C scenarios come from energy efficiency and renewables. To move from our current 2.7°C path towards its 2°C scenario, the IEA sees these two sectors providing 75 percent of the emissions reductions, with another 14 percent from carbon capture and storage (CCS), six percent from nuclear and five percent from fuel switching, for instance from coal to gas.
Shifting from the 2°C path to its below-2°C scenario would again put heavy emphasis on energy efficiency across transport, buildings and industry, to make 34 percent of the additional carbon savings. The importance of CCS would increase, making up 32 percent of extra effort, as the chart below shows.
Compared to the current path, efficiency and renewables would still play the largest role:
As efficiency cuts demand and renewables scale up, fossil fuels' share of the global energy mix falls from 82 percent in 2014 to 35 percent in 2060 under the 2°C scenario, with coal use falling by 72 percent, oil by 45 percent and natural gas by 26 percent compared with 2014.
In the below-2°C scenario, these reductions are even more stark, with fossil fuels' share of global energy falling to 26 percent, coal use falling by 78 percent, oil by 64 percent and natural gas by 47 percent. Coal use without CCS is already largely eliminated in the 2°C scenario, so the shift to below 2°C disproportionately cuts into the space available for burning oil and gas.
In the power sector, low-carbon electricity meets 96 percent of global demand by 2060, even under the less ambitious 2°C scenario. The IEA's latest report goes further than ever before in spelling out the financial implications of this shift for coal and gas-fired power stations.
As the transition to zero-carbon accelerates, many fossil-fueled power stations will have to be closed before they reach the end of their natural life, the IEA said, causing lost earnings and creating "stranded assets" that are worth less than expected by investors.
Under its 2°C scenario, some 1,520 gigawatts (GW) of capacity is closed early, of which 1,285GW is coal. For comparison, the combined fleets of China and the U.S. today, the world's top two countries for coal capacity, total 1,208GW. Adding Russia and Poland takes this to 1,285GW.
In its below-2°C scenario, the IEA sees 1,715GW closing early, of which 1,330GW is coal. This is equivalent to the current fleets of China, the U.S., Japan, Germany and Poland. The plants closing early would lose $3.7 trillion in revenue to 2060 for the electricity they would otherwise have generated.
If action in the power sector is delayed, the extent of early closures and financial losses only increases, the IEA noted. If global power sector emissions remain flat until 2025, before falling more steeply later on, then losses could reach $8.3 trillion by 2060 and early retirements of coal and gas plants would climb to 2,350GW. The current global coal fleet is 1,965GW.
It's worth noting that despite the significant role for CCS in its scenarios, the IEA said under a 2°C or higher path: "Coal-fired power plants with CCS become too carbon intensive at a certain point, since 10-15 percent of their emissions are not captured."
Unless these residual emissions can be eliminated through technical advance, then this issue will limit the potential to prevent stranded coal assets by adding CCS later on. That's particularly true if climate ambition is pushed towards below 2°C, or if action is delayed, the IEA report suggests.
Still, its scenarios include a key contribution from bioenergy with CCS (BECCS) to generate negative greenhouse gas emissions. The IEA includes significant levels of negative emissions, reaching nearly five gigatonnes of CO2 (GtCO2) per year in 2060, as the chart below shows.
Some experts argue this level of demand for biomass would be unsustainable, while others point to slow progress on CCS. Nevertheless, negative emissions from BECCS are "central" to the below-2°C scenario developed by the IEA, where stubborn emissions from transport and industry are offset by negative emissions in the power and transformation sectors (for example, bioenergy-derived fuel production linked to CCS).
The broad outlines of what is needed to meet the goals of the Paris agreement are well known: the world must reach net-zero emissions soon after 2050 to keep the rise in temperature to 2°C or less. Yet the scale of the challenge is daunting and, as the IEA points out, most sectors are off track.
Part of its latest report is devoted to tracking the progress of clean energy, technology by technology, repeating a sobering reality check that it carries out each year. This year, the IEA said, electric vehicles, energy storage, plus solar and wind are on track for a 2°C scenario.
