By Brett Wilkins
As world leaders prepare for this November's United Nations Climate Conference in Scotland, a new report from the Cambridge Sustainability Commission reveals that the world's wealthiest 5% were responsible for well over a third of all global emissions growth between 1990 and 2015.
The report, Changing Our Ways: Behavior Change and the Climate Crisis, found that nearly half the growth in absolute global emissions was caused by the world's richest 10%, with the most affluent 5% alone contributing 37%.
"In the year when the UK hosts COP26, and while the government continues to reward some of Britain's biggest polluters through tax credits, the commission report shows why this is precisely the wrong way to meet the UK's climate targets," the report's introduction states.
The authors of the report urge United Kingdom policymakers to focus on this so-called "polluter elite" in an effort to persuade wealthy people to adopt more sustainable behavior, while providing "affordable, available low-carbon alternatives to poorer households."
The report found that the "polluter elite" must make "dramatic" lifestyle changes in order to meet the UK's goal — based on the Paris climate agreement's preferential objective — of limiting global heating to 1.5°C, compared with pre-industrial levels.
In addition to highlighting previous recommendations — including reducing meat consumption, reducing food waste, and switching to electric vehicles and solar power — the report recommends that policymakers take the following steps:
- Implement frequent flyer levies;
- Enact bans on selling and promoting SUVs and other high polluting vehicles;
- Reverse the UK's recent move to cut green grants for homes and electric cars; and
- Build just transitions by supporting electric public transport and community energy schemes.
"We have got to cut over-consumption and the best place to start is over-consumption among the polluting elites who contribute by far more than their share of carbon emissions," Peter Newell, a Sussex University professor and lead author of the report, told the BBC.
"These are people who fly most, drive the biggest cars most, and live in the biggest homes which they can easily afford to heat, so they tend not to worry if they're well insulated or not," said Newell. "They're also the sort of people who could really afford good insulation and solar panels if they wanted to."
Newell said that wealthy people "simply must fly less and drive less. Even if they own an electric SUV, that's still a drain on the energy system and all the emissions created making the vehicle in the first place."
"Rich people who fly a lot may think they can offset their emissions by tree-planting schemes or projects to capture carbon from the air," Newell added. "But these schemes are highly contentious and they're not proven over time."
The report concludes that "we are all on a journey and the final destination is as yet unclear. There are many contradictory road maps about where we might want to get to and how, based on different theories of value and premised on diverse values."
"Promisingly, we have brought about positive change before, and there are at least some positive signs that there is an appetite to do what is necessary to live differently but well on the planet we call home," it states.
The new report follows a September 2020 Oxfam International study that revealed the wealthiest 1% of the world's population is responsible for emitting more than twice as much carbon dioxide as the poorest 50% of humanity combined.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
- Small Percentage of Frequent Flyers Are Driving Global Emissions ... ›
- World's Richest People Gained $1.8 Trillion in 2020 - EcoWatch ›
- Tourism Responsible for 8% of Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions ... ›
By Christian Brand
Globally, only one in 50 new cars were fully electric in 2020, and one in 14 in the UK. Sounds impressive, but even if all new cars were electric now, it would still take 15-20 years to replace the world's fossil fuel car fleet.
The emission savings from replacing all those internal combustion engines with zero-carbon alternatives will not feed in fast enough to make the necessary difference in the time we can spare: the next five years. Tackling the climate and air pollution crises requires curbing all motorized transport, particularly private cars, as quickly as possible. Focusing solely on electric vehicles is slowing down the race to zero emissions.
This is partly because electric cars aren't truly zero-carbon – mining the raw materials for their batteries, manufacturing them and generating the electricity they run on produces emissions.
Transport is one of the most challenging sectors to decarbonize due to its heavy fossil fuel use and reliance on carbon-intensive infrastructure – such as roads, airports and the vehicles themselves - and the way it embeds car-dependent lifestyles. One way to reduce transport emissions relatively quickly, and potentially globally, is to swap cars for cycling, e-biking and walking – active travel, as it's called.
Active travel is cheaper, healthier, better for the environment, and no slower on congested urban streets. So how much carbon can it save on a daily basis? And what is its role in reducing emissions from transport overall?
In new research, colleagues and I reveal that people who walk or cycle have lower carbon footprints from daily travel, including in cities where lots of people are already doing this. Despite the fact that some walking and cycling happens on top of motorized journeys instead of replacing them, more people switching to active travel would equate to lower carbon emissions from transport on a daily and trip-by-trip basis.
What a Difference a Trip Makes
We observed around 4,000 people living in London, Antwerp, Barcelona, Vienna, Orebro, Rome and Zurich. Over a two-year period, our participants completed 10,000 travel diary entries which served as records of all the trips they made each day, whether going to work by train, taking the kids to school by car or riding the bus into town. For each trip, we calculated the carbon footprint.
Strikingly, people who cycled on a daily basis had 84% lower carbon emissions from all their daily travel than those who didn't.
We also found that the average person who shifted from car to bike for just one day a week cut their carbon footprint by 3.2kg of CO₂ – equivalent to the emissions from driving a car for 10km, eating a serving of lamb or chocolate, or sending 800 emails.
When we compared the life cycle of each travel mode, taking into account the carbon generated by making the vehicle, fueling it and disposing of it, we found that emissions from cycling can be more than 30 times lower for each trip than driving a fossil fuel car, and about ten times lower than driving an electric one.
We also estimate that urban residents who switched from driving to cycling for just one trip per day reduced their carbon footprint by about half a tonne of CO₂ over the course of a year, and save the equivalent emissions of a one-way flight from London to New York. If just one in five urban residents permanently changed their travel behavior in this way over the next few years, we estimate it would cut emissions from all car travel in Europe by about 8%.
Nearly half of the fall in daily carbon emissions during global lockdowns in 2020 came from reductions in transport emissions. The pandemic forced countries around the world to adapt to reduce the spread of the virus. In the UK, walking and cycling have been the big winners, with a 20% rise in people walking regularly, and cycling levels increasing by 9% on weekdays and 58% on weekends compared to pre-pandemic levels. This is despite cycle commuters being very likely to work from home.
