since moved to the National University of Singapore.">

By Steve Pointing 03/07/2017


With signs that the global rise in CO2emissions declined slightly over the past few years there has been a tendency to suggest this is due to efforts in curbing emissions leading up to and resulting from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.  

As likely as not though this may simply reflect a reduction in coal utilisation by China (the world’s largest CO2 emitter) as it’s economy slows. In my home country New Zealand over 80% of energy comes from renewable sources and so I really want to believe that the decline is also due to global efforts that embrace low-carbon energy solutions.

However renewables account for only around 13% of global energy sources so we still have a long way to go (for more check out the Renewable Energy Network). The stark truth is that the small recent decline in growth of CO2 emissions may end up becoming nothing more than a ‘blip’ in a relentless upward curve if environmentally reckless decisions such as that in June by US President Donald Trump to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement by 2020 become a reality.

A commentary feature in this week’s edition of the leading scientific journal Nature adds new urgency to the emissions issue (I no longer call it the emissions “debate”, scientific evidence has removed any contention about this). 

What does it say? Well to paraphrase a famous scene from the movie Armageddon – “We’ve got 1095 days left to save the planet”. The commentary highlights the conclusions of a recently released report entitled 2020: The Climate Turning Point authored by Carbon Tracker, Climate Action Tracker, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and our parent institution Yale University. In a nutshell the report identified six milestones that have to be achieved by 2020 (hence the 1095 days reference!) in order to make the 2050 emissions targets of the Paris deal achievable:

  1. Energy:30% renewables, no new coal-fired power stations beyond 2020.
  2. Infrastructure:Commit to fully decarbonise buildings and infrastructure by 2020, upgrade 3% existing buildings per year to zero emission structures.
  3. Transport:Electric vehicles to achieve 15% market share in new vehicle sales, 20% fuel efficiency gain for heavy duty vehicles, 20% reduction in aviation fuel emissions.
  4. Land:Cut deforestation emissions to zero, improve sustainable agriculture (here I would add that a move away from what I regard now as globally excessive meat and dairy consumption would yield huge benefits).
  5. Industry:Efficiencies and emissions cut to halve overall emissions by 2050.
  6. Finance:Increase green capital ten-fold to around US$10 trillion per year.

Failure to meet these targets within 1093 days will lead to a delay in our peak emissions (see the graph above) and could put us on an unavoidable collision course with dangerous global temperatures due to excessive CO2 levels. Christiana Figueres and her co-authors have garnered an impressive list of supporters and these will add weight to the document when it is hopefully considered seriously at the G20 Summit in Germany this week.

Image credit: waivingentropy.com


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