This compares poorly to the eight sectors that are not on track and the 15 sectors where more efforts are needed. While this picture appears fairly gloomy, it's worth comparing to what the IEA said two years ago, when no sectors were on track, and last year, when only one was.
We're not on track for 2C, but things are improving. Compare IEA indicators from 2015, 2016 and 2017: (Zero, 1 then… https://t.co/ZyIEq9ZQOF— Simon Evans (@Simon Evans)1495131526.0
It's also worth reiterating the IEA's view that meeting the aims of Paris is technically feasible with existing technologies and those in development, without the need for breakthrough innovation. As ever, world leaders' lack of political will stands in the way of meeting their stated climate goals.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Carbon Brief.
By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge
In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.
The Good and Bad News<p><span>Ecosystems consist of living and non-living components, and their interactions. They work like a super-complex engine: when some components are removed or stop working, knock-on consequences can lead to system failure.</span></p><p>Our study is based on measured data and observations, not modeling or predictions for the future. Encouragingly, not all ecosystems we examined have collapsed across their entire range. We still have, for instance, some intact reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, especially in deeper waters. And northern Australia has some of the most intact and least-modified stretches of savanna woodlands on Earth.</p><p><span>Still, collapses are happening, including in regions critical for growing food. This includes the </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/importance-murray-darling-basin/where-basin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Murray-Darling Basin</a><span>, which covers around 14% of Australia's landmass. Its rivers and other freshwater systems support more than </span><a href="https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/latestproducts/94F2007584736094CA2574A50014B1B6?opendocument" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30% of Australia's food</a><span> production.</span></p><p><span></span><span>The effects of floods, fires, heatwaves and storms do not stop at farm gates; they're felt equally in agricultural areas and natural ecosystems. We shouldn't forget how towns ran out of </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/issues-murray-darling-basin/drought#effects" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drinking water</a><span> during the recent drought.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Drinking water is also at risk when ecosystems collapse in our water catchments. In Victoria, for example, the degradation of giant </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/logging-must-stop-in-melbournes-biggest-water-supply-catchment-106922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mountain Ash forests</a><span> greatly reduces the amount of water flowing through the Thompson catchment, threatening nearly five million people's drinking water in Melbourne.</span></p><p>This is a dire <em data-redactor-tag="em">wake-up</em> call — not just a <em data-redactor-tag="em">warning</em>. Put bluntly, current changes across the continent, and their potential outcomes, pose an existential threat to our survival, and other life we share environments with.</p><p><span>In investigating patterns of collapse, we found most ecosystems experience multiple, concurrent pressures from both global climate change and regional human impacts (such as land clearing). Pressures are often </span><a href="https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1365-2664.13427" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">additive and extreme</a><span>.</span></p><p>Take the last 11 years in Western Australia as an example.</p><p>In the summer of 2010 and 2011, a <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-heatwaves-are-getting-hotter-lasting-longer-and-doing-more-damage-95637" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heatwave</a> spanning more than 300,000 square kilometers ravaged both marine and land ecosystems. The extreme heat devastated forests and woodlands, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs. This catastrophe was followed by two cyclones.</p><p>A record-breaking, marine heatwave in late 2019 dealt a further blow. And another marine heatwave is predicted for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/24/wa-coastline-facing-marine-heatwave-in-early-2021-csiro-predicts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">this April</a>.</p>
What to Do About It?<p><span>Our brains trust comprises 38 experts from 21 universities, CSIRO and the federal Department of Agriculture Water and Environment. Beyond quantifying and reporting more doom and gloom, we asked the question: what can be done?</span></p><p>We devised a simple but tractable scheme called the 3As:</p><ul><li>Awareness of what is important</li><li>Anticipation of what is coming down the line</li><li>Action to stop the pressures or deal with impacts.</li></ul><p>In our paper, we identify positive actions to help protect or restore ecosystems. Many are already happening. In some cases, ecosystems might be better left to recover by themselves, such as coral after a cyclone.</p><p>In other cases, active human intervention will be required – for example, placing artificial nesting boxes for Carnaby's black cockatoos in areas where old trees have been <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/factsheet-carnabys-black-cockatoo-calyptorhynchus-latirostris" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">removed</a>.