Active travel has offered an alternative to cars that keeps social distancing intact. It has helped people to stay safe during the pandemic and it could help reduce emissions as confinement is eased, particularly as the high prices of some electric vehicles are likely to put many potential buyers off for now.
So the race is on. Active travel can contribute to tackling the climate emergency earlier than electric vehicles while also providing affordable, reliable, clean, healthy and congestion-busting transportation.
Christian Brand is an Associate Professor in Transport, Energy & Environment, Transport Studies Unit, University of Oxford.
Disclosure statement: Christian Brand received funding for this work from the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme via the 'Physical Activity through Sustainable Transport Approaches' project and UK Research and Innovation via the Centre for Research on Energy Demand Solutions and the UK Energy Research Centre.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
- United Airlines Will Invest in Carbon Capture En Route to Net Zero ›
- U.S. could reach net-zero emissions by 2050 with more benefits ... ›
- Why corporate climate pledges of 'net-zero' emissions should trigger ... ›
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Kenny Stancil
The concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide surged past 420 parts per million for the first time in recorded history this past weekend, according to a measurement taken at the Mauna Loa Observatory on the Big Island of Hawaii.
When the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research station "began collecting CO2 measurements in the late 1950s, atmospheric CO2 concentration sat at around 315 PPM," the Washington Post reported. "On Saturday, the daily average was pegged at 421.21 PPM—the first time in human history that number has been so high."
Climate activist Greta Thunberg took notice of NOAA's most recent data on CO2 levels. She described the first-ever documented eclipse of 420 PPM of CO2 in Earth's atmosphere as "truly groundbreaking."
Is this is confirmed, then it is truly groundbreaking to say the least. And I don’t mean that in a good way... https://t.co/vwFOENLcWQ— Greta Thunberg (@Greta Thunberg)1617619321.0
Exceeding 420 PPM of the heat-trapping gas "is a disconcerting milestone in the human-induced warming of the planet, around the halfway point on our path toward doubling preindustrial CO2 levels," the Post noted, adding:
There is special significance in reaching and surpassing a concentration of 416 PPM. It means we've passed the midpoint between preindustrial CO2 levels, around 278 PPM, and a doubling of that figure, or 556 PPM.
The record of 421 PPM reached Saturday is just a single point and occurred as CO2 levels are nearing their yearly peak. But the levels over the past two months, of more than 417 PPM, signal that the annual average concentration is likely to exceed 416 PPM.
While the growing concentration of atmospheric CO2—which increases the global average temperature and the number and severity of extreme weather events—is a long-term trend that corresponds with the rise of fossil fuel-powered capitalism, it has accelerated particularly rapidly since the 1970s.
CO2 concentration at the Mauna Loa Observatory reached a daily record of 421.21 Parts Per Million (PPM) on April 3.… https://t.co/2KYjC8IntE— Steve Bowen (@Steve Bowen)1617640923.0
The doubling of atmospheric CO2 is expected to increase Earth's temperature by 2.6 to 4.1ºC above preindustrial averages, a level of planetary heating that would "rul[e] out more modest warming scenarios," as the Post noted.
"Even if greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were to plummet overnight, the planet would continue warming for years to come," the Post added. That's because, as Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at the Breakthrough Institute in California, told the newspaper: "The amount of warming that the world is experiencing is a result of all of our emissions since the industrial revolution—not just our emissions in the last year."
As the Post reported, CO2 isn't the only GHG with "worrying trends." Emissions of methane and sulfur hexafluoride have spiked, too.
Although methane doesn't remain in the atmosphere as long as CO2, it absorbs heat much more effectively, which means that it greatly exacerbates the climate crisis. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, methane is 84 times more potent than CO2 in the first two decades after its release.
Here's the Post on sulfur hexafluoride, a GHG that "results from the production of insulators used on electrical grids [and] also reached all-time records of 10 parts per trillion":
While its concentration remains orders of magnitude more dilute than that of most other major greenhouse gases, its rate of increase in the atmosphere has doubled since 2003.
Sulfur hexafluoride is also thousands of times more potent—a single molecule can cause 23,900 times more warming than a molecule of CO2. And a single molecule of sulfur hexafluoride can stick around in the atmosphere for more than three millennia.
While the Paris climate agreement seeks to limit the rise in annual mean global temperature to 1.5°C above preindustrial averages by the end of the 21st century, the World Meteorological Organization warned last year that there is a 20% chance the world will hit or surpass that level of warming in at least one year by 2024.
"The science is clear," United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in December. "Unless the world cuts fossil fuel production by 6% every year between now and 2030, things will get worse. Much worse."
As forest ecologist Giorgio Matteucci tweeted Monday, "We have to act!"
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
- Carbon Dioxide Emissions Near Level Not Seen in 15 Million Years ... ›
- This Icelandic Startup Is Turning Carbon Dioxide Into Stone ... ›
- Carbon Dioxide Levels in the Atmosphere Hit Highest Level in 3 ... ›
- Scientists Alarmed at Surging Atmospheric Methane, CO2 ›
There is already robust evidence that human activity is causing the climate crisis. This conclusion is supported by 97 percent of climate scientists, and has been established through direct observations of skyrocketing carbon dioxide levels and rising temperatures. However, the connection between greenhouse gas emissions and their climate effects remained theoretical, until now. NASA scientists have provided evidence through satellite observations that greenhouse gases are heating the Earth. "It's direct evidence that human activities are causing changes to Earth's energy budget," Ryan Kramer, the study's first author and a researcher at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, told CBS News.
The research, published in Geophysical Research Letters on March 25, used satellites to provide evidence of radiative forcing.
Essentially, this is the mechanism behind the greenhouse effect, CBS News explained. When sunlight enters Earth's atmosphere, some of it is reflected back into space, while some of it is absorbed as heat. In order for global temperatures to remain steady, solar energy coming in needs to equal solar energy going out. Heat can be trapped by greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and water vapor. As the concentration of heat-trapping gases increases, the energy balance is thrown off and the Earth becomes warmer. This radiative forcing is the driving mechanism behind climate change.
