Rapid global action is required to feasibly meet Paris Agreement targets

21 June 2018 Consultancy.eu 5 min. read
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Decarbonisation of the global economy to meet the 1.5C preferred target of the Paris Agreement will require considerable effort across a broad array of industrial segments, with most needing to be completely decarbonised by 2050. A new report suggests that such a transition is possible but only if there is a dramatic change in the way humans produce, consume, and dispose of goods.

Decarbonisation of the global economy will need to pick up pace over the next decades to meet the preferred global target of a maximum 1.5C rise in temperatures by 2050 set out in the Paris Agreement. The target, while ambitious given the current dominance of fossil fuels in the energy mix, will give humanity the best hope of avoiding the most devastating consequences of climate change.

The transformation of the energy system to meet the target is relatively disruptive but in line with other efforts to reduce the impact of pollution and waste on the environment. A new study from Ecofys titled ‘Energy transition within 1.5°C’ explores the level of transformation required to meet the goal based on industry literature.

Global primary energy supply in decarbonisation scenario

While the US continues to trumpet the value of fossil fuels in the economy, the scientific consensus around the negative impact of those fuels on the environment cannot be ignored with a clear conscience. Decarbonisation will require that coal, natural gas and oil products be systematically removed from the total primary energy supply over the coming two decades to meet the 1.5C target.

The replacement energy sources will largely be from renewable energy forms, such as wind, solar, solar thermal, biomass and biofuels for transport. The timeline for legacy forms of energy generation to be decoupled from generation is short, with the firm noting that “fast global action is needed, and the way we live, produce, consume, and dispose of products and services needs to be redesigned.”

The effect of the transformation of energy production will mean that annual CO2 emissions will begin to drop rapidly from 2020, initially through a reduction from the electricity generation as coal and gas are phased out, before a shift to electric vehicles in the early 2030s, seeing transportation shift rapidly away from CO2 emissions.

Global electricity generation

The globe is set to see considerable growth in demand over the coming decades, particularly as the world population looks likely to exceed 9 billion people, while living standards become more consumption-oriented in developing economies. The shift in the global economy will not be functional without a shift toward sustainable products and services, given that as it stands our practices are already unsustainable. Both developing economies – many of which will surpass developed economies in terms of size in the coming decades – and developed economies will need to change.

The shift will require a change to energy efficiency (particularly in housing), reductions in waste (by adopting circular economic models) as well as almost complete decarbonisation of the energy system and changes to agricultural methods and land use – such as diet changes and sequential cropping, among others.

The model developed by the firm to meet the 1.5C target would see coal, natural gas and oil products eliminated from electricity generation by 2040. The cost of competing technologies, such as wind and solar, have fallen quickly as projects scale up. With the technology set to improve further in the coming decade, the shift becomes not only a rational one in light of the target and constraints, but also an economic one.

Total primary energy supply development

This model envisages excess derived from the supply side – wind and solar – being stored in various mediums, including hydrogen, power to heat and battery storage. This will then be used to support the transport industry (electricity, hydrogen) or to balance the load in periods of high demand. 

Across the energy supply chain in the energy decarbonisation scenario, there would supposedly be multiple integration points. Fossil fuels will play a minor role in the energy mix, largely to serve energy hungry industrial processes. Transportation will largely be electrified or use biofuels, with focus of the latter on limiting their impact on wider ecosystems and ecology.

The housing stock will be supplied energy from renewables and biomass, although energy efficiency will also drive considerably lower demand for energy overall. The authors conclude: “Most of the required technologies are already available and developments in some sectors go so fast that transitions become cost-competitive. The scale up of technologies such as solar PV, wind turbines, electric vehicles, and heat pumps will be continuously unprecedented.”