</p><p><span>"Future-ready" actions are also vital. This includes reinstating </span><a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/a-burning-question-fire/12395700" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultural burning practices</a><span>, which have </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/australia-you-have-unfinished-business-its-time-to-let-our-fire-people-care-for-this-land-135196" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">multiple values and benefits for Aboriginal communities</a><span> and can help minimize the risk and strength of bushfires.</span></p><p>It might also include replanting banks along the Murray River with species better suited to <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/my-garden-path---matt-hansen/12322978" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">warmer conditions</a>.</p><p>Some actions may be small and localized, but have substantial positive benefits.</p><p>For example, billions of migrating Bogong moths, the main summer food for critically endangered mountain pygmy possums, have not arrived in their typical numbers in Australian alpine regions in recent years. This was further exacerbated by the <a href="https://theconversation.com/six-million-hectares-of-threatened-species-habitat-up-in-smoke-129438" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019-20</a> fires. Brilliantly, <a href="https://www.zoo.org.au/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Zoos Victoria</a> anticipated this pressure and developed supplementary food — <a href="https://theconversation.com/looks-like-an-anzac-biscuit-tastes-like-a-protein-bar-bogong-bikkies-help-mountain-pygmy-possums-after-fire-131045" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bogong bikkies</a>.</p><p><span>Other more challenging, global or large-scale actions must address the </span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iICpI9H0GkU&t=34s" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">root cause of environmental threats</a><span>, such as </span><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0504-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">human population growth and per-capita consumption</a><span> of environmental resources.</span><br></p><p>We must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero, remove or suppress invasive species such as <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mam.12080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">feral cats</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-buffel-kerfuffle-how-one-species-quietly-destroys-native-wildlife-and-cultural-sites-in-arid-australia-149456" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">buffel grass</a>, and stop widespread <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-reduce-fire-risk-and-meet-climate-targets-over-300-scientists-call-for-stronger-land-clearing-laws-113172" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">land clearing</a> and other forms of habitat destruction.</p>
Our Lives Depend On It<p>The multiple ecosystem collapses we have documented in Australia are a harbinger for <a href="https://www.iucn.org/news/protected-areas/202102/natures-future-our-future-world-speaks" target="_blank">environments globally</a>.</p><p>The simplicity of the 3As is to show people <em>can</em> do something positive, either at the local level of a landcare group, or at the level of government departments and conservation agencies.</p><p>Our lives and those of our <a href="https://theconversation.com/children-are-our-future-and-the-planets-heres-how-you-can-teach-them-to-take-care-of-it-113759" target="_blank">children</a>, as well as our <a href="https://theconversation.com/taking-care-of-business-the-private-sector-is-waking-up-to-natures-value-153786" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">economies</a>, societies and <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-address-the-ecological-crisis-aboriginal-peoples-must-be-restored-as-custodians-of-country-108594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultures</a>, depend on it.</p><p>We simply cannot afford any further delay.</p><p><em><a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/dana-m-bergstrom-1008495" target="_blank" style="">Dana M Bergstrom</a> is a principal research scientist at the University of Wollongong. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/euan-ritchie-735" target="_blank" style="">Euan Ritchie</a> is a professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lesley-hughes-5823" target="_blank">Lesley Hughes</a> is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michael-depledge-114659" target="_blank">Michael Depledge</a> is a professor and chair, Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter. </em></p><p><em>Disclosure statements: Dana Bergstrom works for the Australian Antarctic Division and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Wollongong. Her research including fieldwork on Macquarie Island and in Antarctica was supported by the Australian Antarctic Division.</em></p><p><em>Euan Ritchie receives funding from the Australian Research Council, The Australia and Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Geographic, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Euan Ritchie is a Director (Media Working Group) of the Ecological Society of Australia, and a member of the Australian Mammal Society.</em></p><p><em>Lesley Hughes receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and a Director of WWF-Australia.</em></p><p><em>Michael Depledge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/existential-threat-to-our-survival-see-the-19-australian-ecosystems-already-collapsing-154077" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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