"While there are well‐established observational records of greenhouse gas concentrations and surface temperatures, there is not yet a global measure of the radiative forcing, in part because current satellite observations of Earth's radiation only measure the sum total of radiation changes that occur," the study authors noted.
To get around this, researchers used radiative kernels (a type of methodology) to separate radiative forcing from the totality of energy balance changes observed by satellites between 2003 and 2018. They found that radiative forcing increased, and that these increases were caused primarily by rising greenhouse gases, and secondarily by decreasing aerosol pollution, which has a cooling effect.
In total, radiative forcing increased by 0.5 watts per meter-squared, which is 10 times the energy used by people in a given year, and enough to heat the atmosphere by more than half a degree Fahrenheit in 16 years, CBS News reported.
The study builds on a new but growing body of direct evidence for radiative forcing. A 2015 study made the first observations of carbon dioxide's ability to absorb heat radiated from Earth's surface at the surface level. That study focused on two locations in North America during 11 years.
"Numerous studies show rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations, but our study provides the critical link between those concentrations and the addition of energy to the system, or the greenhouse effect," Daniel Feldman, lead author and a scientist in the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said in a press release at the time.
However, the NASA study provides the first comprehensive observations of these changes. That said, the observations are just confirming what most scientists already know to be true.
"In reality, the observational results came in just as predicted by the theory," Brian Soden, study co-author and professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, told CBS News. "There is no surprise in the results, but rather it's really more of 'dotting the i's and crossing the t's' on anthropogenic [human-caused] climate change. It closes that last link between rising CO2 levels and planetary warming."
Another study finds evidence that the majority of climate-damaging flights are undertaken by a small minority of frequent travelers.
The research, published by the UK-based climate charity Possible, is based on a review of the existing literature on global flight frequency before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the aviation industry. It found extensive evidence of flight inequality both between and within countries.
"This report shows the same pattern of inequality around the world — a small minority of frequent flyers take an unfair share of the flights," Possible's Alethea Warrington told BBC News. "While the poorest communities are already suffering the impacts of a warming climate, the benefits of high-carbon lifestyles are enjoyed only by the few. A lot of people travel. But only the privileged few fly often."
Globally, few people fly regularly. Less than 20 percent of people have ever flown, according to the report, and only five to 10 percent of the world's population flies in any year. Further, the wealthiest 10 percent of people are responsible for 76 percent of the energy consumption involved with packaged holidays.
Meanwhile, the top 10 countries for aviation emissions account for 60 percent of the world's total, while the top 30 account for 86 percent. The top three countries for total emissions from flying were the U.S., China and the UK, while the top five for per capita emissions from residents came from Singapore, Finland, Iceland, Australia and the UK.
At the same time, a gap remains within those top-flying countries between the most frequent flyers and everyone else.
- U.S.: 12 percent of the population takes 66 percent of the flights
- UK: around 15 percent of the population takes 70 percent of the flights
- France: two percent of the population takes 50 percent of the flights
- Canada: 22 percent of the population takes 73 percent of the flights
- Netherlands: eight percent of the population takes 42 percent of the flights
To address these inequalities and reduce aviation emissions, Possible is proposing a Frequent Flyer Levy in the UK, which would tax people who take more flights.
"Air travel is a uniquely damaging behavior, resulting in more emissions per hour than any other activity, bar starting forest fires. So targeting climate policy at the elite minority responsible for most of the environmental damage from flights could help tackle the climate problem without taking away access to the most important and valued services that air travel provides to society," Leo Murray, Possible director of innovation, told The Guardian.
Other environmental groups agree with the frequent flyer levy, but also argue for an end to frequent flyer rewards programs.
"Taxing frequent fliers is a good idea — but we also have to do something about air miles, which reward frequent fliers for flying more frequently," Greenpeace Executive Director John Sauven told BBC News. "This is obscene during a climate crisis — and it should be stopped."
However, a UK treasury spokesperson noted that there would be some problems implementing a frequent flyer levy. It could be complicated to apply, raise privacy concerns, be hard to enforce for people holding more than one passport and pose a problem for people who travel for essential work.
The airline industry also opposed the tax and argued in favor of technological fixes.
"Taxes have proved to be an ineffective way to tackle emissions," Michael Gill, executive director at the International Air Transport Association, told The Guardian. "The focus instead should be on practical means to mitigate the CO2 impact of aviation, while still enabling people to fly for business and family reasons."
However, Finlay Asher, a climate activist and former airline engineer, said technological innovation was not likely to do the trick.
"As an engineer working on future aircraft technology, I quickly realized that technology development is moving too slowly compared with growth in air traffic," Asher told The Guardian. "The only way to reduce emissions from the sector in time is government policy to fairly limit demand for flights. Without that, no amount of technology will help."
- Aviation Accounts for 3.5% of Global Warming Caused by Humans ... ›
- Coronavirus Shutdowns Causing Huge Drops in Traffic, Air Pollution ... ›
- To Fly or Not to Fly? The Environmental Cost of Air Travel - EcoWatch ›
- World's 5% 'Polluter Elite' Responsible for 37% of Global Emissions Growth, Study Concludes ›
By Jessica Corbett
While scientists and campaigners continue calling on world leaders to pursue more ambitious policies to cut planet-heating emissions based on moral arguments and physical dangers, a U.S. think tank released survey results on Tuesday that make a clear economic case for sweeping climate action.
The Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University School of Law invited 2,169 Ph.D. economists to take a 15-question online survey "focused on climate change risks, economic damage estimates, and emissions abatement," according to a report on the results. Nearly three-quarters of the 738 economists who participated in the survey say they agree that "immediate and drastic action is necessary."
"In sharp contrast, less than 1% believe that climate change is 'not a serious problem,'" the report says, noting a jump in support for bold climate action now compared with a 2015 survey. "Nearly 80% of respondents also self-report an increase in their level of concern about climate change over the past five years, underscoring the high level of overall concern among this group."
Just out: an impressive new international survey of 738 economists with expertise in climate by @NYULaw… https://t.co/eHGdjvMLHl— Dana Nuccitelli (@Dana Nuccitelli)1617120585.0
Of those surveyed, 76% believe the climate crisis will likely or very likely have a negative effect on global economic growth rates. Additionally, 70% think climate change will make income inequality worse within most countries and 89% think it will exacerbate inequality between high-income and low-income countries.
