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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Deep Decarbonization: Truly facing the climate challenge

by Jonathan Koomey, Ph.D., Research Fellow, Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance, Stanford University, Climate Science Watch, July 22, 2014
On July 8, 2014, an International group of experts presented the United Nations with an interim report on “Deep Decarbonization” [1]. This study is important because it takes seriously the commitment to keep the Earth’s temperature from rising more than 2 Celsius degrees from preindustrial times, a goal that the world’s major countries accepted in 2009 in Copenhagen. It then carries through an analysis of the technical potential for radically reducing emissions by 2050 in 15 major countries necessary to stay under that warming limit.
What the Deep Carbonization report finds should not be surprising to serious students of the climate problem [2], and it’s consonant with what leading analysts have known about this issue since the late 1980s [3]. The report concludes that
  • Allowing business-as-usual emissions trends to continue endangers the future orderly development of human civilization in the 21st century.
  • Achieving a low emissions world and fostering sustainable development go hand in hand.
  • Meeting the 2 C degree warming limit will require drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in the next few decades, but few countries have analyzed the implications of such reductions for their economies, and few politicians have fully understood those implications.
  • Capturing substantial emissions reductions is possible using existing technologies, but achieving climate stabilization will require new technologies to be developed and deployed.
  • Solving the climate problem requires international commitments, because any one of the major emitting countries or regions could by themselves emit enough to make climate stabilization impossible.
  • Country by country analysis is an essential complement to global analyses of emissions reductions, because they yield technical and policy insights, but also because they foster a strategic conversation [4] among affected countries, groups, and citizens about how to achieve the needed emissions reductions.
As we’ve known for decades, we have “on the shelf” existing technologies that can achieve substantial reductions in GHG emissions [5, 6]. The issue is that society has not yet come to grips with what the 2 C limit implies: a World War II level commitment to emissions reductions over the next few decades. Current policies are simply not adequate to meet the challenge.
The US, for example, has an “all of the above” energy strategy that is inconsistent with climate stabilization and that reflects the political class’s unwillingness to grapple with the implications of the 2 C warming limit. 

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