Houston, we have a problem

4 December 2014

Not only is spaceship Earth badly off the 2020 trajectory needed to stay below 2°C, it is just about to drift further away from the safe pathway. That was the message yesterday from UNEP in the Structured Expert Dialogue: the gigatonne gap looks to just grow as we approach 2025 and 2030. If you consider warnings by the IPCC and others that the 2°C limit may still be too high and risky, then the situation looks even worse.

But fortunately we do have the survival kit still within our reach.

As ECO learned from the IEA, 80% of the 2020 gigatonne gap in the energy sector could be bridged with measures that have no impact on GDP in all regions (!!). Energy efficiency and renewable energy are the most important survival tools in the short and longer term.

UNEP also emphasised the importance of energy efficiency, which in almost all cases is the option where you have many wins and no losses.

So really, Parties? What are you waiting for? To quote the IEA presenter yesterday: it really shouldn’t be that hard.

What’s the course we need to plot? Zero carbon, emissions phase out and decarbonisation were much-used vocabulary yesterday. Having this long-term goal in mind, the World Bank said that this should be the basis for policy.

How long is the long-term? Well, with all GHG, we’d have to be in zero by about 2080 to 2100, says UNEP, if we are to stay within the 2°C limit. For the main culprit, CO2, zero emissions will need to be achieved sometime between 2055 and 2070. And for a 1.5°C limit we’d obviously have to bring carbon emissions to zero even faster.

The Expert Dialogue also discussed negative emissions: the more we delay action, and the later emissions hit zero, the more negative emissions we’d have to achieve in the future to stay below 1.5°C or 2°C warming levels. ECO was pleased to finally hear a reality check conclude that the main carbon removal technology assumed in present models – biomass with CCS – is pure theory and very little is known how broadly it could actually be implemented, given the multiple barriers, problems and limiting factors that exist in the real world (ECO recommends to check out the useful info box in the UNEP report).

The reality is that IF carbon dioxide removal technologies aren’t broadly available (as is generally assumed in models), emissions will have to be brought down to zero even faster.

The IEA reminded Parties that investors are looking for some clear signals from Paris. What’s a safe investment? Is it (still) high-carbon or low-carbon technology?

After carefully listening to the experts, ECO is convinced even more than before that the signals the Paris agreement needs to send are: a complete phase out of fossil fuels by 2050, and a just transition to 100% renewable energy for all. And to get there in time, this fossil fuel phase out must start today.

Houston, we have a problem

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