"People who spend their careers studying our economy are in widespread agreement that climate change will be expensive, potentially devastatingly so," said Peter Howard, economics director at the institute and co-author of the research, in a statement. "These findings show a clear economic case for urgent climate action."
As the report details:
Respondents were asked to estimate the economic impacts of several different climate scenarios. They project that economic damages from climate change will reach $1.7 trillion per year by 2025, and roughly $30 trillion per year (5% of projected GDP) by 2075 if the current warming trend continues. Their damage estimates rise precipitously as warming intensifies, topping $140 trillion annually at a 5°C increase and $730 trillion at a 7°C increase. As expected, experts believe that the risk of extremely high/catastrophic damages significantly increases at these high temperatures.
Sixty-six percent of respondents "agree that the benefits of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 would likely outweigh the costs," compared with just 12% who disagree. As the report says: "Costs are often cited as a reason to delay or avoid strong action on climate change, but this survey of hundreds of expert economists suggests that the weight of evidence is on the side of rapid action."
The economists also foresee a "rapid expansion of clean energy technologies" in the coming decades, and 65% of respondents expect the costs of emerging zero-emission and negative-emission tech will drop rapidly, similar to the recent developments with solar and wind energy. While a majority also expects negative-emission technologies will become viable in the second half of the century, the report notes that "a very high percentage of 'No Opinion' responses underscores the uncertainty of this projection."
Our global survey of over 700 economists gathered expert views on a series of key climate change questions. The ov… https://t.co/ftp9Ix3Sbq— Institute for Policy Integrity (@Institute for Policy Integrity)1617113684.0
"Economists overwhelmingly support rapid emissions reductions, and they are optimistic about key technology costs continuing to drop," said co-author Derek Sylvan, strategy director at the institute. "There is a clear consensus among these experts that the status quo seems far more costly than a major energy transition."
The survey comes as governments party to the Paris agreement are revising and releasing emissions pledges for the next decade ahead of a global summit in November. A United Nations report recently warned that the pledges put forth so far are dramatically inadequate. As Power Shift Africa director Mohamed Adow said: "It's staggering how far off track countries are to dealing with the climate crisis."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
By Oliver Miltenberger and Matthew D. Potts
Hundreds of companies, including major emitters like United Airlines, BP and Shell, have pledged to reduce their impact on climate change and reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. These plans sound ambitious, but what does it actually take to reach net-zero and, more importantly, will it be enough to slow climate change?
As environmental policy and economics researchers, we study how companies make these net-zero pledges. Though the pledges make great press releases, net-zero is more complicated and potentially problematic than it may seem.
What Is 'Net-Zero' Emissions?
The gold standard for reaching net-zero emissions looks like this: A company identifies and reports all emissions it is responsible for creating, it reduces them as much as possible, and then – if it still has emissions it cannot reduce – it invests in projects that either prevent emissions elsewhere or pull carbon out of the air to reach a "net-zero" balance on paper.
The process is complex and still largely unregulated and ill-defined. As a result, companies have a lot of discretion over how they report their emissions. For example, a multinational mining company might count emissions from extracting and processing ore but not the emissions produced by transporting it.
Companies also have discretion over how much they rely on what are known as offsets – the projects they can fund to reduce emissions. The oil giant Shell, for example, projects that it will both achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and continue to produce high levels of fossil fuel through that year and beyond. How? It proposes to offset the bulk of its fossil-fuel-related emissions through massive nature-based projects that capture and store carbon, such as forest and ocean restoration. In fact, Shell alone plans to deploy more of these offsets by 2030 than were available globally in 2019.
Environmentalists may welcome Shell's newfound conservationist agenda, but what if other oil companies, the airline industries, the shipping sectors and the U.S. government all propose a similar solution? Is there enough land and ocean realistically available for offsets, and is simply restoring environments without fundamentally changing the business-as-usual paradigm really a solution to climate change?
Concerns About Voluntary Carbon Markets
Voluntary markets are organized and operated by a diverse range of groups where anyone can participate. Have you ever seen the option to offset your flight? That offset probably happens through a voluntary carbon market. The activities that produce the offsets include projects like forestry and ocean management, waste management, agricultural practices, fuel switching and renewable energy. As the name implies, they are voluntary and therefore largely unregulated.
Because of the wave of net-zero pledges and subsequent demand for offsets, voluntary carbon markets are under pressure to expand quickly. A task force launched by United Nations Special Envoy on Climate Action Mark Carney and involving several major companies released a sweeping blueprint at Davos 2021 that predicts voluntary carbon markets need to grow fifteenfold over the next decade. It suggests that the net-zero surge represents one of the largest commercial opportunities of our time – prompting keen interest from investors and big business. It also identifies and proposes solutions to some persistent challenges and critiques of voluntary carbon offset markets.
Some critics of the blueprint argue that it overlooks deeper problems rooted in the overall reliance on and effectiveness of voluntary carbon markets as a solution.
Though there is historical evidence of misuse and plenty of criticism, voluntary carbon markets are not inherently bad or useless in the pursuit of climate targets. In fact, quite the opposite. Some voluntary carbon market projects, in addition to mitigating climate change, provide other benefits, such as improvements to biodiversity habitats, water quality, soil health and socioeconomic opportunities.
However, there are real concerns about the ability of voluntary markets to legitimately deliver what they promise. Common concerns include questions about the permanence of the projects for storing carbon long term, verifying that offsets actually reduce emissions beyond a business-as-usual scenario and confirming that credits are not being used more than once. These and other challenges expose voluntary carbon markets to potential manipulation, greenwashing, unintended consequences and, regrettably, failure to achieve their purpose.
Can Global Ecology Meet the Demand?
Voluntary carbon markets can improve landscapes and help make up for unavoidable emissions. However, they cannot accommodate all of the developed world's net-zero targets.
