Environment & Sustainability

Global Warming of 1.5 °C… we have twelve years left to cry in

This month the IPCC released a special report about Global Warming of 1.5 °C and its very likely consequences. Approved in Incheon, Republic of Korea on Saturday October 6th 2018, it is going to be a key scientific input for the next Climate Change Conference, which is going to happen in Katowice in Poland in December. But this is also a kind advice to all Governments, industries and organisations all over the world about the urgency and importance to take action now.

Global Warming of 1.5 °C… we have twelve years left to cry in

One of the key messages that the IPCC scientists wanted to convey with the special report about Global Warming of 1.5 °C is about the expected huge differences in terms of negative consequences for the earth ecosystems and for humans with a 1.5 °C versus a 2 °C (and possibly more) global warming.

A Global Warming of 1.5 °C will is indeed very likely to have a number of negative impacts, but the higher the global warming will be the more the negative impacts will become severe and persistent in the very long term (“for centuries to millennia and will continue to cause further long-term changes in the climate system”).

Technically we are still in time to keep the global warming within 1.5 °C by 2030, but fast and radical changes are needed. So far human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels… and it is likely “to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate”.

Emission Pathways to avoid overshoot of Global Warming of 1.5°C

To achieve no or limited overshoot of the 1.5°C global warming threshold the global net anthropogenic CO2 emissions should decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, and then reach net zero around 2050.

Just as matter of comparison, the European Union “2030 climate & energy framework”  contains a binding target to cut emissions in EU territory by at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. But, according to EEA data,  in 2010 the EU GHG emissions where already 16% lower than the 1990 levels… and in general the EU is seen as a region of the world with pretty tight climate target, which put the lights on how ambitious the IPCC required target is.

The energy mix: some common features

No or limited overshoot of the Global Warming of 1.5°C can be achieved with different energy mixes and technologies, but there are some features that are common to all scenarios in the 2030 horizon compared to 2010:

  • An increase of renewable share in electricity generation (at least +50%)
  • A decrease of primary energy from coal (at least -60%)
  • An increase of primary energy from nuclear (at least +60%)
  • An increase of primary energy from non-biomass renewables (at least +300%, while from biomass renewables it can slightly increase or decrease according to the specific scenario).

Regarding the final energy demand, the more it will decrease thanks to improvements in energy efficiency and behaviour change, the easier it will be to minimise the use of fossils fuels and, as a consequence, the carbon dioxide removal techniques, and, in particular, carbon capture and storage.

Casting doubt on carbon dioxide removal

The use of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) will be needed over the 21st century to limit global warming to 1.5°C, to compensate for residual emissions and to achieve net negative emissions in case of overshoot. CDR includes different possible measures, from afforestation and reforestation, to direct carbon capture and storage (CCS). The feasibility and sustainability of CDR solutions is still questioned, especially when considering the deployment of several hundreds of GtCO2, so that other measures to reduce and to lower energy and land demand are preferred.

The many faces of sustainability

Fighting climate change is not only about achieving net zero emissions or even negative emissions. Climate change mitigation and adaptation measures can have potential multiple synergies with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Limiting the risks from Global Warming of 1.5°C should and can be pursued together with sustainable development and poverty eradication.

The multiple challenges of energy transition and global warming have been at the hearth of the World Energy Council (WEC) World Energy Week 2018. More in general the WEC is putting a lot of effort into the calibration of its Energy Trilemma Index, where the energy sustainability of different countries and regions is based on three core dimensions: energy security, energy equity, and environmental sustainability.

Are the global leaders ready and willing to listen to the IPCC scientists? Hopefully yes, because 2030 seems to be an important deadline for Global Warming, and we have “just” twelve years left to cry in… or act!