Most of these initiatives have not yet started, yet emitters from developed countries are already seeking offsets outside their borders. This is raising concerns that wealthier companies may be placing the burden of their emissions onto poorer countries that can produce offsets cheaply, begging the notion of a newfound climate colonialism. Local communities may benefit from some environmental improvements or socioeconomic opportunities, but should economically developed polluters be forcing that decision?
Beyond ethics, in statistical terms, there is simply not enough ecological capacity to offset the world's emissions.
Take the interest in using forests as offset solutions. There are around 3 trillion trees on Earth today with room for about 1 to 2.5 trillion more. The Trillion Tree Initiative, 1T program, Trillion Trees, and the CEO of Reddit, among others, aim to plant a trillion trees each. From just a few examples, there is already a paradoxical impasse.
Offsets can realistically do only so much for reaching climate targets. That is why the focus must turn toward reducing rather than offsetting global emissions. Voluntary carbon markets serve a critical role as innovation sandboxes for creative offset solutions, and they are mobilizing the private sector to act; however, they must be limited.
While some prominent organizations are pursuing net-zero, most businesses and governments have not yet pledged, let alone developed, clear and plausible road maps to meet targets in line with a 2050 net-zero global economy.
The Needed Goal: A Negative Net
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests that the world can keep global warming in check if emissions are cut in half by 2030, compared to 2010 levels, and reach net-zero by midcentury. However, it also states a need for greenhouse gas removal beyond net-zero emissions targets.
The real act of climate cleanup begins at net-negative emissions for all greenhouse gases. Only then will their atmospheric concentrations finally begin shrinking. That feat will require more renewable energy, widespread infrastructure and transportation developments, improved land management and investments in carbon capturing activities and technologies.
While net-zero is a critical step toward addressing climate change, it must be achieved smartly. And, importantly, it can't be the end goal.
Oliver Miltenberger is a Ph.D. Candidate in Environmental Economics, The University of Melbourne.
Matthew D. Potts is a Professor, S.J. Hall Chair in Forest Economics, University of California, Berkeley.
Disclosure statement: Matthew Potts is also a scientific advisor for Carbon Direct. Oliver Miltenberger 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.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
By Noah Horowitz
While the energy efficiency of America's smart televisions has improved greatly since flat panel models were first introduced, some of the energy savings are at risk due to new "smart wake" features that can waste a lot of power when the TV is in standby mode.
These features provide the user with the convenience of waking their TV through a voice command to a nearby smart speaker, or to seamlessly shift from watching content on a tablet or phone to the TV, without using a remote control. Our extensive laboratory testing on the standby power of 10 different models found that in many cases, enabling these features caused a TV's overall annual electricity consumption to skyrocket by as much as 75 percent.
All that extra standby power adds up. NRDC estimates it will cost purchasers of 2021 TVs who enable smart wake features an additional $750 million on their utility bills over these TVs' seven-year lifetime, barring future manufacturer design improvements. The extra electricity consumption also will lead to more than 3 million tons of additional carbon dioxide emissions.
Spoiler alert, Samsung and LG TVs have found a way to support smart wake on their internet-connected televisions WITHOUT a noticeable increase in standby power levels. Other models we tested, however, were like vampires continuously guzzling electricity while waiting to be fully awakened.
What Are 'Smart Wake' Features?
The vast majority of new TVs offer the user the ability to be connected wirelessly to a smart speaker like the Amazon Echo (which many simply call Alexa). The user can then wake or control the TV simply with voice commands by saying things like, "Alexa turn on the TV" or "OK Google, turn on the Knicks game." Another option is "wake by cast," which allows a user who is viewing a movie or show on a tablet or phone to click on the little casting icon, and their TV will quickly wake and display the same content. Lastly, users can download an app to turn their phone into a virtual remote control that can wake and control their TV. These three features are forms of "smart wake" that avoid the hassle of having to locate and use a remote control.
iStock / Diy13
How Did We Test the TVs?
NRDC partnered with Pacific Crest Laboratories (PCL) for the first in-depth study of the standby power of different TVs when these features were enabled. Most of the ten TVs we tested required the user to go into the menu and turn on/enable the smart wake features. Each manufacturer had its own terminology for the settings and in some cases, the user needed to select the Quick Start feature for things to operate properly. We tested a range of TV brands, both major and small, as well as a variety of operating systems (e.g., Roku, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, etc.) that these TVs are controlled by.
Prior to testing we connected the TV to a live internet signal and downloaded the latest software update. After displaying video content, we turned off the TV and measured its standby power. We then configured the TV so the smart wake features were enabled, including selecting wake on cast and linking the smart speaker to the TV via a wireless connection.
Subsequently, we confirmed whether the smart wake features worked and measured the TV's standby power for 40 minutes. Given that TVs may not fully power down for several minutes, we waited 20 minutes before starting our measurements and then recorded the average standby power over the next 20 minutes.
What Impact Did Smart Wake Have on TV Standby Power?
The average standby power level of TVs tested without any smart wake features enabled was 0.6 watts. Once we turned on the smart wake features, standby power levels jumped dramatically. This table shows the brands tested, along with their operating system (OS). Some of the operating systems like Android TV are used by multiple manufacturers, whereas LG and Samsung have their own proprietary operating systems, WebOS and Tizen, respectively.
Two things to note: a) Samsung and LG TVs supported smart wake features without a noticeable increase in standby power; and b) for all the other TVs tested we saw standby power levels from roughly 5 to 20 watts. We conferred with the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA), which has tested roughly 40 TVs in both on and standby modes and done lots of great work in this space, and reported an average standby power level of 12.5 watts for models that showed elevated standby power levels with smart wake. (We used this value in our modeling discussed below.)
In follow-up conversations with Vizio, we learned that their TVs support wake by phone (using the phone as a remote control) when their TV is in the default Eco Mode setting and were able to achieve standby power level of less than 1 watt. The 14.4-watt level in the table was based on testing with the Vizio TV's Quick Start setting selected as that was required to get their wake by cast and wake by voice features to work properly.
NRDC and PCL developed a model to quantify the national impact of smart wake features. We excluded Samsung and LG TVs, which together represent just under half of U.S. market share, as they did not show elevated smart wake standby levels. We assumed an incremental standby power level of 11.9 watts, and that half of all users would configure their TVs to use one or more of the smart wake features. (Note: this article shows half of smart speaker owners connect them to TVs. While we don't know exactly what percentage use wake by cast or wake by phone, we believe it's significant and likely to grow as the manufacturers make these features easier to use and consumers become more aware of them.)
On a per TV basis, we assumed an average TV draws around 60 watts of electricity in active use and 0.6 watts in standby. Assuming a duty cycle of 5 hours on and 19 hours off per day, this translates to an annual energy use of 108 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year. If that same TV had smart wake enabled and drew 12.5 watts in standby, its annual energy use jumped to 191 kWh/yr. — an increase of 76.3 percent. Over the TV's typical 7-year lifetime, it will consume an extra $75 of electricity, and twice that in areas with higher utility rates, like California and Hawaii.
We then quantified the national impacts by assuming that half of the 40 million TVs sold in the U.S. each year have inefficient smart wake designs, and half of those have smart wake enabled. The incremental energy used by these 10 million TVs over their lifetime adds up to:
- 5,777-gigawatt hours (GWh) of additional electricity use, which is equivalent to the annual output of two large (500 megawatt) coal-burning power plants
- $750 million in higher consumer utility bills
- Over 3 million tons of CO2 emissions
To put all this extra energy use into perspective, it's roughly equivalent to one year's worth of electricity consumption by all the households in Portland, OR and Tampa combined!
All of these impacts are just for the U.S. market and become a lot larger when international sales are considered.
Where to From Here?
The good news from this study is that two TV manufacturers already demonstrated that a TV can support all these smart wake features with no energy or performance penalty. We hope our study serves as a call to action for other manufacturers to work with their operating system vendors to provide a good user experience with these smart wake features enabled while achieving similar low standby power levels.
Our policy level recommendations include:
- The test method used by manufacturers and regulators to measure the energy use of TVs must be updated to ensure the TV is connected to the internet during testing and with smart wake features enabled, and that the increased standby power use this may cause is captured and reported.
- The Environmental Protection Agency should update its test method and eligibility criteria for ENERGY STAR® to ensure TVs that qualify for the label have low standby power levels, including when smart wake features are enabled.
- The Federal Trade Commission should update the testing and reporting instructions for its yellow ENERGY GUIDE label, which compares the energy use and operating costs of similar sized TVs.
Courtesy of EPA
As a result of our research and conversations with some of the manufacturers and companies that develop the operating systems, we believe these entities now understand this issue and appear committed to trying to make the necessary changes.
Let's hope that in the not too distant future the other TV manufacturers make the necessary software fixes so they catch up to Samsung and LG and we can prevent this unnecessary energy waste and the pollution that comes with it. That's something worth tuning into!
Noah Horowitz is the director of the Center for Energy Efficiency Standards, Climate & Clean Energy Program at Natural Resources Defense Council.
Reposted with permission from NRDC.
Cars on the island of Yell, located in the Shetland Islands in Scotland's northernmost region, can now be fueled entirely by tidal energy from Nova Innovation's tidal turbines. Tidal turbines are large, revolving machines anchored to the seafloor. Besides fueling electric vehicles, the company explained that Nova Innovation's tidal turbines don't visually impact the landscape or pose a navigation hazard. They also offer long-term and accurate predictability when it comes to powering Shetland's grid.
The company tidal array has been powering local homes and businesses on Yell for more than five years, a company spokesperson told EcoWatch. Now, that same technology feeds into an electric vehicle charge point on the island fueled entirely by the sea.
Nova Innovation's CEO Simon Forrest said, "We now have the reality of tidal powered cars, which demonstrates the huge steps forward we are making in tackling the climate emergency and achieving net-zero by working in harmony with our natural environment."
The new technology is a first for the UK, and can be deployed around the world, Forrest said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch. Several different tidal energy technologies in Scotland work to capitalize on the country's many islands and tidal currents. The goal is to reduce reliance on traditional combustion engine vehicles, which are responsible for around one-fifth of all carbon emissions in the UK, Maritime Journal reported.
Fiona Nicholson, a local electric car driver and fan of Nova Innovation's technology, said, "[I]t is exciting to have this on my doorstep... Most people in Shetland live close to the sea — to be able to harness the power of the tide in this way is a great way to use this resource."
Nicholson has been following Nova Innovation since it built its test model, and believes there will be continued interest in the technology and how different businesses could potentially use it, the company statement said.
Scotland has been a global leader in renewable energy sourcing for years, particularly tidal energy innovations. In 2013, the country set a goal of being 100 percent renewable by 2020. In 2018, the country's record-breaking wind power output was enough to power five million homes; by 2019, wind power produced enough to power two Scotlands. In 2016, the world's largest tidal energy farm launched in Scotland, and in 2020, the country boasted the world's largest tidal array of underwater turbines.
By the start of 2020, the country was on track to meet its ambitious goal. As of November, Scotland had surpassed 90 percent renewables, BBC reported. More recent calculations could show that Scotland has met its target.
In its push toward net-zero, the Scottish government also banned selling new cars powered solely by gas or diesel by 2032, spurring the domestic need to develop new sources of clean energy to power vehicles, Maritime Journal reported. The government backed many of these innovations, including Nova's project, as part of its clean energy transition and fight against the climate crisis.
Scotland will also host the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26 this November in Glasgow.
Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, said, "It's fantastic to see that Nova Innovation is demonstrating yet again that Scotland remains at the forefront of developments in zero-emission transport solutions... This type of innovation is key in responding to the global climate emergency and highlights the opportunities that can be realized here in Scotland as we transition to a net-zero economy."
- Ask a Scientist: Electric Vehicles are the Cleanest Option Today ... ›
- Texas Blackouts Reveal How Electric Vehicles Can Provide Power ... ›
- Big Oil Gearing Up to Battle Electric Vehicles - EcoWatch ›
By Stuart Braun
The melting of the polar ice caps has often been portrayed as a tsunami-inducing Armageddon in popular culture. In the 2004 disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow, the warming Gulf Stream and North Atlantic currents cause rapid polar melting. The result is a massive wall of ocean water that swamps New York City and beyond, killing millions in the process. And like the recent polar vortex in the Northern Hemisphere, freezing air then rushes in from the poles to spark another ice age.
The premise is obviously ridiculous. Or is it? Rapid glacial retreat in Alaska in 2015 did in fact trigger a huge landslide and a mega tsunami that was nearly 650 feet high when it hit shore. Few knew or cared because it luckily happened at the end of the Earth where no one was living.
Many of us might believe we won't be directly impacted by the breakup of trillions of tons of ice due to global heating. We figure that unless we live on a small island in the Pacific, or have a house on the beach, it's not our problem.
Or Is It?
While it's true that the glaciers, ice caps and ice sheets covering 10% of the Earth's land mass are mostly in the middle of nowhere, their rapid breakup has a cascading effect.
Consider how all the extra fresh water in the ocean is diluting salt levels. And how that messes with the balance of the Gulf Stream, one of the world's most important ocean currents. The result is climate extremes, especially tropical storms and hurricanes in places like the Gulf of Mexico, but also more frequent floods and droughts on both sides of the Atlantic. It's gonna suck for a lot of people.
To put this meltdown in context, the rate of ice sheet retreat has increased nearly 60% since the 1990s. That's a 28 trillion ton net loss of ice between 1994 and 2017. Antarctica's epic ice sheet, the world's largest, and the world's mountain glaciers have suffered half of this loss.
OK, That Sounds Like a Lot — But So What?
Again, it's the domino effect that's worrying. With temperatures rising twice as fast in the Arctic — the world's air conditioner — than anywhere else on the planet, the heat is not just melting ice. It's also weakening atmospheric air currents known as the jet stream. In other words, more bad news for the weather.
The polar vortexes that have been freezing Europe and North America in recent years are related to a weakened polar jet stream — a scenario that triggered the sudden ice age in The Day After Tomorrow.
The cold might be welcome as the planet heats up, but here's the thing: Arctic regions are heating up, too. Which means the ice that's supposed to be reflecting the sun's energy away from Earth isn't as much anymore, leaving the sea to absorb this heat.
No surprise then that in 2018 the winter ice sheet in the Bering Sea bordering Alaska was at its lowest levels in over 5,000 years.
Fish, sea bird, seal and polar bear habitats are also disappearing with the ice. Indigenous communities in the Arctic who once hunted in a thriving frozen ecosystem are being upended — their houses are also falling in the sea as the lack of ice causes the coast to erode.
Sure, it's an underpopulated part of the world. But consider also the rapid thaw of permafrost on the Siberian tundra. One of the world's biggest carbon sinks, the tundra is now releasing greenhouse gases like methane that were long trapped below the frost.
Some scientists have predicted that by century's end, 40% of permafrost regions will have disappeared, meaning they will no longer retain, but will also release carbon dioxide — and we're talking more than is already in the atmosphere right now. As global heating is turbocharged, bye bye to more ice.
Which leads us to the elephant in the room: rising sea levels.
How Bad Could Rising Sea Levels Get?
So let's start with the worst-case scenario — and remember the culprit here would be ice sheets and glaciers on land.
If the fast-retreating Antarctic ice sheet, the world's largest, completely melted, the world's oceans would rise by about 60 meters (about 200 feet). That would be Armageddon and London, Venice, Mumbai and New York would become aquariums.
Don't panic, though, this won't happen any time soon. But if emissions aren't sufficiently scaled back to mitigate climate change, some researchers reckon oceans will definitely rise by at least 2 meters by the end of the century. That's still enough to swamp the several hundred million people living below 5 meters above sea level. Another 350 million or so living higher up would have to relocate to escape regular coastal flooding.
Can't People Just Move?
Maybe, but that wouldn't be the end of it. The world's mountain glaciers, which number roughly 200,000, are melting much faster than they can accumulate these days. Problem is, though they only cover less than 0.5% of the Earth's landmass, these "water towers" provide fresh water to about a quarter of the world's population.
Glaciers also feed the rivers that irrigate the crops which hundreds of millions of people across Asia, South America and Europe depend on for their survival. So without them, many people will suffer from both thirst and hunger. Scientists say water tower retreat has put almost 2 billion people at risk of water scarcity.
Right now, cities like Santiago in Chile are watching a big part of their drinking water supply literally dry up as glaciers in the nearby Andes retreat. Meanwhile, the European Alps that supply so much fresh water across the region have shrunk by about half since 1900 and will be almost ice free by century's end if nothing more is done to curb warming.
OK, Is There Anything That We Can Do?
Like global heating in general, the best way to mitigate the meltdown is to stop polluting the atmosphere with global warming-inducing carbon.
Of course, the process can't be reversed overnight. Even if people across the world stopped using fossil fuels tomorrow, one-third of the world's remaining glaciers would still disappear.
So to save some amount of precious polar and glacial ice, we need to avoid the temperature rise of over 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 Fahrenheit) that the UN says is inevitable if governments don't step up climate targets. If the world can decarbonize by 2050, it might be possible to preserve around one-third of the current glacial mass by century's end. That would take both government action and a radical commitment to reduce our individual carbon footprint.
The future remains uncertain. But it's likely that if melting isn't slowed real soon, disaster movie scenarios might not look so ridiculous to future generations.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
A first-of-its-kind study has examined the benefits of protecting the world's oceans.
"Ocean life has been declining worldwide because of overfishing, habitat destruction and climate change. Yet only 7% of the ocean is currently under some kind of protection," Dr. Enric Sala, explorer in residence at the National Geographic Society and lead author of the study, said in a press release emailed to EcoWatch. "In this study, we've pioneered a new way to identify the places that — if strongly protected — will boost food production and safeguard marine life, all while reducing carbon emissions."
For the study, 26 researchers examined unprotected ocean areas to determine the ones most threatened by human activities, which protections would effectively mitigate. They then developed an algorithm to determine which areas would do the most to boost biodiversity, fisheries and climate action if protected. The idea was not to tell countries which areas to protect, but rather to give global decision makers a range of options depending on their priorities.
Protecting the areas highlighted in the study could safeguard more than 80 percent of the habitats for endangered marine life. Ninety percent of the top 10 percent of priority areas were within the Exclusive Economic Zones of particular nations, the study authors found. Other priority areas were within international waters, such as the Antarctic Peninsula, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the Mascarene Plateau, the Nazca Ridge and the Southwest Indian Ridge.
"Perhaps the most impressive and encouraging result is the enormous gain we can obtain for biodiversity conservation — if we carefully chose the location of strictly protected marine areas," Dr. David Mouillot, a report co-author and professor at the Université de Montpellier in France, said in the press release.
Protecting parts of the ocean can actually boost fisheries over time, because these areas serve as nurseries for commercial fish and crustacean species that eventually leave the protected area, The New York Times reported.
Researchers found that by strategically protecting 28 percent of the ocean, fish stocks would increase by about 6.5 million tons, compared with a business-as-usual model where nothing is protected and fishing continues at its current rate.
"Some argue that closing areas to fishing hurts fishing interests. But the worst enemy of successful fisheries is overfishing— not protected areas," Sala said in the press release.
The study also revealed a surprise finding about the fishing industry's contribution to the climate crisis.
Bottom trawling — fishing by dragging heavy nets across the ocean floor — can release roughly the same amount of carbon into the ocean as the airline industry emits into the air. This is because marine sediments are important carbon stores that can safely hold carbon for millennia. However, if disturbed by dragging nets, these carbon deposits can revert back to carbon dioxide, increasing ocean acidification, hampering the ocean's ability to absorb carbon dioxide and potentially reaching the atmosphere as greenhouse gas emissions.
This finding came as a surprise because researchers had not planned to calculate bottom trawling emissions until they were asked to by a peer reviewer, Sala told The Times.
"I could not believe it," he said of the data. "Immediately I went to Google and checked the global emissions by sector and by country, and said, 'Wow, this is larger than Germany's.'"
About four percent of the world's ocean would need to be protected in order to prevent most of these emissions, and most fall within national boundaries. The top 10 countries that contribute to bottom trawling emissions are China, Russia, Italy, the UK, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Croatia and Spain, according to The Guardian.
The study was released as part of the buildup to the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, to be held in Kunming, China, later this year. Researchers and conservationists hope the study can offer a blueprint for these talks and bolster the goal of protecting 30 percent of global land and water by 2030.
"This research sets the foundation for the next era of ocean conservation to be one that truly places biodiversity and people at the heart of national conversations," Dr. Jennifer McGowan, study co-author from the Center for Biodiversity and Global Change at Yale University, said in the press release. "As the world prepares to set the global agenda for the next decade of climate and biodiversity policy, this research provides the bedrock upon which decisions-makers can map and plan interactions with the ocean to deliver multiple benefits for people and biodiversity."
By Gero Rueter
Proven technologies for a net-zero energy system already largely exist today, according to a report published Tuesday by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). The report predicts that renewable power, green hydrogen and modern bioenergy will shape the way we power the world in 2050.
Adopting such solutions would set world leaders on track to meet their target of keeping the planet from heating by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels this century, according to the World Energy Transitions Outlook report. The UN had warned in November that pledges to meet this goal were so far "woefully inadequate."
"The window of opportunity to achieve the 1.5 C Paris Agreement goal is closing fast," said Francesco La Camera, the director-general of IRENA. "The gap between where we are and where we should be is not decreasing, but widening. We are heading in the wrong direction."
Instead, IRENA — an intergovernmental organization based in Abu Dhabi made up of 162 countries and the European Union — calls for a change in direction and a dramatic acceleration of the energy transition as countries walk the "narrow tightrope" toward the 1.5 C target.
Global Turnaround Through Green Power
That would make it the main energy source in the world, powering more than 80% of all vehicles. Heating would mainly be provided by heat pumps, whose number is set to rise 20-fold by 2050 to around 400 million.
To stay in line with climate targets, coal-fired power plants would have to be shut down and no new ones built. Ninety percent of electricity would have to come from renewable sources, mainly sun and wind, with a global installed capacity of photovoltaics almost 30 times greater than in 2018. There would have to be 14 times the wind power, and hydropower would have to double.
Fossil gas and nuclear energy, meanwhile, would make up 4% and 6% of electricity generated, respectively.
But, even with such an expansion of renewables and a drop in fossil fuels, the report relies on removing CO2 from the atmosphere to meet climate goals. This includes reforesting areas in which trees have been hacked down or burned, taking CO2 out of the atmosphere by growing plants, and capturing it from industrial sites and injecting it underground. The technology to capture carbon and store it is expensive, and exists only at a small scale.
Major Challenge, But Possible
To meet climate goals, the report assumed a globally available budget of 500 billion tons of CO2 for the current scenario. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), if no more than this amount is released into the atmosphere, the world has a half-chance of warming 1.5 C and missing the target.
But, for a two-thirds chance of avoiding that level of warming, even more CO2 would have to be kept out of the atmosphere. According to the IPCC, total emissions would have to be limited to about 285 billion tons. Around 42 billion tons of CO2 are emitted by the energy and agricultural sectors every single year.
"A scenario like the one presented by IRENA is conceivable," said Christian Breyer, a professor of solar economics at LUT University in Finland, who was not involved in the study. Breyer criticized the report for its high CO2 budget and reliance on technologies to remove emissions rather than stop them in the first place.
In addition, he said, the benefits "of extremely low-cost solar electricity have not yet been fully incorporated into the scenario, but very expensive system solutions such as nuclear power and biomass with CO2 capture."
Economic Stimulus to Bring Jobs
That turnaround has already begun.
Global oil consumption will continue to fall in the coming years, and fossil gas is set to join it in 2025. "Financial markets are already reflecting this change by shifting capital away from fossil fuels and toward sustainable assets like renewables," La Camera said.
Echoing warnings from the UN last year, IRENA said that stimulus packages in the wake of the pandemic must be used strategically to meet the 1.5 C target. Doing so would also help employment. The report projects that investing in the energy transition will create close to three times more jobs than fossil fuels for every million dollars spent.
"While the pathway is daunting, several favorable elements can make it achievable," La Camera said. "Major economies accounting for over half of global CO2 emissions are turning carbon-neutral. Global capital is moving, too."
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.